Hunting ‘fore’ a new sport?

On paper, it isn’t much different than regular golf: using drivers and putters, players compete to see who can finish an 18-hole course using as few strokes as possible.

But in place of the quiet ting as a golf ball drops into a hole, there is an unforgettable clanging of metal as a golf disc — similar to a Frisbee — hits a set of interwoven chains and drops into the metal basket below.

"Some people say it’s the clink of chains," said Mike Snelson, a long-time disc golf player and owner of the new Fairway Flyerz store in Little Canada. "You never forget it."

Welcome to disc golf, a recreational and professional sport that is now sweeping the country. With 20 courses in a 20-mile radius of the Twin Cities and 103 courses in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is among the three states leading the way in disc golf popularity.

"I like the laid back atmosphere; yet there are still some aspects that have a lot of skill involved," said Quinn Doheny, 20, of South St. Paul.

Unlike tossing a regular, old-fashioned Frisbee, disc golf requires a bit more skill to get them to fly, particularly straight. Yet Snelson said the discs will fly no matter how they are held, demonstrating that even an over-arm pitch will get them to go towards the pin.

Unlike traditional golf, where green fees alone could cost $50 or $75, disc golf is a relatively cheap sport. Players can use as few as two or three discs, priced at about $15 each, and play on free, public courses throughout the Twin Cities area.

Mark Jara of Stillwater played the disc golf course at Acorn Park in Roseville in early August with about five of his friends.

"It’s within my budget," said Jara, who has been playing for about five years. "It’s nice to get outside.... out of your routine."

His friend, Karyn Van Erem of Stillwater, agreed.

"It’s fun to play with friends," she said.

The most played course in the area, according to Snelson, is at Acorn Park in Roseville, with an 18-hole course winding through water hazards and woods.

But the most popular course in the Twin Cities is the 18-hole, 6,445-foot beauty at Kaposia Park in South St. Paul, which features large oak and maple trees and deep ravines. Kaposia was one of the courses used during the 2001 World Disc Golf Championships in 2001.

"This is one of the best," said South St. Paul’s Doheny.

Why it’s growing

As Americans are looking for more ways to get exercise and socialize with friends and family, it should not be surprising that they are turning to disc golf.

Despite sharp uphill and downhill hikes, disc golf is a sport that virtually everyone can play.

Some courses could even be accessible to disabled players, Snelson said, noting there is a national league for deaf disc golf players.

"Fairways aren’t necessarily flat... but this is a sport that is played by people with all kinds of disabilities," he said.

Men and women, young and old — they all converge on the courses throughout the state.

Dan Olson and Nat Erickson, who currently live in St. Paul but are from overseas, said they’ve been playing for a couple of years and enjoy the fact players of any level can enjoy a disc golf outing.

"You can be either really competitive or just screwing around with friends," Olson said.

"It’s just nice to be doing something outdoors," Erickson added. "It’s a great, friendly sport."

Regular golf takes practice — and a lot of time. A round of golf with two or three players can take three or four hours; an 18-hole round of disc golf usually takes less than two hours.

Beyond those differences, though, disc golf fans say there is a similar mystique that "hooks" them just as it does regular golfers.

"It’s the good shots that bring you back," Doheny said. "You want to remember them, duplicate them, like a hole-in-one."

Doheny, who was playing a round alone, explained that disc golf can be played alone or in a group.

"It’s a great group game," he said. "I, personally, like being alone, but it’s fun to play with friends and not take it too seriously."

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