Bobby McCree III
(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University hosted the 20th annual U.S. Disc Golf Championship (USDGC) Oct. 3-6, which is one of the most prestigious events in the sport.
The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) event has been held every year, since its founding in 1999, at the Winthrop Gold Course.
“Winthrop was super forward-thinking way back in the day when this all started and saw an opportunity to grab what now has become the biggest event in disc golf, which is one of the fastest growing sports in the world,” said Andrew Duval, lead course designer for the championship.
“I think they saw something when no one else did. A diamond in the rough, so to speak, and now it is shining very brightly.”
The event annually attracts professionals from around the globe to Rock Hill.
“I am actually letting somebody from Denmark stay at my house with my family. He is from Copenhagen and he gets to see your guy’s awesome university,” said Devan Owens, a professional disc golfer. “It is just awesome you guys bring us out here.”
While the players were recognized for their performance, tournament officials said Winthrop did not go unnoticed.
“Winthrop University is a spectacular course. It is very much like a stadium course. It is very spectator-friendly. So this was a natural fit for us to do something like this,” said Jonathan Poole, event director for the championship.
Poole, who is originally from California, said the USDGC sales office is located in Rock Hill to keep the group’s “business resources” close by.
Levi Bennett, a sales associate with tournament sponsor Innova Disc Golf, said he appreciates Winthrop’s enthusiasm to cooperate.
“They dedicate guys the week of the event to mow the lawns every morning, make sure all the greens are nice and manicured,” he said. “They got guys out here helping us get set up and brake down, coming to clean up the trash and directing traffic. They let us park in their soccer fields. We really could not ask for a better partner than Winthrop University.”
Poole said preparing the course for the championship games requires a lot of work.
“It takes the better part of the month leading up to get everything we need out here. All of the tents, stakes, banners, feather-banners and tools and things we need,” said Poole. “To be able to take an already beautiful piece of property and a wonderful disc golf course, but to transform it into a major championship caliber course takes several weeks.
“When it is all said and done, it is a spectacular place to play disc golf.”
However, the event hasn’t drawn much attention from those outside the world of disc golf.
“The Professional Disc Golf Association tour has had very little, if any, impact on the campus community,” said Geoffrey Morrow, a professor of physical education at Winthrop.
Morrow, who teaches a course on disc games, called the event the “Super Bowl” of disc golf.
“While it has continued to grow in popularity over the past 20 years, to many, it is still something of a novelty,” he said. “Most people have likely heard about the sport from a recreational standpoint, but I would say that most people are unaware that it is played on a professional level.”
Morrow said getting students involved in the event is one way to raise awareness of the sport. In recent years, Winthrop students have had the opportunity to attend the tournament and meet some of the game’s top players, including Paul McBeth, the No. 1 ranked player in the world who won this year’s championship.
“I think learning from the pros also increases your development and speeds up learning how to play the game,” said Avery Jenkins, a professional disc golf player.
“As the professional presence and platform for disc golf continues to expand, I am hopeful and optimistic that the presence of the U.S. Disc Golf Championship will be increasingly felt by the campus community,” said Morrow.
“As an event that attracts professional disc golf competitors from around the world, it is certainly a unique opportunity to witness and experience intercultural camaraderie.”
“I think the next thing is to stride forward in media and awareness and I think it will lead to spectators and certainly more online coverage and television coverage,” said Poole.