South Bend disc golf team builds friendships, community

To a disc golfer, there is no greater sound than the harsh metal clank of chains clashing against one another after a disc ricochets off them and lands in a basket.
For beginners, this can take more effort than one might expect. Most people who try disc golf for the first time spend an afternoon climbing trees to retrieve errant disc throws.
Like most activities, anyone can improve through practice, repetition and dedication. Take Phil Sanchez, the chief bartender at Woochi in downtown South Bend, who developed a passion for disc golf over the past few years. The first time one of his friends asked him to play, he almost stayed home.
“My buddy was like, ‘let’s go play disc golf,’” Phil says. “I was like, ‘throwing frisbees? That’s ridiculous. That’s what people play instead of real golf.’”
Despite his reservations, he went and enjoyed it. Flashforward to today and his game has significantly improved. He participated in the PDGA Amateur Disc Golf World Championships in Charlotte, North Carolina this summer and is one of the founding members of 574 Chain Gang, a disc golfing team in South Bend with more than 130 members.
He and his buddies created the group in order to grow the sport locally and to support one another.
“When we first started playing. People were like, ‘this isn’t a team sport,’” Phil says. “We said, ‘well, you might feel that way, but the camaraderie is important to us.’”
574 Chain Gang members do not pay dues, but rather represent the brand and support one another. The team’s logo is based on the South Bend flag, and the colors are black and orange. There are hats, shirts, wristbands and discs.
Members support each other by carpooling to tournaments and sometimes even sponsor one another if a fellow member is strapped for cash.
Their encouragement extends beyond the disc golf course as well. Recently, a member and childhood cancer survivor was in the hospital, so the team hosted a disc golf putting contest to raise money to help alleviate the financial burden of his medical bills.
In April, 574 Chain Gang hosted its first event called the Spring Fling for Bling at Rum Village Park in South Bend.
“I took chains and metals and made trophies that were actually like necklaces that the winners got: gold, silver and black for first, second and third place,” Phil says. “The event sold out. There was a waitlist, and I had to turn about 10 people away.”
The team also works closely with another local club, Southside Disc Golf Club, which organizes events throughout the South Bend area.
Besides Rum Village, there are disc golf courses at Madeline Bertrand Park in Niles, George Wilson Park in Mishawaka and Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park in Osceola, to name a few.
While Phil is ambitious, at the age of 36 he does not see himself going pro — yes, there are professional disc golfers — but he continues to disc golf because he loves the game and it keeps his body active.
“I just have fun, and it is healthy,” he says. “I’m always moving. I walk all over the course and talk with friends. It’s not like ball golf. I am not sitting in a cart [all afternoon].”
He said it is also easier on his body than “ball” golf. Due to a previous shoulder injury, swinging a club can put a lot of strain on him, but that’s not a problem in disc golf — another one of the reasons why he thinks everyone should give the sport a try.
“You don’t have to do what we’re doing,” he says. “You don’t have to go out every week and play. … Our team is more like an extended family than anything else.”

Photos by Ashley Wentz