COLUMBIA – As he steps up to the second tee-box, Adam Morrison plucks some grass. It lands a few feet in front of him, revealing the wind is at his back. He reaches into his bag of 21 discs and grabs a neon-red Innova brand driver. He scans the tree line in front of him that blocks his view of the hole. After a few practice motions, he lets the disc fly. His driver cuts through the air with an audible whoosh.
“Get up there, up, up,” says Morrison, 15, who is competing this weekend in the Advanced Men's Division of the the 25th annual Mid-America Disc Golf Open. Morrison's Professional Disc Golf Association's rating of 900 qualified him to compete in the division. The PDGA calculates ratings by comparing a participant's score on an official tour course to the score of a top pro playing the same course.
Morrison's shot lands within 10 feet of the hole. Trees flank each side of the hole like body guards while a creek runs behind it, swallowing up any misfires. Morrison takes his white putter and clangs it in the basket for a birdie. Despite the tough shot, it is one that Morrison has played many times.
“He literally grew up on this course,” said Paul Morrison, Adam’s father. Paul Morrison, or more popularly known in the Columbia area as Mo Louis on KBXR/102.3 FM, recently moved his family to Kansas City to start working for a radio station that has since gone defunct. The Morrisons will move back to Columbia in early August.
Adam Morrison grew up across the street from Albert-Oakland Park, the site of the tournament, which was hosted by the Columbia Disc Golf Club. The two-day tournament uses both the front and back courses at Albert-Oakland Park and the course at Indian Hills Park. According to CDGC President Keith Amerson, the front course at Albert-Oakland is the second oldest disc golf course in Missouri.
The CDGC started in 1989 and has since grown to its largest membership at 86. CDGC is a non-profit organization that raises money for the maintenance and upkeep of disc golf courses around the community. Amerson gives numerous reason's for the club’s expansion.
"It’s whatever you want to do. Anywhere from playing casually on the weekends to competitive tournament play is available," Amerson said. "Plus it's good people."
In 1998, a friend invited Paul Morrison to play in the tournament. After his first round he was hooked.
“I loved it," Paul Morrison said. "After my first time, I started bringing my son here to play. It really brought us close as a father and son.”
Since that first time, Adam Morrison played nearly every day in the summer.
“I had a drive to get better. I saw how far some people threw it, and I wanted to be better than that,” said Adam Morrison, whose disc golf passion has taken him to tournaments in Wisconsin and Tennessee.
Aside from its social attraction, one of disc golf’s biggest pluses is that it’s cost efficient. Most courses are located in public parks and cost no money to play. The current status of the economy has led to increased interest in the sport in the last couple years according to Paul Morrison.
Neil Killian has seen the expansion of disc golf first hand. He works for Lake Shawnee Discs (LS Discs), a disc golf retailer based out of Topeka, Kansas. The wide variety of discs available at his table at the Mid-America Open speaks to the popularity of the sport.
“Disc golf has changed from a local dream of a few disc golf lovers into a national organization, setting up tournaments and coming up with new products,” Killian said.
Killian said the public traditionally misconstrues disc golf as a hippy sport because it originated in the 1960s. Disc golf first gained considerable notoriety in 1968 when Ed Headrick, an employee of the Southern California toy company Wham-O, introduced disc golf at the All Comers Frisbee Meet at the Rose Bowl. Wham-O was the first company to market Frisbees.
“He was the godfather of disc golf,” Killian said of Headrick. “He revolutionized the sport. He took standard throw and catch discs and changed it to something you could throw longer.”
Killian also said that Missouri does a good job of keeping its parks clean. That is the first step to losing the “hippy image” and becoming more of a mainstream sport. Given its recent increased popularity, Killian estimates that with similar increases in sponsors and media coverage, sport giants like ESPN will feature disc golf in five to 10 years.
Killian is also enjoying the perks of the disc golf community this weekend. He is staying with a friend in Columbia who he met last January at the CDGC’s Ice Bowl instead of spending money on a hotel.
“The disc golf community is just one big family," Killian said. "Everybody accepts you for who you are, instead of the old boys mentality.”
At the ninth hole, Adam Morrison’s first shot landed in a questionable out-of-bounds area. His partners in his foursome, Ryan Kay, James Hefner and Robert Soda, did not falter when Adam Morrison played his second shot. They marked an asterisk next to the hole to ask an official for later judgment, instead of making a scene.
“This sport’s really laid back. It’s a great crowd and I’ve made a lot of friends playing,” said Adam Morrison, who will be a junior at Hickman High School in the fall.
The foursome took a break after 14, eating raspberries and sipping Dasani. Wiping his face with a tie-dye towel, Adam Morrison discussed his favorite discs, courses and his future in disc golf. After graduating high school, Adam Morrison hopes to go pro in disc golf.
“It’s not a great sport to make a living off of, but I’m going to try.”