Northern Wilds Magazine
While disc golf became a professional sport in 1976, it recently surged in popularity during the pandemic. | CHARLIE DEVILLE
Along the Shore

Disc golf takes off in Twin Ports

The Twin Ports area is well known for its outdoors community, numerous park spaces and accessible nature. Silent sports enthusiasts have it made around here, whether they’re skiing, kayaking or biking. Now enter a “new” sport that’s becoming a big hit—disc golf. With an extremely low barrier to entry and a community-minded ethos, disc golf is exploding in the Northland. Two local disc golf experts—Charlie Deville and Tyler Masseth—gave us a rundown of how the sport has taken off during covid times, how to get started, and where to play in Duluth/Superior.

Like ball golf, disc golf requires players to “drive” (throw) their discs from a “tee,” and eventually get the disc to land in an elevated basket made of chains to stop the disc. Every time you throw your disc, it’s the same as taking a stroke in golf. Players keep score by counting the number of throws they need to get around the course. Lowest strokes or “throws” wins the game.

Masseth calls disc golf “accessible and cheap.” He adds that there are multiple courses in Duluth and Superior that are free: “People can go to a city park and do something they’ve never done before, rather than just hiking or having a picnic. People are realizing that disc golfing is another way to enjoy the park.”

Both Deville and Masseth are among the original members of the Lake Superior Disc Golf Community, and have cooperated with local city parks and recreation departments on course design. Deville takes credit for courses at Lincoln Park and Enger Park Golf Course in Duluth, while Massey created the course in the Superior Municipal Forest.

Deville says the roots of disc golf go back to California, and that disc golf became a professional sport in 1976. But Deville credits disc golf’s boom in popularity these days to covid.

“Interestingly, covid is what really shot disc golf into the mainstream. Disc golf is kind of the ultimate covid sport—you can do it by yourself and it’s a cheap and easy sport to learn,” says Deville. “Membership in the PDGA (Pro Disc Golf Association) doubled in one year during covid. Our Lake Superior Disc Golf Community Facebook page had 500 members before covid, and now we’re over a thousand. The sport has exploded.”

So where are some good places to play in the Twin Ports? The Superior Municipal Forest has one of the area’s premier disc golf courses. Opened in 2020, this 18-hole course creates challenging throws through wooded fairways, while also taking advantage of some of the open spaces from the immaculately maintained cross-country ski trails as fairways. The disc golf course is open all year round. Masseth explains that the city of Superior funded the project through grant money they had to expand park amenities.

“They were looking for new recreational activities for the municipal forest,” says Masseth. “It was a lengthy process (three years) from the time the first planning meeting happened until baskets were installed and people got to go play the course, but it definitely paid off. The city of Superior put a lot of money behind the project, and they were really happy with our follow-through and our ambition, and continue to support us.”

Like regular golf, disc golf requires players to “drive” (throw) their discs from a “tee,” and eventually get the disc to land in an elevated basket made of chains to stop the disc. | CHARLIE DEVILLE

Local schools are another common place for disc golf courses. Lake Superior College, University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Superior Middle School all have disc golf courses on their grounds these days. The Morgan Park neighborhood in Duluth has a course around its community center.

Disc golfing includes a strong element of community involvement and development. Deville recalls going through all the hoops with the city of Duluth to get a disc golf course set up in Lincoln Park.

“I pushed and pushed to get disc golf there,” he says. “Once we made the course, all of a sudden Lincoln Park started to clean up. There are people playing there all the time. The bad elements that plagued that area were gone. They gave up on it, because it was not a place to do business anymore.”

The city realized this same strategy could be implemented elsewhere, adding courses at Quarry Park and Enger Park Golf Course.

The Lake Superior Disc Golf Community group also does an annual spring cleanup at Lincoln Park, picking up trash from the disc golf course. This year’s clean-up, which happened on May 7, attracted 20 volunteers who were so efficient, according to Masseth, that they went outside the disc golf course to extend the cleanup.

“We saw some new faces and Bent Paddle was putting on a ‘Clean Yer Creek’ event on the same day, and we reached out to them and combined forces. We started at 9:00 (a.m.) and they started at 10:15, and by 11:00 we had the entire park cleaned up, and the volunteers headed further upstream.”

Deville calls Lincoln Park a “putt-putt course” (short holes), but says it has “tough penalties” (like throwing your disc into the raging Miller Creek). “If you play legit, you take a stroke penalty when you lose your disc in the river.”

Duluth’s biggest disc golf course is on the grounds of Enger Park Golf Course, where disc golfers play side by side with ball golfers.

“I put 18 holes of disc golf on the back nine holes of the ball golf course,” explains Deville. “It’s one of the largest courses in the Midwest. We have a 1,000-foot par 5 hole that plays a par 4 in ball golf.”

As for any animosity between the disc golfers and ball golfers, Deville uses the analogy of the way skiers originally viewed snowboarders.

“When snowboarders came on the scene, there was a lot of stink from the skiers, but they’ve gotten used to each other.”

The Enger course charges disc golfers to play. The course has been open for two seasons now, and Deville estimates it has brought in about $30,000 of city income to date. An annual pass to the Enger course costs $125. The only other paid disc golf courses in the area can be found at Superior’s Mont Du Lac resort (three different courses).

So where do you get started? Deville recommends the UMD course as a “forgiving” course. For discs, he recommends starting with something as simple as freebies from trade shows.

“All you really need is that one tchotchke that companies hand out to you as marketing materials. If you want to get more serious, you can go to any Play-It-Again Sports or Dunham’s, and they’ll usually have a starter pack there of three discs.”

If you like throwing a frisbee, you can up your game by trying disc golf. Keeping score is certainly not obligatory, but you’ll be racking up points for outdoor fun, relaxation and fitness as you go.

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