Discussion with Golf champ

It seems purely by chance that the only purpose-built course for one of the UK’s up-and-coming sports is in Leamington Spa. The sport in question is Disc Golf, where players throw a flying disc around a course of eighteen ‘holes’ (or baskets) with as few throws as possible, much like golf.

It has grown vastly in popularity in the United States, where the 2011 Professional Disc Golf Association (PGDA) World Championships were recently held in California. The 432 competitors split a prize money purse of $105,000, a record sum that is reflective of an increase in sponsors’ contribution and correlated to the sport’s popularity.

Efforts have already been made to improve the profile of the sport, and Robins recognises that these have led to increased participation: “One way awareness is being raised is through hugely popular golf video games such as Tiger Woods and PGA Golf, which include disc golf mini-games.”

Spreading awareness of this emerging sport is the main challenge faced by Robins and fellow enthusiasts. “It’s one of those chicken-and-egg things. We need more players, but for that to happen we need more courses (and vice versa),” says Robins. “If you don’t have courses then the player would have to be really interested to then take the sport up, so I’m hoping with my course, it might help the sport a lot, because the more people that play means the sport spreads.”

Robins is keen to emphasise the need for more courses to be set up around the country. He admits that his own course, called Quarry Park (on the outskirts of Leamington Spa), is somewhat unique: “This course is the only one that’s really purpose-built purely for disc golf – I bought the land for it and landscaped it. Even in Europe there aren’t very many.”

So what inspired him to set up the only dedicated course in the country? “I have a lot of belief in the sport, and it was frustrating that there weren’t courses in the UK and I thought it could be really successful. It would be relatively cheap to set up, and when you play, you just really want to design your own course. It’s just one of those things once you get into it.

“So, it was back in the mid-80s when I first had the ambition of owning my own course. I actually bought the Quarry Park land back in 1994 – about eight or nine years after I first had the idea. I didn’t have any money when I first had the idea so it wasn’t going to happen straight away!” He is keen to encourage others to be equally as enterprising: “They might go back home and maybe they know somebody who has a bit of land, maybe a farmer, who might be looking for a bit of extra income.

“There’s a bit of a pyramid structure, like most sports, to how disc golf is played, with a lot of people at the bottom level who play a few times a year, and are aware of the game. Then there are others who play with different degrees of seriousness; some who play at a few competitive events, others who play on the National Tour, the European tour. As for me, I play all over the place, and go to World Championships as well.”

The two biggest disc golf clubs in the UK are Robins’ own Quarry Park, and the Croydon Disc Golf Club and both compete annually in the Hyzer Cup competition. Robins has been part of the Quarry Park team victorious in the last two events: “We had this idea to involve really as many people as possible in our clubs, that we’d have as big a match as possible between the two. So anyone who wants to play can, as long as we match up the numbers. I think last time we had 21 people on each side. We played a little bit like the Ryder cup format, with doubles in the morning and singles in the afternoon; you get a point for each match that you win.”

Robins’ interest in the sport dates back to the late 1970s, when, at the age of seventeen, he was crowned UK-overall Frisbee Champion (in 1978). “I won a free trip to the United States and there disc golf was one of the events. We hadn’t played it in the UK but it was a part of the World Championships, so I played my first game there. I later thought we should get this sport going in the UK and I’ve been playing since then. I’ve played in a lot of tournaments; I compete in both Disc Golf and Ultimate Frisbee and probably compete in ten to fifteen events a year.”

So what does Robins consider his finest achievement in the sport? “Well, I won five of the events on the British tour this year, so I’m the current national champion.” The British tour has around ten events on it, with the tour champion being decided by taking the competitor’s best four finishes in those events. Robins adds: “The European tour is fairly similar, except with maybe eleven events and the five best finishes are taken. They also have majors; there’s one each year in Europe – the European Open – and elsewhere maybe a Japan Open, and a couple in the States. There are also World Championships.” Robins won the Grand Master division at the 2011 British Open recently.

“I’ve played in a few events in Europe, including the recent Italian Open.” There, Robins was the runner-up in the Grand Master division at the Italian Open in Tuscany, in which he unfortunately lost by a solitary shot. He also has high hopes for future events: “I’m playing the Australian Open at the end of November.”

The attraction of being able to travel abroad to holiday destinations in the name of professional sport is always a positive, according to Robins: “It is nice going to see places you’d want to go to anyway due to the sport. I’ve played in New Zealand, where my brother lives, and there just happens to be a Disc Golf course about three miles from his house so that was cool. I’ve played in Iceland and Japan, which was probably the most unusual place in terms of playing Disc Golf.”

As for students living in and around Leamington, there is no lengthy journey required for a casual game of Disc Golf.


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