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Go ahead, throw it for ahole-in-one

In this version of golf, using your hands is not only within the rules, but the only way to play. And it's much cheaper than the sport with all those clubs.

Published May 12, 2006

With a flick of her wrist, Jennifer McCray sent a red plastic disc whizzing through the air.

The disc arched over the lake at Limona Park and landed halfway between McCray and the metal basket she was aiming for.

Her hopes of a hole-in-one were sunk, but she had avoided landing one in the lake's green soup.

IF YOU GO: The Limona disc golf course grand opening takes place Saturday from 9 5 1316 Lakewood Drive, Brandon. For more information, call 657-7440.

McCray wasn't playing Frisbee. Instead of passing the disc to another player, Frisbee-style, she aimed for a metal basket 300 feet away. Nor was she playing golf, though she gauged how well she was doing against the hole's par of three.

McCray was playing disc golf, sometimes called "frolf" because it combines Frisbee and golf.

The sport dates back to the 1960s and enjoys a small but loyal following around the world. (Japan hosts an annual tournament.)

The goal of disc golf is to sink a plastic disc - slightly smaller and harder than a Frisbee - into a metal basket using as few throws as possible. The unusual metal baskets, mounted three to four feet off the ground, consist of three parts.

The circular top resembles the lid of a trash can. A dozen chains hang around its circumference. As discs fly into the basket, they get caught in the chains, then fall into a metal bucket below.

"It's a sport that's a little bit more outside the box," said John Brill, public information officer for Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation. "That's what appealed to us; it's not something everybody else has."

The Limona Park course is the first public disc golf facility in the county, Brill said. The University of South Florida keeps a private course, and Pinellas County boasts several public and private options.

The course has been open to the public since December but will celebrate its official opening with an event Saturday.

McCray, 37, has been the driving force behind its creation, along with her husband, JohnE McCray, (pronounced "Johnny"), 34. He is a professional player ranked sixth in the world in his division, McCray said. At the Saturday event, he will provide free hourly demonstrations for the public.

Two years ago, the McCrays approached the county with the idea of a disc golf course. They suggested building a nine-hole course - the smallest size for a disc golf course - that could be played twice for an 18-hole, 54-par game.

As sales representatives for Gateway Disc Sports, a company that sells disc golf equipment, the McCrays also hoped their company would provide the winning bid for the project.

The county, meanwhile, had an existing park that was attracting unwelcome visitors. Underused by the public, Limona Park had become the source of complaints from nearby residents about illegal activities at night, ranging from drinking and drug use to sexual activity in the park's public rest room.

"There was stuff going on in the park that was not family-oriented," Brill said. "We thought, if we can get someone out here to use a course, the bad element will leave and go somewhere else."

When the McCrays produced a bid that lowered the cost for each of the nine baskets from $500 to $350 and added a lifetime guarantee against lightning and hurricanes, the county said yes.

It seemed like an inexpensive solution to a serious problem, Brill explained.

The county tore down the public rest room, but made few other changes to the 10-acre park to accommodate the disc golf course.

Oak trees, hills, and the park's small lake all create natural obstacles for players to finesse.

When the county offered to trim back trees along the course, "we were like, no, no, no," McCray said.

It's not a typical flat and treeless Florida course, she said. The Limona course offers more challenging terrain and the cooling benefits of shade from giant oaks. (As in traditional "ball" golf, players can be penalized or disqualified for disturbing natural elements in the landscape.)

"We just hope people will get outside and stop doing everything on a computer," McCray said.

The county couldn't agree more, Brill said. "We're trying to encourage people to get up and get active," he said, citing recent studies that show a rise in obesity among adults and children.

Discs are the only equipment players need to buy; they typically cost between $8 to $16. Many local merchants don't carry them yet, but McCray sells them at the park on Saturday mornings. During the event Saturday, discs will be provided for play on that day.

Two separate leagues have already taken off, enticing people to the park on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

League players contribute $5 each week. The money is divided between awards for top scorers and a park improvement fund.

[Last modified May 11, 2006, 17:15:48]

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