Get Outside and Play!

City of Madison Parks golfing
Photo by City of Madison Parks

There are many reasons to play outside, including that on their own being outside and playing have demonstrated positive impacts on people’s lives both physically and emotionally. Dedicating time to outside play each week helps you reap the health benefits in addition to creating opportunities to spend time with family members and friends, and potentially making new friends.

If you’re looking for some ideas, here are outdoor sports/events that are accessible to all ages and skill levels. They can also be taken to a competition level if that’s the incentive you need. Indoors and outdoors, racket sports can be played year-round, but playing outdoors adds the extra challenge of wind and sun. Tennis is a lifelong sport and a great game for all ages. Many communities have public tennis courts, including Madison Parks, which has 92 courts available mostly on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you need the motivation of a set time and place to play, you can take tennis lessons through Madison School & Community Recreation. Lessons cover all levels of play for all ages, from pre-beginners starting at age five and up! For youth that like to compete, they offer a team tennis class that travels to neighboring communities. For adults that want to compete beyond their regular hitting partners, the Wisconsin chapter of the United States Tennis Association offers competitive leagues as well as team play.

Photograph provided by Great Amazing Race

Pickleball is a racket sport that was invented in 1965, and has taken the country by storm. The smaller court, lower net, and modified whiffle ball make this a widely accessible sport for all ages. It has been described as a cross between ping-pong, tennis, and paddle tennis and was designed to be easy to play and learned and, most importantly, fun!

All you need is a badminton-sized court (could be drawn on a driveway or courtyard), a lowered badminton type net (34 inches), paddles, and a whiffle-styled pickleball. Existing tennis courts can be reconfigured for pickleball too, or if you live in Madison, visit Garner Park, where six dedicated pickleball courts opened in 2016 to increase pickleball opportunities.

Badger State Games, Wisconsin’s Olympic-style sports festival, added pickleball to both its winter and summer games, recognizing the sport’s growing popularity. And the Wisconsin Cup will be played in New Berlin June 8 and 9. To learn more about this fast-growing sport and where you can play, visit Pickleball Wisconsin at pickleballwi.com .

Golf has been a staple in Wisconsin since the late 1800s with the first PGA Championship taking place here in 1933. Over the past 10 years, professionals have been coming back because of the incredible courses and enthusiastic spectator support. Wisconsin has hundreds of courses with many open to the public, including short, compact courses with 6, 9, or 12 holes that are family friendly.

Photograph provided by Great Amazing Race

Vitense Golfland in Madison offers a variety of golf opportunities, including:

• a par-3 course
• golf range
• indoor and outdoor miniature courses
• FlingGolf, which is played on the golf course with a golf ball and flingstick. This is meant to appeal to lacrosse and baseball players.
• Footgolf, where soccer meets golf. The course has 22-inch holes.

These variations broaden the appeal to people who might not otherwise go to a course.

The Federation for International FootGolf organizes leagues and tournaments. Since 2012, the Federation has organized the FootGolf World Cup. Team USA men won the team competition in the third World Cup, held in 2018. Closer to home, the American FootGolf League organizes a tour and a US Open event.

For golf fans, the 71st US Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship will be held in Stevens Point at SentryWorld Golf Course July 22 to 27. Attendance is free and open to the public. Held since 1949, this will be the first time Wisconsin has hosted the Girls’ Championship. For more information about this tournament and opportunity to watch up-and-coming stars of the women’s circuit, visit sentryworld.com/usga-girls-junior-championship .

Adventure racing has been adopted by Badger State Games. It combines a variety of outdoor skills and sports used over long distances and hours. The Wausau-based Rib Mountain Racing coed team finished first in the 2018 Wisconsin Adventure Racing Series and are ranked third in the country by the United States Adventure Racing Association.

Photograph provided by Katie Berdan Wolden/Sentry Insurance

Family adventure racing usually covers shorter distances combining the skills of treasure hunting with biking, hiking, paddling, and a lot of teamwork. And just like the other divisions, a team races from one checkpoint to the next using a map and compass. For competition, enter Badger State Games’ family division. For fun and practice orienteering, visit a permanent course or look for pop-up courses. On The Map, LLC provides orienteering experiences setting up courses in local parks for events, scouts, and other groups.

Families can also try challenge or obstacle races. The Great Amazing Race and the Kids Obstacle Challenge offer events at both competitive and fun levels in or near Wisconsin. The Kids Obstacle Challenge often includes a cargo-net climb, rope swing, mud crawl or slide, climbing wall, and more. Once the competitive wave is done, parents can run the challenge course along with their kids in the fun waves.

So this year, step outside to try a new sport and bring along your friends and family. You and your fellow players will reap the benefits of physical and emotional health while having some fun!

Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .