KENDALLVILLE — Want to try a new game that’s easy to learn and inexpensive?
How about giving disc golf a shot. It can be played in public parks in northeast Indiana and does not require paying the high costs that traditional golf usually has.
The sport has seen a significant increase in popularity in the area and there are plans for places like Kendallville to expand its courses to offer more holes.
Kendallville’s Lake Bixler Park currently has two nine-hole courses on the east and west sides of the park that are rated easy and designed for beginners. Two local residents, Chris McCreery and Logan Conley, are helping build the Woodland Trail, which will be an 18-hole course near the Kendallville Sports Complex and designed for more advanced players.
Volunteers raised approximately $4,000 in donations for tee mats and permanent baskets for this course.
The rules of the game are similar to traditional golf, where you try to get the ball into the hole with the fewest strokes. The difference is that players instead throw a disc and try to put it in a metal basket.
The basket can be at different heights and some holes contain many trees, creating an obstacle for the players. Players start on a tee or grass where they mark where to throw from.
Creating challenging courses attracts more serious players. McCreery said the park’s separate nine-hole courses weren’t very difficult and became difficult to play when people were at the park.
“It’s not the safest thing to do when playing while people are hanging out at the park,” he said.
This is where the idea of building a new course further away from the park came from. McCreery, along with Conley, approached the city’s parks department to build a course designed for advanced players.
“We have enough room to have championship-style holes,” he said. “We installed portable baskets and rubber mats as starter mats. They have been moved so that we know where to place them permanently.
He hopes Kendallville will be able to host tournaments organized by the Professional Disc Golf Association once the new course is completed.
He and Conley spent hundreds of hours working on the construction of the course clearing debris to put in the holes.
He said they had encountered many obstacles, including bad weather, and needed to improve in order to move forward with construction.
He hopes that once the course is over, they can form intra-course leagues.
“We were soon doing a fundraiser to help finish our project and then figure out how to spend the money,” he said. “The city is not set up to do fundraising, so our most viable options are donations.”
Construction began in 2019 and has been intermittent since then.
Conley said the game has come a long way and he’s still interested in teaching people how to play.
“I play about once a week. It’s a great way to get away from work and life and have fun,” Conley said.
In Ligonier, Kenney Park saw many people from all over the area come to the course to play disc golf. The park has just completed its spring league in which over 90 players participated.
Aaron Wagoner has been playing the sport for about three years with his 10-year-old son, Ty, who competes in tournaments across the country.
“This course is pretty easy,” Wagoner said of Kenney Park. “Some of the holes, which I helped design, have mandatorys also called ‘mandos’ where you have to throw the disc between two shafts in order to keep it within bounds.”
In traditional golf, players use different clubs depending on how far they are from the hole. In disc golf, players use discs of different weights depending on factors such as weather and distance to the basket.
Wagoner said the wind, in particular, affects the type of disc you use during a match.
“When it’s windy you want to use the heaviest discs and the lightest when it’s not,” he said.
The disc golf courses are different in the region and elsewhere. Some are more difficult than others and often attract people from all over, including Elkhart and Goshen.
Waggonner said the sport’s popularity has really skyrocketed during the pandemic. When people were forced to stay indoors, locals looked for something to do outside and were socially distanced from others.
He said PDGA membership had doubled during the pandemic to 200,000 members and more courses were opening across the country.
“There’s no better feeling than doing something outside,” he added. “Seeing the discus fly, determining how fast and how throwing it keeps me going.”
He describes himself as a competitive person and enjoys competing at high levels.
Wagoner and his son, Ty, have been playing the sport for just three years and already have sponsorships with disc golf companies like Discraft and Hazy Shade.
A lot of what they do with referrals is managing their social media accounts and they also get free stuff.
Ty said he loves being outside and enjoying the fresh air. He was able to make new friends and compete against adult players in tournaments.
Kenney Park in Ligonier was able to complete its disc golf course for less than $10,000. Aaron said the advantage of disc golf over traditional golf is the cost of playing.
“All you have to buy are the discs and you can go to the parks to play for free,” Wagoner said. “Unlike traditional golf, you have to pay all entry fees and equipment hire. Honestly, I think traditional golf is more elite.
Over the past year and a half, Wagoner has played over 450 rounds of disc golf in northeastern Indiana and Michigan.
Ty will compete at the World Junior Disc Golf Championships July 13-16 in Peoria, Illinois.