Nikko and his friends take the traveling Frisbee show to Des Moines

The Youth movement in Disc golf was in full effect this past weekend in Des Moines Iowa.
The top 4 finishers in the mens open division were all 22 years young or younger, expect lots more from them and other young guns as each week goes by.
Leading the way once again was Nikko Locastro with a 4 throw win over Arizonian native Paul Ulibarri (22) and taking home the 1st place trophy and the check for $1,220.00. Rounding out the top 4 were 3rd place and former Gateway sponsored pro Garret Gurthie from Gainesville Florida (21) and southern California’s Paul Macbeth (20).

After 2 completed rounds Nikko, Paul U and Paul M were all tied at -21 under.
Nikko shot 55 at Ewing park in a steady spring rain which was 4 back from Cale Leiviska (the elder statesman at 26 years old) who carded a 51.
The weather cleared up nicely with lots of sun and a light breeze for the 2nd round at the very challenging layout in Pickard park. Nikko’s 49 was the hot round there and put him in the 3 way tie for the lead.

On Sunday the kids and the event moved to Big creek a tight technical course carved out of the Trees, tall grass and poison ivy.
If its one thing I remember about this course is ” STAY IN THE FAIRWAY” and you will produce much better results.
Nikko missed a birdie on hole one as the 2 Paul’s made deuces on the easy par 3.
Hole 2 gave up a star birdie frame and then the action heated up on hole 3 as Nikko’s clean release followed by his yell of “go in the basket” on this blind left to right over a little hump pin location,,,,,KABANG a loud sound of plastic meeting chain and the conformation form the group on the next tee with the filed goal sign of its IN!!!! Nikko’s 4th career tourney ace launched him into the lead and $120.00 cash for the ace. The excitement turned Nikko cold for the next few holes but he heated up again on the back 9 birding 6 of the last 9 holes.
After round 3 it was now Nikko and Paul M tied with Paul U 3 back, rounding out the top card was Garret G 5 back.
Nikko and Paul M agreed to split the 1st and second place money if it came down to them in the top 2 spots.
I’m not sure if this had any effect on the outcome but Nikko bested Paul M by 7 strokes by playing Barry Schultz style smart and consistent golf at at Beautiful Walnut Ridge course. Nikko’s solid putting and short game with the Wizards proved to be enough as he stayed in the fairway and out of trouble carding a bogey free round for 17 holes and a tie for low score with GG at 51. Unfortunately Paul M tried to do a little too much on this technical course finding himself slightly off the fairway and off his game, which cost him a little touch on his putting from the extra efforts. Paul U moved into second early on the front nine making lots of birdies but came up short in his bid for the win holding on to 2nd and a $815 pay day!

Nikko says the courses In Des Moines are AWESOME and he loves playing there!!!!! The courses let you throw the discs and have fun.
Theres a great mix of shots to throw including several mis-direction holes and trajectories of release.
Good shots are well rewarded with birdie chances and poor shots find the Shule (rough) and subsequent bogie’s.
Ive played all these courses and agree on how good they are for top players when set up in the long placements from the long tees.
The one thing I’m not sure on is what the pars are for the courses, which is something a good course designer will make sure of.
If I’m not mistaken theres quite a few holes that will go from a par 3 to a par 4 depending on which pin location or tee is used.
This is something I try my best to keep from doing, as it makes it very difficult to par the hole and course correctly on the signs and scorecards. Its also not quite clear on who actually designed these gems,,, if anyone knows,,,,please give him the accolades here.

I heard Nikko say the courses were pretty hard but at -41 and an average of -10.25 under per round, it doesn’t sound like the type of “HARD” courses of,,,,lets say,,,, a major is set up for in Ball golf, where a total score for 4 rounds of -4 to -8 will win the US open.
Unfortunately if the course are made so difficult that the mens winner will only average 2 or 3 under per round, this means the 950 rated guy will wind up +20 over. Disc golfers, Frisbee golfers and frolfers like to go neg ( shoot under par) every time they play,, even lower level ams think they should be able to shoot under. It is of my opinion that PAR in golf is supposed to be good,, in ball golf its really good, but somehow in disc golf, par is bad,, if a pro cant birdie a certain hole,, the hole sucks. The way disc golf is set up and courses are parred a pretty good athlete who picks up disc golf can start shooting under par within a few months.

