2013 Masters Cup: Plenty of Santa Cruz locals to watch

Every year in April, Santa Cruz, CA is not only the ‘Epicenter of Disc Golf’ – the label we gave ourselves in 1989 after the nearby Loma Prieta earthquake – but the center of the professional disc golf tour as well. DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course has hosted a National Tour event every year since the tour was established, and the Masters Cup has drawn the sport’s best talent for about 20 years before that.

If you follow the tour, you’re familiar with many of this weekend’s competitors. Young Guns Ricky Wysocki, Paul McBeth, Will Schusterick and Nikko Locastro will all be there, as will veteran champs Ken Climo, Dave Feldberg, Nate Doss and Avery Jenkins. And there are plenty of other names you’ll recognize as well, like Philo Braithwaite, Paul Ulibarri, and Josh Anthon.

You know all about these guys already, and they’ve proven that any one of them can step up and win on any given week. I’m not about to pretend that I can predict who will win, although Josh Anthon is a Norcal player who knows DeLa well and has come close, Nate Doss grew up and honed his craft here, and Wysocki and Shusterick are good bets too. But this post isn’t about picking a winner.

On Saturday, after the first round is in the books, and even Sunday when it’s down to the last 24 holes, there are bound to be some names you don’t recognize on the tops cards. Or rather, you would not have recognized if you hadn’t read this. You’re welcome.

And let me state for the record that I’m not ignoring the women’s divisions. It’s just that there is a big separation between the top women and the locals, and there is no chance of a surprise. Kristy King, a DeLa local and DGA-sponsored player, has a chance of finishing in the top third of the field and cashing, but the win will likely go to Sarah Hokom, Valarie Jenkins or Paige Pierce.

Local pro and longtime course maintenance leader Jim Hagen works on his backhand form while starting up his mower four days before the start of the 2013 Masters Cup.
Local pro and longtime course maintenance leader Jim Hagen works on his backhand form while starting up his mower four days before the start of the 2013 Masters Cup. Photo by Jack Trageser

In the men’s divisions, on the other hand, the combination of a deep pool of local talent and the idiosyncrasies of DeLaveaga as a course that plays very different than most courses on the pro circuit makes for some intriguing possibilities. I’m not saying that any of these guys will win, mind you, just that they can. Look for one or more of the following names on the lead and/or chase cards Sunday, and remember I told you so.

Matt Bell- Disc golf is a sport where the best players improve on a super-steep curve, and can go from beginner to world-beater in a hurry. Matt Bell played half of his 15 PDGA events last year in the Advanced division, but this year has been turning heads locally. He won this year’s Enduro (Ice) Bowl at DeLa this year, topping a number of known players, and has the power, savvy, and local knowledge to make a run. Look for him to be in the running at least until the magnitude of the situation hits him- and maybe longer.

Shasta Criss- He enjoys a rep as a solid player and great guy on the tour, especially on the West Coast, but Shasta flies below the radar to most pro disc golf followers. He’s DGA’s top sponsored Open Division player and has all the tools necessary to make a run, including a penchant for hitting 50-foot putts. Plus, that name is just meant for disc golf, and it’s impossible not to like him. If you see his name in the mix, feel good about rooting for him.

Chris Edwards- Big, easy power and a recent ascent into 1000-rated territory mark Edward’s game, along with a sincere desire to promote disc golf locally and beyond. He’s the coach of the UCSC disc golf team, and if his mental game catches up fully to his physical talents he’ll be in contention. Edwards is a birdie machine when he’s on and simply needs to eliminate or minimize the mistakes.

Myles Harding- Like Nate Doss, Myles literally grew up playing DeLaveaga. Longtime NorCal tour players remember that he and Greg Barsby went head-to-head in Juniors, then Advanced, then Open, both winning lots of hardware- but as kids and teens Myles actually won a bit more. Harding, like his dad Rob, has all the shots in his bag, super-smooth form, and the ability to turn in some low rounds. Whether he can string together three of them in a row is the question, but he’s done it plenty of times before.

Don Smith- I know firsthand of Don’s tenacity as he beat me once on the 11th extra hole of an epic sudden-death playoff at a local monthly with an 80-foot uphill birdie putt. Since then I’ve gotten older and he’s gotten better, making disc golf his full-time occupation. He’s been on tour nonstop for a couple years now, and that and the the fact that he’s likely played 1000 (or more) rounds at DeLa are the reasons I would not be surprised to see Smith in contention on Sunday. He’s got the game necessary to shoot double-digits under each round, and that’s what it will take to win.

Tony Tran- I gotta mention Tony because he can show up at DeLa for the first time in nine months and throw out an 11-under. He used to play more than he does now, and he never plays anything but local events anymore (I’m not sure if he ever did) but he’s got game. He’s another guy to pull for if you’re a fan of feel-good stories. If he wanted to put the time in, he could be as good as most of the guys who try to play for a living.

