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disc golf pro tour soars into jonesboro
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Kayla Macomber

Four years ago, Brad Pietz turned 70 acres of scenic Crowley’s Ridge land into two disc golf courses when he began Disc Side of Heaven. Later this month, hundreds of players and enthusiasts will descend upon those courses when the Jonesboro business hosts a stop on the 2017 Disc Golf Pro Tour.

“Disc golf has been the fastest growing sport in the country for 10 years in a row,” said Pietz, who is also the marketing director for the Arkansas State University Convocation Center. “It’s experiencing unbelievable growth right now. The first basket was put in the ground in 1975. From 1975 until about 2007, there were about 1,800 courses built across the country. Since 2007, about 4,500 courses have been built across the county. … It’s pretty crazy.”

Pietz himself first played disc golf with his dad in 1984. His father worked for the city of Shreveport, La., at the time, so when a new disc golf course was built there, they went to check it out. He began playing regularly in college at Louisiana Tech, and he has been playing on and off ever since.

“It’s very similar to regular golf,” said Pietz. “The rules are the same, the terminology is the same, the etiquette is the same and the comradery is the same. The main difference is the equipment; you’re throwing a disc in a basket instead of hitting a ball in a hole.”
Even though disc golf is growing in popularity locally, Pietz says they’re just scratching the surface right now as far as catching up to the rest of the country’s enthusiasm for the sport.

“Disc golf is still relatively new to Jonesboro,” he said. “The Jonesboro Disc Golf Club, which is run by Bob and Laura Meyers, has 50 or so people in it. The unique thing is that about half of those members have moved here from somewhere else. Disc golf is so popular in other parts of the country that when people move here for a job or school, they really want to be involved with the club. We still have a ton of room to grow here, and Jonesboro is a perfect place for this type of activity. Once people start to learn more about it, it will take off. We just have a long ways to go to catch up to places like Memphis with its 20 courses and Fayetteville with its 11 courses.”

Disc Side of Heaven opened its gates in March of 2013. The property features two 18-hole courses on its 70 acres, making its Championship Course one of the longest in the world. Pietz designed the courses himself and says that the championship course is intended for highly skilled disc golf players. The par-64 layout uses two ponds, two marshes and a creek in its layout. Elevation changes of up to 60 feet and mature trees also make the course more challenging. Pietz says that the other course, the Recreation Course, is perfect for those wanting to learn how to play disc golf.

“The land itself is virtually untouched,” said Pietz. “Most disc golf courses are in city or state parks or college campuses where you’re playing around buildings and walking trails and things like that. Disc Side of Heaven is 70 acres of nothing but disc golf. We have many trees that are over 100 years old. It’s just beautiful property. We are lucky enough that the Sloan family has been fantastic in sharing the vision and has helped make this happen for the city.”

Pietz says that disc golf has been the fastest growing sport in the U.S. for the past 10 years for a reason, and he wanted to help Jonesboro residents realize how enjoyable the sport is by making more local courses available.

“Before Disc Side of Heaven, Jonesboro only had one course at Craighead Forest Park,” said Pietz. “The park is beautiful and the course is beautiful, but it’s a very difficult course for beginners to learn how to play. I wanted a course that was more open and family friendly where beginners could learn how to play. … I also wanted a course that would bring people to Jonesboro. …

“We have had people from Florida, Wisconsin, Washington D.C., California and so many other places come to Jonesboro specifically to play this course. It’s working. People are coming to Jonesboro because of the championship course and Disc Side of Heaven.”

That championship course is also the reason that more than 200 players from 23 states and three countries will be traveling to Jonesboro on April 13 for a four-day professional disc golf tournament. The Jonesboro Open is the fourth stop of the Disc Golf Pro Tour in a schedule that also includes tournaments in Phoenix, Dallas and Salt Lake City.

Other cities that have growing disc golf communities and that have become tournament destinations for some of the major tours regularly bring in more than $1 million to their community, and Pietz thinks Jonesboro has the potential to do the same once people realize how popular the sport is nationwide. He is modeling his plans after Peoria, Ill.

“Six years ago, the tournament in Peoria had 250 players,” he said. “In 2016, they had more than 1,000 players; they were able to make a $30,000 donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at the end of the tourney with proceeds, and it brought in an estimated $1 million to the city. I want that for Jonesboro. We just need the community to realize the potential here. Jonesboro will never host the X Games or a PGA Tour, but this is our opportunity to host an emerging sport that is just going off the rails as far as growth.”

To make Jonesboro’s first national disc golf tournament a memorable one, Pietz has much more planned for visitors than the tournament itself. Players will enjoy a Memphis-style barbecue dinner the Wednesday before the tournament, there will be a street party in Downtown Jonesboro on Friday evening and there will be a glow-in-the-dark round at Disc Side of Heaven on Saturday night.

“We want there to be events happening all across town other than them just playing in the tournament,” said Pietz. “At some point, that’s what I want to get into – how much money these events are pumping into other cities and creating that for Jonesboro.”

Pietz says he has relied on several others to make the tournament possible, including Steve Dodge, the director of the tour; Jordan Lane, who has been instrumental in getting the course physically ready for the tournament; Matt Loyd, the director of the amateur side of the tournament; and Drew Gibson of Dynamic Discs, who flew in from California to check out the course and give Pietz a pro perspective.

He says they still need a lot of help from the Jonesboro community to make the tournament as successful as possible.

“We need people to come out and watch and welcome these players from across the country, and we need volunteers to help with parking, scoring, water stations and all of that,” said Pietz. “We also need sponsorships to help make sure we can keep it in Jonesboro in the future. Currently, our biggest sponsor is a company from Finland. Prodiscus wants to grow its brand in the U.S., and they have partnered with the Jonesboro Open hoping to make that happen. How cool is that?”

The final three rounds of the tournament will be broadcast live online, as well as on Ritter Communication’s Tube Town channel.

For more information about Disc Side of Heaven, located at 3255 Strawfloor Drive, call (870) 336-0347, email discsideofheaven@gmail.com or visit discsideofheaven.com.