—By Davis Johnson—
How do you feel about plastic?
As a disc golfer, no doubt intimately connected. In its various manifestations under the catch-all term, “flying disc,” plastic has soared to arguably its highest art form. “When a ball dreams, it dreams it’s a Frisbee” was a popular bumper stickered slogan for disc pioneers back in the '70s. Both literally and metaphorically, flying discs carry us along in spin-off adventures we initiate—though too often don’t control.
The Lines of Headrick Memorial Freestyle DiscDiscraft Ultra-Star By their very nature, flying discs are throwaways, but who, lucky enough to own a Frisbee containing some of "Steady" Ed Headrick’s ashes, would ever do so—unless of course in an M.T.A. toss, sure to return? Though our discs don’t literally contain parts of us, many if not most disc golfers own, or have owned, discs of special connection. So special that for every time thrown, it’s as if we’re aboard for the flight. And as many have experienced, sometimes our relationships with discs, as with people, can be quite complicated, even adversarial.
For instance, I’ve had discs apparently grow tired of me; seems they get an urge to ramble on, maybe even go find themselves a less erratic thrower. These disgruntled discs seem to get lost more often than others. They may finally take flight—fugitive flight—sometimes never to return. Perhaps it’s that last tree-taco that did it. But what’s really interesting are those not so rare instances when a lost disc improbably does reappear, sometimes years later and from faraway. Many a player I’ve known has such stories—“if only discs could talk!” you hear said over and over.
Gathered from a long life of throwing, I have a number of such stories, a couple to be shared here. And to add spice to these tales, some strange tales of my home disc golf course in central Massachusetts where flying discs disappear and occasionally reappear in rather bizarre, dare I say magical, ways?
World Class 119G4-signature, 40 mold, turquoise My earliest and perhaps most amazing instance of a lost-and-found disc was in the early 1980s when I was spending a few days with friends at a cottage on Chappaquiddick on Martha’s Vineyard, just the other side of Ted Kennedy’s bridge of infamy. It was a beautiful August day and I’d gone to the nearby beach with one of the aquamarine colored, 40 mold, original 4-signature Frisbees®, to throw some M.T.A. shots into the mild sea breeze. Though the water was not rough, there was enough wave action that when one of my throws landed near the water’s edge, the Frisbee disappeared into a slight froth of wave and sand. “Easy to find” I thought, but nope—despite 10 minutes looking, nada. So, I gave up and went back up to the cottage for lunch. An hour or so later I walked back to the beach and not very expectantly, waded into the water keeping half an eye out. Nothing. My thoughts went off more or less elsewhere taking in the blue, tranquil seascape. Then a nudge against my leg interrupted my contemplation. I looked down and there it was—my aquamarine 4-signature disc nuzzling up—it obviously hadn’t really meant to part ways.
Innova-Champion WraithCrane Hill, hole 10, ace disc As if on cue, my other stand-out story of a disc that made its way back—this one after a very long absence—culminated this past July of 2020, just as I was starting on this article. Dial back precisely 10 years to July 7, 2010, on Hole 10 of the Crane Hill disc golf course in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, a course I co-created and designed. I took out an orange Champion Wraith, snapped off a long, low hyzer shot down the narrow fairway; it disappeared around the bend, and there came the unmistakable “ching” sound of a skip shot into the basket. I dutifully scrawled the relevant details of the ace on the bottom of the disc, and signed it for posterity, but not two days later lost it on the same hole somewhere off into the ferny greenery. When it didn’t show up in the Crane Hill lost and found, I presumed it gone for good.
Fast forward 10 years almost to the day, July 8, 2020. I get tagged on Facebook with my long-lost ace disc. It had made its reappearance in the lost and found of the Disc Golf 978 store at Fort Devens in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, more than an hour’s drive northeast of Crane Hill. Again, the lament—if only discs could talk…
Rick Williams nicely threads his upshot along the old mill wall structure Of further intrigue in the flying disc unsolved mysteries department are some strange goings on at the Watershed, my home disc golf course in central Massachusetts. The home and stream were once the site of a water-powered mill, dating back to the beginning of the 19th Century, if not earlier—one of the holes tees-off from atop the remaining old, mill wall structure. So, a lot of history has preceded us to this home and property.
Though the Watershed “fairways” are contained on just a little over seven acres of land, the course is a challenging and legitimate par 56. Wooded, winding and hilly, there are all manner of O.B. hazards, not least of these being the very active, disc possessive stream that bisects the course down the middle.
As you shall see, this stream has a give-and-take policy when it comes to flying discs. This is exemplified in one epic round I experienced in April of 2020, beginning at Hole One’s tee by the side of the house. Just before teeing off, on a whim, I peered behind a pair of particle boards leaning against the house, and there lay a disc I’d lost 10 months before. I thought it had gone into some nearby brush which I’d searched repeatedly, but somehow, the disc had (rolled?) its way a number of feet forward and improbably gone into hiding behind those particle boards! I shrugged and thought to myself, “well OK, I suppose…” unlikely as it seemed.
