Turns out Iowans are known for more than just corn, pigs and kindness.
Disc golf also is huge in the state.
With 300 registered courses, Iowa is the disc golf capital of the world, according to ParkedDiscGolf.org. The first course in the state was built in Cedar Falls in 1976.
The Professional Disc Golf Association has postponed its season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but local courses should be open as long as you practice social distancing.
Getting started in disc golf
The startup cost is inexpensive, roughly $50 for three new discs or $25 for used equipment that will work just fine.
The three kinds of discs are your driver, midrange and putter.
Drivers are the most beveled and are thin like a plate. These aerodynamic discs — thrown off the tee and designed to travel the farthest — go very fast.
“You’ll get most of your distance with this disc,” said Joe French, co-owner of Titan Disc Golf in Cedar Rapids.
French described the midrange disc as “a little bit deeper and wider. It’s meant for more control. You can still throw them far, just not as far as your driver.”
French tells most new players this disc is very finite and shouldn’t be purchased until you understand your game and expand your disc collection.
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The putter resembles what most people would think of as a “regular Frisbee,” according to French.
“It’s a little wider and round and it’s designed to fly slow and accurate so you can make that final shot into the chains,” he said.
To get started French suggests purchasing two drivers — “one that goes left and one that goes right,” along with a putter.
“One of the easiest things to do is complicate the game at the beginning,” French said. “Go out and find your skill set and how your discs fly and throw them until you know what it does 95 percent of the time. I try to keep people to three or four discs. It’s best not to over complicate the game.”
Where to play in Eastern Iowa
Once you have your discs, there are many places in the area to choose from.
Cedar Rapids has 18-hole courses at Shaver Park on J Avenue, a heavily wooded trek with several elevation changes. Jones Park near Bowling Street and Wilson Avenue also is 18 holes and more wide-open. Marion has 18 holes at Thomas Park and Hiawatha has 18 holes at Fay Clark Park.
Bertram has a 9-hole course at High Point Park and Urbana has the top-rated course in the state — the 18-hole course at Wildcat Bluff Recreation Area.
Johnson County has a 9-hole course at Sugar Bottom near North Liberty and another at Turkey Creek on Coralville Lake. There are also 18 holes at Peninsula Park near Dubuque Street and Wetherby Park, both in Iowa City. Coralville just added a new course at Altmaier Family Park.
Cedar Rapids is planning a new course at Shawnee Park.
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The best way to play disc golf
Like tennis, there is forehand and backhand and essentially there are only four ways to throw the disc — left hand backhand and right hand forehand, which have the same flight path, or, left hand forehand and right hand backhand, which share the same type of flight.
“Personal comfort is the deciding factor,” French said. “Many people struggle to throw backhand at first because it’s an unnatural motion. I explain that it’s like a hitting a line drive and it’s hard because they are right-handed and it’s the same motion as batting left-handed.”
French suggests starting with the forehand throw, which is similar to throwing a ball sidearm.
“It can be easier to get distance at the start when you’re trying to learn and keep up,” he said.
That being said, you should eventually learn all four throws.
“The reason to know both throws is because they are reciprocal,” French said. “That way you can get the disc to break right or left at the end depending on the situation.
“It really helps your game.”
Scoring is just like golf. Throws are strokes and the least amount of tosses wins the round.
While people play year-round, the season mostly runs spring to fall. French and his shop host a Black Friday single-round tournament to end the season.
On the course, etiquette is similar to golf and common, public-space decency. Always wait for the previous group to finish the hole.
“Even if you think you might not be able to reach them, it’s dangerous,” French said. “These are very beveled edges and you don’t ever want to hit anybody. The noise is also distracting if they are trying to putt.”
Picking up after yourself and being respectful of non-disc players in the park also is encouraged.
“You need to watch out for people that may not expect flying discs,” French said.
Most rounds take 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the course and pace of play.