Disc golf tournament draws competitors from California, Hawaii

Saturday, June 28, 2014 | 7:58 p.m. CDT; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2014

COLUMBIA — The first two people to sign up for the 30th Annual Mid-America Open were from Southern California and Hawaii.

"Over there I'm a big fish in a little pond and over here I'm a little fish in a big pond," said Douglas MacIlroy, the competitor from Hawaii.

MacIlroy was in Kansas City visiting a friend and decided to play in the Kansas City Wide Open, another disc golf tournament, and then came to Columbia for the Mid-America Open.

The Mid-America Open is a disc golf competition held at Albert-Oakland Park and Indian Hills Park in which competitors play four 18-hole rounds: two on Saturday and two on Sunday. The top professional players play a final nine holes on Sunday to determine the pro winner.

The tournament had three pools of players: pros, advanced and recreational players. This year, about 135 people signed up to play.

"It's a fun game, but it's still challenging," said Mark Ehlert, one of the tournament directors. "Disc golf has the same mental challenges as golf, you have to think about the shots you want to make."

The tournament, and disc golf itself, helps to bring people together of all ages and skill levels.

Will McDowell of Rolla and Andrew Allen of Columbia met while playing disc golf.

"I met Andy playing earlier this year and now we play together all the time," McDowell said. "You're always meeting good people out here."

"We come out here and play three or four times a week," Allen said. "We're out here as much as we can be."

McDowell competed in the doubles tournament Friday and was attending Saturday's event while Allen just watched the tournament and players, especially the pros.

"You get to see what they can do on the course that you play everyday," McDowell said.

McDowell said he used to play golf, but it got to be really expensive. Disc golf is less expensive. He said the atmosphere is more laid back as well.

Allen said he got into disc golf for the exercise and the health benefits that come with it.

The fact that disc golf is a relatively cheap sport to play and that anyone can play it is something that many players see as a major draw to the sport.

"If you can spend $15 on three discs, you can play for a long time," Allen said.

Will Rosa started playing disc golf in high school, but stopped playing for awhile before picking it back up in the past year. Like Allen, Rosa got back into disc golf for the exercise and the rush.

"It's addictive. There's no other way to say it," Rosa said.

While disc golf has its positives, it also has its challenges, which include weather, trees and losing your disc, players said.

"Disc golfers get really weird about their plastic," Allen said. "A disc golfer's plastic is sort of like batter's bat. If it breaks or cracks or you lose it, you're going to be bummed for a day."

Disc golfers have something to look forward to though: the city of Columbia is planning to build another disc golf course, which will be located between Perche Creek and Harmony Creek, off Strawn Road.

"The courses that we have here (at Albert-Oakland Park) are relatively old," Ehlert said. "The first course was put in around 1979 or 1980, and the back course was put in around 1990."

With a new course, Ehlert said they have the chance to build a "championship caliber course."

"Long term we'd like to have one of the national tour events and having a better course will help that," Ehlert said. "Maybe even six or seven years from now we could have a mid-Missouri world championship where you have up to 1,000 people come and play."

"I think they're (the city) really starting to see the positives of the sport," McDowell said.

Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.

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