Watershed Hole 18 Looking downstream from the tee, the basket is in the grassy area, the porous dike on the left But far more unlikely is what happened at the end of that same round—enough to really rattle my sensibilities. Hole 18 on the Watershed is an easy, but at the same time unnerving deuce run, a couple hundred feet or so flight straight down the stream and across a small, ponded section to the basket. I took out a bright yellow 150 gram Mamba and launched a forehand downstream. But I put a little too much on it, and instead of hyzering right towards the basket it stayed straight and disappeared onto the brushy, porous dike that partially dams the stream, allowing for the small pond. The disc seemed easily findable—but first, a needed backstory:
About a year prior to this eventful round, on an early spring day, I was practicing sidearm shots with a blue Innova Vulcan in the general direction of this same porous dike. An errant shot landed on or near it, but when I searched—no disc to be seen. So, I peered down the several holes on this rocky, short peninsula, and sure enough securely lodged down one of them, just out of arm reach, lay the blue Vulcan. No problem, I thought—I’ll come back later with my disc catcher. Of course, as with many such vows…later…turned to…much later…until it was a year or so later…and to top it off, I had in the meantime misplaced the disc catcher. (Still haven’t found it!) Finally, curious as to how the bunkered down Vulcan had fared over its long incarceration, I gave another check down the porous dike hole. The Vulcan had vanished. Oh well…
…So now I’m looking for my yellow Mamba, errantly thrown to that same porous peninsula. With its stand-out color, I thought it would be an easy find. Nope. I ranged over the brushy outcropping and stared down any cavities that might possibly hold a disc. Nothing. Then I looked to the water flowing through on the downstream side of the dike. No sign of it there either.
But something did catch my eye in the water directly below that seemed very out of place—it looked like a wheel from one of those Radio Flyer toy wagons that were so common among kids when I was growing up. “What would that be doing there?” I asked myself. I climbed down to give a closer look, and there it was, my long-lost blue Vulcan! But blue no more. It was now tarnished black from long immersion in the stream but for narrow rings of blue which had deceived my eyes into thinking it might be a wheel. As for the bright yellow Mamba? Still haven’t found it. Seems the stream taketh, and the stream giveth back.
This has happened on other occasions, too. A brand new, bright yellow Latitude 64 Fuse ended up in the small pond just above the spillway. Seemingly securely anchored, I put off retrieving it until a day or so later, and when I reached into the water to grab it, to my surprise I pulled out a Prodigy D-4 instead that had taken a dive into another shallow section of the pond. The bright yellow Latitude? Though I searched long and hard downstream, it’s never turned up.
Something similar happened last summer when searching for a friend’s disc that had found the stream. Near the spot where his disc disappeared, my sharp-eyed son spotted instead a stream-blackened Vibram Lace I had lost sometime previously. The other disc remains unaccounted for. Again, the stream giveth, and the stream taketh away.
Atop Druids MoundFrom left to right, Caiden the dog, Steve Hartwell, Kevin Fuller, Rick Williams and Phil Kennedy [photo: Joy Hartwell] I could add other strange doings on this course, for instance certain incidents of intrigue related to what I have dubbed Druids Mound, on top of which sits the basket for Holes 7 and 10. Discs seemingly securely putted from below, and come to rest atop this steep little promontory, have on a few occasions, disconcertingly found a way, somehow, to roll back down. Once, I made what looked to be a nice, secure putt up to the basket with a beat up, Discraft Stratus. After what seemed a suspiciously long interval, I then heard the faintest of rustles—looked down, and there was my Stratus—come groveling back to my feet.
Of course we who play this game all have stories of odd, improbable doings of discs we fling. One of the reasons I am very stubborn to give up searching for a lost disc is not just the desire to get it back, but a strong need to satisfy my curiosity as to how it managed to make itself so scarce in the first place. Upon finding it, the searcher can usually say “OK, I get it now—I see how and why it stumped me.”
But everyone loves a mystery and disc golfers are as superstitious as any other athletes who experience the serendipitous, improbable happenings of play. And maybe, just maybe, something a little strange and magical, beyond our ken, is at work out there. I will continue to monitor, and report back on anything else that seems a little beyond the pale at the Watershed or for that matter, other courses I play that carry their own mystery and intrigue.
About the Author:
Davis Johnson, born in Boston, came into the world wanting to throw and has spent his entire life scratching that itch. When Frisbees flew into his life, he simply wanted to throw them—far. That translated to farthest in the 1970s when he held multiple world distance titles, including becoming the first to throw over 400 feet. Dave is a published poet and songwriter and is “retired” after 30 years teaching writing, speech and journalism at a community college. He’s also worked as a radio weathercaster, and motivational speaker. Dave’s also an author, having written and published a children’s book, and he edited Victor Malafronte’s The Complete Book of Frisbee. When comes time to be sorted into the Cosmic Compost Bin, Dave prides himself on being 100% recyclable; his titanium hip replacements to the metal bin, teeth implants to the plastics. The rest he gives back to the stars.