Disc golf taking off in county

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 31, 2002

Herman Cochran developed a disc golf course on his property off Redbone Road. In the background is one of the “holes” on his course.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/31/02]As the foursome arrives at the sixth hole, there’s a collective gasp as they scout out the “pin” placement.

It’s not a long fairway only a par 3 but the obstacles surrounding the dogleg are formidable.

A sliced shot will end up in the pond or leave a long uphill battle to salvage the hole unless the trees on the left side of the fairway knock it down first.

Hook it too much, and the trees on the right side will probably knock it down well short. Hook it just right, and you’ll end up with an easy birdie unless you go long and send it down the hill behind the hole.

One by one, the golfers take their best shots. One goes in the water. The next is knocked down by the trees. The third makes it through to the target, but lands a little long. It’s later flipped in for a birdie …

Ahh, the sweet sound of rattling chains. To a disc golfer, it’s music to the ears.

About six years ago, Herman Cochran approached city officials to propose a disc golf course. They told him it was a nice idea, but there wasn’t enough interest in the sport and suggested the course be built on private land.

Cochran took the advice, and carved a nine-hole course out of his back yard on Redbone Road. He’s hoping the course will help introduce new players to the game and drum up support for a public course at one of Vicksburg’s city parks.

“I don’t mind if somebody wants to come and play here. I think they’re a little reluctant to come on private property though,” Cochran said. “If I had 20 people out here every Sunday, we could go back to (the city). If I had one tournament and 50 people came, I think we could go back to them.”

Parks and Recreation director Craig Upton didn’t dismiss the idea of a public course, but said it was low on the list of projects for his department right now. New softball fields top the list, due to the sheer number of players involved in that sport.

“You’re looking at thousands when you’re looking at softball, with all of the tournaments,” Upton said, adding that a disc golf course could be incorporated into a planned multi-use complex.

Disc golf combines Ultimate Frisbee and golf. Players throw plastic discs that resemble Frisbees at metal baskets, trying to get them there in as few throws as possible. Basic golf rules and etiquette are followed and the holes, which range in distance from 100 to 400 feet on most courses, often contain the same hazards found on real golf courses, such as water hazards, trees and bunkers.

“It’s a real good workout. Like any other sport, it gives you exercise. It builds up your arms and walking around a lot is going to be good for you,” said Matt Dispenza, Cochran’s 16-year-old stepson. Cochran introduced Dispenza to disc golf about six years ago, and Dispenza helped with some of the course construction.

Cochran started playing disc golf in the late 1970s, and has been hooked ever since. The 43-year-old Entergy employee has played at courses all over the South, and by the mid-1990s had a practice target in his front yard. He also believed that Vicksburg was ready for a public course similar to ones in Monroe, La., and Hattiesburg.

He was turned down by the city, however, and said alderman Sid Beauman, then the Parks and Recreation director, made the right decision.

“They liked the idea, they had the money for it, but looking back on it, it was the right decision. There really weren’t enough players then,” Cochran said.

So Cochran had to settle for his practice target and traveling to courses, until he moved to his Redbone Road home in 1998. He built a small four-hole course on land near his home, then moved into a new house across the street and expanded it to nine holes, finishing the course last summer.

He hired a friend who is a welder to build the targets, which cost about $150 each, and built several benches and course markers himself.

“It just took some chainsawing and several sacks of Quik-crete for the markers and benches,” Cochran said.

The course covers six acres behind Cochran’s home, and isn’t gentle. As it winds through the woods, players must go up and down hills and avoid a pond that borders several holes. On the sixth hole, players must fling their disc down a narrow corridor lined on either side by trees, then follow it up by sailing a long shot across a steep hill on the seventh.

“It’s a little shorter, distance-wise, but the holes are well laid-out and it’s challenging. You have to be accurate,” said Joe Matz, 42, from West Monroe, La. Matz, who made the drive to try Cochran’s course in late December, has played nearly 50 courses since he first played disc golf in 1985.

But even though the course isn’t that inviting to discs, Cochran is to their owners. He said anyone is welcome to try the course at any time for no cost. The only exceptions are the mini-tournaments he hosts on Sunday afternoons, when players pay a $3 fee and compete for the pot.

Twenty-two people turned out for a recent tournament, about half of them from Vicksburg and some from as far away as Monroe, La., and Jackson. It was the largest turnout so far at the course, but Cochran said several players were first-timers, giving him hope that the sport can find new fans and catch on in Vicksburg.

“It’s starting to get around. I’d say within a year or so, we’ll have 15, 16, 20 people a week out there,” Dispenza said.

Cochran’s not relying entirely on his course to build interest, however. He has also created a Web site that contains photos of his course and has plans for several tournaments this year, including one during Riverfest in April.

Dispenza compared disc golf to bowling, a niche sport that has grown in the last few years and gotten a boost in Vicksburg from Red Carpet Lanes hosting the women’s state tournament.

“The women’s state tournament has been here a couple years and already bowling is growing. Hopefully we can do the same with disc golf,” Dispenza said. “I’ve been bowling longer than I’ve been playing disc golf, but I feel like both of them are hobbies. You get used to doing it, and it’s something you go in there and have fun with.”