The state of Iowa is secretly a powerhouse in one of the nation’s quickest rising sports, disc golf. Des Moines plays host to an annual major disc golf tournament complete with prize money and the coveted championship disc, and you may even run into a few homegrown national champions. (music)
(music) Disc golf is, it’s huge in the state of Iowa. I’ve played the world championships here in
2004. There’s probably 20 good pros in the state that play for money all the time and they’re all here. We have a lot of really good amateurs. These are probably some of the best courses in the state of Iowa right here in Des Moines. If you were to pick THE sport for the state of Iowa, a case could be made for disc golf. Just raw number of courses and players we’re probably top five in the nation. Justin McLune: They started in ’78 and it has been growing 10%, 15% a year every year. The money is growing, the participation is growing, just the recreational play is growing and it gets more legitimate by the year. But more than participation, Iowa is also
home to some exceptional players. McLune: We have a lot of nationally renowned
players here. We have a lady who is three-time former world
champion, we have the five-time world putting champion here, one of the guys is probably
top three in the world distance wise and so lots of talent here for sure. So what may seem like a casual activity has
led some expertly skilled Iowans to become career disc golfers. Des Reading: I was kind of as an amateur,
fun, getting used to the sport and then all of a sudden I was like, I would like to take
this further. I went to the University of Northern Iowa
on a full scholarship to play softball so I was really competitive to start with and
I just decided that this might be that unique opportunity to be a professional athlete. And now I travel the world and it is my sole
job. Why is disc golf so popular in Iowa? Well, actually it’s because small towns and
parks across the state have embraced the sport, almost by accident sowing the seeds of a disc
golf renaissance. McLune: Des Moines is great, Quad Cities are
great, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, but every small town along I-80. There’s a great course in Colfax, Newton,
Grinnell, there’s one at this Lake, Iowa, exit 211 in the middle of nowhere. The small towns a lot of them will have a
city park and it’s kind of their one signature city park with beautiful trees but well-manicured
and those are great, those are what really make a course and we’re lucky to have those. And many of the players who take up disc golf
come to it from a similar outdoor sport. Damon Culver: I was a competitive golfer for
many years and figured out it was much less expensive to do disc golf so I cut way back
on one and got serious about another. Jay Greenwood: There’s a lot of similarities. We have pars, we have actually for what you
throw there’s drivers, very fast, kind of difficult to throw. There’s mid-ranges that fly a little bit straighter
and then there’s putters that have a blunter edge that will go into the basket a little
bit. McLune: One of the other bigger differences
from golf is that you pick up one or two frisbees and go out and play a whole round with it
no problem, whereas you go to the golf course you probably need the bag, clubs, the whole
deal. Disc golf is just so much more efficient. And then playing of course is free. You can pick it up wherever you want, stop
wherever you want. Just like traditional golf, the ease of play
can be deceptive and frustrating. McLune: One of my favorite lines is, whatever
you’re bad at in life, you’re going to be bad at in disc golf. So if you don’t have much composure or good
perspective that’s going to show on the disc golf course. Culver: When I first started playing disc
golf and started to get competitive with it, I improved the same way I did when I played
golf, and that is I worked on my putting and my short shots first and then I worried about
how far I could throw it because the first tendency would be, oh so this is the biggest
driver you have, well that’s not going to work for you. You have to work up to things like that, build
your arm speed and skill level because you start grabbing the biggest piece of plastic
that’s available. Greenwood: And just get yourself a driver
and a mid-range and a putter, you can probably get started for less than $25 and just get
out to the course and try. And disc golfers are really very friendly
people. If you approach them and ask them, they’re
usually always really receptive to giving you a tip or two. And once you feel that rip and you throw it
the right way you’ll be hooked. Every year the Des Moines Disc Golf Club invites
players of every skill level to the Walnut Ridge Recreation Area in Johnston for the
Des Moines Challenge, a weekend long event that offers a chance at trophies and thousands
of dollars in prize money. Greenwood: It costs $105 a player in the open
division. I think there’s 41 players in that division. The first place winner today is going to be
taking home $1,225 and that is thanks to our sponsors and of course their entry fees. So it will be a pretty nice pay day. While not everyone at the challenge is after
the prize money, there are some serious golfers on hand. McLune: The sport has a lot of money in it
now. There’s some guys making some real money,
tens of thousands. The guys that are here, they’re at the national
events, the world championships, guys who have won major, major tournaments here. And with top level talent in town, Walnut
Ridge does an excellent job representing Iowa. Culver: We call this our country club course. It’s beautiful, the Army Corp of Engineers
take fantastic care of it. It is moderate difficulty. I’ve seen as low as a 46 thrown out here,
so by course par that’s 13 under par. That’s just crazy good. As the challenge pressed on, Des Reading took
down the women’s masters division. But to her, the weekend is about more than
winning, it is also about camaraderie and showcasing why Iowa is a great ambassador
for the sport. Reading: I think the great thing about playing
disc golf is you can play outside and you can play with anybody, you can play with your
family, you can play with your friends and it’s free to recreate. So Iowa has always been a real promoter of
green spaces and it is per capita the first in the world with the amount of courses per
capita. So it will show you that the recreation opportunities
are fantastic. On the men’s side of the tournament, the day
ended with a three-way shootout before St. Louis native Zach Johnson took home the big
prize. And similar to Des, Zach loves the sport for
the community the game has established. Zach Johnson: The people are amazing, that’s
what really keeps me in disc golf. It can’t get old just because you feel like
you’re seeing family everywhere you go. Every weekend I see people I know and it’s
just worth it, it’s just good people. So with its accessible nature and nearly 200
courses in the state, disc golf’s popularity appears ready to take off. McLune: The thing about disc golf is it just
keeps growing and it’s going to keep getting into the mainstream. It’s a slow climb, it’s a steady climb, but
the thing is we’re never going anywhere, there’s no ceiling on it. (music)

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Dennis Veasley

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