Bringing disc golf to the spotlight

Published 10:44 pm Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two Austin men are looking to make a growing a sport even bigger.

Nik Johnsen, 29, and Jason Linnett, 30, have run a Wednesday night disc golf league and run an annual tournament in Austin for the past few years.

They opened J & J disc golf in 2004, which sells disc golf supplies. They run the business as a side-job out of their homes.

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The two men graduated from Austin High School together in 1997 and they played disc golf back in the mid-90s, but took a short hiatus as they always found their discs breaking when they hit a tree or an obstacle.

But in 2001, the disc technology changed and the plastic become much more durable.

“That really spiked our interest, because before we’d get the older type of plastics and you’d hit a tree and it would warp,” Johnsen said. “You’d have to buy new ones right away. Now we both have discs we’ve been playing with since 2002.”

After they began playing in tournaments, the duo decided started running the annual Todd Park 10,000, which will be held Aug. 8 this summer. The tournament got its name from the total number of feet the 27-hole Todd Park course runs, making it one of Minnesota’s best and biggest courses.

J & J also run five other tourneys in the surrounding area (Stewartville, Fairmont, and Owatonna) throughout the year.

The J & J disc golf league meets every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Todd Park.

The league is for both casual and serious players – anyone can play with the best players for $10 a night they can play in the $5 division to win prizes. Part of the money goes back to the players and to Todd Park and part is put in a pool (currently up to $700) for the year’s top disc golfer.

Those who are experienced in the J & J league are very competitive and they take it seriously.

“We all know everybody’s game at league and there’s probably five top players in it right now,” Johnsen said. “As a whole, Austin’s players have gotten a lot better.”

The league, which usually has about 15-20 competitors, is also good for amateurs.

“It’s any age and any skill level,” Linnett said. “You can come play with us and we’ll teach you some things. It’s a good way to learn the game.”

The league will meet in Albert Lea until Todd Park re-opens.

While throwing a disc at a random target may not sound very hard. It takes a lot of time to become a skilled disc golfer.

“A lot of people think you just pick up a disc and start throwing, but it’s not like that at all. It’s very challenging,” said Johnsen. “There are guys who can throw 500 to 600 feet.”

There are even some disc golfers who can make a living off the sport, by traveling from tournament to tournament. Linnett said some pros make from $20,000 to $40,000 per year.

“That’s everyone’s dream right there,” he said. “To be living off it.”

But most disc golfers take a more casual approach. It’s something anyone can do and provides a good chance to get outdoors for an hour or two.

“You can play it forever. I have a friend who’s 72 years old that still plays,” Linnett said. “It’s great physical exercise and a good mental game. You’ve got to think things out and maneuver around obstacles, just like (regular) golf.”

Johnsen said that more and more towns are adding disc golf courses and some campsites are starting courses. That means more tournaments and more leagues.

“It’s a huge growing sport. But (J & J) is nothing do with the money for us, it’s just getting everybody the supplies that they need and having a camaraderie with other disc golfers,” Johnsen said.

Besides the big course at Todd Park, Austin also has a nine-hole disc golf course at South Driesner Park.

For information on area disc golf tournaments and leagues, the Southern Minnesota Disc Golf Association has a Web Site,