Putting the Joy in Portland’s Disc Golf Scene
On a balmy evening in early spring, Mainers emerge from their dens and flock toward their favorite local breweries to quench their thirst for outdoor patio life. At Rising Tide Brewing Company, one of Portland’s more popular spots, the air is filled with notes of sun-soaked laughter, clinking glasses overflowing with IPAs, and something else—the reverberating sounds of discs hitting chains. Though much of this crowd consists of regulars, there is someone new in town: The JoySwich Putting League.
JoySwich, a newly crafted business founded by Adam McHugh and Mae Holmes, is a brand that merges outdoor recreation and adventure with a specific focus on the sport of disc golf. When McHugh and Holmes struggled to find a property that could house the JoySwich disc course of their dreams, they shifted their plans and decided to bring the sport to Portland. The Putting League, which commenced in April and ended in late May, was born out of a dream to make disc golf accessible, enjoyable, and inclusive for all Mainers. Its main focus is to practice one of the more difficult and technical aspects of disc golf known as “putting,” when players throw the discs from shorter distances, usually 30 feet or less.
“We started this as an avenue into a beloved part of the much broader outdoor community,” said co-founder, Adam McHugh. “We want to enable that by offering not only the venues but also the equipment as well, so folks can try different types of discs without having to buy them or knowing how they perform. We also want people to make connections with others to have an enriched pool of discing friends. We are hoping mostly to extend the beauty of the game to newcomers and expand access for more women specifically to get interested and involved in the game.”
Putting League takes place every Monday evening from 6 to 8. The league rules are similar to that of a bowling league: Two teams play head-to-head in a match consisting of three games with teams composed of at least four (up to six) recurring players. The games consist of 10 total frames and players rotate, throwing five discs per frame. The discs are thrown from distances of 20, 25, and 30 feet. At the end of each week, stats are collected and published on JoySwich’s website so players can keep track of their progress. There is even a weekly prize for the one who sinks the most discs each game.
“When I heard Adam and Mae were starting a putting league, I wanted to join right away—they are good friends I met when they hired me to design the Joyswich logo,” said Laura Felina, a local designer based in Portland. “I was awful for the first couple weeks and had to push through that discomfort. By week three I started to get the basics down and won that week’s award for the most improved player. Now I am looking forward to the league every week for the fun of improving as much as getting to hang out with everyone. It’s awesome.”
Many of the league teams consisted of friends, co-workers, and even strangers who rallied to form a free-agent team. While not all players were experienced discers, everyone was able to come together to perfect their putting skills while sipping some of their favorite craft beers.
JoySwich rotated their league locations at various Portland breweries, including Rising Tide, Bayside Bowl, Definitive Brewing, Goodfire, Thirsty Pig, Belleflower, and Austin Street, which hosted the final playoffs. Each location was able to provide a space for 10 disc baskets and a handful of joyful spectators from the community.
For venue owners such as Charlie Mitchell of Bayside Bowl, there was a lot of excitement around hosting a putting league for the first time.
“Bayside Bowl, at its heart, is built around leagues,” said Mitchell. “I love disc golf, so it’s a natural fit. Leagues create a culture at a bar. The customers feel a responsibility to the business since they know they’ll be back. It also gives the host bar a real opportunity to become a part of the customers’ lives—a place they associate with good times.”
After immense success with the first run of the league, many breweries have already agreed to welcome JoySwich back. “We have a great outdoor space that’s perfect for this sort of thing,” said Heather Sanborn, owner of Rising Tide. “We’d love to host again. The response to the first event was great!”
Though the spring putting league has since ended, another session is currently in progress, and there will be more in the coming summer months (see the schedule here). “We wanted to make this league a Portland staple every eight weeks and usher in as many new teams as we can manage,” said McHugh. “We’re looking to run concurrent leagues and spread the matches around the city and beyond to as many venues as possible.” Additionally, McHugh and Holmes aim to expand access to disc golf by offering outings where they will supply the discs and transportation to courses, as well as free pop-up courses in parks and on islands in the Casco Bay area. Holmes will even be hosting a skill-building women’s clinic.
Regardless of whether you’re a veteran player, a newcomer, or a curious spectator, disc golf is a sport that is steeped in camaraderie and excitement. If you’re interested in learning more about events in the Portland area, sign up for JoySwich’s email list at https://www.joyswich.com.
Story by Noelle Auger. Noelle is an outdoor enthusiast living in southern Maine. She is an English teacher in Lewiston and enjoys writing about nature in her free time.