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#OTGYpsi: Inclusive approach to disc golf builds on pandemic-era growth in local popularity


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Want to play disc golf in Ypsilanti? Here are 5 things you should know

Professional Disc Golf Association

The Disc Golf Scene


Grit and Grace Ladies League

Ann Arbor Area Disc Golf

Washtenaw County GLOW


Josh Hakala: You were listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community, and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on disc golf. Rylee, thanks so much for being with us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: And joining us over the phone is Jen Trombley, who is a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association, and she runs the Grit and Grace Ladies League, a trans-inclusive disc golf league. And, Jen, thanks for being with us.

Jen Trombley: Happy to be here. Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: All right, Rylee. Let's start with you. Sarah Rigg wrote this article. And aside from being summertime and regular golf is too hard and expensive, why was disc golf on your radar?

Rylee Barnsdale: I think a big reason why we wanted to talk about disc golf at Concentrate this week is really how much it's grown in popularity these past couple of years. There was a pretty decent uptick in folks wanting to get involved in the sport because it was a really nice and safe way to get outside, get exercise, and socialize during the pandemic. And now, folks are hooked. And it's a very accessible sport. It's a fairly family-friendly, pretty good sport for most ages and, like you said, pretty much pretty affordable, especially compared to other sports. So, it's a really good opportunity for folks to get outside and maybe make some new friends.

Josh Hakala: And I'm sure there are listeners who have heard about disc golf but have never tried it. But maybe give us, like, a cliff notes explanation of what it is and maybe what its origin story is.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yes. So, disc golf is kind of exactly what it sounds like. It's going to a course, much like a golf course. And instead of hitting golf balls with clubs, you are throwing Frisbees towards targets. It started being played actually around the 1960s when the Frisbee was invented, and it sort of picked up in speed in the seventies and has continued to be sort of a fun alternative to golf, but also becoming its own sport with its own professional league, as you mentioned. And, in Ypsi, it's super affordable and accessible because we've got a lot of different courses that are very beginner friendly. There are leagues if folks want to participate in a more competitive way, and we've got the volunteer-maintained Waterworks Park on Catherine Street as a free option to go play at. There is the Lakeshore course off of Grove Road--another free option. And all of the folks involved in the sport around here really seem to want to get folks--get more folks--involved. So, a very open kind of sport to start participating in.

Josh Hakala: Well, Jen can tell us a lot about that. I'm sure that there's a lot of let's call them up-and-coming sports, you'd say, outside of the mainstream sports, you know, maybe sports that maybe for folks who watch ESPN, they're on the Ocho. They get their time to shine. But it's really been invented, you said, a few decades ago. And it's really caught on now. And, Jen, what makes disc golf so special, and how does it develop the national following that it has?

Jen Trombley: Yeah. I think, primarily, it is an affordable sport, and anyone can be involved in it. It brings a wide range of people and skill levels. You don't have to be a great disc golfer to be outside in nature and enjoying the time that you're spending on the course. It's also very enjoyable just because of the community that it brings. Much like other sports or I honestly think of like a biker gang, disc golfers have this community that is just very unique that brings people together. And it doesn't matter how good you are as a player. You can connect and just have a great time. A lot of disc golf leagues play with partners, too. So, you know, when you're shooting bad, your partner picks you up. It's great.

Josh Hakala: Yeah, I'm not going to doubt that there isn't a biker gang disc golf team that's out there. I've seen some of the themes out there. It's been a lot of fun. So, let's start with some of the basics. I mean, if I'm going to head out to one of these courses that Rylee mentioned, what equipment do I need? And dress code is probably a little bit more casual than traditional golf?

Jen Trombley: Yeah, no dress code at all. So, wear whatever you'd like. As far as what you need, really, one disc is all it takes. And for new players, people debate what that disc should be. It can be a putter, which is going to be harder to throw, but you're going to get a straighter shot or a driver. A driver is usually where people like to start just because you can throw it and whip it a lot farther, but maybe not as accurate. I tend to tell people that go for a mid-range, which is in between a putter and a driver just to kind of get the feel of both.

Josh Hakala: So, there are some people that have all of them.

Jen Trombley: Yeah. And then some. I bag about 20 disc, which I don't need to be carrying around that much. But, for that one shot, I might want that one disc. So, it's just to each their own.

Josh Hakala: Do we have caddies in this? Have we reached that level?

Jen Trombley: We do have caddies actually. Yup. Caddies are helpful, and a lot of times that's how women learn about the sport. They might be caddying for their significant other and get comfortable being out on the course and seeing how the game is played in that manner. So, caddies are very welcomed.

Josh Hakala: Okay. So, they're not talked down upon like or maybe I'm just projecting my own experience as a former caddy. So, it's a positive experience, really?

Jen Trombley: Yeah, it is a positive experience.

Josh Hakala: Yeah. All right.

Jen Trombley: We sometimes we rate caddies. That's like a thing we do in this golf. Like for PDGA, when you're a member, you get a rating. And that tells you kind of, like, how well of a player a person is. And so, we jokingly give caddies ratings as well. If it's a good caddy, they're a rated caddy.

Josh Hakala: So, tell us about some of the courses in the area and what really makes a good course stand out among the others.

