For anyone who still thinks disc golf is just a pastime for stoned college kids, the $10,000 scholarship up for grabs in this weekend’s men’s and women’s divisions Match Play Championship in Bailey should shatter that illusion. In recent years, the sport has exploded, both recreationally and professionally, with the best signing multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts with corporate sponsors.

Beginning Thursday, June 16, Coloradans will have an unprecedented opportunity to watch 32 of the world’s best disc golfers rattle off the channels in our backyard, specifically at the BOERA (Bailey Outdoor Education and Recreation Area) disc golf course, less than an hour southwest of Denver on US 285. Normally 21 holes, the mountainous course was modified to create a special 12-hole layout designed to challenge the pros as they tackle the terrain and how the discs fly through the thinner air at 8,310 feet.

Part of 2022 Disc Golf Professional Tour (DGPT), the invitation-only event is smaller than most tournaments in the season, which can see around 150 players. “It’s a very elite area, kind of small and intimate, which is kind of cool,” says Bailey resident Dan McKercher, who works as operations and partnerships manager at DGPT and is also vice president of the Foothill Flyers Golf Club. We asked McKercher to help us put together this spectator guide (the match will also be broadcast live on the Disc golf network) at Colorado’s first DGPT competition.

The format

Unlike a normal round – in which the players’ throws to reach each basket are added together and the lowest score wins, in the manner of traditional golf – match play pits two players against each other on each hole. For this tournament, if you win the hole, you get three points; a tie is worth one point. The disc golfers were ranked and divided into groups of four players each (four cards for men, four cards for women). On Friday and Saturday, each group will play the course three times so that all players in the group compete against each other. The player with the highest point total in each group will advance to Sunday morning’s semi-finals, which are single-elimination match play rounds. The two men and two women who emerge will face each other in a match play final on Sunday afternoon.

So, yes, it’s complicated, but the bottom line is that having players compete for holes instead of overall shots can make things more exciting. “In most cases, when someone throws a really good shot, right off the basket, the other people on the board are still doing their own thing,” McKercher says — in other words, playing conservatively for protect their overall pitch count. Conversely, with match play, “you have these high-level players who are looking for shots that in any other situation they would never go,” says McKercher. “Some people may even go for the hole-in-one more than they normally would.”

Photo by David Poniatowski

The players

If you want to root for the home team, watch Loveland’s Joel Freeman (coming off a 400ft pop the ace at last 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 push harder to reach more distance here, a phenomenon that seems to have caused many throwers to exit powerful of Colorado. On the women’s side, Missy Gannon may have an arm on the competition; she is now based in New York but spent time living and playing in the Longmont area when she started in the sport. Other big names include German star Simon Lizotte (who, along with Ella Hansen, is sponsored by Discmaniawhose US headquarters are in Wellington, near Fort Collins) and James Conrad, who won the 2021 PDGA World Professional Championship after forcing a playoff with this epic shot from 252 feet.

The schedule

On Thursday ($20 for a one-day spectator pass), players will practice and four athletes will be invited to play an OTB Skins match, which will be filmed by GK Pro, a disc golf post-production company; Basically, it’s a chance for athletes to earn extra money (each hole earns a certain amount) and gain publicity. Discmania, the presenting sponsor of the tournament, will also release a limited edition disc. Pool matches are played on Friday and Saturday ($40 per day for viewers), and the semi-finals and finals will be played on Sunday ($40). For $100, disc golf enthusiasts – or just those curious about disc golf – can get a weekend pass; children 10 and under are free with an adult.

look DGPT Twitter account for the release of the full schedule, including which players are leaving when. McKercher says viewers typically choose a map to watch and follow this group from hole to hole, but the setup at Bailey will have a vendor village (complete with record makers, local stores and merchandising booths) in one area at from which the first and 12th holes are visible. Both start with big downhill shots, which makes this a good place 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 can bring your own lunch. Note: The course and parking lot is on school property (it is owned by the Platte Canyon School District, and the usual $5 fee to play supports local outdoor recreation programs and student-athletes), therefore there is a strict no drugs, tobacco or alcohol policy.

As it’s still disc golf, spectators are invited to toast their favorite players, some of whom will be on hand to sell their tour records and sign autographs, with a craft beer at Conifer’s Snowpack cafeteria and pizzeria Saturday evening.