Staff Columnist

Disc golf - Iowa's secret statewide pastime - during the coronavirus outbreak

The disc golf course begins near where the farmhouse once stood. Photographed at the Altmaier Family Park in Coralville
The disc golf course begins near where the farmhouse once stood. Photographed at the Altmaier Family Park in Coralville on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

There are a lot of things Iowans are told we can’t do during the coronavirus pandemic. But as of this writing, we’re still allowed to go outside.

“We want people to still get outside, go to the parks, go for a walk. … We want to make sure people feel like they still can go outside,” Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch said at a news conference this week. Even in some states with stricter shutdown orders than Iowa, public parks remain open.

With all the fun places closed and no sports to watch on TV, this is a chance to connect with Iowa’s underappreciated statewide pastime — disc golf.

At least one local government says it’s OK to play disc golf during the statewide social distancing advisory. Coralville Parks and Recreation posted on its Facebook page this week to announce its Altmaier Family Park disc golf course, newly constructed in 2018, has reopened after being closed due to soggy ground. The city advises people to play individually or in very small groups and not to share discs.

Most Iowans don’t know it, but there is a strong case to be made that we live in the amateur disc golf capital of the world.

Iowa is No. 1 in the nation for courses-per-capita, with 6.4 disc golf courses per 100,000 residents, according to a 2017 analysis on ParkedDiscGolf.org. Iowa’s 3.6 disc golf courses per 1,000 square miles also ranks in the top tier nationally.

There are nearly 20 courses between Johnson and Linn counties. About 300 Iowa courses are listed on DGCourseReview.com, almost all of them free to play. They range from Wildcat Bluff near Urbana — rated 4.65 out of 5, one of the top 50 courses in the world — to North Park in Wellman — rated just .25 out of 5.

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Even the bad courses in Iowa are not so bad. Dozens of small towns have beginner-friendly 9-hole courses creatively designed around their city parks.

While the Professional Disc Golf Association has canceled all sanctioned events due to coronavirus, many public parks remain open for recreational use.

To my knowledge, there are no public health advisories specifically related to disc golf. A few disc golf bloggers have given lukewarm endorsements to continuing play, though they recommend playing by yourself and only visiting low-traffic courses.

Worried about potentially spreading the virus through contact with the basket and chains — the apparatus used as the hole in disc golf — some players say they are skipping putts. Alternatively, some players opt to complete the hole by simply hitting the basket or post, rather than sinking it, a rule variation affectionately known by some in the community as “stoner rules.”

Speaking of which, please don’t smoke illegal drugs in Iowa’s beautiful public spaces. If you disregard my request, at least don’t share smoking supplies during an infectious disease outbreak.

You can also skip the disc golf course altogether and resort to a makeshift course in your backyard or neighborhood park. Laundry baskets or trees are good substitutes for baskets, and toy Frisbees stand in just fine for real golf discs.

Stay away from others. Toss some discs. Rattle some chains (or don’t). Enjoy the fresh air. Try to stay sane during the coronavirus crisis.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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