BUILDERS VOL 2:
JEFF & CARA
Part 1: Is Toronto the Best Place in the World to Learn How to Play Disc Golf?
One could make a case that the current collection of disc golf courses in the city of Toronto mirrors that of classic 1980s video games, both in a variety of levels and level of obsession. These video games often began by introducing challenges or obstacles that once surpassed, led you to acquire a new skill or ability. Each new skill opened a new level, and through this incremental process, mastery was obtained. The constant completion of levels also led to these games often becoming very satisfying and hard to put down. The early levels acted as talent “incubators”, ultimately preparing you for the “Boss” level, your final challenge, where all of your skills are put to the test. These developmental incubators are present and just as important in the game of disc golf. With Toronto’s portfolio of disc golf courses, you can cover your entire journey as a disc golfer without ever leaving the city. Throw on top of that an inclusive, passionate local community with engaged city workers and you just might have the best place in the world to learn to play disc golf.
A lot of early video games were straightforward- accomplish specific tasks with growing difficulty and move on to the next level. Well, that is just what Toronto disc golf is like. “Level one is Beaches and Bell,” explains Jeff MacKeigan, one of the co-founders of ChainLink Disc Golf. “ Levelling up is Seton and Dentonia. Levelling up from there is Centennial, Scarlett, The Island. You have people coming into the sport and then graduating within it.” Both Marilyn Bell Park and The Beaches are shorter, 9 hole courses with no hole over 224 ft in length. These are ideal locations to learn how to throw and to see success. They are the incubators which help nurture your growing skills and connection to the game.
A beginner or advanced player can most certainly play any course in the city (all for free by the way) but similar to a video game, you will likely gain the most enjoyment when playing a course that best suits your current skill level. Toronto’s repertoire of 7 courses can fit all players, from children just learning how to hurl the disc, all the way to local hero, disc golf pro Thomas Gilbert - one of the top 50 professional disc golfers in the world.
The Undeniable Benefits of the Game
Video games are enjoyable to play alone or with a group of friends and the same can be said about disc golf. You can be a really great player who can throw all the shots, making discs flip up, with a group of friends, or you can be a beginner, newly hooked, playing alone with headphones on. Each style of play has its place and can be tailored to your personal needs. No matter what - this city has what you’re looking for. But, the amazing thing is, it’s not just the variety of courses that make this disc town desirable as a place to learn, it’s the community of players, dedicated city staff and the intangibles of the game itself that can get a person hooked.
Those intangible positive aspects, or power ups, of the game, are the moments that allow players to build passion, confidence, and connectivity for themselves, for others and for the natural landscape the course is in. This makes disc golf a valuable tool and symbol for municipalities to showcase that not only is everyone welcome in their parks, but they are also encouraged to become greater versions of themselves while there.
While the sport of disc golf in Ontario and Canada has been around for decades with passionate individuals building many courses and clubs, the explosive growth during COVID was quite remarkable. This young love is full of excited passion as Torontonians are taking to the courses more often than ever. Proof of this is found in the high scores. Just as high scores are recorded on old arcades, in disc golf, there’s an app for that! UDisc is the worldwide recognized disc golf app for tracking courses, stores, scores, reviews, clubs and tournaments. All of the evidence of the greatness and growth of our disc golf city is there for all to see. The city is even keenly interested in this information. “We do post evaluations with the city quite frequently where we show usage reports. We also show UDisc ratings,” reveals MacKeigan. “The city is incredibly interested in what their ratings are per course. Specifically different parks managers. You know why? Because they compete with each other. Each parks manager, they all want the number one course in the city.” This friendly competition between city staff is yet another level of gamification, only helping to keep players coming back as the courses are meticulously maintained to a consistently high standard in the never ending pursuit of the highest rating.
The City of Toronto continues to believe in and has demonstrated a keen relationship with the game, understanding the multitude of positive mental health benefits inherent to the sport. Maybe none more important or influential as the community of players that disc golf fosters and their generosity and willingness to help grow the sport.
Community Grows the Game
Most people, and perhaps even you dear reader, have never played disc golf. You might not have known that you were even around a course when you lay down your blanket in the park for a picnic with some friends. When in actuality, you had just set yourself up on the 17th fairway. Oops! Fortunately, Toronto disc golfers have been known to respectfully educate other park goers of the game and what the backpack of discs slung over their shoulder is all about.
Better still, sometimes, those disc golfers will even gift these park goers with a disc from their bag so they can try out the game for themselves. This is one of the things that Toronto Disc Golf Builders, Jeff MacKeigan and Cara Hovius are most proud of. “[We] really try to reinforce this notion of community, obviously- the disc golf culture.” Jeff reveals, “[with] so many new people coming into this. It’s your job to reinforce the culture of the game.” “We see that happen all the time at Beaches and it’s amazing to see,” adds Cara, co-founder of Chainlink Disc Golf.
This community doesn’t stop on the physical course though, the generosity can also be found online in forums and Facebook groups. If after reading this, you decide that you are interested in trying out a round, head over to the “Beaches Disc Golf Course Group” or the “Marilyn Bell Park Disc Golf Course Group” on Facebook and make a post saying you are new and looking to play. You’re very likely to receive multiple offers back from Toronto disc golf locals looking to share the course with you, introduce you to the intricacies of the game and even lend you some discs to get started. They can help you attain those first few skills that will help you along your learning curve while mentoring you about the proper etiquette and safety standards on the course.
Looking to play more frequently with others at a course? You can almost guarantee there is a weekly club at your local course full of enthusiastic players and people to meet. These clubs act as incubators in the sense that you learn from others and develop your skills, all while building meaningful relationships with your fellow citizens, and soon to be friends.
When a city embraces a sport and when seasoned players begin to introduce new players through generosity and positivity, everyone wins. Parks become places that foster personal growth, support mental health and are cared for by the users themselves. When asked about how to push this game forward Jeff says, “I think that is all of our duties as disc golfers, to talk to non-disc golfers in a really positive way. I think that’s how we grow it.” Likewise, Cara believes that, “when you reflect positively on disc golf you have that halo. It looks good. It makes it look attractive to municipalities.” Kindness and generosity goes a long way towards what benefits disc golfers and other park goers alike - a stronger community.
Turbo Mode: The Toronto Open Disc Golf Festival
This Toronto disc golf community is about to go into hyperdrive, as from March 11th - 19th, 2023, The Toronto Open Disc Golf Festival, brought to you by ChainLink Disc Golf is about to take off. As mentioned on the official website, www.torontoopen.net, this tournament is, “where community meets casual competition.”
Don’t delay, discers, there are still a few spots left for this week long, friendly, flex style tournament. Don’t have anyone to play with? Jeff and Cara will gladly introduce you to some outstanding members of Toronto's disc golf community.
So is Toronto the best place in the world to learn this game? With an active thriving community, engaged municipal support, and course builders like Jeff & Cara, it might just be.
Jay de Jager & Nick Vescio