EVANSTON — In 2013, Larry Clifford Kirk — then a technical sergeant in the United States Air Force and a longtime disc golf enthusiast — set out to play disc golf in 50 states in 50 days, a feat that eventually landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Since that record-setting tour in 2013, Kirk has retired from the Air Force — after a 38-year career — and has recently embarked on his latest tour of the United States, stopping in Evanston last week for the first time in multiple visits to the Cowboy State.
As he made his way around the course at Hamblin Park with local disc golf enthusiast Jerry Dorff, Kirk reflected on his 40-plus year love affair with the sport.
“I started playing when I was a teenager, back in California, and that’s when the game was just getting started,” Kirk explained. “The first course was in Pasadena in ’76 — I got introduced in ’78 as a golfer and found frisbee golf. I was a natural — I loved it. But then I joined the Air Force in ’82 — started a family in the 80s, and in the 90s I got stationed in southern California — and as a result my kids weren’t as interested in the game as I was. You know, in the 90s they were too little — I would say ‘Guys, look! That’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 11 or so, I got them into 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 is played instead with specialized flying discs that are thrown into above ground metal-chained targets.
Estimates from the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) are that millions of people around the globe participate in this sport.
Currently, there are over 13,000 disc golf courses listed in 45 nations, with the United States having courses in all 50 states.
Kirk began his first disc golf course tour of 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 a single dad sharing custody with my ex-wife, loving life, but I was going to every course in California. And actually, as a result of my daughter making the softball team, they went to the nationals in Spokane, and I said, ‘Oh! You’re getting a trip to Spokane?’ And that opened up my brain, and I immediately thought: Disc Golf Road Trip!’”
Disc golf was a family affair in the Kirk household at that point, so the decision was made to bring his sons, as well.
“My boys came up to me, and they were like, ‘Dad, are we taking our discs?’ And I was like, ‘Are you my sons? Of course we’re taking our discs.'”
“So that was my first road trip to Spokane — we played in Oregon, Washington, and then I dipped into Idaho, and played with my boys in between my daughter’s games. That was my first road trip in 2002.”
Kirk began slowly accumulating states, and by 2010, was on the verge of completing his first tour of the US
“By 2010, I needed nine states and New England — I flew in and did 10 states in 10 days and hit my first 50 states,” he said. “Two years later — on four road trips — I hit another 50 states in 10 months in 2012.”
By 2013, Kirk was ready to attempt a then-unheard of 50 States in 50 Days, a feat made possible by several sponsorships and an understanding girlfriend.
“I decided I needed to see if somebody 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 did the 48 states — I did Alaska and Hawaii, and then she picked me up in Sacramento. We did 48 states in 44 days, and I got a Guinness World Record for most courses played on that trip — 54.”
Kirk has also played overseas, where he documented his exploits for his YouTube channel.
“I went to Bulgaria in 2016 on an F-15 Military Deployment,” he explained. “I went to Greece and made up my own course! When I went to Romania, I set up another course with my own basket, then I went to seven countries to set up with my discs. 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 professional tournaments, after which he returned to California to be with his girlfriend. It wasn’t long after that his wanderlust once again consumed him.
“I said, ‘It’s time for me to go back on tour,’ and my girlfriend said, ‘I knew it was coming,'” Kirk said, laughing. “So here I am on my way to Minnesota. On the internet, disc golf has just blasted off with [the pandemic]. Everybody is playing, they’re buying discs. So I’m gonna 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 across Wyoming, and it’s just a whole journey.”
Kirk has met scores of fellow 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 catch a game?’ is something I really enjoy,” he said. “I’ve not been beaten up for it yet. You know, you may have an F-bomb every now and again, but it’s just the game.”
Asked why he continues to make these trips, Kirk said the answer is simple.
“I’m nothing special — just a guy in my car, sleeping in my car, bunking with people that I know from the past — it’s just all about promoting the game of disc golf,” he said.
“Plus, there’s eight guys who have more disc golf courses than me, so I’m kinda chasing 2000 courses — that’s my goal, and I’m at 1600 today with this course [Hamblin Park] played. I’m 61 years old, I have permission from my girlfriend and it’s just 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 this? You’re meeting people. It’s a meeting people thing. Life’s too short to just hide in a corner.”