I started playing BALL Golf about 11 months ago and I cant get enough. Since my job has me involved with disc golf and disc golfers 60 hours a week, playing disc golf purely for downtime is quite difficult and often not a break from work. I love playing disc golf, seeing new disc golf courses and meeting new people in this industry, but in order to get a break from work I found that the 2- 4 hours on a ball golf course helps provide the balance I need in life. If its one thing for sure about both disc and ball golf is they allow you to “be” and “live” in the immediate presence, something thats is helpful to living a successfulness well rounded life. My time on the golf course has me there,,,, thinking about shaping the tee shots, choosing the right club to hit the green, reading the greens and focusing on my shots. I’m truly “THERE” when i’m out there and very seldom does my mind drift off to work or any other of life’s demands or obligations. I used disc golf for this escape for over 30 years but now,, for me,,, its ball golf. If I go to the park to play disc golf, I’ll see a guy or girl and soon after a conversation about Gateway discs will unfold, or something about Nikko, a new course or “THEIR GAME” and all of a sudden I’m back at work. I still play disc golf, but its hard for me to do for relaxation anymore. Luckily I can find the time for ball golf. Being an athlete, I’ve been able to learn the game rather quickly and I’m getting better every time I play. This of course would not be possible without ongoing lessons from the Berry Bros ( mad dog and bummer), practicing on the range and playing as often as I can. Also,,,,having the right equipment that fits your game, that you have confidence in is a big plus. I recently filled a few gaps in the line-up and it helped immensely. I went to a golf outfitter and had my game evaluated and was given several choices of gap wedges and hybrids. After hitting clubs in each category from 4 or 5 different companies I made my selection and feel it really helped with the confidence in using these clubs right off the bat. Luckily I didn’t have to choose a callaway wedge or a Nike hybrid as both of these companies clubs in this category looked and felt uncomfortable and I didnt hit any of them very well.
I guess the question is ” if I were sponsored ball golfer how would I feel about having to use a specific club that when I knew there was something that fit my game better’ that I had more confidence in??????? ??????
would getting a free club that I didnt like make me feel like i could play my best????????????
Do pro disc golfers really get paid enough by their sponsors to play at a disadvantage against players who can use whatever discs they want?

My golf bag line-up looks like this.
Putter= Odyssey white hot (answer style)

Wedges = 56 Degree Callaway tour X-22 Sand wedge (medium bounce)
52 degree G16 Cleveland gap wedge (Low bounce)

Irons PW- 4 = Callaway tour X 20. (stiff shaft)
#3 hybrid =18 degree Taylor made rescue (tuned to open and 19 degree)
3 metal = 15 degree Callaway Big Bertha (stiff shaft)
Driver = 9 degree Taylor made R-11 turned down to 8.5 with a neutral face and draw weighting. (GREAT TECHNOLOGICAL Advancement).
Driver = Titleist 910 10.5 degree extra stiff shaft
= 14 clubs.

I have 3 pairs of shoes, Footjoy, Adidas and nike.
I use either a Nike, foot joy or Titleist golf golve and for the most part try and use Titleist pro-v 1, Taylor made penta, or Callaway Tour i balls, but only when I find them. I’m not good enough to buy $4 golf balls yet, but theres plenty of golfers who do,,,, that lose them in the rough and woods. When I hit a poor shot in the woods or rough, I always come out with a pocket full of really nice balls. Its seems those that buy really good balls, hit shots in the woods,, there loss my gain.
If I start playing better I wont be in the woods to find them and will eventually have to buy good balls myself, by then maybe I wont be hitting so many poor shots and it wont cost me $16 a round just in balls :) !

This weekend I played a really tough course from 6,700 yards ( 2nd longest tees of the 5 sets they had) called Stone wolf and shot an 83, which is +11 over. I am very proud of this round ( my best ever) and hopefully it helps build my confidence to shoot scores like this more often.

