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Gone throwin'

Sean Smith "tees off" at the Pine Grove disc golf course just off Highway 210 south of Staples.

During the three years he's been playing disc golf, Tate Heikkenen has only run into one crabby person.

That's just one of the reasons the 53-year-old Perham resident has fallen in love with the sport. He plays nearly every day, most often at Arvig Park on the north side of town. Last Thursday, he practiced his putting game at the first hole basket.

Disc golf, Heikkenen said, is a sport for all ages that offers a good way to make friends while getting exercise. "It's just been a great experience."

Becoming a competent player requires practice, but the rules of the game are simple. It comes down to getting the hard plastic disc (more advanced players often carry bags, play with different discs for different shots) from the tee boxes to the metal baskets in as few throws - strokes - as possible.

It's generally less frustrating - and always much less expensive - than ordinary golf. Except for the price of the discs, which typically run between $12 to $20, playing doesn't cost a thing. In Wadena, discs are available at Main Street Sports and Walmart.

Interest in the sport has steadily grown since the first course opened in the 1970s. These days, there are upwards of 200 disc golf courses just Minnesota. As more people pick up the game, the list grows each year.

There's five courses that cater to a range of skill levels within 25 miles of Wadena. Here's a look at each of them:

Arvig Park

With the help of business sponsorships, the Perham disc golf course was established in 2010 at Arvig Park, a forested square of city land.

The largest course in the area, the park's 18 holes feature thick rows of trees that line the fairways and leave little margin for error.

"It's a pretty tough course," Heikkenen said. "You can get into trouble in a hurry."

Because finding a few of the tee boxes can be tricky, first time visitors should either go with someone who's played the course before or snap a cell phone photo of the map - posted on a sign near the first hole - for quick reference.

Difficulty aside, the course is aesthetically appealing. No two holes are the same; there's a variety of lengths and obstacles.

The course has proven to be popular, said Merle Meece, Perham public works director.

A local league meets at 6 p.m. each Monday for friendly competition.

"It gets used a lot," Meece said. "A lot more than people thought."

Sunnybrook Park

There's a more beginner-friendly 9-hole disc golf course in Wadena, along both sides of tranquil Whiskey Creek at Sunnybrook Park.

To create a quasi-18-hole experience, each hole has two sets of tee boxes.

Main Street Sports owner Curt Leesberg, who helped launch the Wadena disc golf league, said he likes the challenge of avoiding the trees - and Whiskey Creek, which has claimed countless discs since the course opened in 1998.

"I think it's a great course," Leesberg said.

Heikkenen said the Sunnybrook course "has a great layout" and "is not overly difficult."

The Wadena disc golf league holds friendly rounds at 6:15 p.m. each Thursday.

Leesberg said the league has approval from the city to expand the course to 18 holes, but the group suspended its fundraising drive after the 2010 tornado.

With all the other needs at the time, he said, "it was just difficult to get any help ... We'd still like to expand it."

Pine Grove Park

Last summer, after a successful fundraising effort, Staples opened a second disc golf course.

The nine-hole course winds its way through the towering trees of Pine Grove Park - just off of Highway 210 south of town.

Like in Wadena, each hole has a second set of tee boxes. And like in Perham, first-time visitors should go with someone who knows the course.

The first hole in particular is difficult to find. It's by the pond, an obstacle on several of the holes.

The water, trees and long hole lengths make it a difficult course, but it's much better than the city's other one at Dower Lake Recreational Area, said Staples resident Sean Smith.

"You really got gotta know how to throw your disc," he said.

"It's peaceful out here. I just do it for fun. I just like being outdoors."

In it's first year, the Pine Grove Park course has been a resounding success, said Kevin Grondahl, Staples parks and recreation director

"There's just tons of people using it," he said. "It's really kind of cool ... It's been kind of a community effort.

The Staples disc golf league meets Tuesdays at 5 p.m.

Sebeka City Park

In 2012, Sebeka installed a disc golf course in the city park near Highway 71 along the Redeye River.

Each of the nine holes has a second set of tee boxes.

After heavy rain last Thursday, much of the low-lying course had standing water - messy and difficult conditions.

"It dries up pretty good," said Tom Hoppe, Sebeka public works director. When it does, he said, the course gets a fair amount of use.

Available at the first tee box, a map/scorecard makes navigating the course pretty simple. While most of the holes have few obstacles, the Redeye River presents a danger on three of them and several are moderated wooded.

As she worked at a nearby gas station, Brandy Fransen said she hasn't had a chance to check out the course, but plans to.

"I was stoked when I found out there was one up here," said Fransen, who moved to the area from the Twin Cities, a disc golf paradise, four months ago.

Dower Lake Oaks

Located next to one of the closest lakes to Wadena, the Dower Lake Oaks disc golf course west of Staples is visually appealing, with plentiful trees and moderate elevation changes throughout.

It's a short course, although the trees provide challenging obstacles.

Disc golfers around the area have criticized its lower-quality baskets and difficult navigability.

If the course proves less than satisfying, there's still plenty to do at this recreational destination. Dower Lake also has a swimming beach, campground and Minnesota's longest fishing pier.