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Growing up in Littleton, six-year-old Kona Panis could be found handing out player packets at disc golf tournaments organized by her dad, Jeff—a one-time 5280 photographer who is now the marketing director for Southern California–based Innova Disc Golf, one of the sport’s premier disc manufacturers. “I like to say that I got my dad his job,” Panis, now 23, says, “because I got sponsored by Innova first.” Either way, disc golf is a family affair: She’s engaged to Colten Montgomery, a Discmania-sponsored pro from Longmont, and her mom works for Hero Disc USA, a branch of Innova that makes discs for dogs. We caught up with Panis—who recently signed a four-year, $500,000 contract with Dynamic Discs—from the van she and Montgomery (aka Hot KoCo) live in while traveling from one pro tour event to the next.
5280: What about the disc golf scene has changed since you went pro in 2016?
Kona Panis: If you would have told me that I would have this huge contract, or that I’d take 13th place at a tournament and get paid $720, I’d have laughed in your face. Also, the women’s side of disc golf is getting huge.
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Outside of contracts and prize money, how do you make a living from disc golf?
One thing is disc royalties; that’s when sponsors give their top-tier players discs that have their names on them and specific stamps. Then, for example, my fiancé has a retail sponsor called OTB Discs that supplies him with apparel, and he promotes it on his social media accounts. If you go to my Instagram, you can definitely see it’s very influencerlike: I’m wearing the Dynamic Discs shirt, you know, with the logo perfectly placed.
Where did you and Montgomery come up with the nickname Hot KoCo?
After we started dating in 2018 and were in our tour vehicle—it has a big zombie on the side; that’s why it’s called the Freak—we asked our social media followers, What do you think our tour name should be? It came from one of my fans. Now, when people see us, they don’t even say, Hey, it’s Kona and Colten. It’s, Hey, it’s Hot KoCo. It’s cool—a celebrity moment you never thought you’d get in disc golf.
California is home now, but did learning to play in Colorado affect your game?
We always say that we grew up throwing harder to throw farther, just because the elevation changes the way the discs fly. A lot of the Coloradans on the road are bombers. I like to give credit to Colorado for having to throw hard. It’s given me a lot of distance.
What’s next in the sport’s evolution?
We’re just looking for that ESPN debut. Right now, we’re very YouTube- and Disc Golf Network–based. It’d be cool to see a bigger sponsor get involved—for a Coca-Cola or a Gatorade to be like, You know what, let’s put all our eggs in disc golf.