November in Michigan brings cold days, gray skies and fleeting daylight. But most importantly of all, it brings anticipation of the holidays. Thanksgiving is the kickoff to the merry season and celebrates gratitude, family, and food.
Not only does food give life, but it brings people together, and families facing uncertainty about what they will eat around the holidays can make them very stressful. Everybody deserves joy and to make that a reality for as many people as possible, the Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department partnered with Great Lakes Disc to run a food drive.
Busy work schedules and bitter weather did not stop the community of Grand Rapids disc golfers from turning out with more than 150 people for the fourth annual Fall Farm Fling. This disc golf doubles tournament, hosted at Old Farm Park, garners players of all ages and sizes and generates donations for Adaptive Youth Programming and Kentwood’s Little Free Pantry. The entry fee for a team of two is $40 plus a non-perishable food item, and participating gets you a custom event disc and prizes if your team scores well. Most players, however, go well above the food donation requirement, bringing whole bags of groceries and snacks that go directly to stocking the shelves of the Little Free Pantry.
“We wanted to run a food drive event in November to help families out before the holiday season,” said Shea Abbgy, the owner of Great Lakes Disc. “The idea for this tournament largely came from the success of another, older food drive event—Freeze Fest—which will be celebrating its eighth year running this February.”
The relationship between the disc golf community and the parks department was pioneered by its director, Val Romeo, whose initial contact was with Shea about concrete tee pads for Old Farm Park. With over twenty years of experience at the Kentwood parks, she was the primary contact when Great Lakes Disc was just starting up. Besides selling discs, Abbgy also was using his store to run leagues and maintain courses, so the opportunity for correspondence was there. Prior to 2013, there was sparse networking between disc golfers and park representatives, so to say that events like Fall Farm Fling and Freeze Fest were made possible by Grand Rapids community leaders is completely true. Without people like Abbgy and Romeo working diligently to unify these groups, the great turnouts of players and donations could not happen at this scale.
Fast forward to 2022 and not only is disc golf thriving, but these events contribute tremendously to local players and charities. On paper, the idea of traditional golf as an accessible community activity seems unlikely with its high entry costs and strict rules, but disc golf has so many facets that make it a sport of the people. Grand Rapids is loaded with courses that are completely free to play, and park funding along with tremendous volunteer work make disc golf very accessible to people of all income levels. The upfront cost of a couple discs is a pittance compared to even a single golf club, and even then you can find used discs at a huge discount at places like Great Lakes Disc. Enthusiasm for the sport, locally, is rampant, so if you do go to a disc shop, you can get all sorts of information on the different discs, courses, leagues, and ways to get involved.
One glance at the 150+ discers playing in the Fall Farm Fling makes abundantly clear that all sorts of people enjoy this game. Kids with dreams of playing professionally, young adults recreating with their friends, families playing outside, and elders that have been throwing for decades all come together for a day of fun. Not only is it disc golf’s accessibility that produces such a big field of players, but it’s also the fact that people tend to stick with it.
“I always tell people: disc golf is a very addictive sport. We see a lot of the same people coming back to play, year after year.” said Abbgy when asked about the event’s turnout.
No doubt, the game is immersive, and often becomes more alluring with time. There are thousands of diverse courses around the country, and tens of thousands of discs that all fly in their own ways. Often, all it takes is one visit to a league watching skilled players perform wild shots, to motivate beginners to start playing aggressively. In some instances, the sport changes lives. Whether it be as simple as enriching time outdoors with friends, or as grand as building a whole career and earning a living, disc golf has impacted millions around the world.
The sport saw a lot of growth during the pandemic because parks were one of the few places open to the public. Between mental health struggles and having to stay inside for months on end, a cheap outdoor recreation that could be done with close friends and family was perfect. Grand Rapids was no exception to this growth, and this was abundantly clear with the growing turnout of players at leagues and local tournaments. Once government restrictions on groups were loosened, socializing also came up as a benefit of this game because of how laid-back play is. Socially hindered by the months of lockdown, people were able to enjoy the disc golf community as a place of causal interaction. Particularly as an adult, growing your social circle can be hard. Becoming a part of a community of people who enjoy the same sport is an awesome way to make friends without any pressure.
By the end of this tournament, two full carloads of food had been brought to the Little Free Pantry by parks employees, and a big food truck was brought in for all the players to enjoy a hot meal after their day of disc golf. Smiles, laughs, and a few light-hearted expletives from frustrated players circulated throughout the park, but an unmistakable spirit of generosity dominated the vibe. What could be better than playing the game you love with friendly people for a good cause? The day’s cheer would go well beyond the 150 people playing, touching the lives of families all around Grand Rapids and making their holidays a joyful reality.