There are big differences in scoring between the 2 sports but I’d really like to see disc golf inch closer to ball golf in terms of course standardization, specifically the proper marking of par for holes and courses having it correlated on tee signs and scorecards.
Golf is hard and its meant to be hard,, I’m not sure if disc golf was meant to be just like this, but for me, i’d like to see us parallel ball golf in as many ways as possible. More courses with par 4′s and 5′s and played just like ball golf and marked this way.
NO we shouldn’t have to wear collared shirts and long pants when playing disc golf events. I wear the same clothes when I play ball golf that I would wear if I were playing in a disc golf event. This sport attire is not quite good enough to play at my head greens keeper buddy, Matt Seifferts country club, where I need to ” dress up” a little nicer. ( because we are his guests). I often go after work in a tee shirt and work shorts to my home course Normandie ( well known as a blue collar course) where dress code is really a non issue. Like any place of public business you patronize, theres some form of ” whats acceptable dress” and what your comfortable in. If you are playing in a disc golf event, you should dress accordingly, if you are playing recreational in a public park, as long as you have pants on it should be fine, If you’re playing a $5 a day course, you should at least have your shoes and shirt on too .

I’m sure most disc golfers could give a shit about the clubs in my “BALL” golf bag, but the point to the list is I feel I have the best equipment i can get and its a mixed bag of gear from 8 or so different manufactures, more if you count shoes and clothes.

If you look at a “whats in the bag” of the top professional ball golfers, theres hardly a one single player that uses clubs entirely from just “ONE” company and the reason is simple. If you want to play your best and be the best you can be, you need to have the best equipment regardless of who make its, especially if thats what your competitors are doing.
In disc golf today that would be Innova drivers, Discraft Mid-range( Buzz mainly) and Gateway putters and overstable discs like the demon, blaze and Spirit for windy conditions,,, which is exactly whats in Nikko’s bag and Ironically enough, he’s won the most money over the last 30 months (close to $130,000.00), player of the year & National tour points winner for the last 2 years and is the current number #1 ranked player in the world.
Is it possible being able to choose any discs he wants is giving Nikko a slight competitive advantage?

In the sport of both disc and ball golf its well known that it is a game of inches and that every single throw can decide the outcome and quite often the difference between 1st place and 2nd place (which by some is considered the 1st loser).
Given the choice, I’m certain most top pro disc golfers bags would look identical to Nikkos, after all its seems to be working quite well for him and from where I sit its giving him an advantage over his competition. Its true Nikko has an immense amount of raw talent, an unprecedented amount of tutelage for the last 10 years and access to all of the best equipment and training on some of the most difficult courses in the world. But,,, like almost every single pro ball golfer, HE “chooses” and is allowed to use the best of the best equipment available to him. This cannot be said for his competition this past week besides fellow Gateway Team Member ( and 2011 Memorial Master champion) George Smith who also uses a mixed bag, as all others are forced ( through sponsorship deals) to use discs from only one company or the other (I and D). Other than Gateway Sponsored pros ( which now includes Bradley Williams and Coda Hatfield) and a very small handfull of non sponsored players ( like Steve Rico), most top players do not have the option or choice today, to use a mixed bag and the best of the best equipment available out there. While these Gateway sponsored players are in uncharted territories and changing the shape of the game, I’m certain more will follow and soon Gateway will have more top players on our team and hopefully the resellers of discs will up the ante, provide sponsorship support and allow the players to use any of the discs they sell.

When we ( Gateway Disc Sports) started making discs 12 years ago we were only the 3rd company to come along who’s discs were being used to win disc golf events, lighting-Whammo-DGA and a few others were making discs, but no one was using them to WIN!!!.
At one point about 5 years ago we had 5 players using all Gateway discs that were ranked in the top 25 in the world.
( John E McCry, Shawn Sinclair, Justin Bunnell, George Smith and Garrett Gurthie),

Unfortunately this form of exclusive sponsorship, while it may have been helpful for JOhn E or Justin to give them a fire inside, it proved to only create someone to root against as opposed to for and didn’t really make players want to switch to ALL Gateway. This did open the eyes of a lot of player though as you couldn’t deny the discs were able to be used to play at the highest level of competition. In hindsight it wasn’t a good idea to “MAKE” someone throw exclusively Gateway regardless if it was successful for the handful of guys that were doing so. I wish I would have developed the mixed bag sponsorship program more successfully and much sooner as we have had many of todays top players throwing our discs in the past move on,,, including Paige Pierce, Will Shusterick, Devan Owens, Greg Barsby, Garret Gurthie, Matt hall and a few winners of the pdga advanced amateur championships over the years. Today many players are using Gateway discs to win disc golf events and leagues, but unless Gateway sponsors them at the next level, they will be forced to stop using Gateway discs in order to get a sponsorship from I or D. I’ve seen several players games go south after not being able to continue to use our putters.
There really needs to be more sponsorship options for these players so they can use the discs they want to.

