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Disc golf circuit swings through Kansas City

Updated: 2013-06-17T04:15:11Z

By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON

The Kansas City Star

Philo Brathwaite of Los Angeles shook his head when he looked at the score card for the round of golf he had just completed.

“Yep, that stupid little putt cost me my goal,” he said.

Brathwaite, who was playing golf with a disc rather than a ball, was one of more than 300 competitors from around the world who gathered in Kansas City over the weekend for the Grip Equipment Kansas City Wide Open.

This was the 31st year for the tournament, which is one of the top six events in the Professional Disc Golf Association’s tournaments. Professionals competed for a share of a $27,000 cash purse. Amateurs played for more than $25,000 in prizes.

During competition Sunday, the environment at Swope Park was just like any ball golf tournament. People spoke in hushed voices, and fans followed players from hole to hole.

It’s a physically demanding sport requiring a lot of athleticism, said tournament director Jack Lowe. By the end of the tournament, most players would have thrown a disc more than 6 miles.

Kansas City Wide Open organizers spread play across disc golf courses at the Water Works, Swope and Blue Valley parks in Kansas City and Rosedale Park in Kansas City, Kan. Storms delayed or stopped play at three of the four courses Saturday.

Play was supposed to start again Sunday at Rosedale Park, where a power line was knocked down. But the rounds were canceled after a man was electrocuted there while playing disc golf about 3:20 a.m. Sunday. He was not part of the tournament.

This is the eighth professional season for the 33-year-old Brathwaite. He’s a three-time SoCal Tour Series Champion and recently came in second in the “Steady” Ed Memorial Masters Cup.

“I’ve just been grinding for a while,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Just get out there and grind through these tournaments and try to do your best to compete with these top guys.”

Brathwaite is a marketer with a schedule flexible enough to let him tour a couple of weeks at a time.

People are surprised when he tells them that he’s a professional disc golfer. He said even amateurs sometimes don’t realize there is a professional tour.

“It’s not easy being on the road most of the year,” he said.

Valarie Jenkins, 27, and Nate Doss, 28, are very aware there is a professional tour. They make their living playing disc golf.

“To compete at a high level, you really have to play every week,” Jenkins said. “You want to travel to the best tournaments, so it’s hard to have a job on the side.”

Doss said no one is getting rich on tour, but tournaments are getting bigger and better. Despite the hard work, it’s an adventure.

“You know where you got to be for the next tournament, but you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to be around the next corner.”

Disc golf is a very tight community, Jenkins said.

For both competitors, Kansas City holds special meaning. Jenkins won her third world championship in 2009 here. Doss first played in Kansas City in 1999 and won the Junior World Championships in Swope Park.

“Things just get better every time we come back,” he said.

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