by Tim Osmondson & Jeff Pollari, St. Cloud Area Living Magazine
In these challenging times surrounding COVID-19 a new sporting/recreational hot spot has opened this spring. One of the world’s best disc golf players just opened up what is sure to be one of the world’s best disc golf courses right in our backyard. Located along the banks of the Mississippi in Clearwater, MN, the Airborn Disc Golf Preserve is a one of a kind disc golf experience that combines scenic game play with Minnesota’s wild beauty. What makes the Preserve truly epic, however, is that it wouldn’t even be here today if Cale’s professional season had not been canceled by the outbreak.
Just a few months ago, Cale Leiviska, #9 world disc golfer, was down in Texas preparing for another professional season. Then, like everyone else, his plans changed when social distancing went into effect. However, when one door shuts, other doors thankfully open! Cale was already lining his sights through an open window within an hour from home just off U.S. Freeway 94 in Clearwater.
Maybe you remember the Driftwood Golf Course on the Mississippi River, either by playing the course or reading about the course in one of our previous magazine articles. As of last year, the course and its clubhouse went up for sale. Having toured the world’s finest Disc Golf courses, Cale knew immediately that he could make the Driftwood course one of the top disc golf tracks in the whole world and from that moment dug his heels in deep to make his dreams come true. This March when Wayne Murphy, one of the owners of the course, approached Cale with the good news, he could lease to purchase the land of the course.
At that very point, Cale described how he immediately ‘jumped on’ the opportunity just as an eagle dove down into one of the courses’ seven ponds for a fish. With such epic beauty flying around, it is no wonder why he named it the Airborn Disc Golf Preserve. Fortunately, Cale did not come up empty-handed with his strike. Over the next month, he and six to seven volunteers would work around the clock to design and prepare the disc golf course from the existing golf course. Their goal: to have the track ready in time for the Governor’s reopening of the golf courses.
The effort was for more than just the publicity. Cale wanted the public to have something fun, safe, and healthy to do throughout the ongoing crisis. His concern is with the mental health ramifications of COVID-19. Nevertheless, “being able to be out, in nature/outside, is the best way to keep our sanity.”
Thus, the course had its grand opening with two complete 18-hole courses, the Timberwolf and Lynx, on April 18th, just five weeks after Cale and Wayne came to an agreement on the land. Since then, the reception of the course has been incredibly positive. The pro-level Timberwolf course has been ranked #1 in the state and the Lynx is #3. For good reason, Cale expects to host national competitions someday soon. More importantly, however, he’s just glad to see the course getting the love it deserves today.
Airborn Disc Golf Preserve’s founder is more than just a world-class player, he’s also a real classy dude. In response to the amazing success of his newly founded course, he says, it is “far more rewarding to see people enjoying the course I build than win a tournament.” That’s high praise when Cale is known for winning tournaments around the world.
Leiviska was launched into the spotlight in 2005 when he, an outsider from the Iron Range, won the state Disc Golf competition. This accomplishment then secured him a place with the best in the world.
Leiviska was launched into the spotlight in 2005 when he, an outsider from the Iron Range, won the state Disc Golf competition. This accomplishment then secured him a place in the national competition. Sponsorships, tours across Europe, and even his own ‘signature’ disc (the Prodigy MX-3), now mark his career as one of the brightest in the game. As one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, with over 500,000 regular players in the U.S. alone, being ranked fifth in the world isn’t bad either.
The best evidence of Cale’s expertise in disc golf is likely to be the Airborn Disc Golf Preserve which he designed all himself. There, he had “no parameters, zero limitations, and could do everything I wanted to do”. It is said that when skill and love come together, mastery is the result. As a master player, Cale had all the best principles and inspiration in mind when he built his course. From rewarding good shots with good fairways to making the most of the landscape, the Preserve is another Leiviska ‘hole in one’.
