USDGC Signs Five-Year Contract with Winthrop

Photo: USDGC

The United States Disc Golf Championship, one of the sport’s most prestigious majors, is set to remain at the Winthrop Gold course for at least five more years after the tournament reached a new agreement with Winthrop University.

USDGC Event Director Jonathan Poole said that the tournament is excited to remain at its long-time home — and the feeling is mutual. “This past year, the university was more engaged with the tournament than ever, and they made it clear to us that they didn’t want us going anywhere,” he said. “So this agreement is a reflection of that.”

The tournament — which runs alongside the Throw Pink Women’s Disc Golf Championship — is coming off of the strongest attendance in its history, eclipsing 3,500 spectators on Saturday for the 2021 final round, about a 75% increase over its previous high in 2019.

Changes for 2022

This year, the USDGC will move its tournament from a Wednesday to Saturday format to a more traditional Thursday to Sunday one, a return to the USDGC schedule from the tournament’s early years. Professional disc golf tournaments almost all have their final rounds on Sunday now, after alternating between Saturdays and Sundays in the past.

That change could increase attendance, with more people able to attend on the weekend, and it also makes more room to expand the USDGC doubles field on the previous weekend.

Logistically, the tournament is also working to continue expanding its parking, as it has become the limiting factor for ticket sales. “We’re not near capacity in terms of what the lakefront area can handle, people on the course, but we are at capacity for parking,” said Poole.

On the competition front, the tournament is reducing the number of qualifying spots from select tournaments from five to four. TPWDGC will continue to offer two spots from qualifying tournaments. The reduction allows more tournaments to be included as qualifiers while maintaining the correct field size.

The following players have already qualified for the 2022 USDGC, either by winning the tournament in the past, finishing in the top 10 in 2021, or finishing among the top 4 non-qualified players at the Las Vegas Challenge:

  • Ken Climo (Former Champion)
  • Barry Schultz (Former Champion)
  • Dave Feldberg (Former Champion)
  • Steve Brinster (Former Champion)
  • Nate Doss (Former Champion)
  • Paul McBeth (Former Champion)
  • Jeremy Koling (Former Champion)
  • Will Schusterick (Former Champion)
  • Chris Dickerson (Former Champion)
  • Nikko Locastro (Former Champion)
  • James Conrad (Former Champion)
  • Nate Sexton (Former Champion)
  • Kyle Klein (’21 Top 10)
  • Ricky Wysocki (’21 Top 10)
  • Drew Gibson (’21 Top 10)
  • Joel Freeman (’21 Top 10)
  • Isaac Robinson (’21 Top 10)
  • Eagle McMahon (’21 Top 10)
  • Matt Orum (’21 Top 10)
  • Gannon Buhr (LVC)
  • Calvin Heimburg (LVC)
  • Luke Humphries (LVC)
  • Kevin Jones (LVC)

These players have qualified for the 2022 Throw Pink Women’s Disc Golf Championship so far:

  • Missy Gannon (Former Champion)
  • Catrina Allen (LVC)
  • Paige Pierce (LVC)

Here are the future qualifying tournaments for the events:

  • Texas State Disc Golf Championships — Tyler, TX — March 25-27, 2022
  • Throw Down the Mountain — Brooksville, FL — April 1-3, 2022
  • PDGA Champions Cup — Appling, GA — April 13-17, 2022
  • Jonesboro Open — Jonesboro, AR — April 22-24, 2022
  • 303 Open — Fort Collins, CO — May 6-8, 2022
  • The Challenge at Goat Hill Park — Oceanside, CA — May 6-8, 2022
  • OTB Open — Stockton, CA — May 20-22, 2022
  • Portland Open — Portland, OR — June 3-5, 2022
  • The Preserve Championship — Clearwater, MN — June 24-26, 2022
  • Baltic Disc Golf Championship — Alutaguse, Estonia — July 1-3, 2022
  • Idlewild Open — Burlington, KY — July 8-10, 2022
  • PCS Sula Open — Langevag, Norway — July 13-16, 2022
  • European Open — Nokia, Finland — July 21-24, 2022
  • Foxwood Open — Baden, Ontario — July 22-24, 2022
  • BC Open — Langley, British Columbia — July 22-24, 2022
  • Discraft’s Ledgestone Insurance Open — Peoria, IL — August 11-14, 2022
  • Des Moines Challenge — Des Moines, IA — August 19-21, 2022
  • PDGA Pro World Championships — Emporia, KS — August 30 – September 3, 2022
  • Butler County Disc Golf Classic — Pittsburgh, PA — September 9-11, 2022
  • Green Mountain Championship — Smugglers Notch, VT — September 16-18, 2022

Additionally, the following tournament champions will get invites to the respective tournaments:

  • 2022 United States Masters Champion (MP40)
  • 2022 Masters World Champion (MP40)
  • 2022 United States Amateur Champion (MA1)
  • 2022 Amateur World Champion (MA1)
  • 2022 Deaf National Champion (MPO)
  • 2022 College Disc Golf National Champion (Men’s Singles)
  • 2022 United States Women’s Champion (FPO)
  • 2022 United States Masters Champion (FP40)
  • 2022 Masters World Champion (FP40)
  • 2022 Deaf Disc Golf Champion (FPO)

An Evolving Media Plan for 2022

USDGC has long looked to push the boundaries on the media presentation of the tournament. It was one of the earliest tournaments to feature consistent livestreaming and in more recent years has implemented a paywall, often to the chagrin of fans.

In 2022, the Disc Golf Network will again broadcast the event, but live round coverage will be available to all DGN subscribers without an additional PPV fee like in 2021. “Now, even though there will be a pay-per-view model in place, if you’re an existing DGN subscriber, you’re going to get all four live days of the event included,” said Poole.

An additional PPV payment will be required to watch post-produced condensed coverage, pulled from the same cameras used for the live feed. JomezPro and other YouTube post-production companies will not be involved.

“For our majors, I’m struggling to see a need for [post-produced coverage] in that capacity,” said Poole. “If you’re making the livestreams available for replay behind a paywall in their entirety, I think that’s fine. If you have a broadcast or editing team that’s willing to go back and condense that footage, that makes sense.”

He said that moving to allowing existing DGN subscribers to get access to USDGC live coverage will both help DGN build its subscriber base and also increase the reach of the tournament. “I expect viewership to double,” he said.

Disc Golf’s Progression into a Pro Sport

For decades now, there have been disc golfers dedicated to the touring life, even as most were barely making ends meet. While there are still many touring disc golfers relying on making the cash every week, others have started to reap the benefits of the sport’s rapid growth, reaching six or seven figure annual income.

Tournaments, too, are starting to modernize. It wasn’t very long ago that only USDGC was charging admission fees; most tournaments were free to spectate. Now, DGPT stops are selling out.

“It’s almost like an evolution into true sport,” said Poole. “And we all need to get on the same page about how to handle that.”

One area that he pointed to as a key focus in the coming years is selecting the right location for the biggest disc golf tournaments. “Venue selection is going to be critical in the next 10 years. Where are we going and why? And do they have the infrastructure to support it? It’s not just about the course anymore.”

With the advent of the DGPT Tour Card and the need for significant spectator viewing (and parking) areas, facilities for accommodating both pros and fans are becoming increasingly important. Even Winthrop could prove to be insufficient as a host venue in the future since it is a multi-use sports facility.

For now, USDGC will continue to set the standard for spectator experience at its long-time Winthrop home.

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