Jon Baldwin- This guy won the world championship playing here in 2011, so no one should be surprised if he wins the Masters Cup. Baldwin, DGA’s most marketed sponsored player, is a golfer in the best sense of the word, winning with focus and guile as much as with his sufficient power, steady putting and all-around game. Look for him to be right there all three days in the Masters Division. He’s played three major events this year and taken 2nd place at all three (to Phil Arthur, Ken Climo and Jason Tyra), so he’s certainly hungry for a win on his home turf.

The players listed above are all Santa Cruz locals. They call DeLa home. But other participants in the Masters Cup have lots of experience here as well. The aforementioned Josh Anthon and Ray Johnson are NorCal stalwarts, Steve Rico and Philo Braithwaite show up often from SoCal, and we still claim Nate Doss as our own.

The cream does in the end rise to the top, and it’s likely the trophy will be lifted by someone you knew before reading this preview. But Santa Cruz has tons of local talent, and more so than at any other NT stop you can expect to see some unknown players in the mix.

PDGA vs. USGA membership: One way the barrier to entry is higher in disc golf than in ball golf

Saying that I am a disc golf supporter and even an ardent promoter would be an understatement. Kinda like stating labrador retrievers like to chase things and bring them back, or killer whales prefer to eat meat.

I write two for two blogs exclusively dedicated to disc golf, and have a book in the works. My side business – School of Disc Golf – is more about spreading the word than generating income. I produce a TV show/video magazine on disc golf.  I have served as an officer for my local disc golf club, helped to design and install several courses, and talk about disc golf to whoever is willing to listen. I proudly hold PDGA #9715, which nowadays marks me as ‘old school’.

However, I am not a current member of the PDGA, disc golf’s governing organization.

In the past membership was a no-brainer, as it was required if you wanted to participate in certain sanctioned events. But raising young kids and injuries have effectively halted my participation in all but local, one-day competitions, so I’m no longer compelled to be a PDGA for that reason alone.

One year, the PDGA sent special stickers to renewing members. They obviously knew that most PDGA members were also tournament players/
One year, the PDGA sent special stickers to renewing members. They obviously knew that most PDGA members were also tournament players

Don’t misunderstand. Being able to compete in sanctioned events wasn’t the only reason I joined the PDGA. I somewhat enjoyed the magazine that came with membership, in both iterations (Disc Golf World News and the current version), and was proud to do my part in supporting the main organization representing the sport I love. But right around the time I stopped playing in big events I also found myself out of work, and all superfluous expenses had to go. After 13 consecutive years of membership, my streak ended in 2010.

Now I find myself gainfully employed once again, and would like to reinstate my PDGA membership, even though my big event days (at least for the foreseeable future) are behind me. I want to support disc golf in every way possible, and even though I feel the reporting doesn’t come close to what we produce daily at RattlingChains.com, I’d like to receive the magazine once again. But here’s the rub: I play in the ‘professional’ Masters division, and as such I’d have to pay $75.

At this point, I view the cost of PDGA membership – in my case – like the cost of a movie ticket. I can afford both, but it’s the principal of the thing (seriously- $12 to see a movie?). Why doesn’t the PDGA offer a membership level for people who simply want to support the sport’s growth- who don’t play tournaments and don’t need all the infrastructure that manages and supports competitive play?

For a comparison, let’s look to – of all places – ball golf. In their world, the Professional Golfers’ Association is an organization for the actual professional golfers and teaching pros. The USGA (U.S. Golf Association), on the other hand, is for everyone who plays and supports golf. In disc golf, the PDGA is a combination of the two.

Are you with me so far? Good.

Earlier on in my disc golf life, I needed to belong to a ‘PGA-like’ organization. I played in everything from little C-tier events to world championships and the USDGC, obsessed over my player rating once those were established, and used the PDGA site to find and register for events. But nowadays I simply want to belong to something like the USGA. Unfortunately I don’t have that option.

When I contacted the PDGA’s membership manager Sara Nicholson a year ago suggesting the organization add a ‘supporting’ membership option at a much lower cost than the $75 for pro players and $50 for amateurs, she agreed and mentioned that she hears that request often. Yet nothing has changed.

My own personal preferences aside, I think the PDGA is missing a big opportunity on this issue, and I can use the old iceberg analogy to illustrate my point. As you know, only the tip of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water, and similarly, only a small fraction of disc golf enthusiasts will ever even consider playing in sanctioned events. As a consequence of this – and the high cost of membership – only a tiny fraction of the people who love disc golf, play regularly, and want others to learn about it’s redeeming qualities are PDGA members.

