It's in the air: Sport of disc golf gaining momentumIn Minnesota, thousands play disc golf on a daily basis. In and around south Washington County over half a dozen courses adorn the metro area landscape, hosting hundreds of disc golfers every day.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
The modern sport of disc golf has origins to the early 1960s. Believed to be developed by three men in California, mainly, who framed the sport around the traditional game of golf, disc golf was first played with Frisbees and anything from fire hydrants to trees to trash cans were used as targets.
Today, however, the sport has grown to the point where there are almost 3,000 professional-grade courses in the United States and disk golf is played in more than 40 countries worldwide. In Minnesota, thousands play disc golf on a daily basis. In and around south Washington County over half a dozen courses adorn the metro area landscape, hosting hundreds of disc golfers every day.
David Pengson, a Woodbury resident, has been playing disc golf for roughly three years. He is playing competitively this year for the first time and currently plays three to five times a week.
“Personally, I’d rather do this than sit at home and watch TV,” Pengson said. “You meet a lot of great people here. It’s a great environment. It’s just so much fun. I’m pretty competitive, so it sucked me in right away to see how good I could be.”
According to the Professional Disk Golf Association (PDGA), the sport of disc golf has grown at a rate of 12-15 percent annually over the last decade.
Antonio Martinez, a Cottage Grove resident and Park High School graduate, has been playing disc golf for five years, but is playing competitively for the first time this year.
“I just kind of fell into a group of friends who were playing and it took off from there,” he said. “I liked golf at the time and was interested in it. I liked the concept and it appealed to me.”
Like ‘ball golf’ without the cost
According to the PDGA, the three men most crucial to starting the sport of disc golf are George Sappenfield, who privately called the game “Basket Frisbee”, “Steady Ed” Headrick who is called the “Father of Disc Golf” and Dave Dunipace who invented the modern golf disc. In 1975, Headrick formed the first disc golf association, the PDGA, which now officiates the standard rules of play for the sport. Headrick also coined and trademarked the term “Disc Golf” when formalizing the sport and patented the Disc Pole Hoe – the first disc golf target to incorporate chains and a basket on a pole.
Disc golf is played much like traditional golf, but instead of a ball and clubs, players throw a flying disc. Like “ball golf” the object is to complete each hole in the fewest number of strokes (or throws). A disc is thrown from a tee area to a target which is the “hole” - an elevated metal basket. As a player progresses down the fairway, he or she must make each consecutive shot from the spot where the previous throw has landed. The trees, shrubs, and terrain changes located in and around the fairways provide challenging obstacles for the golfer. Finally, the “putt” lands in the basket and the hole is completed.
Martinez said his favorite thing about the game is the sound the chains in the basket make at the end of a hole.
“You hear the ching of the chains when the disk goes in and you know you completed the hole the best that you could,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
For many, disc golf shares the same joys and frustrations of traditional golf, whether it’s sinking a long putt or hitting a tree halfway down the fairway. There are few differences, though. Disc golf rarely requires a greens fee, you don’t need to rent a cart, and you never get stuck with a bad “tee time.” It is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages, male and female, regardless of economic status.
“You just need to be able to handle it mentally,” Martinez said. “If you don’t have a mental game, you’re not going to be able to compete. On top of that, it’s all about technique and form. Every time I go to a new event I feel like I pick up things here and there and then apply it. If it works, you stick with it. If you watch people that are better than you, you’ll learn some things.”
Played in wooded parks and flowing pastures, disc golf provides upper and lower body conditioning, aerobic exercise, and promotes a combination of physical and mental abilities that allow very little risk of physical injury. Players of limited fitness levels can start slowly and gradually increase their level of play as fitness improves. A round takes one to two hours, and may be played alone or in groups. And like traditional golf, disc golfers often find themselves “hooked;” increasing the likelihood of frequent participation. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the sport is the expense - or lack thereof. A professional quality disc costs less than $15, and it only takes one for basic play.
Pengson said he believes disc golf has a good base in the Twin Cities and could see it growing even more.
“There’s definitely a ton of courses around the metro,” he said. “Minnesota is super lucky when it comes to that. There’s a lot of really nice nine-hole and 12-hole courses, too, that are really great for beginners.”
Local businessman promotes the game
Tom Marcus started Everyday Disc Golf in south Washington County in December. In his Newport store, one can find all the disc golf gear he or she needs to get started. However, Marcus said the bigger picture is to educate people about disc golf in order to increase acceptance and appreciation the sport he fell in love with over six years ago.
“I’m trying to promote disc golf in general,” said Marcus, who was born in Illinois, graduated from Eden Prairie High School and now lives in Inver Grove Heights. “I have a background of tournament experience, combined with retail and event organization. I’m just trying to promote the sport as best as I can.”
Marcus, 36, has started to do so by organizing and promoting events, teaching lessons, and starting a community disc golf league at Oakwood Park in Cottage Grove. As part of Marcus’ league, held on Monday nights, he is working with the city to improve the course and arrange clean up days. One dollar of everyone’s entry fee goes back into the local course for improvements.
“Being that we’re in Newport now, this is the closest course to the shop and has a lot of recreational players,” Marcus said. “I’m starting that with the goal to raise money that will go back into the course. It’s slow going. Attendance has been less than spectacular. I definitely feel like the retail side of things is going to be well-received. We’ll see about the league. But, there are a lot of people out here disc golfing. I’m trying to be here for the sport. It’s probably just going to take time.”
Marcus said he sees many benefits to joining a disc golf league, rather than playing recreationally.
“In my opinion, you’re going to see more competitive players, see what is possible and maybe learn some things,” he said. “Most everyone wants to elevate their game and that’s how you do it. You go out, you compete and you learn.”
DISC GOLF INFO
Everyday Disc Golf
303 21st St Suite 142, Newport, MN 55055
Hours: Mon – Fri, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Cottage Grove Community Disc Golf League
Every Monday night, register by 6 p.m.
Oakwood Park, Cottage Grove
Cost - $10
Nearby disc golf courses:
Oakwood Park (18 holes)- Cottage Grove
C.P. Adams Park (18) – Hastings
Kaposia Park (24) – South St. Paul
Highland Park (9) – St. Paul
Garlough Park (9) – West St. Paul
Alimagnet Lake Park DGC (12) – Apple Valley
North Valley Park (18) – Inver Grove Heights