My Stepfather, The Disc Golf Jockey
Mariya Dawson speaks to a long-time disc golf player, and takes a trip to Bijou Park in Tahoe to witness a tournament, to find out what makes this fringe sport so special.
“I started playing disc golf about six years ago. I live out in Topaz, lot of room to take up hobbies like that,” Derek Johnson says. “All the players I know really incorporate this into their lives, and, well, I’m no different.”
Next to him, Sarah Johnson, his wife of five years, gives me a knowing look. One that remembers waiting late on Christmas morning after the man decided to play a spontaneous game.
Derek is my stepfather, and has had an interest in disc golf since the day I met him. During the week, he deals poker with a part-time position with the Carson Valley Inn. In his free time, though, he is an avid player of a very different game.
A popular spot for disc golfers is Bijou Park, which I accompanied him to on a recent weekend to witness a tournament. The cool post-smoke air was amazing, and although there was still a little overcast from oncoming rain, my stepfather said this was not the worst weather to throw some discs. His claims of people loving this sport wholeheartedly stood as tall as the trees around the course. Laughing, throwing with precise movements, and lots of advice was exchanged.
Although his own career in disc golf has spanned much longer, Derek spoke to me about when the pandemic had hit its stride, and many people took up a new hobby to pass some newly acquired free time. Maybe they even found a sport to get them out of the house more; something they could do in order to socially distance while also getting to interact with others.
For some, they found that in disc golf. James Hatch is my uncle, and although also an avid player, had definitely played more during his time out of work due to the pandemic.
In an even broader perspective, in my family, disc golf indirectly led to marriage.
“I like the sport, always have,” Hatch insists. “And I’ve made a lot of friends through it, too. Derek and I played for a while before I introduced him to [Sarah].”
James had met Derek through the sport, and eventually introduced my mother Sarah to her future husband over a game she had come along to watch. When asked about this, Sarah can admit that the sport isn’t always an inconvenience in her eyes.
“Getting outside, going on hikes with the dog while he plays, can be great. I love to give Derek and James shit about disc golf, but,” Sarah pauses, then smiles, “it did change my life in a very good way. Can’t deny that.”
“Now that COVID isn’t too big a deal,” Derek says with a sigh, “some players aren’t as into it as they used to. That’s okay, though. I still really like it.”
Even in his own backyard, my stepfather has a practice net for throwing discs. He was sure to show me this again when I stopped by for our interview — just in case I forgot how to have good form with my throwing. In his own way, it’s his way of showing his love for the sport.