As 2012 marked the full release of Explore Disc Golf, a full-service disc golf design-build firm, we found ourselves submersed in site visits, course proposals, conference calls, document preparation, website creation and vending The Mobile Disc Golf Experience at a slew of festivals up and down the East Coast. Launching our company made it increasingly rare for us to participate in weekly leagues or even attend professional tournaments in our region of the country. So, with a heavy summer schedule, we decided that I would take three days off in the middle of July to fly down to the 2012 PDGA Disc Golf World Championships in Charlotte, NC to hang with some of the guys at Innova Champion Discs, and get an inside look at the largest tournament disc golf has to offer.
The purpose of this visit was simple: take in as much disc golf-related information as possible in my short visit to Charlotte. This task meant I needed to document EVERYTHING — from the logistics of parking and vending at the Final 9 at Hornet’s Nest to pin positions, stage setups, vantage points, PA systems, power sources, names of those I met, tournament and player sponsorships, caddy books, course signage, seating locations, gallery boundaries, the warehouse setup at Innova and much more. I was blessed to be hanging and staying with Jonathan Poole — Innova Team Manager and Tournament Director of the United States Disc Golf Championships (USDGC) — throughout my stay in Charlotte. During my ongoing conversations with Jonathan, he stressed that I needed to come see both the PDGA Disc Golf World Championships and the USDGC to gain a better understanding of the biggest stage disc golf currently provides. I could only afford to take time off for one trip this summer, so I hoped on an early flight out on July 19th and headed down to Charlotte for the 2012 PDGA Disc Golf World Championships!
After landing in Charlotte at 10:00a on Thursday, I headed outside to the curb pickup where Jonathan and the Innova van scoped me right up! We grabbed some food and caught up for a bit before heading over to Renaissance Park to meet up with Zeb, Innova’s marketing and custom orders manager, where we all shot the shit and watched Nikko Locastro, Will Schusterick and Ricky Wysocki putt on the practice basket adjacent to the 1st tee. The trip was already a blast for me, as this was the exact course that I met Jonathan and Zeb on a year prior when I was Tour Manager for nationally touring act, Zach Deputy. Since then, we have all stayed in touch and speak quite regularly, so trekking around Renaissance Park together watching some of the best disc golfers in the world was a treat to say the least.
While the 2012 PDGA Disc Golf World Championships spanned 14 courses over 5 days, I was limited in my travel abilities as I was also there to help the Innova guys in whatever tasks they needed — from helping site and skirt the stage at the Final 9 at Hornet’s Nest to hanging banners and breaking down tents at courses throughout the city. The first half of day 1 found us following Will Schusterick and Michael Johansen’s group around Renaissance Park, as Michael had just shot a lights out 41 the previous day. It was fun to see some of the world’s best tearing up a course I had personally played and remembered quite well. While I was focused on the smaller things — How nice was the course signage? Were their hole flyovers available? Were there mobile scoreboards following each group or stationary scoreboards at major junctions of the course? — there were many moments were some of the players would bang 60’ putts next to water, while Jonathan and I would just look at each other and laugh. These guys are INCREDIBLE!
The second half of day 2 found us at Hornet’s Nest, the site of ongoing rounds throughout the week, but ultimately hosting the Final 9 and the awards ceremony on Saturday. Jonathan and I were the only ones on site, where we walked around the pavilion and grounds to find the best vantage point for the stage. After the staging company arrived, Jonathan had a couple calls to make, so he gave me his personal bag to go try out the loop of the Final 9 at Hornet’s Nest. While this was the only other Charlotte course I played while on Zach Deputy tour, it was a bit different as the pins were in longer locations due to the tournament. To my surprise, I actually had a blast taking a double bogey on the very first hole! From there, I managed a couple birdies and as many bogeys to finish my 9 hole loop in 2-over-par. While the holes itself weren’t as long and difficult as I originally anticipated, I did have it a bit easier as there were no crowds or TV cameras following me, and the 219’ 5th hole —no doubt the swing hole of the Final 9 — didn’t have haystacks guarding the front side of the island green. The slightly uphill hole demanded a mid range hyzer line out of a tunnel of trees to a basket that was situated on a grass island in the middle of a closed roadway. While EVERYTHING besides the island was out of bounds, the difficulty in the hole came when hay bales were placed on the front side of the island, knocking down any low flying discs. Many rounds were ruined on this hole — I personally saw multiple 6’s — but in my round I managed a birdie and trotted off to the 6th tee hoping to get a couple more on my way in.
After our late afternoon spent at Hornet’s Nest, we hoped in the car and headed down to Rock Hill, SC to stay at Jonathan’s house where we would spend the night hanging and watching The Open Championship (British Open) with some fellow Innova employees and two time disc golf World Champion, Barry Schultz. This was a lot of fun, as both Barry and David (Innova sales) were HUGE golfers like me. Previously knowing Jonathan and Zeb, it was great to meet David, as he and I had spoken through e-mails and phone calls as Explore Disc Golf had ordered baskets, discs and promotional materials several times throughout the year. Barry and I found ourselves really enjoying some (ball) golf conversations, and getting into some neat discussion about plastics as he had once worked at a plastics manufacturing plant and was obviously very familiar with Star, Champion, Pro and DX plastics that Innova offered. Needless to say, we all had a great night watching The Open Championship and enjoying a lot of laughs before hitting the sack for more tournament action the next day.
