Arkansas disc golf popularity soars

Disc golf is seeing a resurgence sweep across the nation, especially in Northwest Arkansas, where the NWA Open is held.

WEST FORK, Ark. — There’s some debate as to where and when the sport of disc golf began. Some claim it originates in Canada during the 1920s while others believe the modern form was developed at a California camp in the late 1960s.

Either way you slice it, the sport and its popularity have grown in the decades since.

Disc golf shares common aspects of the traditional game of golf: played on a course, tee boxes, fairways, pars, birdies, bogeys, and a healthy competitive spirit.

But you are not likely going to see flying discs zip down the fairway, or hear the rattling of chains when you hit the links.

“This is my ball and my club,” explains Kevin Burdick, owner of The Disc Golf Dojo. Burdick inherited a love for the sport from his dad, and has been playing for more than two decades since.

Carrying a bag of discs—instead of clubs—is the way he navigates Carter Park in West Fork. The park is an 18-hole, par-3, disc golf course, free for the public to use, and the course he calls home. He is excited to share with anyone interested in picking up the sport.

“I want you to come out here and learn some things, sure, from people who have played longer than you, but also, you know, want to come back,” said Burdick.

He encourages his local community, as well as others, to not think of the sport as just throwing a frisbee through the woods, but as a challenge where you can be in nature with friends and strategize each toss of the disc.

“You park, you walk up to the hole, and you play,” says Burdick. “You enjoy a good time with your friends, you’re outside in nature, it’s just wonderful… it’s just wonderful.”

Disc golf can be intimidating to start. Watching those who have been playing the sport fling discs with ease and cover hundreds of feet on a single throw. Burdick says quite a few picked it up amid the COVID-19 pandemic proving just how easy it is to get on the course.

“With COVID, it really expanded our sport,” said Burdick. “It’s an easy thing to do while social distancing. You get on Amazon, you order three discs, it comes to your door, you go to the park, and you play.”

Even the professional disc golf scene saw a boost out of the pandemic.

“We actually saw our numbers of Professional Disc Golf Association, or PDGA members almost double in the year following COVID,” explained Burdick.

Locally and around the nation, the resurgence in the popularity of disc golf has helped tournaments pop up and continue throughout communities.

In Northwest Arkansas, 200 professional and amateur players came together for the fifth annual Northwest Arkansas Open presented by Dynamic Discs.

“It’s the largest singular disc golf event in the state of Arkansas,” said tournament director, Matt Loyd.

This year’s tournament featured players from two different countries and nine states. Played over the course of a weekend, multiple disc golf courses in Northwest Arkansas hosted the players.

Loyd expressed his thanks to the cities and their parks departments for their help and involvement in maintaining the courses and their support of the sport. With that, he says, disc golf will continue to grow and more courses could open across the area.

“We’re all out here trying to have a good time, enjoying ourselves, trying to grow the sport,” said Loyd. “It’s a lifelong sport, all ages can play, and so, we really want to make sure that we continue to grow this event and not just from people coming in from out of state and from other countries but here within the community, we want more local players.”

Over the years, the Northwest Arkansas Open has attracted top-ranked professional players to the competition. This year, two players ranked in the top 35 worldwide and finished in the top-two spots.

Joel Freeman from Colorado first, and from Ozark, Missouri, Andrew Presnell coming in second.

Presnell picked up the sport about ten years ago, and even a player of his caliber took time to get to the hang of things.

“You got to get out there and try it a couple of times because I was really, really bad the first handful of times. I honestly saw myself going nowhere with it,” said Presnell with a laugh.

But he says anyone—with a little practice and patience—can succeed in the world of disc golf.

“Once you get that really good shot down, you know, you kind of get that hook and then once you keep doing that more and more, then, you know, you’re going to get hooked and it’s addicting once you catch that bug,” says Presnell.

As disc golf continues to grow not only in popularity many leagues and resources are available to get people started.

In the River Valley, the Western Arkansas Flying Disc Association, or WAFDA, is a great place to start for anyone looking to join the league or find more information about the area disc golf scene.

Another great tool and resource is UDisc, a website where you can find local courses, host matches, link up with friends, and track scores.

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