Giving disc golf a spin, Paul McBeth has become the top-ranked player

Giving disc golf a spin, Paul McBeth has become the top-ranked player
Times columnistChris Erskine throws a disc while being coached by four-time consecutive world champion disc golfer Paul McBeth on Feb. 2. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Some decry America's glorification of youth. Not me. How else do you arrive at something as grotesquely glorious as the Grammys — or most movies — without catering to the trite and jagged tastes of bleary-eyed kids? No, give me youth or give me death, even if the former can be "a form of chemical madness," as F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted.

Which brings us to disc golf, probably the most youthful of all sports. While traditional golf is being played at its most gilded levels at Riviera Country Club this weekend, disc golf opens locally with a free tournament on a scruffy old course in Pasadena, featuring the top player in the world, an Orange County kid who can chuck a wedge of plastic to Pluto (if the solar wind's a little right).


Paul McBeth is 25, and has thrown a disc farther than most of us can smack a Titleist. More impressive, he can snap a shot into a chained basket — the hole in disc golf — from 75 feet away as reliably as splashing a free throw.

A four-time world champ and the sport's No. 1-ranked player, McBeth blends confidence and great calm in a way that eludes most duffers. It's why the Huntington Beach High grad just signed a sponsorship deal worth more than a half-million dollars. That's chicken feed compared with PGA deals. But still.

Four-time consecutive world champion disk golfer Paul McBeth of Huntington Beach practices at Huntington Central Park's disc golf course on Feb. 2.
Four-time consecutive world champion disk golfer Paul McBeth of Huntington Beach practices at Huntington Central Park's disc golf course on Feb. 2. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

McBeth plays golf for a living, that's the important thing. He stands atop four-leaf clovers under cloudless skies on lush spring days, flinging plastic discs over and over at targets from different distances — with the sea breeze, against the sea breeze. He does this relentlessly, in preparation for tournaments from here to Finland.

Now, does your work cubicle feel a tad smaller?

Disc golf is to normal golf what weed is to rutabaga (more on this in a moment). A sport of hipsters and lost souls, but with hippie roots dating to the '60s, it is played like regular golf on park courses throughout Southern California. In fact, the world's first course was in Pasadena, in Hahamongna Watershed Park, where the par-54 layout still draws scores of players each week.

Now played in an estimated 40 countries, and often still referred to as Frisbee golf, the sport features special gear that can be purchased at many sporting goods stores. One of the draws is the low cost. Discs sell for $9 to $25. McBeth carries 20 to 30 of them, but you can get by with a few — a driver, a midrange (like an iron) and a putter (the slowest, most accurate discs). The courses are usually free.


Still so wet behind the ears, disc golf may be the nation's least stuffy sport. That's not to say it hasn't picked up a few traditions. Where conventional golfers may knock back a few gin and tonics after a round, casual disc golfers might go for more herbal remedies, as befits its agrarian roots.

McBeth neither smokes nor drinks. For him, the sport is a business first, and demands an un-chemical madness to play at world-class levels.

"Paul's always been quiet and the consummate professional," says Mark Horn, director of this weekend's tournament in Pasadena, where McBeth is the heavy favorite. "I have never heard a harsh word out of his mouth."

Yet, McBeth is refreshingly candid about his fellow competitors. "The one I don't like the most is Will," he says of rival Will Schusterick, another top-ranked pro.

"If it's close, you can pretty much count him out," McBeth says of Ricky Wysocki, another frequent challenger.

Ah, youth. On a perfect Tuesday morning in Orange County, McBeth snaps shot after shot into a chained basket. Off the tee, his throws are freaky flat — more rifle shot than moonbeam — and seem to defy physics as they cut through the air. He can throw as far as 700 feet, he says. In fact, McBeth's arm speed is so fierce, Times photographer Al Schaben noted, that his top-of-the-line motor drive couldn't keep up.


"My game is good in all aspects," McBeth says. "I'm probably the top putter, and top five in all other categories."

In a Portland, Ore., tournament two years ago, he birdied 21 of the last 24 holes to come from seven back to win. In 2015, his best year, he played 25 tournaments and won 18. His worst finish was third.

The resume? Eighty-seven career wins and four straight world championships.

Best moment? Well, that's still to come.

"My ultimate dream is to own my own course," he says, "with a house on it, and allow young players to come and practice."

Follow Chris Erskine on Twitter @erskinetimes