GRANITE FALLS -- At last count there were 198 disc golf courses in the state of Minnesota, making them easier to find than the restaurant with the Golden Arches.
Yet travel west of Willmar, and disc golf courses become very hard to find.
Compared to other parts of Minnesota, west central Minnesota is lacking in courses for what is one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the state, according to Derek Tonn, communications director with the Minnesota Frisbee Association.
That's about to change, and fast. Groups in Appleton, Granite Falls and Montevideo are optimistic about opening their first disc golf courses yet this summer. Tonn said there is another community west of Willmar moving forward with plans as well, but he doesn't believe it is ready to publicly announce the plans.
In Granite Falls, supporters of a disc golf course learned Wednesday that their proposal is among the semi-finalists being considered for a Blue Cross Blue Shield "Connect for Health Challenge'' grant. The funding would allow Granite Falls Riverfront Revitalization to develop a nine-basket course along the Minnesota River in the downtown area by summer's end, according to the group's president, Steve Virnig.
It will be developed in park land along Minnesota Avenue, where all of the homes have been removed as part of the city's flood mitigation program.
Virnig became acquainted with the sport while living previously in California and Florida. He attended a listening session earlier this year when community residents were invited to suggest ideas. Virnig said he took the chance and jumped out early in the session with the idea for a course.
He had a committee at work before it was over.
No different in Montevideo, where Jason Buckingham and members of the Masonic Lodge made it their goal to open a disc golf course in Lagoon Park. Buckingham works in Willmar and enjoys playing the Robbins Island disc golf course.
Buckingham said they are just several hundred dollars from a $5,200 fundraising goal. It will allow them to install nine baskets and the concrete slabs needed for T-boxes in Lagoon Park along the Chippewa River.
Both Buckingham and Virnig said the availability of courses in their communities is about more than providing a healthy and enjoyable outdoor activity for residents. They believe the courses will also help attract players from elsewhere and contribute to the local economy.
Similar thinking is behind the plans to develop a nine-basket course in Appleton's Riverfront Park along the Pomme de Terre River. Jason Heinecke was serving as president of the Appleton Area Chamber of Commerce when the idea was first proposed last year.
Volunteers have now acquired the materials needed and a local metal worker has offered to work it into baskets for the course. It should be ready for play yet this year, he said.
Tonn said Minnesota and Iowa lead the nation in the number of disc golf courses on a per capita basis. It's popular with people of all ages, but remains male-dominated, he said.
He said about half of those who play the sport do so just for recreation, while the others do so for the competition.
He believes some of the growing interest in west central Minnesota can be attributed to the Robbins Island course in Willmar. It's a fun course to play, he said, and he has no doubt it has helped promote the sport in this region.