Day 2 was a dream come true as Jonathan took me to the Innova offices just down the road to tour the facility and get a grasp of everything that happened on site. I met up with David, who gave me a tour of the facility. We bumped into several guys packing orders who were at the house the night before, so it was fun conversation all over again — it quickly felt like family. David walked me around and showed me the warehouse where all the discs are stamped, warehoused and distributed. It was really neat to see the starter packages being boxed up in front of my own eyes before heading to Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and other large retail outlets. It was also incredibly cool to see the large boxes of blank discs that were shipped from Innova West, all of which needed to be stamped and re-boxed for picking and distribution by Neal and the other guys. All in all, a smooth operating facility full of great people!
After our tour of Innova, we headed to Winthrop Gold — home of the United States Disc Golf Championships — and one of the most demanding disc golf courses in the world. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the course as we had to get to Charlotte, but Jonathan did drive me around quite a bit and showed me existing holes and how they would change for the tournament. He pointed out several changes in addition to where the famous yellow rope (denotes out of bounds) would run. He then nicely told me that I’d be lucky to shoot under 100. Youch — tough test to say the least! I really enjoyed my time on the grounds of Winthrop University as Explore Disc Golf is currently designing disc golf courses for multiple Universities ourselves. It was great to see how they connected different parts of the campus and took advantage of underutilized space all the while not only providing an extremely daunting challenge for the world’s top pros in October, but still being a beginner-friendly course for students and the general public the other 11 months of the year.
The remainder of our day was spent bouncing between courses, with the majority of our time spent at Bradford Park to watch the lead card pick apart of the one of the most gorgeous courses I’ve encountered. The layout of the entire 18 not only connected some incredibly nice on-site features, but the shot selection demanded of the players ran the gamut from controlled, big bombing tee shots to tomahawks, skip hyzers and delicate approaches to “turtleback” greens with punishing results for any inaccuracies. Several of the holes were carved out of a dense deciduous forest, while there were also plenty of holes that utilized the land the best it could — from tight shots down access roadways and slippery pin locations next adjacent to water retention basins to field holes lined with wide ranges of coniferous plant material that would bat down any errant disc that missed its line. What wasn’t originally on the schedule, Bradford Park was one of my personal favorites as the layout by Hall of Famer course designer and player, Stan McDaniel, was incredible from start to finish as Jonathan and I bounced between holes to catch up with the lead card, hot players, or technical shots that would soon be dissected by the world’s best. After a long day of Innova warehouse and course tours, we headed to Jonathan’s house once again for more down home cooking, laughs and The Open Championship.
The final day of our trip was spent at Nevin’s Park, helping setup everything for the Final 9 at Hornet’s Nest, which would begin in the early afternoon after the player’s morning semi-finals at the surrounding courses. Much of the morning consisted of hanging banners, sitting in on meetings and doing whatever needed to be done to ease the workload of others. After my tasks were completed, I walked around and documented everything, as I had done the entire trip. I took picture of everything from vending plots, fencing and stage setups to the infrastructural side of things like PDGA payout tent and score reporting stations. Once my responsibilities were done around noon, I decided to start doing small loops watching whomever I could — from under 14 kids to Grandmasters divisions compete for their respective World Championship titles.
While day 3 seemed to be a whirlwind of disc golf in every direction, I really enjoyed following three groups in particular: the under 19 division, the Masters division and the Open division. The under 19 division was a favorite due to the fact that I was watching Worcester, MA–based phenom Stephen Economos vie for a World Championship title. I have met Stephen several times in our home state of Massachusetts, but never have I seen him play and boy was it impressive! Another favorite loop I took was watching Barry Schultz and Ken Climo — two names who put disc golf on the map — battle for the Masters division. In his highly competitive match, Barry made me laugh by following up his birdie on the 4th hole with a walk to the 5th with me. He saw me, said “Hey Brian!” and came over to hand me his Roc he just put 10′ from the basket and talk about the stability of the plastic. I chuckled at the fact that we were having this conversation during a World Championship match, and also rather taken aback that he remembered my name and our time spent together in Rock Hill — a class act to say the least.
After cycling through the Final 9 multiple times, our day culminated by following the Open division with a gallery of 5-6 deep the entire round. It was hard to get close enough to see some of the shots, which was a stark contrast to all the other disc golf we had seen that weekend, but needless to say, it was wonderful to see everything come together and how the infrastructure provided by the PDGA, Charlotte Disc Golf Club and Innova set the stage for what was the mostly highly anticipated and well-attended disc golf tournament in the history of the sport. By the time day 3 had rolled around, I was focusing less on the world’s best, and more on the overall production of the event. The Open division, while close for the majority of the tournament, was turning into a runaway with Paul McBeth taking the title by 5 shots.
All told, our three day trip to Charlotte opened our eyes to the largest stage of disc golf tournament play. Having the privilege to meet and talk disc golf course design with a master of his craft like Stan McDaniel was incredible, as was the opportunity to have an inside look at everything I came across through my time spent with Jonathan, Zeb, David, Neal and all the others at Innova Champion Discs. We look forward to checking out the USDGC at Winthrop Gold in the future, but for now, we will continue to cycle through our pictures, videos and notes as we study some incredible disc golf course designs, and look back on an adventure that we will always remember: the 2012 PDGA Disc Golf World Championships in Charlotte, NC.