Craig Gangloff has a way with Frisbees. The 35-year old construction estimator's mastery of the plastic circles has made him something of a celebrity on the international disc golf circuit.
Nearly two decades of practice earned him the Maryland disc golf championship (four times), and fifth place in the world championships (in 1992). But to him, it's just "a good walk in the park," he says.
Disc golf, also known as Frisbee golf, is a younger sibling of traditional golf: Invented in the mid-1970s, it has similar rules, but golf balls are replaced by special Frisbees that players aim into four-foot-tall metal baskets.
Gangloff is standing in the parking lot at the Calvert Road Disc Golf Course in College Park as he explains another aspect of the sport's appeal. "This is one of the low-impact forms of exercise," he says.
But there's no time to chat now. It's tee time: just after 6 p.m. on a Tuesday and the nearly 30 people who have gathered here are eager to get in 18 holes before the sun sets.
Today Gangloff has brought a co-worker, 32-year-old Jamal Williams, of Greenbelt, who is playing for the first time. "You should have heard Jamal on the way over here," Gangloff says of Williams.
"He was talking so much [trash]."
Williams smiles sheepishly and shrugs: "I thought that since it was a hoop, it would be familiar," says the basketball enthusiast.
But midway through today's set, it is obvious that it takes more than mere athleticism to acquire skills like Gangloff's. The disc golf champion stands at the edge of the eight-foot-long asphalt "tee pad," and takes three short steps.
He flicks his wrist a few times to warm up, then lets go of the disc, kicking one leg back with a flourish. The Frisbee sails through the tree-dotted course. It looks as if it's headed for a hole-in-one, but mid-flight, veers about five feet from the basket.
"Wow, that was close," one of his competitors exclaims. Another competitor, Terry Giansanti, a 23-year-old recent Gallaudet University graduate, drops to his knees, bowing his head and flapping his arms toward Gangloff in mock worship.
Williams, on the other hand, is struggling a bit. He's wearing a white, long-sleeved T-shirt and khaki pants and brown loafers--not the shorts-and-T-shirt uniform that the rest of the regulars have on.
Williams's strong arm sends the disc soaring at first, but then it slams into a tree with a weighty thud.
"You're getting close," Gangloff says, patting Williams on the rear with a Frisbee.
The players navigate the 18 holes on the nine-acre course lugging small, square bags that carry about a dozen discs. (Today, some are also using the carriers to hold bottles of beer). Like conventional golfers, the disc golfers use different discs depending on what type of shot they want to make.
A wide disc selection comes in handy when you're braving treacherous winds and other weather conditions. But disc golfers stay home if it snows, right?
"Oh, no," insists David Backus, a 34-year-old General Motors sales representative from Silver Spring. "Sometimes, I like to play in the virgin snow. There's nothing like it. You've got deer out here. No one else is out on the course, and there are like five to six inches of snow."
Gangloff agrees that playing in the white stuff is a special treat. "When there is virgin snow, it's very easy to find the Frisbee because there is only one hole. But after a whole bunch of people trudge through it, it's much harder to find it."
Another occasional thrill is playing after dark with special glow-in-the-dark discs.
Disc golfers are unfazed by weather conditions that would scare off lesser athletes. Backus recalls a thunderstorm that raged during a tournament at the College Park course. The winds whipped through the trees at 50 to 60 mph. The rain was crashing down and a thunderbolt struck one of the trees on the course, splitting it in half.
Thirty minutes after the storm passed, they got back on the course to finish their tournament.
Although the disc golfers here admire Gangloff's skills, most everyone also remarks on his modesty and his dedication to the sport. Aside from playing in 15 to 25 Professional Disc Golf Association tournaments per year, he devotes considerable time and money to boosting the sport in the Washington area.
In 1990, when Gangloff noted some unused land at the Seneca State Park in Gaithersburg, he persuaded the state to let him install a disc golf course there. A trained architect, Gangloff designed the 35-acre course himself, kicked in $5,000 out of his own pocket and raised an additional $7,000 to build the course.
Today, it is one of the best courses in the Washington area, with a yearly spring tournament where enthusiasts compete for $8,600 in prize money. Gangloff says he had no qualms about paying all that money for the course because, ultimately, it helped make disc golf accessible to more people.
"I knew that if we built it, we'd get a bunch more people to play with," Gangloff says. "And that's exactly what happened."
Disc golf groups play every Tuesday at 6 p.m at the Calvert Road Disc Golf Course, 5202 Paint Branch Pkwy., College Park. Free. For more information, call Craig Gangloff at 301-528-8791.
If you're going to embark on the sport of disc golf, it's helpful to know the lingo. Here are a few terms that disc golfers use:
POLE HOLE--The metal chain basket held up by a pole that the disc goes into.
TREE-LOVED--When a tree facilitates the disc's flight to the pole hole.
TREE-NIED--Short for "tree denied," when a tree blocks the disc's path to the pole hole.
MAC--Stands for Mid-flight Attitude Change, when the disc abruptly changes course in mid-flight. For example: "The disc just mac-ed off that tree!"
B.D.S.--Bad disc selection.
TACO--The disc after it's been so worn that it has warped into a shape resembling the Mexican treat.
FROWNING--Similar to Taco, "not a happy disc."
CAPTION: Doug Vermillion launches a disc golf drive during a round of Frisbee golf at the Calvert Road Disc Golf Course, an 18-hole course on nine acres in College Park.
CAPTION: Frisbee golfer Jay Megonigal drops a putt into a pole hole at the Calvert Road course.