In a less chaotic world, one not still reeling from a once-in-a-lifetime situation, perhaps Vans could see the writing on the wall. Maybe they’d be able to peek into the figurative clouds and recognize that disc golf has been beaming a bright and enormous dollar sign high into the sky, hoping to attract exactly the sort of company that they have created over the last several decades of American counterculture.
Because, for all of the work of the Jeff Springs of the world, (and all of the leeching of the newcomer quasi-celebrities, too), disc golf is still ostensibly weird. And those who’ve been paying attention can tell you: Vans isn’t afraid of weird.
This is precisely why Vans would be uniquely suited to enter the disc golf industry in earnest, both quickly and loudly, like some sort of gum-soled meteor sent from another sporting planet whose historical arc lines up nearly perfectly with ours. Vans could take a risk here with minimal impact to their bottom line, as well. In fact, an argument could be made that their innovative streamlining of the sponsorship ecosystem for athletes in personality-driven, individual-effort sports makes them uniquely suited to keeping this sort of experiment cheap. (While this may sound counterintuitive to the reality that our athletes deserve improved touring conditions, the impeccable business reputation of the company belies the need to have patience with this complaint).
No, if Vans were to simply take a chance on disc golf, and do so with even slightly more aplomb than the meager and flippant presence that Adidas has reluctantly graced us with, they would gain enough new and immediate converts to make it worth everyone’s while.
Plus, (and not to harp incessantly on Adidas), a company rooted in the experimental counterculture is almost certainly going to be more receptive to the needs of a unique sporting environment than a multi-national soccer company whose hiking sneakers are being shoe-horned into disc golf. No pun intended.
We can only hope that they are already aware of this, and of us. After all, the 2021 season saw a number of notable, high-level golfers experimenting with their footwear; specifically, the Ultrarange series.
But herein lies the question: Is this shoe really cut out for the rigors of disc golf, or are the athletes embracing the shoe sacrificing something, somewhere, for comfort?
And so we sought the answer to that question.
Day One: Perkerson Park
Three holes in and I’m birdie, par, par. The toebox on these things could really use some ventilation. I notice right away that my steps are less sure than usual as I traverse the path from hole 7’s tee pad to the fairway below. These are wider than the sportier kicks than I tend to gravitate toward.
But also been doing a far amount of sitting and tweeting already this round, and I will say that these shoes are excellent for sitting and tweeting.
These things are still warm in the toes as I round hole 15, having already dealt with the most demanding terrain that this gem of a course provides. This sensation is exacerbated by the sheer amount of room that I have in the front of the shoe, which allows my toes to move freely against one another. The feeling is reminiscent of having wet socks, and unless you suffer from a very niche form of masochism, this is definitely not a plus.
But I really only notice that when I’m sitting. And tweeting.
My first bout of noticeable discomfort comes after my 16th hole, on the outside-bottom of my plant foot, slightly forward of my ankle. It’s a strain-y, cramp-y sort of tightness, like a muscle that’s about to be pulled, just beginning to complain. My suspicion is that the rolled edge of the shoe has me flexing hard with the muscles near my pinky toe as I subconsciously try to keep my foot from rolling over this edge.
This is something that we truly need to discuss in disc golf footwear: The fact that so many shoes that we gravitate toward en masse have a giant, bulbous outer edge. We’ve all seen the sort of abuse that players like Vinny put their feet through, even in his fairly-beveled Nikes. Imagine the sort of catastrophic injury potential he would be flirting with if we put him in some Merrells or Keens that look like someone glued a quarter of a Rollerblade wheel to the side of ’em.
This makes me curious as to whether or not Paul McBeth’s bum ankle has anything to do with his prolonged loyalty of the similarly round versions of the Adidas Terrex.
I will say that the shoe reacted well during a sudden near-disaster, as I came perilously close to an unpleasant interaction with a pile of evidence of a lazy dog owner. I was able to quickly shift my balance, pivot, and plant my my raised appendage just in time to avoid the foulest of trouble. I was downright nimble in my avoidance of the filth.
Day Two: Little Mulberry Park
Maybe it was the hospitality of my card mates, or the fact that I was playing the role of tour guide for a friend-of-a-friend, but there was no discernible discomfort this round. They’re still a little loose and a little warm, but that was to be expected as continued to beat them in during a balmy Georgia “autumn”.
One negative note, however: My ability to flatten beer cans in these shoes is a 4/10. It averages 7.5/10 in my everyday-play shoes, the Asics Gel Lyte MT.
