Discs piling up at home is a common occurrence for an amateur disc golfer playing in lots of tournaments. However, instead of just stockpiling his tournament winnings, Sgt. 1st Class Ben Shinn of the Army has a useful solution: use those discs to get more soldiers into disc golf.
Through his ShinBone Veteran Disc Golf Team initiative, Shinn, who has been in the Army for more than 19 years and a disc golfer for the last four, sells tournament disc prizes he collects over the season and combines that with community support to pay PDGA tournament registration fees for soldiers new to disc golf.
Shinn, 40, earned the Armed Forces spot for this year’s USDGC Performance Flight and will be playing the Winthrop Gold Course for the first time. Currently, he serves as a platoon sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, KY, where he trains incoming soldiers.
When he returned from an overseas assignment in 2011, Shinn said the introduction to disc golf helped lift him from a low point in his life and he believes other soldiers can find similar benefits with the sport.
“It (disc golf) gave me an out, allowed me to be outside and stay active. Without it, I think I would have been drinking and who knows. This is the big reason that I started the ShinBone Disc Golf. I wanted to give young soldiers something to do other than drink or get in trouble,” said Shinn in an email.
Since starting ShinBone in 2014, 20 soldiers have gained entry to 20 different events, said Shinn.
Shinn’s first taste of disc golf came while on-leave in California when a buddy took him out to a course and he quickly became hooked. He took his new found passion to Ft. Campbell and now plays four to five times a week.
This year he’s played in more than 25 PDGA events, mostly in the advanced master division where he won the Tennessee Disc Golf State Championships and placed second in the Glass Blown Open - Am. Top finishes like that means a lot of plastic going towards entry fees.
Shinn was disappointed to not pick up the Tennessee representative spot for the Performance Flight, but was elated when he found out he qualified for the Armed Forces spot.
“I’m very honored to play in it and represent the United States, Ft. Campbell Kentucky, the state of Tennessee, and disc golf as a whole,” said Shinn.
During each round of the Championship, Shinn will honor a soldier by wearing a shirt with their name on it. These soldiers, who play/played disc golf, were either wounded or killed in combat.
The soldiers Shinn will be honoring include:
Sgt. Jesse Castro, Army - killed in action 2006.
Sgt. Richard A. Essex, Army – killed in action 2012
Sgt. Nicholas Mueller, Army – killed in action 2009.
LCpl John Hammerschmidt, Marines – wounded in action
When Shinn retires from the Army next year and moves into the civilian business world, he hopes to continue the ShinBone Disc Golf Team as much as he can. His goal is for others to embrace the ShinBone idea and “keep playing it forward” so more soldiers can be exposed to disc golf.
Go to the ShinBone Disc Golf Team page on Facebook for more info.