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Disc jockeys: Locals embrace sport on the move, use local courses

Just a few short years ago, pickleball was the fastest growing sport locally and across the nation well, but disc golf is now the sport on the move. It has found its own success with ever-increasing demand for practice courses and competitions. 

Rowan has courses at Ellis Park, Kelsey Scott Park, Catawba College, Lake Corriher Wilderness Park and Sloan Park. A new course is currently being talked about at Salisbury Community Park. Local enthusiasts also just formed a new disc golf club for the county called the Salisbury Slingers. 

Clayton Lewis started playing disc golf a little over five years ago with his cousins. After he went at to play just once, he was hooked.

“At first, I only played casually, not really taking it seriously and just having fun,” Lewis said.

Joining an uncle and his cousins, Lewis played in his first tournament in 2017. They had so much fun that Lewis signed up for more. He slowly worked his way through the amateur divisions. Late last year, he started playing in a professional division. About to turn 20 in March, Lewis has found his niche.

“Honestly, it is just what I have gotten good at,” he said. “I enjoy watching the disc fly after I throw a good shot. Making a big putt or throwing a shot perfectly down a tightly wooded fairway gets me excited.”

With his first professional win on Feb. 6 at Bradford Park in Huntersville, Lewis saw the culmination of plenty of work and dreams. 

“I didn’t start out the day particularly great, but kept my head about me, then played the back nine very well, birdying five of the last six holes which put me in the lead,” he said. “On the second round, I started out hot, birdying the first four holes. I never lost the lead and did not make any crucial mistakes coming down the stretch.” 

Lots of practice has been the key to Lewis’ success so far. He also gets an assist from his Dad, Chad, who carries his bags during tournaments and practices with him. Lewis has thought about what it would take to compete on the pro tour level, but those guys are “insanely good.”

“Very few people are naturally gifted enough to just be able to show up and play. You also must handle the nerves that come during a tournament.” he said. “If you practice enough, you can rely on muscle memory to bring you through those nerves.” 

When not playing disc golf, Lewis is a sophomore exercise science major at Catawba College. He wants to be a physical therapist and is currently interning at Stewart Physical Therapy. Lewis is interested in most sports and especially enjoys watching football. He’s employed as a lifeguard at the South Rowan YMCA. 

At most smaller tournaments, the top 40% of the field gets paid by splitting up the entry fees. At larger tournaments with bigger sponsors, more money than entry fees is up for grabs. Better tournaments typically are closer to the Charlotte area.

“In tournaments or even casually, nearly everyone is encouraging and uplifting, even though we are competing against each other,” Lewis said. “Most disc golfers like seeing anyone throw a good shot. Of course, we all want to win, but the disc golf community is especially neat in that the players are very encouraging of each other regardless of skill level.”

For smaller local tournaments, anyone can play. Lewis recommends starting in the lower amateur divisions and working your way up. After each tournament, players get a “rating” based on how good the round was. For larger national tournaments, a certain player rating has to be met to sign up.

More people are playing disc golf now than ever before. Lewis said the courses are much more crowded and local tournaments are filling up quickly.

“If you are online right when registration opens, you still may not be able to get in,” he said. “The local courses in Salisbury and China Grove are being maintained much better now as well, thanks to a lot of work by Rusty Fisher.”

Fisher is the soccer coach at South Rowan and an avid player who does a lot of course maintenance. Lewis remembered that Ellis Park used to be rough to play, but now it is in the best shape he’s seen. Fisher has also worked on the Sloan Park course and has helped get the Salisbury disc golf club back up and running. 

There was a weekly league at Sloan Park before daylight savings time ended, and Lewis expects that league to resume soon.

For more info on local disc golf, look for the Salisbury Slingers Disc Golf Club on Facebook. 



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