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Tri-State resident helps spread disc golf fever

Apr. 13, 2009 @ 09:05 PM

HUNTINGTON -- It's not uncommon for regulars of Rotary Park's disc golf courses in Huntington to run into Andy Harshbarger.

As the president of the Huntington Disc Golf Club, Harshbarger has become more than just an occasional player, but a disc golf greeter for newbees and veterans who play the courses.

Playing between two and five days a week, Harshbarger is always willing to give a few pointers to new players, pair up with experienced players and organize times when people can get together and "just throw."

On Saturday, he gathered a group of volunteers to pour about 10 new concrete throwing pads for one of the disc golf courses in Rotary Park. All of the money he receives through donations or club fees goes directly back into the park.

Harshbarger has been spending more time at the park in preparation for the CSX Pro/Am Open on May 2 and 3. Before the 80 or so tournament players show up in Huntington, the courses must be cleared of brush and litter, and more tee pads must be installed.

All of the hard work displayed by Harshbarger is an extension of the generosity shown to him when he first learned about disc golf, he said.

"The people are so nice; they always want to help you find a lost disc or teach you something," he said.

Johnny Sias, Lavalette resident and 1986 Disc Golf World Champion, said Harshbarger embodies all of the positive aspects of the sport.

"He's a great guy," Sias said. "He's a good friend who will do anything in the world for you."

Harshbarger began playing disc golf eight years ago when he saw a few people playing while he was taking his dog for a walk through Rotary Park.

"I just wanted to know how they threw a Frisbee 300 feet," he said.

Harshbarger approached the players and after a few minutes of talking, they gave Harshbarger his first few discs for free.

He's been hooked ever since.

His first experience with disc golf players, Harshbarger said, is typical for most people. Most disc golfers not only give new players advice, some give out some of their older discs to introduce people to the sport.

Since his first trip to Rotary Park, Harshbarger has played on courses all over the country while on vacation with his family or taking trips with local players. He's played on courses from Florida to Wisconsin and everywhere in between, Harshbarger said.

And if there isn't a course to be played, Harshbarger brings his own portable basket.

Playing on such a variety of courses, Harshbarger said there are so many things that can be done to improve the courses at Rotary Park. Harshbarger recently tapped Sias for help on building and installing new signs for one of the courses.

Paying for the materials themselves, Sias welded about 21 signs and worked with Harshbarger to install them. The previous wooden signs were handmade by Jeff Harshbarger, Andy's dad and disc golf enthusiast.

"Everything's done through voluntary work," Harshbarger said. "We don't have the funding to hire people, but everybody chips in to do their part."

To help fund the course upkeep, individuals, businesses and organizations sponsor throwing tees. Other people just donate whatever money they can to support the disc golf courses in Huntington, Harshbarger said.

"Most of the donations come from disc golfers, and I'm really proud of that," Harshbarger said. "They like to see improvements made, and everybody wants a better course."

An example of the generosity of disc golfers, was the recent $150 throwing tee donation by a Cincinnati disc golfer. Harshbarger met Adam Jones during a tournament in Lexington, Ky., a few years ago and they have since kept in touch.

Though Jones only plays the Huntington courses three or four times a year, he still wanted to donate money to help improve the course, Harshbarger said.

The great thing about disc golf, Harshbarger said, is that it doesn't discriminate. People of all ages and athletic abilities can go out and throw for free. Aside from the purchase of a disc, typically less than $10, Harshbarger said anyone can learn to play for minimal or no cost.

Unlike regular golf, disc golf courses are typically free and open to the public. Disc golf's inexpensive nature, Sias said, is what draws a lot or people into the sport.

"The cost of one round of regular golf, will last you a few years in disc golf," Sias said.

For those who want to pick up the sport or learn a few things from the veterans, Harshbarger recommended people participate in the club's weekly doubles tournament starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Amateurs are paired with experienced players that help them with throwing technique and shot placement. Over time, players can improve their skill and confidence to compete in a tournament.

Course options for disc golfers have recently increased with the completion of two 18-hole courses at Ashland's Armco Park off U.S. 60. Local Ashland resident Tim Huff presented his idea in October to Boyd County officials, who approved it and provided $20,000 to fund the project.

The courses opened in late-March with over 100 new and experienced players attending the course opening. Supporting the cause, Harshbarger helped make way for the baskets by carrying bags of concrete for the tee pads and to secure the baskets.

With two new courses, designed by Sias and developed by volunteers, Harshbarger said the disc golf scene is growing and becoming more competitive.

"There are kids coming out here that are 16 years old throwing 450 feet which make me say to myself, 'Man, I'm old,'" Harshbarger joked. "When you go out to play, whether you've been throwing for a month or 20 years, you're going to learn something new."

To get more involved with the local disc golf scene, Harshbarger recommends disc golfers log on to the club's Web site, www.huntingtondiscgolf.com. The Web site features news about the latest local tournaments, club and course rules and an interactive forum.

Users post items about disc sales, advice and techniques, disc reviews and a place to find out if someone found your lost disc. In only a few years the Web site has grown to 815 users.

But for the technologically impaired, Harshbarger said disc golfers can just approach him if they have questions about the club or disc golf in general.

Harshbarger said he can be found most days playing the courses in Rotary Park.

Andy Harshbarger

AGE: 31

HOMETOWN: Huntington

POSITION: President of the Huntington Disc Golf Club

FAMILY: Wife, Kellie and sons, Aiden, 5, Owen, 6 months

FAVORITE DRIVER: Innova EcoStar XCaliber

FAVORITE MIDRANGE: Innova Roc

FAVORITE PUTTER: Innova Star XD

FAVORITE ACTIVITIES: Playing disc golf with his dad and son, walking his dogs and traveling with the family

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