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The ‘Buz’ about Disc Golf

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Throwing circle-shaped objects has a long history in sports, dating back to 708 BC. Discus throwing was part of the pentathlon, an Ancient Greek Olympic competition. While it is still a part of athletic competition today, this circle-shaped object has become much lighter, and seriously, can you imagine throwing a frisbee made out of stone, iron, or bronze?

The History
Walter Frederick Morrison (January 23, 1920–February 9, 2010), born in Richfield, Utah, is credited with the invention of the frisbee. He originally came up with the idea when he and his girlfriend, Lucile Eleanor “Lu” Nay (1920–1987), were entertaining themselves by tossing a popcorn can lid back and forth. Eventually, a cake pan took the place of the lid. During a day at the beach, a beachgoer offered them a quarter for one of those pans, which gave Morrison and his then-wife Lu an idea of how to make a few extra bucks. They began selling them for 25 cents at parks and beaches around Los Angeles, California, under the creative name “Flyin’ Cake Pans.”

While serving in World War II as a fighter pilot, Morrison’s plane was shot down, and he was held captive for 48 days in Germany. Upon his return to the States, he perfected the design of this cake pan toy to become the “Pluto Platter,” a more aerodynamic design made out of plastic. Morrison and his wife had business challenges surrounding their new adventure until Wham-O, a major toy company, bought the rights and gave it a name change from “Pluto Platter” to Frisbee, and the rest is history.

“It’s so simple that anyone could pick it up and fly it acceptably well in a few minutes,” Kennedy said. “It’s inexpensive and adaptable to existing games and to new games,” said Phil Kennedy, Morrison’s biographer, during a CNN interview after the passing of Morrison at age 90.

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And Kennedy was right. Many competitive games utilize a circle-shaped toy—for instance, Ultimate Frisbee. However, one disc-competing game continues to pique interest in outdoor recreational sports: disc golf.

The Development of Disc Golf
Disc Golf was first created by “Steady” Ed Headrick #001 while employed at Wham-O in 1966. Two other essential men, George Sappenfield #376 and Kevin Donnelly, also molded and designed the frisbee into a new game that became one of the world’s fastest-growing sports.

The game took off like a UFO; any championship winner would leave the competition gleaming. One top prize in 1974 was a Datsun B210; other tournaments could rake in hundreds of dollars. That was back in the late 70s and 80s when pipe-lined shorts and tube socks were all the rage.

In recent years, a gentleman by the name of Buz Ryalls-Clephane #47017, a Brooksville resident, stepped on the course on April 16, 2011, in Floral City. During this Professional Disc Golf Association Tour del Sol competition, Sun King presented him with his very first championship title.

But how did this 70-year-old man with a braided ponytail become a world champion? Buz Ryalls-Clephane, a long-time employee for Hernando County, worked in the utilities department. While traveling here and there, he noticed a sign—yes, a sign.

“I was driving around town, and there was a sign saying New Disc Golf Store. I followed the signs and walked into the store, and there was a sign across the front that said, ‘The Buzz is Here,’” Ryalls-Clephane said.

Buz could literally take that as a sign, but in actuality, the new Buzzz (Buzzz is one of the most popular midrange discs in the world for disc golf) was a super cool tie-dye disc and the first disc he bought. “In 2008, I entered my first tournament and got my first ace with the first disc I ever bought—a tie-dye buzzz appropriately,” Ryalls-Clephane said.

Winning the Championships: Amateur Masters 70+
In August 2021, Ryalls-Clephane competed in the 2021 PDGA Amateur Disc Golf World Championships in Orlando, FL. Having just over ten years on the course, he took the World Championship title in the MA-Amateur Masters 70+ Division. He played six rounds, competing against 22 other players from all over the United States.

“It was so exciting. It was one of those things that I felt like I had done a really good thing for my club and all the Florida disc golfers,” Ryalls-Clephane said.

He explained that the title meant more than just a trophy win. It meant more personally because his wife and friends were in that local atmosphere and were there to experience it with him. “I value our social connection so much,” Ryalls-Clephane said.

From 2011 until his victory on July 22, 2023, in the MVP Circuit Challenge put on by SunKing Discs in Floral City, Florida, he continued to participate in more tournaments and maintained a strong competitive position in his division.

For women and men in their senior ‘young at heart’ years, disc golf can be a great outdoor recreational activity. Being in any sport has challenges, but for Ryalls-Clephane, those challenges helped him achieve many lifetime changes. One was to quit smoking, and the other was to learn how his body and mind could perform on the course.

“It’s one of the healthiest exercises you can do. It’s really uplifting to me, emotionally and physically,” said Ryalls-Clephane. “It really works out your entire body, starting with your feet. If you do it as a form of exercise, you improve your mindset and your game.”

Ryalls-Clephane, a Nature Coast Disc Golf Club member, suggests that those interested in starting this new venture should look into a local disc golf club. “The benefit of joining a club is that you get a lot of people helping you,” said Ryalls-Clephane. “The majority of disc golfers are eager to help other people learn how to play.”

Alice Mary Herden
Alice Mary Herden
Alice Mary Herden is an award-winning writer and photographer. She is also an Advance Florida Master Naturalist.
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