Guilford’s First Pro-Am Disc Golf Tournament Pays Out $1,500
04/21/2021 09:00 a.m. EST
Just over a year after it was originally scheduled and 18 months after its grand opening, the Guilford Disc Golf Course hosted its first sanctioned, official tournament, drawing almost 100 competitors both professional and amateur from around the region as Bittner Park looks to potentially become a regular destination for the rapidly growing sport.
The Bittner Park Open on April 10 paid out $1,500 in prize money to 15 professional players, some traveling from as far as New York and Rhode Island to compete.
Following the first event at Bittner that was officially rated and blessed by the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), tournament organizer and course designer Craig Smolin said he was tentatively optimistic that the course would see increased interest from more serious players as local enthusiasm has continued to grow.
“It was unbelievable. It’s both that players want to participate in the event, and it feels like validation…that people want to compete on [the course] and they think it’s fair and worthy of time to spend a day out there,” Smolin said.
Dan Tressler, who hails from Easton, took first place in the Open division and a $294 prize, shooting 13 under par and winning a playoff for his first professional victory—a feel-good story, according to Smolin, as Tressler has battled back from a significant muscle injury a year or so ago.
Disc golf rules are broadly analogous to traditional golf, but rather than using clubs and balls, participants spin a Frisbee-like disc through field or forest to reach a metal basket. The sport has experienced a particularly rapid growth period during the pandemic, with the PDGA claiming around 80,000 active members (including adding more than 25,000 in 2020, according to its website), with six-figure tournaments broadcast on ESPN.
Smolin, a 17-year veteran of the sport, worked with town officials on the specific design of Guilford’s course back in 2019, snaking through the woods out in Bittner. A PDGA event scheduled for March 2020 was called off in the early days of the pandemic, though health officials have since deemed the sport relatively safe even with the virus still in play.
The Bittner Park Open was a “C” tier event, which Smolin said is a designation based on prize pool and usually attracts local players, with no additional prize pool required outside of what is collected from entry fees. These events are usually played on easier courses, he added, with more difficult courses attracting more dedicated players.
To bump up to an “A” or “B” tier event, Guilford will almost certainly need to tweak the course layout, on which Smolin has been working with Parks & Recreation Director Rick Maynard since the course first opened.
Much of that work has already been completed, and town staff has worked steadily to clear longer fairways and new tee-off areas that could relatively easily transform the course into this more challenging set-up.
Any alterations will also be reversible, according to Maynard, so that locals used to the course, which is not particularly challenging when compared to many others in the region, can still play the way they are accustomed to.
Connecticut only has two “A” tier PDGA tournaments, one in Manchester and one in Bristol. The Manchester tournament is in its 17th year, according to the PDGA website, and paid out more than $10,000 in prize money in 2020.
“That kind of brings in a higher level of player,” Smolin.
Amateur players, who by rule can’t accept prize money and are often more casual, received special Bittner- or PDGA-branded merchandise including masks and bags, and gift cards for their participation, according to Smolin.
Maynard, who has championed and spearheaded all things disc-golf related in Guilford (the course bears his name) despite not having a background in the sport, said he was incredibly excited at the turnout and the reality of seeing real professional players descend on the town for the opportunity to compete.
“There were some really good pro players there,” Maynard said. “I saw some guys throwing up there that were just unbelievable.”
Maynard said he has every intention to continue holding recreational tournaments focused more on locals, joking that he was disappointed there wasn’t much Guilford representation in the PDGA event. A planned follow-up tournament that would have raised money to support the course had to be canceled due to rain, according to Smolin, though there were plans to reschedule.