James Lecy squints against the bright morning sun, assessing the 40 feet to the hole. He’s had a good round thus far, but a wayward puff of wind has blown him a wee bit off-line on his approach. No matter – with an expert flick, his aim is true and a rattle echoes from the target.
Technically, the shot is a putt and a mighty long one in the traditional golfing world. But for Lecy, there’s not a bag or club in sight and the shot is rather pedestrian for the 20-year veteran of disc golf, save a tree branch or two, rattling his disc home on the post-and-basket that stands in place of a hole.
“I was introduced to the sport to get out of the house, get outside and get some sort of exercise,” he said. “You can run through a round as quickly as you can or you can walk and casually enjoy the outdoors with your friends. It was introduced to me as a very casual, leisurely, enjoy-the-park type of sport. I was absolutely hooked from day one.”
Lecy’s not alone — the Professional Disc Golf Association estimates 8 to 12 million Americans play disc golf, half a million of them playing regularly. The fact there’s even a Professional Disc Golf Association to begin with tells you something, a group that numbers 80,000 members in 47 countries and sanctions 3,500 events per year.
Arkansas has not been left out of the loop on disc golf, a game played and scored the same as the ball-and-club variety. DiscGolfScene.com lists 125 courses in The Natural State, while UDisc.com lists more than 150. The tracts range from private for-profit courses to a variety of municipal and amenity-type courses in parks at schools and on college and church campuses.
Rudimentary courses are fairly easy to set up just about anywhere – all you need for a beginner’s course are some posts, open space and a layout — but the state also offers courses that test the skills of a veteran player like Lecy.
“There is a Disc Golf Pro Tour and we actually have a Disc Golf Pro Tour stop here in Arkansas, the Jonesboro Open,” he said. “One of the most prestigious disc golf courses we have here in Arkansas is in Greenbrier, Persimmon Ridge Disc Golf Resort. It’s fantastic and is world-recognized as one of the best courses that’s available to play in this region of the United States.”
Steve and Kimberly Jones, owners of Persimmon Ridge, didn’t set out to create such a renowned course. In fact, they didn’t set out to do anything other than find a modest spread at which they could entertain family and friends in the rural Faulkner County countryside.
But when the local nine-hole traditional golf course became available, the couple bought it for its natural beauty and in the hopes of turning it into a wedding and events venue. That part didn’t pan out, but Steve, who’d played disc golf here and there, thought a disc golf course might be a good Plan B.
“We did see that surge that happened when the rest of the world was shut down [during COVID],” he said. “We welcomed disc golfers when they were looking for some freedom and a place to get out.”
The couple converted the grounds to two 18-hole courses and one nine-hole tract. The Gold and Blue courses follow the same layout, differing only in distance (10,175 feet and 7,139 feet, respectively) and both require clearing an intimidating water hazard at 18. The 2,581-foot “Chillow” nine-hole experience caters to beginners, removing doglegs, water and a lot of distance from the equation.
Kimberly Jones said giving course options to players, as well as various amenities, is a key part of expanding the clientele.
“What makes us unique is that we offer golf cart rentals and have a really extensive pro shop,” she said. “And we are offering almost one tournament a month. We also have weekly what we call ‘minis’ where you come out for one round against other players. We do that every Sunday.
“We do see mostly guys, but when we opened Chillow, our little beginner-friendly course, last summer, we’ve seen a lot more families. We’re just trying offer a little bit of something to everybody.”
A Good Walk
Arkansas has lots of options when it comes to disc golf. Some require a fee, but many municipal courses are free and open to the public. For starters, check out these three courses, ranked tops for various skill levels by disc golf longtimer James Lecy.
Burns Park Red Course, North Little Rock
This is probably the oldest course in Arkansas. It’s great for beginners because of the distance from tee to basket and there’s great signage so you know where to walk to the next hole. The lines you would throw on this course are easier than most, which makes it super fun for the newer player.
Cedar Glades, Hot Springs
This course takes you through the woods where a player who is a little more experienced will be able to navigate the longer shots necessary to score well. No matter your score, it is a lot of fun and great exercise trotting up and down the terrain.
Persimmon Ridge Gold, Greenbrier
This venue is a perfect destination for a disc golfer looking to test their ability, as longer open shots require power and precision. The owners run tournaments year-round here and are dedicated to making your experience enjoyable.
This story was first featured in Arkansas Wild.
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