IF GOLF IS a good walk spoiled by a small white ball, Frisbee golf is a stroll in the forest spoiled only by the trees.

For those who have not tried Frisbee golf (or disc golf, as it's also called) the rules are simple. You start from a tee pad (or launching pad) and "drive" the Frisbee toward the "pole hole." The aim is to toss the Frisbee into a chain basket that's mounted on the pole in the fewest throws. Golfers mark their lie with another disc until it's time to shoot again. The holes are about one-third the length of regular golf holes and each is marked with its par. Each stroke is worth one point and the lowest score wins.

Unlike traditional golf you don't need much equipment for Frisbee golf. Serious disc golfers use different weights and sizes of Frisbees for distance, accuracy and curvature, but plenty of fun can be had with an inexpensive disc from a toyshop.

"Frisbee golf isn't so much a sport as a recreation, like lawn darts or croquet," explains Daniel Morrisey of Springfield. He and his family, including sons, Brandon, 18, and Kyle, 14, spend time at the Burke Lake Park course every few weeks.

Morrisey says he and Brandon can make par but it takes practice. It's "all in the wrist," he explains.

It may be all in the wrist, but it's not in my wrist. On a par four, I managed a double bogey-six, skittering my disc along the ground, curving it off to the right and zinging it into the trees when I wanted it to go straight.

And I wasn't the only one. Mike Carlson and Miggen Jenkins, two recent college graduates took up the sport last winter.

Like most people, they play it for fun, but it's more fun if you can get good shots and make par.

"She calls me the treehunter," said Carlson, jerking his thumb at Jenkins.

Dave Steger, 26, an electrical engineer who started playing eight years ago, says children seem to have fun playing the game and "so do we."

"We" in this case, is the Northern Virginia Flying Disc Union, a group of hard-core Frisbee golfers. Consisting of a mailing list of about 100, the group sponsors spring and fall leagues that run for 12 weeks.

"We choose different courses every week and whoever wants to come just shows up. We usually get about 35 golfers," Steger explains. The club also holds two tournaments each summer. (Call 703/273-1665 for information.)

"There are lots of shots and different-sized discs," says Steger. "For {disc} golf you need a backhand throw, a forehand wrist flip, an overhead wrist flip and a thumber throw. You can learn the movements in about 15 minutes."

Although Frisbee golf officially dates back to 1974 (when, according to Steger, the pole hole was patented), the concept of flying discs dates back to the discus throwers of ancient Greece.

It appeared again in the mid-1700s when American cowboys allegedly made a game of flinging buffalo chips at a target.

In 1871, William Frisbie bought a pie company in Bridgeport, Conn. Each pie came in a tin with the words "Frisbie's Pies" engraved on it. Students from nearby Yale were said to have started playing catch with the empty plates, calling "Frisbie!" when they were caught.

In the 1940s Fred Morrison, a part-time inventor, sculpted a disc out of plastic in the image of the pie plate and later sold his patent to Wham-O Manufacturing Co. in California. (California remains the home of most Frisbee champions.) Wham-O changed the spelling to "Frisbee."

When my 10-year-old son Adam and I played recently, we gazed at our hot pink Frisbee lofting up into the trees, then floating gently down in the "rough."

"It's almost like you can fly," said Adam.

So believes one of the Frisbee's greatest advocates, Stancil E. D. Johnson, who wrote "Frisbee, A Practitioner's Manual and Definitive Treatise."

His favorite one-liner extolling the spinning disc is this: "When a ball dreams, it dreams it's a Frisbee."


The Frisbee golf courses in the area are:

BLUEMONT PARK -- North Manchester Street and Wilson Boulevard, Arlington. Nine holes, free. Call 703/554-8643.

BULL RUN REGIONAL PARK -- 7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville. 18 holes. Entrance to the park is free for residents of Fairfax, Loudon and Arlington counties and the municipalities of Fairfax City, Falls Church, Town of Arlington and Alexandria; $4 for others. Call 703/631-0550.

BURKE LAKE PARK -- 7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station. 18 holes. The Frisbee golf course is free but on weekends the park charges a $4 per car for non-Fairfax County residents. Call 703/323-6601.

CALVERT ROAD COMMUNITY PARK -- 5202 Old Calvert Rd., College Park. 18 holes, free.

MCLEAN CENTRAL PARK -- 1468 Dolley Madison Blvd., McLean. 18 holes, free.

POHICK BAY REGIONAL PARK -- 10651 Gunston Rd., Lorton. 18 holes. Entrance to the park is free for residents of Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties and the municipalities of Fairfax City, Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria; $4 for others. Call 703/339-6104.

SENECA CREEK STATE PARK -- 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg. 18 holes. Entrance to park free weekdays, $4 for cars with Maryland tags, $5 for others weekends and holidays. Starting Oct. 1, entrance is free weekdays, 50 cents per car weekends and holidays. Call 301/924-2127.

Ann Yost last wrote for Weekend about movies at the swimming pool.