Jen Trombley: It's hard to judge, of course, because different players have different skills. And so, someone who can throw really, really far might like the wide open kind of golf course type of course. Whereas people with, like, maybe not as much distance, but accuracy like the tight technical courses. So, it's really hard to rate different courses. In Ypsi and Ann Arbor, we have a wide range of choices. So, in Ypsi, we have Rolling Hills Metropark, which, actually, has technically three courses. Rolling Hills is known for the rolling hills, lots of elevation, still kind of technical but beginner-friendly. It's a decent workout and a great place to start. If you're learning disc golf and if you want to be in the woods and have a shade during the sun, Lakeshore is also in Ypsi, and that is Lakeshore Apartments. They have two courses there. One is called the Woods and one is the original. And it's wide open. It's a great place for beginners because you don't have to lose your disc and rush and spend time, you know, searching. It's just kind of a nice place to learn how to throw and how to control your discs. In Ann Arbor, there are a couple courses that are really great for beginners because they're kind of shorter holes. So, Mary Beth Doyle is in Ann Arbor, kind of towards Briarwood area, and it's an 18-hole course. It has elevation, it has open holes, and it also has technical holes. It's definitely where my number one recommendation for a new player in our area. And the other recommendation that I would give is Bandemer in Ann Arbor. That's kind of like across from Argo Park. Bandemer is a nine-hole course, but it has three different T-pads--three different levels of play. It has a lot to offer in a very short amount of walking distance. You can get through nine holes and be done, or you can go for another nine afterwards. There's also Hudson Mills. It's a renowned course. It's been around, like, 40 years, I'd say. And they have two courses, and one is much more challenging than the other, but also a great beginner place, very wooded. I really like the feeling of I'm getting lost in the woods and kind of, like, traveling to see, you know, where this road takes me. So, Hudson Mills is a great course to just kind of be immersed in nature.

Josh Hakala: You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on WEMU. I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and Jen Trombley, who is a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association, and she runs the Grit and Grace Ladies League, which is a trans-inclusive disc golf league. Are there clubs that people can join, or if they go out and they try it and they are like, "You know, I'm pretty good at this. I'm not, you know, chucking my disc into, you know, other people's yards." Like it's actually "I'm doing okay, and I want to take this to the next level." Are there clubs people can join?

Jen Trombley: Yeah, there are. Well, we call them clubs, but, really, it's not like you're signing up for anything. You show up that day, and you play the league. You don't have to come back, but you can. So, it's drop-in when it comes to disc golf leagues. Some leagues are more competitive than others. And so, you kind of want to get a feel for which league would be more friendly to a newer player. Like, I run a ladies' league, and it's built for seasoned and new players. So, people come all the time who have never even thrown plastic before. But there are some leagues that are more expensive. For example, like, you might pay $30 just to play that night. And those are the ones that are more for the professional player.

Josh Hakala: And is this played year-round? I mean, do people get their winter coats on and try this out when the snow comes? Like, what are we talking about here for seasons?

Jen Trombley: Oh yeah! It's year-round in any weather. I play a Wednesday night league, so it's globally. It's called WC Glow--that's Washtenaw County Glow. And every Wednesday night throughout the whole year, we're out there. We're lighting up our discs. We're lighting up the baskets and playing in whatever comes our way, except for lightning. Lightning is the only thing we don't play in.

Josh Hakala: What is the game like at the professional level? And, like, how can some of the best players play at that level and maybe even move up to playing in some major tournaments?

Jen Trombley: So, really, anyone can claim to be a professional. Like, if I wanted to sign up, I play amateur, but if I wanted to, I could sign up through the PDGA to be a professional player. That would mean that I would be competing against other professional players, whether it be men or women. Because of my skill level, I don't want to do that. But, basically, if I were to sign up for a tournament and play on the professional level, if I win that tournament and take cash and I win cash, then I would have to continue playing for cash playing as a professional. If you play as an amateur, when you play a tournament, you win plastic. Once you have like 500 discs, it's probably time to start playing professional.

Josh Hakala: How much plastic do you have?

Jen Trombley: Oh, I probably have 500 between me and my husband. Yeah. He plays professional. So, yeah. I'm the only one bringing plastic home these days.

Josh Hakala: Are there matches on TV or at least on streaming at some way if people want to check it out before they head out to the course?

Jen Trombley: Oh, yeah. Jomez is really the biggest producer of this golf film, and they do a great job. It's just kind of like if you've seen ball golf on TV, it's just like that. The commentary is more witty, and it's just great to see them slow down shots and kind of replay maybe an ace going into the basket. And it's really exciting. It sounds very boring, but it's very captivating.

Josh Hakala: So, you're telling me that you don't have to talk in a whisper when you broadcast disc golf?

Jen Trombley: Yeah.

Josh Hakala: Okay.

Jen Trombley: No, it's good.

Josh Hakala: All right. I heard a lot of people playing disc golf during the pandemic. Obviously, we were looking for outdoor activities to sort of get us through. And did it have a big surge in popularity during the pandemic?

Jen Trombley: A lot of new players came out and started, you know, just learning about the sport, just getting started. And now, you know, three years later, those players are seasoned, and now they're competing. And the sport has grown tremendously because of COVID really.

Josh Hakala: What do you see as the future of disc golf?

Jen Trombley: Oh, man! The bar just keeps getting raised. It's hard to say at this point. I personally have been trying to focus on bringing more minorities to the sport because it has been so white male dominated. And that's why I started Grit and Grace. It was just to give a platform for women to get comfortable. So, it's been nice to see more diversity. I think that that's going to continue to be a trend.

Josh Hakala: Jen Trombley. She is a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association. She's got some discs under her belt. And who knows? Maybe we'll see her at the professional level at some point once she gives in. But she also runs the Grit and Grace Ladies League. And, of course, Rylee Barnsdale from Concentrate Media. Thank you so much to both of you for joining us on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Jen Trombley: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: If you'd like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview with some photos, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org and the WEMU app. This is On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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