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How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels

How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels

Hello World!

Derek Tonn here. Like many of you, I am passionate about the sport of disc golf.  But unlike many of you, I have channeled my passion, time and energy into combining disc golf, my professional life, and travel/tourism into a past-time of being a “course collector.”  One of a growing number of individuals who work to try and play as many different course designs around the planet as we can.

For me? I do this because I love being introduced to new ideas and new designs that I can bring home with me, to help make me a better course designer, as well as to help in my effort to maintain and continually improve (from the standpoint of safety, challenge and beauty) my “first love” specific to course design: The Links of Springfield.  I also “bag courses” (another nickname for course collecting) in effort to discover new places to play that most people are unaware of, taking lots of pictures and gathering lots of “intel,” so that I can add said information into course directories at PDGA.com, DGCourseReview.com and UDisc.

A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re our “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design.  But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have.  All of the interesting people I meet.  All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play.  If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home?  Then I will consider this effort a success.

Disc golf, for me, began as “Frisbee golf” in the late 1970s, while I was attending elementary school in East Central Minnesota. The small country church my family attended, that we always tease was “half Andersons, half Olsons” (or you were married into one of those two families…my family was married into the Anderson clan), recruited a new pastor from California. And as our pastor got to know our youth group a bit better, he started telling us about playing golf with Frisbees after seeing people play in California. A few of us immediately made targets out of fence posts, trees and telephone poles around church grounds, and I was quickly hooked!

As things such as college and career (who am I kidding? Women!) started to distract and preoccupy a majority of my attention, my Frisbees started collecting dust. I also played a lot of golf through the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. However, after getting married and becoming a father, the greens fees at golf courses became increasingly difficult to afford. I rely heavily upon exercise for both my physical and mental health, so I thought I might give “Frisbee golf” another try. Only I quickly realized that I was living in the past.

The recreational hobby I had known grew into the full-fledged sport of disc golf during my hiatus. Better targets (though I had previously played a few courses with baskets in the greater St. Cloud, Minnesota area before I left for college), smaller, faster, heavily discs, and hundreds of people getting together on a regular basis for leagues and tournaments. My love had been officially re-kindled! And after a business trip out to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with long-time PDGA contributor Terry Calhoun (a legend, though Terry might be embarrassed by me referring to him that way)? I came home to Southwest Minnesota, fully energized to become a missionary/evangelist for the sport of disc golf.  A “frisbetarian” (Steady Ed coined the term “Frisbyterian”), ready to spread the Good News of Disc Golf!

I played several courses around Southwest Minnesota for a few years (including Nehls Park, Mound Creek, and Plum Creek …which is still one of my favorite nine-hole courses I’ve played), only to have our local Chamber/CVB staff ask if I might help bring disc golf to Springfield (Minnesota). A small town of 2,100 that our family of four proudly calls home. And what player in the history of players, when presented with an opportunity to help design a course, has ever said no?! Billie Ashton came down from Minneapolis St. Paul to design our initial course, which I immediately lobbied our City to expand from 9 to 12 holes. 12 holes became 14, and 14 holes became 18 (The Links of Springfield). And over the past eleven years, I have had nine additional communities in Southwest Minnesota and Southeast South Dakota ask me to design and help install courses in their areas.

Installing our original course in Springfield, Minnesota.
Installing our original course in Springfield, Minnesota.  That’s Billie Ashton, on the left, along with Todd Erickson and his brother to my right.

I was the “nightmare scenario” for a course designer like Billie: A local player (me), friendly with local decision-makers, who was a little too big for his britches. Thinking that, just because I knew how to throw a disc and compete/win in local leagues and area tournaments, I must obviously know a thing or two about design. I still feel bad for doing that…I hope Billie can forgive me. And over time, with individuals such as Chuck Kennedy and Steve West taking me under their wings, helping me learn more about being a course designer (not just a player who wants to say he’s designed a course), my skills have greatly improved.

