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For anyone who still thinks disc golf is just a pastime for stoned college kids, the $10,000 purse up for grabs in both the men’s and women’s divisions of this weekend’s Match Play Championship in Bailey should shatter that illusion. Over the past few years, the sport has exploded, both at the recreational level and among professionals, the best of whom are signing multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts with corporate sponsors.
Starting on Thursday, June 16, Coloradans will have an unprecedented opportunity to watch 32 of the top disc golfers in the world rattle chains in our backyard—specifically, at the BOERA (Bailey Outdoor Education and Recreation Area) disc golf course, less than an hour southwest of Denver on U.S. 285. Normally 21 holes, the mountainous course has been altered to create a special 12-hole layout designed to challenge the pros as they contend with the terrain and how discs fly in the thinner air at 8,310 feet.
Part of the 2022 Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT), the invite-only event is smaller in scale than most of the season’s tournaments, which can see 150-some players. “It is a very elite field, kind of small and intimate, which is pretty cool,” says Bailey resident Dan McKercher, who works as the DGPT’s operations and partnerships manager and is also the vice president of the Foothill Flyers Disc Golf Club. We asked McKercher to help us put together this spectator’s guide (the match will also be livestreamed on the Disc Golf Network) to Colorado’s first DGPT competition.
Unlike a normal round—in which players’ throws to reach each basket get added up and the lowest score wins, à la traditional golf—match play pits two players against each other on every hole. For this tournament, if you win the match, you get three points; a tie is worth one point. Disc golfers have been seeded and sorted into pools of four players each (four men’s cards, four women’s cards). Across Friday and Saturday, each pool will play the course three times so all players in the pool go head-to-head. The player with the highest point total in each pool will advance to Sunday morning’s semifinals, which are single-elimination match play rounds. The two men and two women who emerge from that face off in a match play final on Sunday afternoon.
So, yes, it’s complicated, but the upshot is that making players compete for holes instead of overall throws can make things more exciting. “In most cases, when somebody throws a really good shot, right next to the basket, the other people on the card are still just doing their own thing,” McKercher says—in other words, playing conservatively to protect their overall throw count. Conversely, with match play, “you have these top-level players going for shots that in any other situation, they would never go for,” McKercher says. “You may even have some people going for the hole-in-one more than they normally would.”
If you want to root for the home team, watch for Loveland’s Joel Freeman (who’s coming off a 400-foot skip ace in this past weekend’s DGPT event in Oregon) and Aaron Gossage from Grand Junction. They should have an advantage over players who grew up throwing at sea level: Because of our thin air, players have to heave harder to achieve more distance here, a phenomenon that seems to have resulted in a lot of power throwers coming out of Colorado. On the women’s side, Missy Gannon may have an arm up on the competition; she’s now based in New York but spent time living and playing in the Longmont area when she was getting started in the sport. Other big names include German star Simon Lizotte (who, along with Ella Hansen, is sponsored by Discmania, whose U.S. headquarters are in Wellington, near Fort Collins) and James Conrad, who won the 2021 PDGA Professional World Championship after forcing a playoff with this epic 252-foot shot.
On Thursday ($20 for a spectator day pass), players will be out practicing and four athletes will be invited to play an OTB Skins match, which gets filmed by GK Pro, a disc golf post-production company; basically, it’s a chance for athletes to earn extra cash (each hole pays out a certain amount) and get some publicity. Discmania, the tournament’s presenting sponsor, will also be releasing a limited-edition disc. Pool play happens on Friday and Saturday ($40 per day for viewers), and the semifinals and final matches will be played on Sunday ($40). For $100, disc golf aficionados—or just the disc golf curious—can get a weekend pass; kids 10 and under are free with an adult.
Watch DGPT’s Twitter account for the release of the full schedule, including which players tee off when. McKercher says spectators generally choose a card to watch and follow that group from hole to hole, but the setup at Bailey will have a vendor village (with disc makers, local shops, and merch stands) in an area from which the first and 12th holes are visible. Both of them start with big downhill shots, making it a good spot to set up a chair if you don’t want to hike the whole course. There are plans for a food truck or burgers and hot dogs, but you’re welcome to bring your own lunch. Note: The course and parking lot are on school property (it’s owned by the Platte Canyon School District, and the usual $5 fee to play supports local outdoor recreation programs and student athletes), so there’s a strict no drugs, tobacco, or alcohol policy.
Because this is still disc golf, though, spectators are invited to toast their favorite players—some of whom will be on-site to sell their tour series discs and sign autographs—with a craft brew at Conifer’s Snowpack Taproom & Pizzeria on Saturday night.