Bring On the Pros: Disc Golf Worlds Come to Vermont

The best disc golf players in the world will duke it out at Smugglers’ Notch this September for more prize money than you might ever imagine.

If you know how to toss a disc (don’t call it a Frisbee), there’s more than $100,000 in prize money up for grabs in Jeffersonville on Sept. 2-9. 

For the first time, the Pro Disc Golf Association World Championship comes to the Green Mountains. “We’re expecting 288 pros, and watching these players is pretty cool,” says tournament director Jeff Spring, who has been leading the development of Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s two courses since 2012. The courses are now rated among the top 10 in the U.S. by DiscGolfScene.com. 

Among the pros signed up is Philo Braithwaite. In 2016 he threw a disc that went 850 feet, soared high and then cut left and out of site behind some trees. Without knowing it, Braithwaite had shot it straight into a basket he couldn’t even see, rattling the chains in what has become known as a legendary albatross (coming in three under par).

Unlike golf’s manicured fairways, disc golf is played in more natural environments, like Smuggs’ wooded Brewster Run course or the more open Fox Meadows. There’s the challenge of zinging a disc under branches and around trees. Smaller than a regular Frisbee, the discs come in as many variations as golf clubs.

In the last few years, the sport has taken off. “There are now more than 8,000 courses in the United States,” says Spring, who first learned to play in Waterbury, Vt. Meanwhile, the number of regulation golf courses has dropped to about 15,000, according to Golf Magazine. “Disc golf is so much easier and cheaper to get into. It’s more laid back and it’s inclusive, not exclusive,” says current top-ranked player Ricky Wysocki of South Carolina. Wysocki learned to play as a kid on a public course.  Now a full-time pro, Wysocki plays more than 20 tournaments a year around the globe. He has 101 PDGA event wins and career earnings of $334,957.

    For many of the pros, it’s not the first time they’ll play the Smuggs courses, which, says Wysocki “get better and better each year.” 

Richard Wysocki, one of the top two players in the World, will be returning to Smuggs

In 2013 Spring invited a number of pros to play the course. “I told all my friends how amazing it is and since then, we all look forward to coming back to do the Green Mountain Championship each year,” said Wysocki, on a phone call from Sweden where he was playing in a tournament in late July.

Among the pros who played that first year was Nate Doss (then the World Champ). Doss set the Brewster course record, coming in 12 under par.  Later, Doss and Michael Johansen both broke that to tie a new record of 13 under par.

  “This year, we’ve created two new holes on each course that just opened in mid-July,” says Spring, who says that as the pros get better and the discs more high-tech, the courses are getting harder. “We’re now seeing more par 4 and 5 holes.”

About 10 Vermonters will be playing in the event, which is limited to ranked and invited pros. White River Junction’s Stephen Heaps is currently the top ranked Vermonter with Burlington’s Chris Young, a former chair of the Green Mountain Disc Golf Association, right behind him. Only 44 women have signed up to date, including Vermont pro Alex Benson of Williston, and they will all have formidable competition from top ranked Paige Pierce. 

The event, which happens during Smuggs’ FallFest, will draw spectators. Spring recommends watching at around 1 to 2 pm Saturday and Sunday afternoons. That’s when Wysocki and Paul McBeth, who keep trading off the top two spots, are likely to go head to head. The hole to watch in the pro rounds on Sunday, says Spring, is #7. “It’s a 1,200-foot par 5 with a stream crossing.”

For more on Vermont’s disc golf scene, see Vermont’s Disc Golf Revolution 

 

Corrections: an earlier version of this story stated Philo Braithwaite had thrown 850 yards, instead of feet and also misspelled Nate Doss’s name. Our apologies.