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Disc golf: State event to be held in Willmar, Minn., today

Ryan Sheehan, 20, of Willmar plays a round of disc golf Thursday at the Robbins Island course in Willmar. The course will be the site of the Westside Open tournament today. The event is part of the Minnesota Frisbee Association's summer tour. (Tribune photo by TJ Jerke)

Instead of a small white ball, they use a disc.

Rather than a club, they use their hands.

But the main goal is like golf, and that's to put the disc into a metal basket 300 feet away with as few throws as possible. Today, Minnesota disc golf players will test their abilities during the first Westside Open disc golf tournament at the Robbins Island disc golf course in Willmar. Sponsored by Westside Liquor, throwers will begin at 10 a.m. and play two 18-hole rounds of disc golf.

Andrew Bjur, tournament director for the Willmar Area Disc Golfers, said the tournament is part of the Minnesota Frisbee Association's summer tour, which holds 20 tournaments around the state. Anywhere from 15 to 20 professional disc golfers are expected to participate, along with 30 to 50 area throwers.

"We want to make Willmar the western hub for disc golf and to bring professional players in is a great way to introduce young and recreational players into a more competitive atmosphere," Bjur said. "It will be a good learning experience and promotional experience for disc golf players."

Registration to play begins at 7:30 a.m. at the Robbins Island Leaf Shelter, followed by a players meeting at 9:30 a.m. A shotgun start will kick off the first round as participants will be scattered throughout the nine permanent and nine temporary holes.

The course, installed seven years ago, has seen a significant increase in use over the years, according to Bjur, who said the sport itself has grown the last five years.

He gives credit to golf for the sports success.

"It's a lot like golf, you are constantly trying to better yourself and improve your score," Bjur said. "You throw that one good throw that gets you excited and wanting to play again or that chance to get an "ace" that keeps you excited and improve yourself each time you go out."

Todd Erickson, president of the Minnesota Frisbee Association, couldn't agree more with Bjur. Erickson said the camaraderie and competition adds that dynamic that makes disc golf a great sport.

Having played since 1983, Erickson, who retired to his hometown of Atwater last year, said hosting the tournament in Willmar will bring some notoriety to the area and the sport.

"We want to increase the exposure," Erickson said. "We have some good pros that will come in that locals will be able to see the talent we have in Minnesota. We want to put Willmar on the map and let golfers know this is a nice disc golf area."

Bjur, who is part of a weekly disc golf league on Wednesday nights, said he particularly enjoys the challenge and the course design that Robbins Island offers.

He said the city does a great job keeping up the nine-hole course which adds a lot to the game when he is playing.

"Robbins Island is great because it is mowed and well kept, which makes a big difference when you don't have to search the tall grass for an hour," Bjur said. "Hills are nice to play up and down, which makes it a fun setting to use the hills and trees as obstacles to go around."

Throwing a disc golf Frisbee is a bit different from a regular Frisbee, according to Bjur. The discs are heavier and they have to be thrown lower and flatter.

"If you turn the angle of the disk it will make an "s" curve to go around trees," Bjur said.

To help with the various obstacles, Bjur said disc golf offers several different styles of discs from a putter and long-drive disc to a roller or discs that curve more.

"A lot of people find one disk that makes them feel comfortable to play with," Bjur said.

As the sport increases in popularity, both Bjur and Erickson have noticed many young adults taking to the Robbins Island course -- something they hope continues in the next year.

"With little investment a kid can play everyday for no cost and I think that's part of the attraction," Erickson said.

With only nine holes in town, Bjur said a goal of his is to expand on the increase in popularity and try to add an additional course -- a topic that has been discussed before.