"Build it and they will come" - Cale Leiviska featured in Mesabi Daily News

"Build it and they will come" - Cale Leiviska featured in Mesabi Daily News

Scott Gerdes Cale Leiviska stand next to one of the state-of-the-art disc golf baskets one the Painted Turtle course he designed for the City of Mountain Iron at the West Two Rivers Reservoir campground.

Scott Gerdes
Cale Leiviska stand next to one of the state-of-the-art disc golf baskets one the Painted Turtle course he designed for the City of Mountain Iron at the West Two Rivers Reservoir campground.

MOUNTAIN IRON — Disc golf. Sounds like a ‘60’s hippie thing or a campus game created by college students. Well, it was all of that to some degree.

These days, however, the game’s popularity is steadily growing and that has created a need for more courses. And somebody’s got to design them.

Virginia native Cale Leiviska is definitely one of the somebodies.

Leiviska, 32, has been playing disc golf since his freshman year at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, where he studied conservation biology. He’s ranked as the No. 5 best professional disc golf player in the world. He’s been designing courses since 2008 through his St. Paul-based company Airborn Disc Golf alongside business partner Jason Tautges. The first project was a course in Rice, Minn., just north of St. Cloud.

Disc golf — aka Frolf, Folf, Frisbee disc or Frisbee golf — is now in Mountain Iron thanks to Leiviska’s vision and passion, and because of Mountain Iron librarian Sally Yuccas’ memory of her late brother.

“I have a brother who passed away who used to design crazy courses using junk around the house in Denver before it was popular,” Yuccas explained. “I thought, we need to have one of these up here. Build it and they will come.”

She presented her idea to the Parks and Recreation Department.

“I just had to prove the sport has a following,” she said.

The Professional Disc Golf Association says that membership has nearly doubled since 2005 and the number of courses in the U.S. has more than tripled over the last 15 years. The idea wasn’t a difficult sell.

A mutual friend introduced Yuccas to Leiviska. It’s been a dream of Leiviska’s to build more courses on the Iron Range. The hilly terrain and natural obstacles such as large trees, boulders and water make for excellent disc golf courses, he said. And since he spends eight months of the year competing, Leiviska knows what makes a good course.

“Sometimes I get frustrated to see other U.S. courses that could’ve been done better,” he said.

He jumped at the chance. So much so, in fact, that Yuccas had to pull his reigns in a little bit.

“I wanted to do something grand right away,” Leiviska said Friday at the site of the new course at the West Two Rivers Reservoir campground area that opened in May. “Sally told me to calm down. There is just so much amazing land up here.”

Yuccas liked the first nine holes Leiviska created, called the Painted Turtle after a pair of the creatures crossed his path on the course one day. She quickly commissioned another nine.

To be called the Snapping Turtle course, the next project at the campground will be a “more challenging” round, Leiviska said. It will be a “more technical” course with more obstacles. The Painted Turtle course has an average hole distance of about 250 feet and is perfect for beginners and the casual player. The Snapping Turtle course will have an average of 350 feet from tee to hole, and a layout designed for more advanced players.

On Friday, Leiviska got the go-ahead from City of Mountain Iron officials to start “cutting” the Snapping Turtle course. He’ll start clearing brush — especially raspberry bushes because of their mean prickers — in a couple of weeks. He expects the second nine holes will be completed by the end of August at the latest.

Disc golf is a game for any age, Yuccas said. Plus, the course in Mountain Iron is free.

“Just watch out for the campers,” she laughed.

Not all courses around the world are free, but they are inexpensive to play and low maintenance to upkeep. Disc golf, Leiviska added, has boomed in the Twin Cities and the surrounding area. He said there are at least 100 courses with a 50-mile radius of the Twin Cities.

“Minnesota is in the top five states for the number of courses,” Leiviska said. “You can’t have enough of these courses.”

Other courses in the Virginia area include one at Giants Ridge, Chisholm and Hibbing. Leiviska started the King of the North disc golf tournament at Giants Ridge and helps coordinate it. He did not design that course, but the City of Buhl has recently contacted him about the possibility of creating a course by a mine pit.

The Mountain Iron course will remain open even after the campground closes for the season, Yuccas said. And when all is complete, there will be maps and signage to go along with the most modern baskets the world of disc golf has to offer.

Leiviska would be more than happy to put a disc golf course in every corner of the state, but for now he’s just thrilled to be bringing his passion to the place he grew up.

He hopes to eventually move back to Virginia and really wants to get a course in his hometown.

And when Leiviska isn’t designing courses, he’s playing on them. His personal goal this season is to win the Professional World Disc Golf Championships to be held in Pittsburgh this August. He’s reached the top five, five times.