The Minnesota Majestic was a thrill to watch

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Talk about an accessible sport.

I had the pleasure last weekend of spending three days watching some of the best disc golfers in the world compete. The Minnesota Majestic is in its 23rd year, takes place on courses in the Twin Cities suburbs and remains a big event on the disc golf calendar. It is yet again part of the Professional Disc Golf Association’s National Tour.

You probably never have heard of the Majestic. While the Minneapolis Star Tribune does stories on how disc golf is proving to be more popular for local parks than anyone expected — yay! — you won’t find coverage of the Majestic in the Strib sports pages. But nearly all disc golfers in the state of Minnesota and many across the Midwest know what weekend the Majestic takes place, and they will chat about those results and their favorite pro golfers in the days following. And I’m not talking about Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson. In disc golf lingo, they are ball golfers.

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I’m talking about Dave Feldberg and Nate Doss. Feldberg won the Minnesota Majestic this year for the pro men, and Valerie Jenkens won it for the pro women. Pro players were going to play 27 holes at Blue Ribbon Pines in East Bethel (an actual disc golf club on private land) on Friday and another 27 holes there on Saturday. Rain doesn’t stop disc golf, but lightning and the threat of tornadoes do. This year, the pros played part of 27 holes on Friday before the action was halted. They continued Saturday. Then, as scheduled, they wrapped up with 27 holes at Hyland SSA Disc Golf Course (aka Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area) in Bloomington. They ended up playing 54 holes, instead of 72, as a result of the stormy weather.

One thing NASCAR fans say they love about their sport is how accessible the drivers are to the fans. They participate in autograph sessions and fan-appreciation days. However, fans of NASCAR have to remain in the stands while the race is on. If they have a pit pass, then they watch even closer from the pit.

Fans of disc golf can go to big events such as the Minnesota Majestic and watch some of the world’s best golfers from a few feet away. Without ropes between fans and players. For free.

Fans can even take photos or videos as long as they aren’t disruptive during shots or standing in the wrong place. They treat fans like they are, you know, grown-ups.

And take photos I did. And I will share them with the event organizers.

I enjoyed watching the likes of Feldberg, Nate Doss, Nathan Sexton, “Tank” Franks and Minnesota’s own Cale Leiviska hurl plastic with great accuracy and consistency.

I could say, “That was a great shot, Cale,” and he would turn and say “Thanks.” I mean, the sport is so accessible, even at the top level, that I spoke with Leiviska briefly about poison ivy, another player’s name and the dog his friend brought.

No, I didn’t have hey-old-buddy conversations with the top players, but I did speak with various ones from time to time, sometimes not realizing who they were at first because of how casual it all is. Where else does that happen among a sport’s top players? In ball golf, people can get fairly close, but can they chit-chat about new equipment after the round? I went to the Shell Houston Open one year, and it was awesome. John Daly, for instance, looked in our general direction when he had a good tee and people clapped and whistled. As a journalist, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Nicklaus in 1999 and Arnold Palmer in 2005. No lie. Ask me about it sometime.

But that’s as a journalist. In disc golf, fans get just as close as anyone else. Fans often stand next to the players as they watch other players putt. They sometimes remark about the shot together. “That was sweet.” The best players are guys who make big shots, not guys who are big shots.

For the record, hometown boy Leiviska took second place. Doss and Devan Owens tied for third. Then it went Nikko Locastro, Sexton, “Big Jerm” Koling and Eric McCabe. For the women, Paige Pierce and Liz Lopez tied for second.

Next year, I’m not going to spectate. Next year, I’ll be 40, and I can compete in the Masters Division. A lot of the action is likely to happen at a new course north of Northfield.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every other Tuesday. His PDGA number is 41882. He runs the disc golf league in Albert Lea.