by Jerry Roth
If you are a member of the PDGA and a supporter of one of the fastest growing sports in the world then an important moment is quickly approaching. The PDGA elections begin on July 1st and with the elections your chance to sail the ship through uncharted waters.
Since 1984 when "Steady" Ed Headrick founded the PDGA association and became the first commissioner from 85-86, the PDGA has been a living, breathing example of what a member-driven organization could do with the power of numbers and a voice to lead the way. With the total to date member number (active and inactive) reaching One-Hundred thousand this year, the PDGA has grown from a fledgling hobby to a legitimate professional sport with the opportunity for local supporters and national sponsors to discover the benefits of partnership.
To remain vital, the PDGA board must address issues ranging from media exposure for the PDGA sanctioned events to finding fair, balanced solutions to disciplinary decisions and everything in between. Although the Board has come under some scrutiny this past year, the PDGA is still a crucial element to the growth and success of disc golf in the future. The task of finding an even ground to help the organization grow, but also represent the many opinionated members that make up the diversity in the association, is no easy assignment.
One candidate that is throwing his hat in the arena is Nate Heinold. If you haven't heard of him you soon will! Nate is the Vice-President of Marketing for the Ledgestone Insurance Group. If that still doesn't ring any bells, Nate Heinold is the founder of the Ledgestone Open, considered the richest disc golf tournament in America. I asked Nate why now is a good time to run for the PDGA board and he replied that, "I think it's important for PDGA board members to be connected to the players. Not only do I play the top level events, but I also run a large event. I am very connected to player opinions." The Ledgestone Open is a great example of how he used his marketing know-how to turn a local tournament into a must stop destination for disc golfer Pros and Ams alike for the last seven years.
With the rise of participants of disc golf tournament globally, I asked Nate if he planned to find sustainable partnership if he were to be voted onto the PDGA board and he answered that, "Absolutely, I am always looking into those opportunities. I have spoken with many large companies over the last few years and have fostered some great relationships. I have the interest of a large sunglasses company, beverage company, and a healthcare company. We are moving in the right direction." Nate seems passionate about the future and has a strength that the pros have come to see from the 31 year old tournament director as he possesses great attention to detail as well a mission to become the best advocate for the professional players on the Disc Golf Pro Tour. Nate believes that he can use what he's learned from building up the Ledgestone Open and bring even more prestige to the PDGA tour events.
Another topic that is a passion of Nate's is his understanding of where he feels the PDGA needs to move toward growing the sport. One demographic that needs to be focused on and is sometimes overlooked is the high school athletics. There is no denying that if high school students are able to play and compete in disc golf the sport will take hold and spread throughout the country. But just how Nate wants to engage the challenge is another thing altogether. I prodded further by asking him how he would attempt to integrate disc golf into high schools and he commented that, "The PDGA needs to work directly with local clubs to encourage them to set up high school teams and work with state sports associations to set up state tournaments."
When it comes to growing the sport, there is no better way to achieve success than starting with the very young and impressionable. In the fall of 2016 the Board of Directors unanimously voted to hold a stand alone Junior Disc Golf World Championship. Dynamic Disc's own Jeremy Rusco and Doug Bjerkaas generously offered to host the event starting in 2018 for three consecutive years in Emporia, Kansas. This proposal passed and the PDGA made the landmark move to plant seeds for the future of disc golf. All eyes will be watching as the Junior division takes its first steps in 2018.
If we are talking about engaging the youth, then there is one family that knows a lot about guiding children into the world of disc golf, "The Jenkins" family. Leroy and Sharon Jenkins, parents of Valarie and Avery Jenkins, have been promoting and nurturing Youth Disc Golf in Ohio for many years. Their "Summer Fling" youth tournaments held in Medina have been highly successful. They are proof that starting them young is a key factor of spreading the joy of disc golf. Examining all that still needs to be done in Junior competition I was curious how we could get youth disc golf to the next level and Nate said that, "Gaining more youth would greatly help. Doing a circuit of junior's tournaments with the help of local clubs would be a great next step."
Nate Heinold's platform is built upon on reaching out to the pros, that want to see their sport gain mainstream attention, and the amateur players that are looking for the best possible events to choose for their busy lifestyles. It seems undeniable that disc golf has reached a tipping point where corporate sponsorship could be the key ingredient to propel the sport forward and Nate seems to have his finger on the pulse of what world class tournaments could bring in the way of excitement. I asked Nate if he felt that the PDGA has neglected any areas of disc golf and he remarked, "I think neglect is a strong word, but I think the professional touring players have had it tough. Payouts have been stagnant for years, tour standards haven't always lined up with expectations, etc. I think it's time for the PDGA to really support the DGWT and the DGPT."
As the election is nearing I wondered what Nate would avoid if he found himself at the seat as a board member for the PDGA and he replied, "I won't have a closed mind. I think it will be important to listen to the right people and have an open ear for the players. I am always available for people to message me. I will be happy to answer any question or concern that anyone has. Please tell your friends and post about it on Facebook. Vote for Heinold!”
With two seats on the PDGA Board of Directors up for grabs this year and the sport growing stronger than it ever has, the opportunity for its members to make a difference and speak with their votes. Election voting begins July 1st and ends July 31st. Make sure to cast your vote!