RICHMOND - On Tuesday man played the Willow Valley Disc Golf Course in Richmond unlike any other man that has ever played it before. It is no superpower or rare ability that sets this man apart from other course competitors, but an indomitable will to be the most well-traveled American ambassador of the game possible.
Larry Kirk of Atwater, Calif., has played disc golf in every one of the 50 American states, and is currently on a mission to do it again. On Tuesday, he played the Ocean State for his second time, and he made Willow Valley his 444th course ever played.
"I am pretty passionate about this," the 51-year-old Kirk said with the grin of a 12-year-old playing his favorite game. "I just want to be an ambassador for the game of disc golf."
Kirk's story is a fascinating one. He was born in Missouri in 1961, and moved to southern California when he was 13. At 16-years-old, he played disc golf for the first time, and he never looked back.
In 1982 Kirk joined the United States Air Force, where he still serves today. He has pent time as an Air Force fireman, and Air Force police officer, and most recently an Air Force Tech. Sergeant. The one thing that has remained constant in his 30-year military career is that when ever he has had any time off, he has always spent it on the disc golf courses of America.
"I've never grown up," Kirk said on Tuesday with his trademark grin.
In 2002, Kirk was already a disc golf fanatic, but had never played outside of California. That changed when his daughter played in the high school softball nationals in Washington. He played a course in Washington, and then took his two sons, aged 11 and 13 at the time, to play in Oregon and Idaho. That marked his very first disc golf road trip.
The following year, the Air Force stationed Kirk in San Antonio, Tex., where, of course, he played disc golf (actually traveling to Austin to play a different Texas course). He then took a road trip to play Nevada and Arizona.
In 2004, Kirk said, things really got crazy. When the Air Force put him in Omaha, Neb., he took five road trips, and played disc golf in 24 states. That total does not include Missouri, Iowa and Kansas, which he played on normal weekends off from work.
"Two-thousand and four was the year that broke it wide open," Kirk said.
In the back of his car, Kirk keeps a large road map of the United States. On it are highlighter trails that show all of his disc golf road trips. The trips that originated from Omaha, which is right in the middle of this country, encompass more traveling than many people will ever do in a lifetime. And it was all for a game he loves.
While Kirk took the next two years off, he knew that he wanted to eventually play all 50 states. In 2007, he flew to Alaska to visit his newly-married daughter, and play disc golf.
He also took 2008 off, but in 2009, he flew to Hawaii to play his favorite game on America's tropical island out in the Pacific. Utah and Montana were the only two western states left on his list, but for Kirk, those were just simple road trips.
Also in 2009, he went to Alabama for the military, and naturally, when he had spare time, he drove to Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and then back to Alabama, all to play disc golf.
When 2010 rolled around, Kirk needed nine more states to make his dream come true: all six New England states, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. So in September, 2010, he flew to Philadelphia and started his road trip up the northeast corridor. He played the entire northeast in 10 days, including the disc golf course at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.
Once Kirk completed his great American disc golf tour, he decided that he wanted to do it again.
In February, 2012, he drove from California to Tennessee in 11 days, playing 23 states along the way, and then drove back to California. He left for his most current trip on July 8, 2012, and has played 45 courses on that trip from the time he left to the time he stepped foot in Richmond. His next step is Boston, and he intends to pay all of New England before heading back home.
Kirk plans to play a lot more disc golf in the future and add to his impressive road map. he also wants to write a book about his life one day. But he said his top priority is letting others know about the game of disc golf.
"I just want to pass the game on," Kirk said, barely containing his smile.