Cale Leiviska does not get rattled easily. After a decade and a half spent competing in the top tier of the disc golf pro circuit, the native of Virginia, Minnesota, who grew up in St. Paul has earned the nickname “Dr. Smooth” from fans. And yet his head was not in the game during last year’s inaugural Preserve Championship. The stress of playing host will do that to even the best of us.
“Honestly, competing in my event was pretty much an afterthought,” Leiviska wryly reflects. “I was so worried about how everything was going, and all of the moving parts—I was a nervous wreck.”
Leiviska and his team had just finished three weeks of white-knuckled work to prepare their brand new disc golf complex in Clearwater, Minnesota, to stage the 2020 Disc Golf Pro Tour’s elite division. (COVID-19 had forced several courses on the West Coast to cancel tournaments.) Just months earlier, during the pandemic’s onset in March, Leiviska was driving home from another canceled tournament when he learned that the owners of what had been the Eagle Trace Golf Center were ready to sell.
“I was hoping the players, spectators, and staff enjoyed it,” Leiviska says, joking. “I ended up getting 12th in the tournament, which I was actually very proud of. I did pretty well for how little I cared about my placement.”
A nephew of Twins legend Paul Molitor, Leiviska won a state baseball title on the Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders alongside a guy named Joe Mauer. It was around that time that Leiviska first spotted a disc golf basket in nearby Highland Park.
Leiviska has been integral to the sport’s growth both locally and nationally. In 2012, he and several other top-ranked disc golf players combined their powers to found disc manufacturer Prodigy. While he still serves on Prodigy’s board of directors, Leiviska is more drawn to designing courses, and has worked on more than 40 around Minnesota with help from his father and brother. The experience from each build has culminated in his sprawling masterpiece, the 110-acre, three-course complex in Clearwater called the Airborn Preserve.
“We have six ponds out there, we have a stream that flows into the Mississippi River when the water’s high enough, there’s an abundance of wildlife,” Leiviska says. “It’s a pretty special place. There’s not really any disc golf complexes that exist like this in the world.”
This year’s Preserve Championship, in early July, captured the sport’s burgeoning popularity in Minnesota. It aired on ESPN 2 and attracted a crowd of more than 1,000 paying spectators. When speaking about this year’s iteration, Dr. Smooth betrays none of last year’s nerves.
“It’s just so cool that disc golf has reached a point in history where you can find 1,000-plus people that are willing to pay the entry fee to watch the best disc golfers in the world. It just kind of shows the trajectory that the game is on, and is giving us a peek into what the future could be like.”
For novice disc golfers, Leiviska recommends purchasing two discs (a driver and a putter) and looking up free-to-play public courses near where you live using the Minnesota-made disc golf app UDisc.
“Disc golf is just huge in Minnesota. You could drive a half hour in either direction and probably find 10 awesome courses,” he says. Up at the Preserve, Leiviska recommends folks start with their beginner-friendly par 3 course called the Red Fox.
Learn more at airbornpreserve.com