By Barbara Augsdorfer, Photos by Amanda DeBusk
One of the easiest pieces of sports equipment to carry around is a Frisbee, or more generically, a disc. Discs are easier to throw than a boomerang, but the only problem is they work better with at least two people or a human and a dog – that is, if the dog is inclined to return the disc quickly without bite marks. Good luck with that.
In the mid-20th century, someone got the brilliant idea of aiming the plastic flying discs at targets such as trees, poles, and fire hydrants. Well, that was fun for a while; then some other brilliant person made a game of it, keeping score and, finally, making actual basket targets.
While that other game has been famously described as a “beautiful walk ruined by a little white ball,” disc golf is simple to play. Yeah, even a child can do it – and there are no greens fees. Disc golf is played like traditional golf, using flying discs instead of clubs and those annoying little white balls. The object in disc golf is to throw the disc from a designated starting area (tee) into a target called a pole hole in as few shots as possible. One stroke is counted for each throw of the disc. The winner is the disc golfer with the lowest score. Simple.
Searching the internet reveals a dizzying array of websites dedicated to the sport. (Try IndyDiscGolf.com for starters.) Disc golf players are as fanatical about their discs and ancillary gear as any other sports enthusiast. Disc golf has evolved to the point where tournaments are held. One of the first tournaments held in California in the late 1970s awarded a Datsun B-210 to the winner. Remember when Datsuns were cool? (sigh) The first weekend in May has become known as “The World’s Biggest Disc Golf Weekend.” In 2012, more than 18,000 players in 200 cities participated.
One of the coolest things about disc golf is that with some minor modifications, blind and visually-impaired players can also participate in this sport. When Southport native Jacob Ayers began thinking about his Eagle Scout project in 2010, the most obvious thing came to him. At that time, Ayers was a junior at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He decided to build a disc golf course that is blind- and visually-impaired friendly on the school’s campus.
To help make his project a reality, Ayers raised $4,000 in eight months. With the help of a professional course designer, Dennis Byrne of The Disc Golf Company, he created the Eagle Eye Disc Golf Course “with all the bells and whistles.” The only thing missing, according to Ayers, was the technology. “At that point, the best I could do was to install tactile maps, Braille on the signs and bright yellow paint on the baskets,” said Ayers. The last piece of the puzzle finally came in the spring of 2012 when Ayers received a $1,250 grant from the Hamilton Disc Golf Union to travel to the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, Texas. He connected with Humanware (a company that specializes in aids for the visually impaired and blind) who loaned him a talking GPS device to find out how well it worked for course navigation. He also connected with Disc Beeper, a company that had a prototype beeper for flying discs but at that point had yet to start testing and marketing it. Upon request, the company also started a prototype remote-control beeper for the basket – the “hole” in disc golf. Talk about a serendipitous meeting!
“This is where things really started to happen,” recalls Ayers. “The next step in my journey is that I have started the Blind Disc Golf Association, a not-for-profit group to make disc golf readily available to blind and low-vision individuals who want to play.” This has led to some really big events for Ayers. “In April, I’m presenting to the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, at their headquarters. I have also been invited by the National Boy Scout Council to assist setting up an ADA-approved course at the Summit in West Virginia. The course will be part of the grand opening of the Boy Scouts of America’s newest high-adventure camp and the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. Following that, we will be at the World Championships for the Professional Disc Golf Association in Crown Point, Indiana, in August.”
Ayers is currently a freshman at Purdue University in Calumet, Indiana, studying electrical engineering. He’s only 19 years old and already heads a national not-for-profit organization. And that’s not all. “My plans for the next few years are to install courses around the country and the world that are blind friendly. I want to create competitions among other schools for the blind. There is still lots to be done, and I have several people to which I contribute the success of the organization: Dennis Byrne, David Romano, Chris Jones, Rod Humphrey, Nason Tackett, Amber Price, and Mom and Dad. I can’t take all the credit for this as it would not be doing all these wonderful people justice.”
It’s easy to understand how excited Ayers is about this project. But now it’s time to make like a disc and float back to Earth. Since the blind and visually impaired rely on sound, the “Disc Beeper” is the one adaptation that makes disc golf play possible. “The National Federation for the Blind makes a beeping disc,” says Ayers. “But it’s too heavy and doesn’t fly very far.” In contrast, the Disc Beeper isn’t some heavy thing that inhibits the disc’s flying ability. No way. It weighs only 6 grams (that’s less than ¼ ounce). “It doesn’t alter the disc’s flying ability at all,” says Ayers. “The Disc Beeper attaches to any disc using some of the strongest adhesive made by 3M and emits a periodic audible beep that can be heard up to 250 feet away. The Disc Beeper also features multiple beeping sounds to allow multiple players to distinguish their disc from other discs.” According to the Disc Beeper website, the company is working on variations to the Disc Beeper such as increasing the distance that the sounds can be heard since blind players rely solely on sound to find their discs. Come to think of it, the Disc Beeper would be handy even for sighted players who tend to end up in the rough or woods more than the target. Hmmm…
In addition to the discs, the holes – or targets – can be fitted with devices to aid blind and visually-impaired players. Disc Beeper has teamed up with D3LLC which has developed the “Basket Beeper.” It’s just like it …um…sounds. And, of course, Eagle Eye DGC is a test course for this technology. Each hole is fitted with a remote-control beeper programmed to beep a unique sequence. Think of Morse Code with its short and long beeps. Now think of Roman numerals 1 through 5: I, II, III, IV, and V. “The I’s are short beeps and the V’s are long beeps,” Ayers explains. So, on a nine-hole disc golf course, a blind player would know that three short beeps is No. 3 and a long beep followed by two short beeps is No. 7.
“We are also developing an iPhone application for course navigation,” Ayers adds. “The app will give you an audio description of the hole, act as a range finder for locating the target, and give the user direction of travel. We decided to develop that app so it would be an affordable alternative to the Trekker Breeze GPS made by Humanware. The iPhone is the standard platform for accessible phones for the blind on the market.”
“I am living the American dream,” says Ayers. “I’m an innovator. I went from nothing and followed a dream and accomplished something that most people laughed at. When you tell someone about disc golf for the blind they typically don’t believe you till you show them,” Ayers continues. “Seeing is believing.”
For more information about the Blind Disc Golf Association, visit Facebook, facebook.com/BlindDiscGolf.
Barbara Augsdorfer is a graduate of California Lutheran University with more than 20 years of writing and editing experience in the publishing industry. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband Mike, son Robert and a spoiled black lab/rottweiler named Lucky. Barbara’s first car was a 1978 Datsun B-210 GX.
Barbara fantastic article on a sport for the blind and visually impaired! Thanks for heads up!
this is really amazing.maybe we can hold a competition at Purdue Cal.I am able to help. brian cummings 219-712-6210
This is an awesome article. Thank you for writing it.