The Virtual Tournament Director

Could a hybrid approach to event management in disc golf work?

2021 WEDG Open. Photo provided by Scott White.

The WEDG Open, a two day disc golf tournament that I have been helping to plan for the past year, was happening this weekend, and I, the TD, was not going to be there.  

On Wednesday, three days before the tournament, I found out that my kids all had contracted COVID from school. Their school was shutting down and going remote as the outbreak affected almost every class in the school. I have three kids, the oldest being 7, and all attend the same school. This news came as a shock, as this was the first time we had been so directly affected by this pandemic. My wife and I were feeling fine, but we also are in very close contact with our kids. Things were going to change significantly for us over the next two weeks at least.  

Then, I remembered that I was running a tournament this weekend. I had to assume that my direct contact with my kids takes me out of the running to be onsite. I immediately began to wonder if this event can still even happen. I got tested, but in the meantime, I started to plan as though I wouldn’t be there.  

I keep seeing that tournaments in Canada are filling up fast, although our area is a little different. We only have one 18-hole public course which was established in 2016. Overall, the scene is still new here and in past years we have relied on out-of-towners to fill our annual event. I was excited to see how the recent disc golf explosion of 2020 would impact us.  

This event is the Windsor Essex Disc Golf (WEDG) Open because we want it strongly connected to the club. One way to add value to being a club member is we took pre-orders for discs and tournament registrations. E-transfer registrations were manually entered into Discgolfscene, by me, and when we turned on the public registration we already had about 25 WEDG members signed up. After a few days we had wait lists going in the more popular divisions, eventually filling both days of the tournament.  

From Wednesday to Friday I was scrambling to get all of the players packs together, the discs reserved, bagged with names and set aside, the CTP prizes organized, and CTP markers organized. I had already marked the course earlier in the week. Thankfully, most of these items could be done in isolation. On Friday, I found out that I tested negative for COVID however it was also Friday when I began feeling COVID-like symptoms. I started to get congested on Thursday night. On Friday, I felt like I didn’t want to do anything. My body was sore and aching. I went out for another test and when I started feeling symptoms, my body decided for me that I would be staying home from the tournament.  It was the right call as I found out later that the test on Friday was positive.  

Thankfully, in the meantime local club members were stepping up to fill in the gaps and help. I had dedicated people for both days who would be onsite and not play in the event. I also had volunteers lined up through our charity partner. I went into Friday night just hoping to get a good night’s rest as the symptoms had disrupted my sleep the night before. 

2021 WEDG Open. Photo provided by Scott White.

In 2020, the PDGA reported that 7% of members are women. This is a number that makes me uncomfortable. Recently I have made it a personal goal to see this number become more balanced to reflect society at large. I have made a conscious effort to make my events inviting for women, with the longer-term event goal of an even mix of men and women.  

This year when the numbers were finalized, we ended up at 17% women when you count both days. While we didn’t hit our goal, it is still more than double the percentage of PDGA members. I’m treating this as a win, and we hope to do better next year. One useful way in which we helped to enable more women to play is that we reserved space in those divisions long after other mixed divisions had waiting lists. To create this space, I decided to make it a two day event. This comes with a trade-off of increasing complexity, labor hours, and up-front event costs.

Tournament Day 1 

Saturday morning has arrived, and oddly my day begins like most others. While some players are driving west on the 401 from Toronto, I wake up early before the kids to brew my pour-over coffee and empty the dishwasher. It’s tournament day and I won’t be there. I have a good crew lined up to succeed and things are well organized, at least I think they are.  What will today bring?  

I find myself toggling between PDGA Tournament Manager, checking COVID test results, and then turning around to flip a pancake on the griddle.  My primary means of communications to the onsite team is through a Discord private chat so my phone is also heavily involved. Players are checked in and round 1 groups are set.  Now it’s tee-off time. I see the 2-minute warning happening on Instagram live.  I’m hitting refresh on PDGA Live to see those first scores show up. This is happening. 

Some registered players didn’t show up and failed to inform me about it. I’m at home running PDGA Live, while others are onsite managing the check-in process. There was a slight disconnect on who did and didn’t show up, and it wasn’t realized until the cards started to enter in scores, and I saw a few players getting a 7 on every hole. If this happens again there needs to be a tighter feedback loop on the check-in and grouping process. Also a PSA: If you have to cancel at the last minute, let your TD know! 

Tournament Day 2 

Day two, Sunday morning arrives and I’m still suffering from COVID symptoms. Congestion, soreness, and just an overall sense of malaise. It’s pouring rain outside a few hours from first round tee-off. Power is out at the house and my phone’s battery is at 15%. Time to make coffee. Dubious start to the day, but on the other hand it is only amateurs today and I don’t have to worry about calculating payouts as it is a trophy-only amateur event. Most of the work is on the tournament staff this morning. I have one hectic exchange during the lunch break where I find out I tested positive on Friday via a call from the health unit. While I’m on the phone, the tournament is calling me about something urgent, and, of course, my kids decide it’s the best time to have a full scale brawl over a contested toy.

2021 WEDG Open. Photo provided by Scott White.

This whole experience helped me to see a few things in a different light. I essentially was a remote TD, with a ground team executing things I had a big part in planning. Is this type of event management common in other sports? Would it enable more events to happen if it became commonplace? I’m not sure about that, but it is interesting. 

There are (at least) two different skill sets in being a TD. First is the planning and organization leading up to the event.  Second would be the execution and running of the event. First phase is a huge part of the success of the second phase. Could different people specialize in those different phases? Could this be a part of the answer to how our community creates more events to meet the demand of today?  

My family appreciated me not being at the tournament for back-to-back weekend days, and I was able to help with meals, clean-up, and bedtimes while in-parallel managing the event. Sure, it got a little hectic at times, but you could say the same thing about being the onsite TD. Due to family and work commitments, I limit my tournament directing to one event per year. But if I could do events remotely, I may be able to ultimately run more events.

This year, I got to be a part of the tournament experience through chat and pictures but felt very disconnected to what actually happened. One of my favorite elements of being a TD is to be there to greet players in the morning. You get to see familiar and new faces, full of anticipation for what will happen that day. Mornings before tournaments are magical times when the energy of possibility weaves a thread through everyone in attendance.    

2021 WEDG Open. Photo provided by Scott White.

I went into the week after the event with mixed feelings about how things went. I think the players had a good time. I think it was OK for me. It was over, which was a big relief. We sold a bunch of discs, another relief. The club Discord was ablaze with chat about the players and who finished where. That is exciting to see. Our local club did amazing work as well, showing the out-of-towners that we can play and compete in ALL divisions. Another great thing to see. Our relatively young community of disc golfers is making progress and getting better. 

So, mixed feelings overall, but then I saw a post from Andrea Michaud who played in the event. I saw it, and upon reading it I realized (or remembered) why I run events. She traveled a long distance to play in the WEDG Open, and reading the story about the drive, the practice rounds, and her experience in the event made it very clear to me why well-run tournaments are essential. Her post, titled “Coming in last on my best day” concludes: 

“It just became a day I never wanted to end. I threw terribly, I managed to be OB 3 times on one hole! I don’t think I could repeat my mistakes even if someone paid me to. I kept my bag light, minimal discs and dragged my cane along (using it as a mini sometimes) but I made a difference. I also had the time of my life and can’t wait to do it again.”

  1. Scott White
    Scott White

    Scott continues to be amazed by both the flight of a well thrown disc, and the interesting folks he’s met on the course.


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