I got to experience the “joy” of being in Billie’s shoes a few years later, having local players throwing verbal threats and just about anything imaginable as a result of my being asked by their communities to help introduce (or improve) disc golf in their local parks. It got so bad that I eventually soured on the entire local/regional tourney and league scene. When, months after heeding the advice of Brian Gustafson in Owatonna, MN (a great guy, and the Zone Coordinator of the Minnesota Frisbee Association‘s South Zone for years) to record every round I play to keep myself more accountable, I happened to notice in DGCourseReview.com that you could search for members of the site and sort them by number of courses played.

Disc Golfing in Utah
Disc Golfing in Moab, Utah

Now, I was pretty pleased with myself, having played 40-50 courses across Southern and Central Minnesota at that time. But when I did a member search at DGCR and saw there were individuals who had played hundreds, 1,000+ courses? Seeing how Gregg Hosfeld (Florida) and Ben Calhoun (Terry’s son, from Michigan) played their 1,000th course together down at the International Disc Golf Center in Georgia? I was intrigued. My first thought? Find the top ten Minnesotans for Courses Played, and see if I might be able to at least catch #10 someday. That, and see if I could play in several US States (outside Minnesota). A trip for work to Chicago, adding courses played in Wisconsin and Illinois, soon became me playing my 100th disc golf course. Which later became a March 2013 trip to Sioux City, Iowa that allowed me to play courses in Iowa and Nebraska (disc golf in five US States at the time). Then 200 courses played. Then 300 courses played. A full-fledged addiction had been born.

Derek Tonn after playing course #1000 in Inman, Kansas.
Me after playing course #1000 in Inman, Kansas.

Fast-forward to February 27, 2017 when, on a work trip back to Minnesota from Sacramento, California, I played my 1,000th course in Inman, Kansas. 1,000 courses had seemed like an impossible goal years earlier, something only nine other players in the history of the sport had achieved at that time. Only it didn’t feel like the end of a journey to me, it felt like the beginning.

I have a sort of “perfect storm” of circumstances in my life. A job that can be done from literally anywhere on the planet with electricity and access to the internet, as well as a low cost of living at home, a “good runner” of a vehicle, and reasonably good health. So I began to joke with friends that I was going to shoot for the stars: 2,000 courses played. Something no player has yet accomplished. I somewhat doubted it could ever be done. But then again, I thought I would never play 500 courses in my lifetime either. So I started sharing my countdown to 2,000 courses with friends on my Facebook posts. And as of today? I am at a magic number of 748. 1,252 courses played across all 50 US States, Canada, France and The Netherlands.

All that said? Now that you know a bit about me, know what motivates me? I want to make sure and say that this blog is not about me. It is about WE. Trying to help others by:

  • Celebrating all the cool courses, all the historic courses, that are out there for us to enjoy.
  • Celebrating the accomplishments of other “course collectors” who have come before me, and those who are right on my heels.
  • Talking about the tens of thousands of hole designs I have played, the excellent course design work that I come across, and the occasional opportunities I encounter for making courses safer.
  • Sharing occasional tips for how each of you can travel to new places to enjoy the sport we all love on less money.
  • Things that have worked for me, specific to diet and exercise, to allow me to regularly play 72+ holes per day while I am out “course collecting” (bagging courses, as others like to say).  165 unique holes in 24 hours last Summer is my personal best, at age 46. And the Sun going down was the only reason I stopped playing.

I’ve never met a keyboard I couldn’t wear out, as I love to write. Love to share stories. That said, for those of you who want to follow along, I promise to do my very-best to keep a close eye on my word count.  And I would love to meet and throw a round with as many of you as I can while I am on the road. Thanks for listening!


About Derek

Derek Tonn Profile PictureDerek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed the father of disc golf and the modern day Frisbee vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. What is the number and date of the mach-5 course made in IJsselstein, the Netherlands?

    1000 courses!

  2. Hi Mike! Is this the course you are referring to? https://www.dgcoursereview.com/course.php?id=2245 I haven’t played that one yet…but I would love to get back over to The Netherlands to do so!

  3. 2nd Wednesday in November, 2018 at 15:00-16:30pm will be the 21st yearly “Putting Winnaars” ‘disctivity’, will DGA join us, too?

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DGA over 40 years in business