The Preserve is so much more than a disc golf course. Having his degree in environmental ecology, Cale designed the course with nature in mind. By “respecting the wildlife,” the Preserve is “doing all we can to help nature”. The course is so large that even with a hundred people playing, you’ll often have a hard time seeing another person. It makes the Airborn Disc Golf Course Preserve the perfect place to bring a party of friends for an afternoon or your wife and kids for the day.
Designed with accessibility in mind, Cale made the Preserve to “Challenge both professionals and still super fun for recreational players.” For instance, the course is rich in water features which allow you to play it big or play it safe depending on your ability level. Whether you’re shooting along the Mississippi or over a pond, you’ll get to think about the course in so many ways.
This is one of the reasons why Disc Golf and Cale’s course has become such a big hit. It’s perfect for “Unplugging from society, just being with your thoughts and your friends in nature.” The course has “birds talking, fish jumping, and beavers swimming across the ponds.” You just can’t beat, “The physical aspect of being out, walking in nature, not stressing your physical body too much but still getting your heart rate up.”
Though nature can’t be beaten, your own score can. Growing up, we are used to “competing as children, but opportunities to do that dissipate as you grow older.” Fortunately, with disc golf, you can express that healthy competitive urge in a very fun, friendly, and beautiful setting. As Cale admits, “Disc golf is addicting, you can always do better.” Every hole is a perfect opportunity to test yourself and measure your strategy and disc slinging skills.
If you’re just trying to have a good time, however, you’re in good company. Disc Golf is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds, including myself. I love disc golf for so many reasons, not in the least because of the memories I’ve made while playing. There is “a lot of comaradery” and understanding on the course. For instance, the larger groups usually let the solo players play through. At the Airborn Disc Golf Preserve, a small party could take 4-5 hours to finish both courses while a solo could run a round in an hour. You can get what you want out of the course whether it is a workout, a leisurely afternoon, or a notch in your belt.
Even though the Airborn Disc Golf Preserve is the best in the state right now, that doesn’t mean that it can’t get better. It’s only a few months old, after all, and Cale is not one to rest on his laurels. New ledges, steps, and course features will be added as time goes on making it more beautiful and “more epic”.
Plus, one day we can expect there to be an Airborn Disc Golf Preserve summer camp, an immersive training session where Cale will impart his disc golf techniques to future players. With how fast the sport is growing, maybe one day, Leiviska will have his own disc golf academy as well.
Hence, we’re quite lucky to have such a hard-working and talented individual in our greater surrounding area. Airborn Disc Golf Course has “been a blessing for us, the land, and the community of Clearwater, as well”. When the pro-tours come through, the whole region can expect an economic boost as well. In the meanwhile, Leiviska is just happy to be “Growing the game, getting people healthy and helping them to enjoy disc golf.”
Cale unexpectedly, because of the pandemic, was asked if he would hold the National competition at his Airborn Disk Golf Preserve location. It was held just this past week because the scheduled Seattle course was under the Stay At Home Orders in the State of Washington. This truly was an honor and blessing to hold this prestigious national tournament on his young course during the first couple months in operation.
As Cale stated, “it’s unbelievable that this worked out this way“. We hosted a premiere event with many of the top players in the world at our course. It was a sheer delight! Simon Lizotte stated, “We were excited to play a brand-new tournament on July 4th weekend at the Preserve Championships in Minnesota! This course is a throwers dream! The competition was just great and I can’t wait to be back next year and try again!”
If you head to Airborn Disc Golf Preserve Course, you will get the chance to play on an immaculate course that the best in the world showed off their crazy skills throwing a disc around Cale’s vision to serve the very best around the globe.
To see what the fun is all about, stop on by today at 1 Eagle Drive, Clearwater. The course is open 7 days a week and is just $10 for an all-day play pass or $250 for all of 2020. If you don’t have a disc, don’t worry, the pro-shop on sight can equip you well and reasonably. If you’re lucky, you may find Cale Leiviska himself. He’s volunteered a disc or two from his collection for the newcomers.