When we were first approached about being a part of the media team for the 2015 United States Disc Golf Championship we were unsurprisingly excited. In the middle of buying and selling a house and a busy schedule at the day job, I carved out six days for travel and the tournament and my sights were set on Rock Hill, South Carolina.
When my Uber arrived at the Winthrop Coliseum, we instantly recognized Hole 10 to our right and then noticed the basket for Hole 14 to the left a little further up the entry way. We made the walk from near Hole 15’s tee up to the clubhouse and passed the iconic Hole 7 with the bamboo triple-mando and took the much talked about long walk from Hole 16 to Hole 17. While we’ve seen these holes on countless videos and we initially felt a lot of familiarity with our surroundings, we soon realized the true size of the USDGC. It was only Tuesday and the course was buzzing. The energy was second to none and the play was still 18 hours away from getting underway.
Walking into the clubhouse we made our way past racks of discs and into our media room. Inside I was greeted by Jussi Meresmaa who organized the team of media on site. We’ve built a relationship up through email and other chat clients, but meeting face to face really kicked this into gear. Jussi and I worked for a few days on an interview to announce the Disc Golf World Tour and needed a few moments to finalize everything before the announcement Tuesday night.
Along with the DGWT unveiling, the main event was the USDGC players meeting. It is more than just a meeting though. Tournament Director uses the term Opening Ceremonies and it accurately captures what the event is about. Food and drinks are available for all the competitors to get things started before the true events of the night. While the previous US champions were introduced with Will Schusterick receiving his ring for winning in 2014, the awarding of the Golden Rake to the Volunteer of the Year, and final course rules were discussed, the highlight of the night came early in the program.
While the competitors mingled inside the venue, the USDGC volunteers were on the back patio waiting to be introduced. As a side door opened this year’s volunteers started to funnel onto the stage. It seemed like a never ending line of people. These folks give up a week, and often many weeks, of their lives to focus on the USDGC. At least 200 people filled the stage and during their entrance the competitor greeted them with a well deserved standing ovation. After taking a moment to soak it in the volunteers got together for an energizing chant to get things started.
Once the night wrapped up, we turned our focus to the first round on Wednesday and the ensuing days ahead.
Throughout the week we got to meet so many of those volunteers who were on up stage. We talked with the staples of Hole 18, Old Man and Mom. We ran into the photo-master of Hole 4, Rock Searle. The list people we met and worked with is virtually endless.
Since the competitors and volunteers are tied to the course for nearly the full day, there is a very dedicated group who runs the hospitality tent near Holes 3 and 4. Grills were filled with food, tables packed with side dishes, and coolers stocked with drinks. From the early morning to into the evening hours, volunteers were keeping the food moving. Smoked wings, chili, burgers, brats, etc… it was all delicious and you can’t thank those folks enough for grinding out some long days to ensure everyone had something to eat.
While the weather was beautiful every day until Saturday, that final round was a tough one to work in. A steady rain fell from the early morning hours until around 3 p.m. Volunteers on the course needed to be at their posts for the very first tee times around 7-8 a.m. Umbrellas, ponchos, and jackets can only do so much. Having the internal strength to stand out in the rain the entire day is a requirement for these volunteers.
The first cards of the day on Saturday likely hit Hole 18 around 10 a.m or so. Old Man and Mom were stationed there likely earlier than that waiting for the action to begin on the final hole. They worked through the rain until Paul McBeth and the lead card came through at nearly 7 p.m. That’s a tough day.
Every day we saw so many huge efforts by these volunteers. It’s cliche, but without them the USDG wouldn’t be a success.
Every single competitor wanted to win the USDGC. Sour rounds on day one put some out of the running right out of the gate. Others saw their championship hopes dashed later in the week. As the pros came off of Hole 18 they totaled up their scorecard and walked to the scoring trailer. We formed a space for interviews right at the end of the scoring area and met with the pros once the scores were final. As part of our new media efforts at the USDGC, these post round interviews was a new element to the USDGC for many.
In years past you would total up your score, sign the scorecard and go and get some food. Now, we added one step of talking with someone from the media team. It is easy to talk about a great round, but even tougher to talk about one where the struggles were common. We have to thank everyone we talked to. It was tough early in the week, but as the week went on a relationship was established and trust was built. It went from chasing pros down to having them come up to us to make sure they didn’t miss anything. These new additions to disc golf tournaments take some time for adjustment from both sides, but we like where things are heading.
Having the chance to meet many in the crowd was fun. During conversations with those who I knew, I’d be introduced to a new set of people and so many mentioned how they read this site. Hearing those comments really helps keep this site going. Can’t thank you enough for the kind words throughout the week.
You are why I started this site. ATDG will continue to be your top resource for disc golf news, interviews, reviews, and more.
This tournament was the first time we’ve seen such a big media effort in a tournament in the United States. Much of our plan was modeled after what Meresmaa and his team did at the 2015 European Open. While there was a crew of around 13-15 people on site, I mainly worked with Janne Lahtinen and Todd Harrell. We went into the week with a game plan and stuck to it the entire time. The three of us have never worked together prior to this and getting on the same page so quickly was a great feeling.
While I wasn’t too directly involved, I have to tip my cap to Jamie Thomas and the video team he put together. Those guys worked some super long hours to crank out videos for fans to see. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the video trailer, but every time we stepped in, there was a crew of people editing and getting videos ready for release.
Finally, we have to thank Meresmaa for this opportunity. Having the chance to finally put some of our ideas to practice was a lot of fun. We had some great conversations, some great laughs, and got a feel for what the future could be like. Saturday morning we were settling in at the media room and Meresmaa pulled out his laptop and fired up Skype to call his family back home in Finland. He’s been away from home for nearly four weeks and we couldn’t help but smile and capture a photo as he put everything disc golf related on hold for a moment to talk with his wife and son. You have to respect a guy who puts everything aside to focus on what really matters.
The overall experience of being at the 2015 United States Disc Golf Championship was really an honor. It was humbling to hear from so many fans and pros about how much they like the site. We spent some time Sunday afternoon with some folks from the media team and we’ve already started talks about future tournaments.
From the newly formed friendships off the course to the big drives and putts we watched on the course, the 2015 USDGC will be something we’ll never forget. A big thank you to Meresmaa and his entire team. We were honored to be a part of it.