Popularity of disc golf soars

ESCANABA – At first glance, the baskets being installed at parks across the area may seem like strange trash cans or sculptures, but any disc golfer will tell you that the baskets are part of a sport with a national following.

“It’s been popular everywhere else, it’s just taken a long time to get to the U.P.,” said Jon Harris, owner of The Beaten Path sporting goods store in Escanaba and member of the Escanaba Recreation Advisory Board.

Disc golf and regular golf share a similar structure and scoring system. However, rather than using clubs to place a ball in a hole in the ground, disc golfers throw discs into specially-designed baskets in as few throws as possible.

“It’s easy. If you can throw a Frisbee, you can play disc golf,” said Harris.

The discs themselves start out at around $10 each and are specially-designed to produce different results when thrown at a basket.

“They make drivers, and midrange, and putters just like real golf. So the discs actually do different things; some go right, some go straight, some go farther than the other ones,” said Harris.

While disc golf can trace its roots back to the 1960s, the first permanent disc golf course was installed in Pasadena, Calif. in 1975. Since then, the sport has exploded to more than 2,500 courses across the United States – with four more being constructed in Delta County this year.

“Last summer I had at least 100 people come through my store from out of town, stop in here, and ask me where the disc golf course was,” said Harris. “I told them, ‘well, we don’t have one, but we play at the park’ … and all those people got in their cars and they left Escanaba.”

Harris opened The Beaten Path in 2011, which sells disc golf discs as well as other sporting goods. Shortly after opening the store, he joined the Recreation Advisory Board where he worked to pass a course in Ludington Park.

“It’s a nine hole course with a practice basket, so there’s 10 total baskets that will be down there. That one’s going to be free to play, it was completely paid for by the community.”

The baskets will be installed at the park in the next few weeks. Disc golfers will be able to play at the park as soon as the baskets are installed, but an official grand opening of the course will take place sometime in late July following the city’s sesquicentennial celebration.

“Once the esky150’s done, then we’ll put in the tee boxes, and then have the official opening, but … the baskets will be in the ground. You can go play the course, it just won’t be all the way done,” said Harris.

Two 18-hole courses and two practice holes are also being installed at Pioneer Trail Park, north of Escanaba. The first 18 hole course is expected to be open by Memorial Day, and a special fundraiser for the courses has been scheduled for May 30, at the Terrace Bay Inn. (See related story.)

A smaller additional course is also planned for the new John D. Besse Public Park at the northeast corner of 8th Avenue South and South 30th Street.

“We’re not exactly sure how many holes are actually going to go out there,” said Harris, who noted that unlike traditional golf, disc golf courses are not limited to nine or 18 hole courses.

Because disc golfers are frequently willing to travel to play interesting courses or participate in tournaments, Harris sees the addition of the courses as a chance for local restaurants and other businesses to profit from disc-golf driven tourism.

“This is going to be a destination,” he said.