It’s High Flying in the Golden Years: Prime Time for Disc Golf

World champion disc golfer Jon Graff, 73, of Missoula, Mont.

By DIANNA TROYER

Disc golf is a sport anyone can compete in, even after joint surgeries and knee replacements. 

Just ask Jon Graff, 73, of Missoula, Mont. He’s had an ankle and knee replaced and a rotator cuff reattached. 

“It’s a compelling sport for my personality,” he said. “I’ve always played sports, so a competitive attitude is ingrained in me.”

Graff said he has always loved being outdoors. “I used to do a lot of climbing, hiking, and backpacking. But as you age, your body doesn’t always cooperate, and joints wear out,” he said. “You adjust over time to the sports you can do.”

Graff started playing disc golf in 1992 when his son invited him to fling a few rounds at a course.

He was hooked. 

After his workdays ended, he would play disc golf, perfecting his backhand and forehand throws. He learned when to use certain discs—distance drivers, fairway drivers, mid-ranges, and putters—that vary in rim width, stability, and weight.

When he retired in 2010 after 32 years as a mail carrier, Graff devoted more time to honing his disc golf skills. He watched Internet tutorials and accumulated about 1,000 discs. 

“I’m mostly self-taught,” he said. “When I started, there wasn’t a lot of information out there. I figured out what did and didn’t work for me.”

He transformed from novice to champion at a methodical pace, winning more than three dozen tournaments. But that’s not all.

Graff is a world champion. His powerful and laser-accurate backhand toss helped him win the Professional Disc Golf Association’s 2018 World Championship Title in the Pro Masters 70-plus division in Kansas City.

“My backhand is my strongest stroke,” said Graff. “I have a usable forehand I can rely on when it’s the only shot in certain places.”

Although humble, Jon Graff now has the confidence of a world champion whenever and wherever he competes in tournaments. He looks forward to competing in several this month in Montana and next month in Idaho. 

He will have an advantage on his hometown course at the 15th annual Zoo Town Open in Missoula, August 14 and 15. He will then head to Libby August 28 and 29 for the Kooky Noosa Challenge. Then he’ll trek over to Farragut State Park in Idaho for another competition happening September 17 to 19.

But for Graff, disc golf isn’t about winning.

He shrugs off disappointment when a misaligned disc clunks into a tree. And he grins when the disc makes a metallic clink as it nestles into the chain basket.

“It’s great to be outside, exercising and socializing. You’re having fun, seeing if you can do better than the last time,” he said.

When he packs his discs for a tournament or regular round at one of his two home courses, Pattee Canyon or Blue Mountain (where he typically goes two or three days a week), he also packs along his sense of humor.

“On a recreational disc golf course, you hear a lot of laughter and all kinds of noise,” he said. “Playing disc golf just makes people—of all ages and abilities—smile.”

He noted that, even in tournaments, players talk, encourage, and laugh with each other, to ease the tension. 

“But out of courtesy, we’re quiet when someone is throwing,” he said.

When he’s playing, Graff shares tips with others but declines to offer classes.

“I’m not a good teacher and probably have a few bad habits myself,” he said.

He emphasized how inexpensive it is to try disc golf.

“A disc or two to try it out is not much investment—at about $20—to get someone outside doing something,” he said. 

Graff said his local club, the Garden City Flyers, has been a big part of his life since 2007. “It’s a big group of very supportive younger guys of varying ability,” he said. “My wife has been super supportive all these years, too.” 

When he goes on vacation, Graff checks the PDGA website to find courses and packs a few discs in a bag. The website shows how disc golf has a global appeal with a schedule of tournaments in countless countries year-round.

“Finland has the most courses per capita,” he said. “It’s really taken off there. It’s surprising to see tiny countries hosting a tournament.”

When Graff’s autumn season winds down, he plans to have his right knee replaced in late October. Depending on recovery time from surgery and snow accumulation, Graff might be playing this winter like usual. He has brightly colored discs, which he can easily find in the snow.

“During winter, parts of the course at Blue Mountain can be gnarly with ice and snow, so two other courses were built,” he said. “They both see a lot of use.” 

One is at Fort Missoula, and the other is a $5-per-day, pay-to-play at Linda Vista Golf Course at Lower Miller Creek.

“Doing this keeps a person young,” he said. “I’ll keep playing for quite a few more years.” MSN

Websites listing disc golf events and advice: pdga.com, discgolfscene.com. Montana Disc Golf’s facebook page also lists info. The Kalispell Klassic is scheduled Aug. 8 at Lawrence Park with details listed at www.discgolfscene.com/tournaments/Kalispell_Klassic_2021.