If you don’t believe $50-$75 annually is too much to support a sport you love, consider the USGA. Their lowest level of membership costs only $10 per person, and it comes with quite an impressive list of benefits beside supporting the game:

  • Member-only
    U.S. Open golf hat
  • Latest edition of
    The Rules of Golf
  • USGA Championship Preview
  • USGA Insider
    e-newsletter
  • Advance opportunity to purchase
    U.S. Open 7-day ticket packages
  • USGA bag tag and Member ID
  • Various Member-only special offers and discounts
  • Behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities
New PDGA members get a PDGA-stamped disc. The author's is now a well-worn practice putter
New PDGA members get a PDGA-stamped disc. The author’s is now a well-worn practice putter

I understand that the PDGA does not have the resources of the USGA, but feel strongly that it just makes sense to offer membership to those who don’t play sanctioned events and don’t need the related services. It should be at a low enough cost level that pretty everyone can afford it, and it should be marketed at a grassroots level everywhere the sport is played.

In more than 30 years, the amount of people that have joined the PDGA is still well under 100,000. If the PDGA were to immediately do as I suggest, I think it could easily pass the half-million mark by 2015. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

What do you think? Am I right?  Wrong? A cheap so-and-so? Or do you agree that the PDGA should broaden it’s horizons and embrace the much larger group of purely recreational disc golfers? Let us know!

New info on old rules- I wonder what else I don’t know?

The PDGA website has an item on marking your lie, disc golf style, in its homepage rotation right now. I’m familiar with the rules discussed but the wrinkles they mention – and how they’d
come into play at courses in and around Santa Cruz – are new to me.

The first point they make is sensible, and I think I’ve instinctively done it before without even thinking about it. Basically, if you need to throw your shot in a direction other than straight toward the hole (playing a dogleg par 4, for instance) you can mark your lie with a mini in line with the direction you are throwing. It’s a small difference of degrees in terms of where the marker is placed, but it also affects where the thrower’s supporting point is placed. I can see this one coming up at Pinto Lake, on the last par 4 (I think it is #13 now?) It plays up a fire road fairway that curls to the left, with the basket above the road on the left. Many times players get half-way up the road, can barely see the basket from their lie, but are compelled to continue along the fire road to the right because the woods are too dense to take a direct route.

The they address something that comes up often at DeLa and Black Mouse: a disc is enough under a large fallen tree or log that the player is compelled to throw from either behind or on top of said tree or log. The player can throw from on top of the object, but they must mark their disc first. And speaking of that the story mentions that it has been legal to simply throw behind the disc used on your last shot, provided you don’t move it, since the 1999 Worlds. The other instances when you MUST use a mini in tournament golf:

  • after throwing out-of-bounds
  • when your disc is above the playing surface
  • when your previous throw is a lost disc
  • when you’re declaring your lie unplayable
  • when you’re lie is relocated for relief
  • interference
  • repositioning the lie within 1 meter of the out-of-bounds line.

Here’s the link if you didn’t catch it above: http://www.pdga.com/marking-a-lie. It’s worth it to see the diagrams.

The future of Professional Disc Golf

Professional disc golf has not ‘turned a corner,’ and it certainly hasn’t hit the mainstream. The sport is more popular than ever, and growing at the same steady pace it has been growing at for more than a decade. But the cash to be won by playing professionally – a bottom line if ever there was one – hasn’t changed much at all during that same span.

I’ve gone on record before with my opinion that disc golf needs to be exponentially bigger as a recreational sport before it’ll be anywhere near a spectator sport, or something that makes economic sense to broadcast on TV. But really, all it takes is one forward-thinking corporate sponsor to jump-start the whole thing. If and when that happens, this is how I see true ‘professional’ disc golf’ taking shape:

  • A ‘World Tour,’ (as opposed to the current National Tour) will be sponsored and promoted by a corporate entity that is able to take it to the next level. Each event will have a purse of 100k and a first prize of more than 10K.
  • This World Tour will have the money to write its own rules, so to speak, and the PDGA will happily accommodate it to finally break throw to what it sees as the big-time.
  • As opposed to all current NT events (with the exception of the USDGC), participation is limited to the top-rated touring pros, and regional qualifiers
  • These regional qualifiers will consist of what are now A and B tier PDGA events, so nothing really has to change with the majority of the events going on already. The serious players will just have more to play for now

Just like that: the World Championships in Santa Cruz

Even though it’s one of the ‘majors’ of professional disc golf, the World Championships has always seemed more to me like a Worlds Fair. In fact, in disc golf circles it’s known as ‘Worlds,’ as in “did you go to ‘Worlds’ last year in Kansas City?’

I played in one Amateur ‘Worlds’ in my illustrious career, in 1998 in Wisconsin, and one pro Worlds, in 2000 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both are notable for me for different reasons.

