Beaming, Jim Ingold reaches into his wallet and pulls out a faded brown pass to the Ox Bow Disc Golf Park located on County Road 45, five miles outside Goshen. In green handwritten letters, the small, one-of-a-kind stub reads “Good for LIFE.”
If anyone deserves a lifetime disc golf pass, it’s Ingold. At 72 years old, Ingold has been playing the sport for over half a century and has frequented Ox Bow Park at least 500 times.
His personal Frisbee collection includes over 900 discs, many of which are limited edition and signed by famous players from around the world. His garage and collection room are crammed with flying discs and memorabilia from virtually every era and continent, including one of the original pie plates from the Frisbee factory in Connecticut.
“There are not a lot of things I want in this life, but Jim’s disc golf collection is one of them,” said Jason Samuel, general manager of The Globe and a fellow disc golf enthusiast.
Ingold’s passion for disc golf developed in the early 1960s after he and his family moved to Michigan from Indiana. There he learned that disc golf is essentially the same as regular golf, but instead of hitting balls into holes, players throw flying discs into baskets or at targets. Although Ingold did not have the poles used in modern-day disc golf, he and his three children were resourceful and created their own rules.
“We would throw discs from under the steps, through the telephone pole, into trash bins and through open doors,” Ingold explained.
“Sometimes we would use my wife, Sunny, as the last target,” he added with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Once his kids were in their teens, Ingold formed a family troupe to demonstrate tricks at local elementary schools, church banquets and halftime shows. A typical show would feature Ingold spinning Frisbees on his finger and then snapping them to his daughter Joey as she raced past the audience on her unicycle.
Meanwhile, Ingold’s Frisbee collection continued to flourish. What started as a small smattering of discs that Ingold had received as gifts from family members turned into an abundance of special edition Frisbees manufactured only once or twice a year. One of Ingold’s favorite discs was a gift from “Steady” Ed Headrick, the inventor of modern disc golf, who had 500 discs made when he was married. Ingold received No. 367.
By 1976, Ingold had officially joined the Professional Disc Golf Association, becoming its 315th member. Today, the organization has over 40,000 members—including Ingold’s six grandkids, each signed up for membership by their grandfather when they were born.
Over the next 10 years Ingold traveled all over the Midwest searching for the best disc golf courses, but by the mid 1980s he was itching to have one close to home. Together with a friend and fellow Frisbee enthusiast, Dan Shenk, Ingold persuaded the Elkhart County Park Department to add a disc golf course at the Ox Bow Park just northwest of Goshen.
Ingold spent the next several years advocating for the Ox Bow project and managed to raise over $9,000 from local businesses. With his persistence, the 18-hole wooded course finally opened in 1989.
The Ox Bow Park ended up becoming like a second home to Ingold, who visited twice a week for the next 20 years and frequently brought his family and Sunday school classes. It was there that he helped to teach Mark Kramer, a future junior world champion, how to play the game. Kramer quickly surpassed Ingold’s throwing skills, but that never bothered him.
“I’m not about trying to win trophies,” said Ingold, who considers himself more a teacher than a player. “I’m about helping people learn to play. My favorite part is seeing other people get excited about the game.”
Still, Ingold dreamed of meeting world class disc golf players and was ecstatic to learn that the 1996 world competition would be held not in Disney World as expected, but in his very own Ox Bow Park. More than 200 players from 25 different countries turned up for the event and Ingold got a chance to meet to most of them. In fact, he intentionally requested to be a spotter—the person who spots where discs land—so that he would get to talk to all the players when they went to retrieve their discs.
In the following years, Ox Bow Park began to host an annual Ice Bowl each winter, an event Ingold attended with enthusiasm despite the often sub-freezing temperatures. Ingold’s job was to put salt on each of the tees. “I don’t give [disc golf] up in the winter,” he explained.
Jason Samuel, who added six holes to the Ox Bow Park course six years ago, recalls seeing Ingold there on Saturday mornings. “We’d go to the park early on Saturdays, and Jim would already be out there with some friends. He’s the one who inspired me to expand the course,” Samuel explained.
Nowadays, Ingold is retired from his work as a title insurance writer and is unable to play as much as he used to, but he doesn’t let that stop him from having fun when he can. Last July, Ingold’s entire extended family—22 people in all—rented a house on Lake Superior and spent the weekend playing disc golf together on the side of a ski mountain.
“I’ve played with some of the best players,” said Ingold, “but my favorite people to play with are my family. That’s what it’s really about, getting families to play together.”
Disc golf is not the only activity Ingold enjoys playing with loved ones. Contract bridge, it turns out, is Ingold’s second great passion in life and one he loves to share with friends. With more than 900 books on bridge strategy lining the shelves of his personal library, Ingold plays the game at least once a week and “could easily play it 25 hours at a time.”
In addition to bridge, Ingold writes personalized puzzles—Sudokus, word puzzles, cryptics, you name it—for friends and hospital patients. Last year he even published his own book of puzzles, which are now sold at Better World Books in Goshen. He continues to wake up early most mornings to draft new puzzles.
Sunny, Ingold’s wife of 54 years, doesn’t expect her husband to slow down anytime soon. She knows it’s just not in his nature.
“He’s like the Energizer bunny,” explained Sunny. “He’s always going.”