This weekend, Kansas City is the center of the disc golf universe.
Play continued Saturday at five area parks during the 30th annual Kansas City Wide Open, organized by the Kansas City Flying Disc Club.
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Competitors played at Rosedale, Swope, Water Works, Blue Valley and Wilbur Young parks. More rounds are scheduled today, with a final “nine” among the tournament’s top men and women competitors scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. in Swope Park.
The tournament has attracted about 340 players, among them about 130 professionals competing for a minimum of $30,000 in prize money. That’s one way to measure the sport’s growth in Kansas City. The first “wide open,” held in Shawnee Mission Park in 1983, offered a purse of $1,275.
Others insist that emphasizing prize money is no way to think about the sport.
“We’re tapping into Mother Nature here,” said “Crazy John” Brooks, a disc golf legend who grew up in Kansas City and added commentary to the live streaming online coverage of Saturday’s play. “Look at where we get to work.”
“This sport is one of the most beautiful things you ever will see. No wonder kids spend their money to come from all across the country to compete here.”
For the dwindling number of those uninitiated, disc golf competitors walk an 18-“hole” course, the holes being metal baskets lined with linked chains to snare a properly thrown disc. Those who complete the course with the fewest throws prevail.
There are other similarities with the other golf, among them touring pros.
On Saturday, galleries of spectators grew quiet as the pros prepared to throw, often applauding following a long throw or pressure “putt.”
Competitors walked the course carrying bags — backpacks — containing a selection of discs such as drivers, midrange discs and putters with thicker rims, all of which corresponded with the woods, irons and putters used in the other game. And using the hushed tones of golf commentators, Brooks and other announcers described the action on streaming video available at discgolfplanet.tv.
On Saturday, a crowd at Water Works Park continually gathered around the “board,” which listed about 70 players and their scores after several rounds.
“It’s a tradition to stare at the board,” said Ben Hansen of Overland Park, who Saturday served as tournament marshal for the national tour players.
This weekend represents the third stop on the national tour for the top touring professionals.
“I’ve seen people play and earn $30,000,” Hansen added. “Not a bad summer job, throwing discs in a park.”
But the comparative lack of money needed to play is one main reason the sport locally has grown “exponentially,” Hansen added.
“No tee times, no greens fees. Spend about $8 on a disc, and you can play disc golf.”
Several competitors in Friday and Saturday action had been coming to Kansas City tournaments long enough to notice small changes in the Water Works course.
“The trees didn’t used to be so grown out here,” said Valarie Jenkins of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Described by tournament organizers as one of the top women disc golf players, Jenkins remembered that her first Kansas City area tournament was in 2003.
“They know how to run a disc golf tournament here,” she added.
Closing ceremonies are scheduled at 3:15 p.m. today at Swope Park, followed by a free concert at 4:20 p.m.