By John Butters, The JOURNAL
For many Iowans, playing 18 holes doesn?t require a putter or driver, simply a FrisbeeŽ. What was once a backyard pastime has become a formalized sport that draws a community of serious players.
Talon McFarland, sports director for the Wellman YMCA, said the number of players in his league has doubled.
?The sport is growing in popularity. Last year, we had people sign up. This year it?s 16,? he said.
McFarland said part of the appeal of disc golf is its accessibility. ?It?s easy to pick up. It?s you against the course. It requires an artistry to be able to put the disc in the basket,? he said.
While the game is competitive, it?s a recreational sport that does not involve physical contact or a lot of training. ?People enjoy being outside. They can play it by themselves or with their friends,? he said.
Currently, Washington has a 12-hole course at Sunset Park. McFarland said there are plans to expand the course to 18 holes. ?If we did, it would likely attract some tournaments to the course,? he said.
By one count, there are 203 disc golf courses in Iowa. While many of them are located in municipal parks, Iowa?s colleges also have courses for intramural teams. Iowa Wesleyan has a nine-hole course.
The game is scored like golf. On Washington?s course, 39 is currently par, even though the course was expanded to 12 holes. The low score wins.
The competitors even have a selection of discs: there is a driver, a midrange and a putter. Like golf clubs, each disc is shaped a little differently for the distance.
Throwing techniques include the backhand toss, a forehand throw, the tomahawk and a roller. ?A roller would be used when you need to keep the disc low,? said Josh Gaughan. ?You might use a tomahawk when you need to throw through brush.?
Gaughan, who has been playing for 15 years, currently leads the league in the solo division with 4 under par. ?I love being outside in the fresh air. I like the wellness part of the game,? he said.
Getting into the game is inexpensive. Usually, there are no green fees and the better discs range in price from $8 to $25.
The popularity has encouraged the City of Wellman to expand its course. McFarland said he is working with the city to replace the three current baskets with new ones and expand the course to nine holes.
Washington Mayor Jaron Rosien is also a fan of the sport. ?It?s my first year in this league and it?s off to a great start. It?s a nice way to enjoy one of the many things in Sunset Park,? he said.
For those who are truly serious, there is a Professional Disc Golf Association with a board of directors and an opportunity to become a member. Benefits of joining the Professional Disc Golf Association include playing in PDGA sanctioned events at a discounted rate and competing in member-only events.
For players seeking that level of competition, Sunset Park offers a local opportunity to both relax and work on their game.