Day Three: Perkerson Park Again
I’m sliding around everywhere. There’s some right foot pain again after 4 holes, this time from the area directly in front of my heel, again on the bottom of the foot. It’s similar in sensation to what I experienced the first day, as far as being surely muscular but not dire.
Much of this discomfort seems to be coming from walking downhill or sidestepping on an incline, where the generous give of the shoe tricks my body into acting as though I’m barefoot. I’m trying to grip the ground with my toes, like claws, through the bottom of the sneaker, the way that people who aren’t accustomed to sandals feel when they go on that one vacation a year. This is a telltale sign that the balance between comfort and rigidity swings wildly to the former in the Ultrarange. This is not the case in all versions of Vans shoes, but we’ll get to that later.
Just as I’m beginning to formulate my excuse for only wearing these things for three rounds before committing this review to the pseudo-permanence of the internet, (which involves an impending A-tier at courses that I really need to play well at for my own self esteem), I make an impressive-for-me wind read, disc down, and park a hole that has been elusive of late. It was one of those walks to the green where you wish that someone had witnessed it from the next fairway over. I was ready to remove my cap and give it the old-timey wave/twirl that aging car dealership owners do when they get to throw out the first pitch at a late-season minor league baseball game on account of them purchasing the most opulent suite package available.
Was it the shoes? Surely maybe.
On the next tee, a shank for the ages. I blame the shoes immediately.
The following drive comes off the hand well, but slows and fades into the schule. A little pitch out into the fairway and I’m left with a gap that no one wants, and a headwind that’s not helping.
And I lace it.
I had popped hard and followed through well, (the latter part of that equation being a focus of my practice rounds these last few weeks), and everything clicks. My feet swivel ever so slightly inside of the sneaker, as I’m running uphill, and the fit suddenly feels how I imagine it’s supposed to: Snug, bendy, and dare I say cozy. It’s as though these shoes would fit better if I used them more violently, wedging my feet into the inner corners of the upper boot.
But that snugness dims as I begin walking downhill again, with the shoe’s potential as an every-rounder fading about as fast as a second round comeback win after four-and-a-half lunch beers.
Day Four: Putting League
While I originally considered ending this review after the 3 rounds already detailed, an opportunity presented itself in which I could give the Ultrarange another, less intense workout, this time at an outdoor putting league on an asphalt lot.
While putting out on the course, these Vans were commendable, allowing my feet to understand the lay of the land beneath me without much interference. These are not stiff shoes by any stretch of the imagination, and maybe to a fault in other parts of the game. But, purely for putting, they are both comfortable and responsive on uneven terrain.
At putting league, I was truly enjoying them during the early rounds. They allowed me to calibrate my putting stroke without much trouble at all; something that was certainly helped along by the relatively even surface of the lanes.
But as the night wore on, and in spite of the brewery-venue’s flagship product helping to dull the pain of my abysmal performance, I found the repetitive motion of simply putting brought some of the familiar, straining discomfort back.
If they can’t cut it at putting league, it’s doubtful that I’ll be adding them to the rotation any time soon.
Like a Prius sitting next to a WRX in the driveway, the Ultraranges are going to be incredible grocery getters, leaving my Asics to handle the more demanding performances.
Of course, Vans’ heritage as a skateboard brand would not exist were it not for their durability. Skateboarding is essentially kicking around sandpaper-colored maple planks for fun, and Vans has been tweaking the formula for longevity in this arena for literal decades. There is nothing that disc golfers do to a sneaker that skateboarders don’t do more violently and repetitively, and so it should come as no surprise that these Ultraranges held up well against the abuse that I doled out.
I do fear that the foam midsoles are going to break away at some point, and knowing what Vans is capable of in their skate-centric product line has me hoping for a far more serious version of the Ultrarange in the future.
For the sake of not completely turning people away from these shoes, I will mention that I have fairly narrow and fairly flat feet. Not the sort that require any out-of-the-ordinary, extracurricular accouterments, but I do prefer athletic sneakers of a certain ilk on account of it. Vans, of which I have owned countless pairs over the course of my life, (and with 4 pair in rotation currently), fit wonderfully for just about everything except for somewhat serious sports endeavors. Even when I was actively skateboarding I preferred a much heartier sneaker than Vans offered at the time, and I found myself gravitating frequently toward the És Accel.
(És has now made a hiker version of the iconic 90’s skate shoe, and a review of that sneaker will be coming in the coming weeks. I have a feeling they’ll be duds, however, and not just because they’re fairly hideous).
Vans has the pedigree and the ability to seamlessly slide into disc golf’s industry and its culture without causing much of a scene, and here’s to hoping that they will indeed see that writing on the wall.