There is a growing mania in Western North Carolina.
What started out as a bit of farmhouse fun believed to have originated in Germany during the 14th century resurfaced in Kentucky about 100 years ago and in the last several years has gained a following in Western North Carolina. It is found outside restaurants and is celebrated in bars on the weekends. Some of the obsessed are so focused that they have their own equipment at home to share their mania with friends and relatives.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is cornhole.
According to the American Cornhole Association, the game of cornhole (sometimes called corn toss, bean bag, bean toss or soft horseshoes) involves competitors throwing a total of eight soft bags filled with corn at slanted platforms 30 feet across from each other. If one of the bags goes through the hole in the center of the platform, the person who threw it gets three points. Landing a bag anywhere else on the platform nets the thrower one point. This continues in turns until one player reaches 21 points and is declared the winner.
“It’s similar to horseshoes, but no one gets whacked with a heavy metal object,” explains Oliver Peele, who has played for three years and is one of the founding members of WNC Cornhole, a group that celebrates and advertises this pastime throughout the region. “The simplicity of the game makes it great for any age. We have had an age range from 8 to mid-70s in tournaments. When I first started playing it looked kind of silly, but it is so very addicting that once you start you don’t stop.”
Cornhole games can be played just about anywhere there is room to set up the boards, but regular competitions and tournaments have been known to take place at the Corner Pocket and Southern Appalachian Brewery in Hendersonville, and Allstars Grill in Arden.
“A lot of the players on WNC Cornhole play in excess of 4-5 times a week, whether it be friendly games or tournament style games,” adds Allstars Grill co-owner and cornhole player Coulter Clay. The game can be played with two people going head-to-head or in pairs, says Clay. “I prefer doubles if I am looking to have fun and enjoy the game. With singles it’s a much more competitive style, you know it’s just you vs. them. In doubles you have to rely on your partner to at least keep the points minimal of their opponent or yourself keep your opponent minimal.”
While cornhole may not require participants to be at the absolute apex of physical fitness, it does demand more than just a casual amount of skill and seriousness. “A lot of different things factor into being a good shot,” Clay says. “A steady hand helps, but having a good throw on the bag is what counts the most. Knowing how to judge the distance of where to throw your bag also plays a part.”
“Luck is always involved, but most of the good players practice like in any activity or sport,” Peele says. “Being able to throw to the same spot is key, but you do need to be able to have a variation of throwing ability. One of the most popular throwing techniques and probably best is sort of like throwing a Frisbee. You want to put some spin on the bag with arch to keep it on the board.”
Non-scientific research indicates there are no reported cornhole-related injuries (save for a spilled beer or two), but that does not mean this is simply fun and games for those involved. “Most times when we play in our tournament on Sunday, I don’t get that competitive unless I am playing someone I know who is better,” Clay divulges. “In that case, I just want to see them lose to myself and my partner.”
Peele adds that he has seen tournament prize money reach as much as $7,500, but also confesses the reason he keeps coming back time after time is more than the thrill of competition or any trophy earned from skillful placement of a bean bag across a raised plank. “You play hard, and if you win great. If you don’t, it was still fun,” he gushes. “It’s just a great social event for all, so come out and play!”
Clay says, “I share my love of the game with others, whether they be friends or new people I have met. Most people who don’t know about the game only think about the name, but most generally when they start playing they become addicted to it. It’s always great fun for new players, especially watching them throw for the first time.”