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Game time: In Utah, cornhole's on the rise

Published September 6, 2013 1:01 am

Bar trend • Meet up with friends, nurse a beer — and toss a bean bag or two.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When they moved from Chicago back to Utah, Chad and Emily Littlewood left their clunky cornhole set with a neighbor.

Once settled, they built another and soon crafted dozens more, turning the old-time game into a family business, Utah Cornhole.

"We kind of just threw it out there," hoping to hit an untapped market for an easygoing game with farm roots. "I mean, it's just so simple," Chad Littlewood said. "All you're doing is throwing a bag at a hole."

The Layton company is one of a few forces boosting cornhole's presence in Utah.

In 2010, Utah Cornhole's first year in the business, the Littlewoods made and sold about 100 platform/bag sets. Their business has since tripled.

Cornhole, or corn toss, is similar to horseshoes, but less risky, Littlewood said. The soft bags filled with corn mean "you don't kill anybody with 'em, no broken ankles."

Players set the slanted platforms about 30 feet apart and then take turns pitching the bags at the hole in the board. A corn bag in the hole scores 3 points, while one that lands on the platform scores 1 point. First player or team to reach 21 points wins. Official rules are available on the American Cornhole Association website, playcornhole.org.

The game is a standby at backyard barbecues in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but it's making its way into Utah bars.

Last year, about 30 adult teams played a weekly tournament on the dance floor at Club Elevate.

David Marquardt, who organized the games through his company Beehive Sports Club, initially worried no one would show up at the games.

But the pastime took off, he said, and he expects more teams this year.

Some debate the game's origin. In North America, many give credit to a supposed 19th-century farmer named Jebediah McGillicuddy. Others say it started with a 14th-century German farmer who spotted children throwing rocks for fun and concocted a safer game in his backyard in Bavaria.

The city of Cincinnati gets credit for shining a national spotlight on the toss game, which has long been a favorite tailgate activity at Bengals football games.

At Club Elevate, the weeknight cornhole games are "a mix between an indoor club scene and this goofy tailgating game," said Marquardt. Once people see how it's played, they usually want to give it a shot, he said.

"The desire's there within people," Marquardt said. "It's just a matter of introducing them to it."

But fans don't have to join a league to play. Several bars, including The Garage and Gracie's, have cornhole sets available to play anytime.

X-Wife's Place hosts a weekly Sunday tournament with monthly awards.

"We're pretty obsessive about it around here," said Michelle Corsillo, manager of X-Wife's. "We have people that show up just to smack talk the teams."

The bar first set up a cornhole game about four years ago. Today, more than a dozen teams show up on the busiest Sundays. And the one-handed toss means they can nurse a beer.

"Girls have just as much of a shot as a guy," she said. "If you can throw, it's easy."

"I don't ever catch people betting on cornhole," added Corsillo — only for who buys the next round.


Where to play cornhole

Club Elevate • 155 W 200 South, Salt Lake City. Fall league runs Nov. 12-17. Organized by Beehive Sport Club; $30 per player. Details at beehivesports.com/leagues/cornhole/

X-Wife's Place • 465 S. 700 East, Salt Lake City. Games held Sundays beginning at 3 p.m. Cost is $1.

Garage • 1199 Beck St., Salt Lake City; play anytime free.

Gracie's • 326 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City; play anytime free.

Learn the rules • playcornhole.org