Michigan as a whole is wild about disc golf, with more than 300 courses
ranked on one popular listing and even more rustic courses maintained by volunteers. That's no different in the Ypsilanti area.
A volunteer-maintained course at Waterworks Park
, 20 Catherine St. in Ypsilanti, and the Lakeshore course, 2300 Lakeshore Blvd. in Ypsilanti Township, are among popular courses in the area for casual players. Meanwhile, those interested in leagues and tournaments frequently visit the course at Rolling Hills County Park, 7660 Stony Creek Rd. in Ypsilanti Township.
Disc golf is a sport that involves throwing discs (i.e. Frisbees) into baskets (also called targets) on a course, similar to traditional club-and-ball golf or mini-golf. Serious players may carry different types of discs for different types of shots, from blunt putters to sharp-edged discs for distance throwing.
A3Golf president Paul Feeney at Red Hawk Disc Golf Course.
Paul Feeney, president of Ann Arbor Area Disc Golf
(A3Golf), says disc golf's popularity took off during the pandemic, as people were looking for ways to exercise and socialize outdoors safely.
"In the past three years, we saw a massive expansion of the sport and increase in the accessibility of sports," Feeney says. For instance, he notes that membership in the Professional Disc Golf Association
(PDGA) nearly doubled during the pandemic.
Here are five things local enthusiasts think you should know if you'd like to start playing disc golf in the Ypsilanti area.
1. There's a low barrier to entry.
The game can be played by anyone who can walk and throw a disc, so it's family-friendly. You can start on a free course, throwing a disc for free, so there's virtually no start-up cost.
"One nice thing is that it's very affordable, and you only need one disc to go out and play," says Scott Sprow, club director for the Washtenaw County GLOW
disc golf club. "It's extremely affordable, and you're outside, walking around, getting vitamin D, and having fun with friends and family."
Washtenaw County GLOW club director Scott Sprow.
The cost of getting into the sport is minimal compared to golf, tennis, or other sports, Sprow says. For the easiest way to get started, Feeney suggests finding a friend who already plays and tagging along if you can.
2. There are local resources for beginners.
The greater Ypsilanti area has several courses that can accommodate players of all skill levels. Beginners would do well to start at the putter course called The Labyrinth at Rolling Hills, says Sprow.
"Imagine if it was putt-putt golf. It's the same concept," Sprow says. "It's not terribly long, and it's family-friendly."
The Throw Shop owner Ben Calhoun.
Ben Calhoun, owner of The Throw Shop at the entrance of the Lakeshore course, says both Lakeshore courses are friendly to beginners, but other local players recommend the Ponds course over The Woods since the first has longer but less technical shots.
"That one is a little longer than others, but it's very beginner-friendly," Calhoun says. "My 7-year-old can follow me along on that course."
Ann Arbor resident Jennifer Trombley established the Grit and Grace Ladies of Disc Golf
league with a mission to be a "comfortable space for women who are new to the sport to play without judgment and grow in their knowledge of disc golf from other women." The league is free, explicitly trans-friendly, and offers prizes for some of its tournaments.
Grit and Grace Ladies Disc Golf Club director Jennifer Trombley at Red Hawk Disc Golf Course at Independence Lake County Park.
The group has a core of regulars that range from grade-school girls who come with their dads to several women in their 60s. Trombley says attendees are more focused on being active outdoors and socializing than improving their scores.
Trombley says she's played with men, and she thinks an all-woman environment is more welcoming to women who are new to the sport.
"It's okay making horrible shots and not mattering, because we're all in it for the fun of being together," she says.
3. Some disc golf games are higher-stakes than others.
There are levels of play, from playing with a frisbee you had in the closet to competing in leagues and tournaments. You can even go all-out and get expensive collectible discs with special designs and foils issued by pro players, Feeney says.
Ypsi Township resident and disc golfer Don Bush says he initially enjoyed the sport as a loner, but people kept wanting to befriend him and recruit him for a league that played at the same course he frequented.
"We had a common thing we were passionate about, and that helped break me out of my shell a little bit," he says.
A3Disc head league coordinator Don Bush at the Lakeshore courses.
The A3Disc Monday night sanctioned league recruited Bush, and he now runs the league. Bush says you can make connections at your local course or look up nearby leagues online at DiscGolfScene.com
Calhoun started a disc golf craze in his family, and now his wife, both his parents, and one of his sisters all play competitive disc golf. He staffed The Throw Shop while his sister and wife attended the Ledgestone Open
, a high-stakes tournament in Illinois, the first weekend in August.
"My mom and dad both have multiple world titles for their age divisions," Calhoun says.
Someone just getting interested in competitive disc golf might invest in a set of six to 15 different types of discs, but Feeney says it's fine to start out with two or three. If you're not sure about investing money in a set, you can rent from The Throw Shop before playing one of the Lakeshore courses to get a feel for the different types of discs.
4. Enthusiasts recommend using apps to help disc golfers find and navigate courses.
Feeney says apps and websites like DiscGolfScene.com
have helped make the sport more accessible. Bush also recommends the scoring app available through the PDGA's website
These apps are especially useful both for finding local courses and navigating the course once you get there, since some of the more wooded or volunteer-maintained courses lack adequate signage.
"I used to play the course at Mary Beth Doyle Park [in Ann Arbor], and the first few times I missed holes 13 through 15," Feeney says. "Then I finally got the app and got good directions."
Jennifer Trombley and friends playing at Red Hawk Disc Golf Course at Independence Lake County Park.
Bush says the nine-hole wooded course at Waterworks Park is also hard to find and navigate without an app.
5. If you've played Ypsi courses and are looking for more, here are some ideas for nearby courses to try.
Trombley and Feeney suggest the free, beginner-friendly course at Bandemer Park, 1352 Lake Shore Dr. in Ann Arbor. Sprow suggests Mary Beth Doyle Park, 3500 Birch Hollow Dr. in Ann Arbor, or a little further away, the course at Independence Lake County Park, 3200 Jennings Rd. in Whitmore Lake. There are also highly-rated courses at both Hudson Mills Metropark, 8801 N. Territorial Rd. in Dexter, and Willow Metropark, 23200 S. Huron Rd. in New Boston.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.