A disc golf wonder

Garrett Gurthie, 14, demonstrates his throwing style at the disc golf course at Northside Park in Gainesville.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 12:52 a.m.
On a cool spring night at Northside Park, the kid they call Double-G grabbed a fluorescent orange frisbee out of his duffel bag.
Then, with two steps of momentum and a deft flick of his wrist, 14-year-old Garrett Gurthie flung the frisbee more than 300 feet, between two oak trees and their dangling branches, within 10 yards of the chain basket he was aiming for.
"Nice shot," a passer-by said.
Garrett is getting used to compliments. The eighth-grader at Howard Bishop Middle School is one of the youngest members of the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Competing against some players more than twice his age, Garrett is holding his own in a sport that requires the concentration and accuracy of a player on the PGA Tour.
"It's fun here, being outside instead of being inside playing video games," Garrett said.
Garrett already has his own sponsors and in August will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, to take part in the PDGA World Championships. The family is renting a Winnebago to make the trip. Garrett was able to pay his $200 entry fee by placing second in a PDGA state event in Dunnellon in early May. He won $300 in his highest finish of the season.
Statewide, Garrett is ranked 24th out of 102 professional players. Nationally, he's in the top 25 percent (336 out of 1,591). Those numbers, says his father, Howard Gurthie, will only go up in time.
"Every time we drive back from a tournament he's always looking forward to the next one," Howard said. "He likes the sport, likes to work at it and likes the people involved. I can see him sticking with it for some time."
Garrett recalled first throwing a frisbee "before I could stand." By age 5, Garrett was going out to the disc golf course at Northside Park every day. The course is just yards from the apartment complex in which Garrett and his siblings grew up.
Howard, also a disc golf player, tutored him. By 10, Garrett was competing in the PDGA amateur ranks. He turned pro at 13, after dominating the junior amateur division.
"They were calling me a bagger because I was winning all the advanced tournaments," Garrett said. "I like it. Instead of winning frisbees and stuff, you win money."
Disc golf is a hybrid of golf and frisbee. Each hole at Northside Park is marked, with obstacles such as trees designed to make sure shots are kept in the fairway. Most holes average 300 to 400 feet.
At the end of each hole are "baskets," which are essentially metal poles surrounded by chain-linked baskets. The object is to get the frisbee in the basket. Like in golf, a short-game is required.
So, too, are a variety of frisbees, which players call discs. Garrett keeps about 15 to 20 different discs in his bag.
"I have putters, drivers," Garrett said. "A lot of it is studying the wind, knowing which plastic will curve and which plastic will stay straight."
Par is 54 for most 18-hole courses. Garrett's best day, 8-under par, came at an event in Gainesville.
During the course of the season, Garrett and his father travel to about 14 tournaments throughout the state, in cities ranging from Tallahassee to Miami.
This past weekend Garrett participated in a tournament in Sarasota. National events also have taken him to Michigan, Alabama, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
"We've gotten to see a good part of the country," Howard said. "It's a lot of miles on the family station wagon."
If you think the traveling affects his schoolwork, think again. Garrett is a straight-A student.
"He knows he has to keep grades up in order to keep playing," Howard said.
Garrett said he would like to continue playing disc golf through the end of high school and would like to tour the country professionally for a year before going to college.
"We're hoping it will become an Olympic sport by then," Garrett said. "That would be the ultimate, being able to represent your country."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at 374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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