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Butler County ‘A mecca’ for disc golfers

Cameron McFeely practices disc golf on the course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Disc golf courses normally take putters on a tour of a natural area via the nine or 18 holes that make up the challenge, and disc golfers can take a tour of Butler County via the many courses available in the area.

Cory Shoemaker, disc golf club adviser at Slippery Rock University, said Butler County is “a mecca” for disc golfers, because of the world-class courses available at the university, Moraine State Park and North Boundary Park in Cranberry Township.

According to Shoemaker, SRU’s course hosted the Professional Disc Golf Association Pro Disc Golf World Championships in 2015, and the Lakeview Disc Golf Course at Moraine also is a championship-level course — ranked number 45 in the world. Despite the high level of play possible at both courses, Shoemaker said newcomers can adjust the challenge by playing the holes at their own skill levels.

“In Slippery Rock, we can cater toward any talent level, whether you are learning to play or competing with the best,” Shoemaker said. “In disc golf, just like with regular golf, you've got tee positions — short, medium and long. It can be challenging to anyone.”

A disc golf enthusiast himself, Shoemaker said the popularity of the sport has grown exponentially over the years — especially after the COVID-19 pandemic — because of the flexibility of play the game offers.

Additionally, players and disc golf organizations have built up online communities that house information about courses and events relating to the sport. UDisc is a smartphone application, which Shoemaker said can help players get acquainted with courses and their difficulty levels, and also help them stay up to date with tournaments and player skill rankings.

Even though the sport offers a lot of potential for growth and travel, Shoemaker said people can stick to their local courses and practice on their own time at almost any time of the year.

“If you can throw a Frisbee, you can play,” Shoemaker said. “I've seen people up into their 70s, 80s play. It's really a lifetime sport.”

Ginny Heltsley practices disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Learning to play

Disc golf is played in a similar manner to golf, where players start off at a “tee,” where they have to throw their disc into a chain basket past obstacles or over long stretches of landscapes. Also like golf, players can use different types of discs to cover different situational needs, like a thinner disc for more air or a heavier disc for short puts.

The Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau lists a few courses on its website, including the Slippery Rock University course, the Lakeview course and the North Boundary Park course.

Kyle Kenia, parks and recreation manager for Cranberry Township, said the North Boundary Park course opened in 2019, and features a professional 18-hole course, as well as a six-hole learn-to-play course for beginners.

The North Boundary Park course also has a championship rating — the highest a course can get as far as tournament play is concerned — but Kenia said it was built to be used by anyone.

“Just the environment that it has as far as the hills and the steepness of the terrain makes it difficult, as opposed to one that's flat,” Kenia said. “You can go to that beginning course and actually try that mini-course; it gets people excited about it.”

While the course at SRU takes players through the campus, Shoemaker said its is accessible to anyone, and is meant to be a place for everyone to pick up the game.

“Students will literally roll out of their dorm, be on a world-class course and have SRU maintain it and actively encourage it,” he said of the course. “Just show up with some friends, you can play competitively, casually, any way you want.”

The simplicity of the game also is a great way for people to “get their steps in,” Shoemaker said, because the holes normally take players on a route around a landscape.

“Our signature hole is hole 7, and it's a massive uphill shot behind the stadium. When you get to the top you get an utterly breathtaking view of SRU and the countryside,” Shoemaker said.

Eric Baumgartner practices disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Slippery Rock University’s course

The course at Slippery Rock University begins around the eastern part of the campus, according to Shoemaker, and has holes based around the football stadium, the Robert N. Aebersold Student Recreation Center, the fishing ponds and more.

The best disc golf courses in Shoemaker’s eyes use the terrain in interesting ways that challenge a golfer to get around or over natural obstacles. The course at SRU does just that, with the holes based around the water features on campus being particularly unique.

“It takes you on a scenic tour of the wild places on campus,” Shoemaker said. “Our championship tees, you throw it over long stretches of water.”

In addition to SRU’s “breathtaking” hole 7, Shoemaker said the course’s other signature hole is number 16, where golfers have to get their disc through a wooded area.

Shoemaker said the course at SRU also has more elevation than other courses in the region, which also creates some windy conditions players have to play through.

“It plays a little differently than the other courses in the region in that it's wide and open,” Shoemaker said. “We have a lot of elevation so that creates a lot of unique shots. You have to account for the wind when teeing off.”

Ginny Heltsley practices disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Going pro

According to UDisc, there were 1,207 visitors to North Boundary Park’s disc golf course last year, and 3,342 rounds scored at the course, Kenia said.

There are almost always people playing on the North Boundary course, even in the winter, according to Kenia.

“The amount of people playing has just increased, especially during COVID. It was one of the few things you could do at the time,” Kenia said. “I used to go up on the course, you could get through the whole game quickly. Now there's people on every single hole.”

SRU has a disc golf club, which Shoemaker said has gained more participation in recent years. The club sport also has competed in statewide competitions in the Rust Belt Conference, where SRU players have placed well against teams from the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University.

“We've had high performance at regional and national conferences as well,” Shoemaker said. “We finished mid-pack in mid-Atlantic regionals. We started out from scratch in 2022, and we recently finished 18th by the end of the season.”

The popularity of the sport also has led to the growth of disc-golfing communities. People of all ages meet at North Boundary Park to play a round, or even just a few holes, of disc golf. Kenia said Cranberry Township oversees disc golf leagues, and he enjoys seeing new people discover the sport through participation at their local course in North Boundary Park.

“It's kind of fun because you see a lot of people out and about the course,” Kenia said. “It has been getting more and more traction each year, which is something we like to see.”

Eric Baumgartner practices disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Ginny Heltsley practices disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Ginny Heltsley practices disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
From left, Ginny Heltsley, Eric Baumgartner, Cameron McFeely and Cory Shoemaker, all of whom are apart of the Disc Golf Club at Slippery Rock University, pose on SRU's disc golf course on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
From left, Cameron McFeely, Eric Baumgartner and Ginny Heltsley practice disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
From left, Ginny Heltsley, Cameron McFeely and Eric Baumgartner practice disc golf on the disc golf course at Slippery Rock University on Monday, May 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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