The 1998 event was the culmination of me finally putting it all together as an Am player, and I finished 12th out of 180 or so. In 2000 9after turning pro right after the 1998 Worlds), I was in the middle of a long period of floundering in the Open division, but I had other things on my mind. I was in the first six months of dating my now wife, who is from Michigan. she went with me to the Worlds, I met her family in Michigan and Ohio . . . and sucked big-time at the Hudson Mills Metroplex.

Why all this talk about Worlds? Because somehow, inexplicably, the PDGA’s biggest show is coming to Santa Cruz. We’re hosting it at four courses between here and Monterey, and Tom (Schot)’s vision will have us breaking new ground in several areas. Stay tuned . . .

knockin on the wrong door


Being at ground zero, so to speak, it was obvious that PDGA communications director and others worked extremely hard to make the first live broadcast (webcast) of a disc golf event (the USDGC) a big success. And I must say, from a production standpoint, they hit it out of the park. I watched the the broadcast team live before and after (and a little bit during, waiting to tee on hole 3) my rounds. But on Thursday, after my round was over, I went back to my hotel room to change and eat, with the intention of heading right back to the course to catch more of the action live. But I never returned that day.

Once I pulled the live feed up on my laptop, I enjoyed it so much I just stayed in my room and watched it for three hours! After all, I can watch disc golf action anytime, right? I thought the course came across as a disc golf version of a manicured private ball golf course (some will say that’s a good thing, some won’t). The event appeared very professional, with the many spotters with their red and green flags adding greatly to the effect. Looking at the players collectively, the impression was that they appeared more recreational than professional, but I can’t say why. I mean, what is a professional disc golfer supposed to look like, anyway? If our sport ever did reach that upper echelon with big corporate sponsors, million dollar purses, and television coverage, what would a professional disc golfer look like? (Warning: Digression Alert)

It’s easy to picture a hybrid version of a PGA Tour ball-golfer and our current ‘pro’ look, with Salomon, Keen, or (New Balance or) Bite shoes, long shorts, dri-fit polo shirt and hat or visor? Or might it look more like Nikko Locastro (the guy in the picture)? He’s got three things that give him a unique look: the big ‘fro, the tube socks pulled up to the knees, and the fact that often those tube socks are often of different colors. And that unique look may be what gets disc golf the exposure it needs to get over the top.

In terms of awareness, a sport needs to do something noticeable just to get its foot in the door. It’s much easier to keep or hold attention that to attain it in the first place. But I digress . . .

My point is that there is a school of thought among some of those involved with the National Tour that if we can just get the sport on TV, everything else will follow. And, led by John Duessler, they trumpeted the webcast as a seminar moment in the development of the sport before the fact. What’s more, after the fact they glowed about the fact that 7,000 different people signed up to watch the webcast. I’ll admit that the extra fact about those people being in 22 different countries was really cool, but only 7,000 people? I don’t think potential ‘big fish’ advertisers and sponsors are impressed by that number.

I do think disc golf has a big future, but I think it’ll likely happen a little differently than that other school of thought. Check back soon, and I’ll finish the thought.

Masters Cup 2009: Three Weeks Later

I didn’t bother to blog after my third and final Masters Cup round, because- let’s face it . . . who wants to write about how they saved their suckiest for last? The tournament itself was epic, however, and as a major contributor to the volunteer effort I found that rewarding even if my own performance was not.

After shooting +4 the first round and +2 the second round on the ultra-tough layout, I was tied for 8th out of 38 players. I figured a decent round on Sunday would help me climb a few notches, and that even third or fourth was within reach. Instead, my drives continued to be just a bit off-target, which at DeLa in the long layout usually means trouble. But being the optimist that I am, I have to say that simply by sticking to my gameplan I managed to grab the last cash spot in an NT event without being ‘On’ even once for the whole 84 holes. Consider these stats: Only four birdies, but no missed putts inside 30 feet, no double bogies or worse, and no mental errors where I decided to go for something with low odds. Basically, I was playing for par on everything, hoping to take the birdies when they presented themselves (which unfortunately was not often). I ended up with a +8 on the final day, dropped to 14th place, and didn’t feel much like writing about it until today. So let’s get to the good part!

This year’s Masters Cup was one of the best. We had a handful of aces when most years there aren’t any, including TWO in the lead group on the final day. Even though Nate Doss didn’t win again, he was right there until the end, and the winner, Greg Barsby, is another NorCal homeboy that’s been playing tourneys since he was a kid. Marty Hapner won the very tough Grandmasters division with a score that beat most of the Masters. The weather was as perfect as it was foul for the Am weekend, and the whole vibe just seemed in tune all three days. Plus, I get to play DeLa all year long. The Masters Cup is more like that thing I do once a year. But I’m sure I’d be writing something different if that third round was a -2 instead of a +8!