EVANSTON — In 2013, Larry Clifford Kirk — then a technical sergeant in the United States Air Force and a lifelong disc golf enthusiast — set out to play disc golf in 50 states in 50 days, a feat that finally got him into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Since that record-breaking 2013 tour, Kirk has retired from the Air Force – after a 38-year career – and recently embarked on his latest tour of the United States, stopping in Evanston last week for the first time after several visits to the Cowboy State.
While hitting the Hamblin Park course with local disc golf enthusiast Jerry Dorff, Kirk reflected on his more than 40-year love affair with the sport.
“I started playing when I was a teenager in California, and that’s when the game was just getting started,” Kirk explained. “The first course was in Pasadena in 1976. I was introduced in 1978 as a golfer and discovered frisbee golf. I was natural – I loved it. But then I joined the Air Force in ’82 – I started a family in the ’80s, and in the ’90s I was posted to Southern California – and as a result my kids weren’t weren’t as interested in the game as I was. You know, in the 90s they were too small – I would say ‘Guys, look! It’s the course I used to play on,” and they weren’t impressed. They were 8 or 9 at the time, but when they were around 11, I introduced them to disc golf, and I haven’t stopped taking them on road trips since 2001.”
Disc golf is a sport that borrows the basic principles of golf but instead is played with specialized flying discs that are thrown into chained metal targets above the ground.
Estimates from the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) indicate that millions of people around the world participate in the sport.
Currently, there are over 13,000 disc golf courses listed in 45 countries, with the United States having courses in all 50 states.
Kirk began his first tour of disc golf courses in America in 2002, when there were fewer courses to choose from.
“In 2001 there were 85 courses in California and I played 70 of them,” he said. “I was a substitute teacher and single dad sharing custody with my ex-wife, loving life, but going to every class in California. And actually, because my daughter was on the softball team, they went to the nationals in Spokane, and I was like, “Oh! Traveling to Spokane? And that opened my brain, and I immediately thought: Disc Golf Road Trip!’ »
Disc golf was a family affair in the Kirk household at this time, so the decision was made to bring his sons as well.
“My boys came up to me and said, ‘Daddy, are we taking our records?’ And I was like, ‘Are you my sons? Of course, we take our records.'”
“So that was my first road trip to Spokane – we played in Oregon, Washington, then I dived into Idaho and played with my boys in between my daughter’s games. That was my first road trip in 2002.”
Kirk began to slowly accumulate states, and in 2010 was about to complete his first tour of the United States.
“In 2010 I needed nine states and New England – I flew and flew 10 states in 10 days and hit my first 50 states,” he said. he declares. “Two years later – on four road trips – I crossed 50 more states in 10 months in 2012.”
In 2013, Kirk was set to attempt 50 then-unheard-of states in 50 days, a feat made possible by multiple sponsorships and an understanding girlfriend.
“I decided I had to see if anyone would pay for me to have fun, so I came up with the idea of doing 50 states in 50 days in 2013,” he said. “My girlfriend was my co-pilot while I traveled the 48 states – I did Alaska and Hawaii, then she picked me up in Sacramento. We traveled 48 states in 44 days and I got a world record Guinness World for most courses played on this trip – 54.”
Kirk has also performed overseas, where he has documented his exploits for his YouTube channel.
“I went to Bulgaria in 2016 as part of an F-15 military deployment,” he explained. “I went to Greece and created my own course! When I went to Romania, I set up another course with my own basket, then I went to seven countries to settle down with my records. I have five videos on my YouTube channel — I’ve documented everything and everywhere I’ve been for 20 years.
Kirk recently worked as a caddy for a few pro tournaments, after which he moved back to California to be with his girlfriend. Soon after, his wanderlust consumed him again.
“I said, ‘It’s time for me to go back on tour,’ and my girlfriend said, ‘I knew this was going to happen,'” Kirk laughed. “So here I am on my way to Minnesota. On the internet, disc golf has just taken off with [the pandemic]. Everyone plays, they buy records. So I’ll follow the tour and see where it takes me, man. I played five courses yesterday in Utah. I drove 600 miles on Sunday from Fresno. I played in Vegas on two courses. I’m going through Wyoming, and it’s quite a journey.
Kirk met dozens of other disc golfers – frequently posing with them for selfies – during his adventures, calling it a close-knit community.
“Connecting with people on disc golf courses just by walking up to them and asking ‘Hey, can I watch a game?’ is something that I really enjoy,” he said. “I haven’t been beat for it yet. You know, you can get an F-bomb once in a while, but that’s just the Game. “
When asked why he kept making these trips, Kirk said the answer was simple.
“I’m nothing special — just a guy in my car, sleeping in my car, sleeping with people I know from the past — it’s just about promoting the game of disc golf,” he said. .
“Also, there are eight guys who have more disc golf courses than me, so I’m kind of chasing 2000 courses – that’s my goal, and I’m at 1600 today with this course. [Hamblin Park] play. I’m 61, I have girlfriend permission and it’s so much fun. You know, you come into a city, and you walk around like you’re a local, and you talk to people.
“Why wouldn’t you want to do that?” You meet people. It’s a meeting people thing. Life is too short to hide in a corner.