Today there are more than 20 companies making discs for discs golf, unfortunately because of the exclusive nature of sponsorships, it is quite difficult for these new companies to get top players to use there products in competition, heck some top players wont event touch another companies disc, yet alone test fly one. I can appreciate the loyalty, but Its not like these players are getting paid so much they cant even touch the discs,,come on!!
So even after 25 years as a sport, theres still basically only 3 companies who’s discs are used to win disc golf events at the highest level in the US. In order for this sport to grow this has to change, the top players themselves need to find sponsorships that will allow them the opportunity to be able to use the best of the best equipment so that that are on a level playing field with Nikko and others who are able to use whatever discs will help their game the most. Of course the discs have to be great, they have to work for them and be better then something I or D makes or fit the players game better.

If todays $40 million dollar disc golf product wholesale industry was made up of 8 companies all doing about $5 million each, I think we would be seeing a completely different set of rules when it comes to sponsorships and more money for each top player that chooses to represent someone other than Innova or Discraft.
This change will lie solely on the top pro’s (or their representatives/agents) and their ability to build relationships with companies other than I or D and gain financial support for their disc golf touring outside of just these 2 companies who are restricting the discs that can be used and slowing down the growth of the smaller companies and the sport. Speeding up the growth of the smaller companies will surely help this sport and as a bi-product, raise the value of what a pro player is worth.
The 20 new companies ( and many more down the road) will be instrumental in creating the competition needed that will eventually raise the value of the pro player.
Until that days comes, top Pros will continue to find it difficult to negotiate more lucrative deals that would allow them to travel and tour full time, competing week in and week out, not too mention the ability to be able to choose the best equipment out there that will help them compete against other players who are taking advantage of this fact.
In any negotiation you have to have the ability to say no and legitimate choices that are just as good for you if in fact you say no.
Are players willing to leave I or D in hopes of a better deal and help pave the way for their and the sports future?

So Ive taken my mixed bag of ball golf equipment and I’m trying to be the best I can be,,, its not like I’m going ever be a pro, but I may be able to play in amateur events one day. If I stick with choosing the best of the best equipment,, its going to give me a lot of confidence in the equipment.
I’m fairly certain I will never be sponsored by any manufacturing company, but hypothetically if I did ( and they wanted me to switch to all thier brand) after 5 years of using this equipment,,, how hard will it be to give up the clubs I’m so used to?
I have heard its the archer and not the arrow for years, but I’m fairly certain its the combination of both. I’ve seen Nikko try and put a new destroyer in his bag.. he gets a stack of about 5 and winds up with 1 or 2,, and the others are cast off like mis-fits into a box to be sold. Same goes for Buzzes,,, he just cant get one off a shelf and its in his bag,,, it has to be the right one, the right flex feel and most of all flight. Same goes for all top players in Disc golf and the thing about it is, theres something different each player wants and uses for his game. So it most certainly is not just the archer it is the arrow and arrows in disc golf are made by a lot of different companies. Theres 20 new companies now that have great discs and many more will come later. This sport will change a lot over the next 10 years and the sooner players are more receptive to using some of the new discs and supporting these companies the more rewarding it will be for those who are good enough to be sponsored.

Comments

  1. I could not agree more Dave. I throw pretty similar to way you said, Innova drivers (Firebird, Teebird, Destroyer, Leopard) Discraft/Innova mids (Rocs, Drone, Meteor) and always Gateway putters (Wizards). It makes zero sense to restrict the players ability to throw what suits their game best. I have one guess who’s idea limiting what a player can throw was…

    • It was actually discraft that started sponsorships back in like 1993-94,,,Ken Climo won like 4 or 5 world championships before he had a significant sponsorship deal in place.

  2. Great blog and great ideas! I agree that a mixed bag is the only way to go!

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