Once Mel Shuman started playing disc golf 3 1/2 years ago, it didn't take long for him to realize he had found his sport.
Shuman, of North Augusta, won the first tournament of his career at the Georgia Games in 1999, only about six months after he first took up the sport.
He earned another Georgia Games Championships gold medal Saturday at Patriots Park, shooting 106 (53-53) in two 18-hole rounds.
Georgians Chris Hayzlett and Mike Jackson tied for second place, three strokes back.
Out-of-state athletes such as Shuman earn medals, but cannot displace a Georgian for a medal. Therefore, three gold medals were presented - to Shuman, Hayzlett and Jackson.
Shuman, 36, was competing in the advanced division when he won his first tournament in Augusta three years ago. He has progressed to the elite classification, and has even played in a few Professional Disc Golf Association tournaments. He won his first PDGA event in the fall of 2000, at the Upstate Classic in Greenville, S.C.
Although Shuman makes disc golf look easy, he concedes that it has taken a considerable amount of effort for him to get to his current level. He has a basket (disc golf target) at home, and practices nearly every day, for at least 30 minutes.
"It's taken a lot of practice, repetition and dedication," Shuman said. "You've got to want it enough to work for it. You've got to find the weaknesses in your game and do it over and over until you feel confident you can do it when it counts."
Mel Dickerson, of Augusta, who finished 12th in the elite division Saturday, compares the learning curve in disc golf to that of ball golf.
"Nobody picks up a golf club and smacks a ball straight down the fairway right away," Dickerson said.
Shuman came to the Augusta area five years ago from his native Clarksburg, W. Va., and met his wife ,Anita, shortly thereafter. After hearing of the sport, he saw the course at Riverview Park one day, and then ran into a few disc golfers playing a round at Pendleton King Park, further piquing his interest.
He bought one disc and began playing at first just to get exercise, but soon his competitive juices began flowing.
"Once you go pro, it's pretty tough," said Shuman, who plays in about 15 tournaments a year. "(For) some guys, this is their job. When you get to that level, it's tough to compete."
Shuman said he won "about $200" in his first pro victory, but added that some of the top players on the PDGA tour earn $20-25,000 a year, plus sponsorship money.