Invasive Species and Disc Golf

“Wildlife in the eye of the Beholder”

Have you ever been walking around your local course and wondered what plants you’re looking at, or why you might have an itch on your leg that you didn’t have before the round? Well there is one important factor to consider before playing your next round, and that is the present wildlife at that course.


I am a wildlife animal ecologist that works mainly outdoors, and I have a lot of experience with native and non-native invasive plant species. You may or may not be aware of the present invasive species at your local course(s), but they play a great deal in the health of the course as a whole. Invasive species are organisms that are not native to your ecological area and can cause harm to native vegetation, wildlife, and human health. The reason that they cause harm is due to the fact that they are not native, so the invasive species do not have any natural competition. As a result, that species can out-compete native species and takeover a large amount of the landscape.

Invasive Species

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa). Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,


Invasive species can be anything from a type of insect, to the plant species that make up the surrounding rough or ground cover for disc golf courses. In the Midwest, I have noticed a handful of courses that have a plant species called Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa). Although wild parsnip is in the carrot family, it can be considered worse than poison ivy. This invasive plant produces a sap that is light sensitive, meaning that if your skin makes contact with the sap, and it is exposed to light, a burn or rash is soon followed.

Invasive Species

Close-up of wild parsnip leaves. Patrick J. Alexander @ USDA-

To paint a picture for you, if you’re out playing a casual round with friends, the last thing on your mind is getting affected by a plant that your disc just so happened to land on or near. And when I tell you that a burn/rash will appear soon after light exposure, I mean soon, and this can negatively affect the rest of your round, and even the following couple days. This is just one invasive plant species that came to my mind, but unfortunately, there are more. The U.S. even has native plant species that reside out on disc golf courses that can cause harm to the body, like poison ivy and poison sumac to list a couple. It is important to be aware of the surrounding wildlife not only in regards to animal habitation, but for our own good and personal health.

If you are curious about specific invasive species in your area, feel free to check out , which provides a distribution map of invasive species ranging from plants to insects.

I also highly recommend taking a look at , which includes a list and even identification for poisonous plants here in the U.S.


A lot of disc golf courses reside in state parks, and a direct source for information is through the parks DNR office. The DNR consists of employees that are educated on the landscape and the types of species that inhabit that area. If they are aware of specific species that can cause potential harm to disc golfers within that state park, reaching out to the DNR to organize a course cleanup is a great way to initiate the eradication of a problem species. If on state property, please do not take matters into your own hands.

Wild Parsnip Burn

Wild Parsnip Burn:

For disc golf courses that are not in a state park, and contain plant species that cause potential harm to human health, a great way to get the word out is through social media! A lot of disc golf communities have Facebook pages, clubs and/or leagues where information about local courses can be brought to attention. Images of the species and ways to identify the specific plant can be posted! I know a great amount of courses that include a disc golf course map near the start of the course, and that could be a great spot for displaying an announcement in regards to those harmful species. Make sure to contact the owners of the property before doing so.

Although a property containing problematic species sounds negative, it should be in our best interest to educate the players and people of the community about them. At the end of a hard work-day or week, getting out to play a round can be just what we needed, so I hope this has been informative to bring more awareness to what our courses inhabit.


Garrett Warren is a passionate disc golfer that got his bachelor’s degree in Animal Ecology – Wildlife at Iowa State University. Be sure to use the code: Copperhead18 at checkout for a 15% off discount, and to help support him.