Next up in our Q & A Series is Wilbur Wallis. Wilbur is a long time Central Illinois resident and is the son of PDGA Volunteer legends Mom and Old Man Wallis. Wilbur is a volunteer legend in his own right as he has worked or volunteered at nearly 35 PDGA Majors. Wilbur is the current President of the Champaign County Disc Golf Club and has been a Course TD at the Ledgestone for the last several years. Wilbur has also designed many courses in the Central Illinois area.
1 - You have been around disc golf a very long time. How did you get your start in the sport?
I grew up across the street from Bradley Park. After getting married and moving to another part of town, I thought it would be nice to go and walk around the park. Just as I was getting ready to drive there a high school friend happened to call me. He said, “Bring some Frisbees and I’ll meet you there and we can golf.” This was in the fall of 1986. I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. Looking back, my brothers and I would throw Frisbees and make up games when we were younger. One of those games was “throw around that light pole and try to hit the garbage can” type of stuff. We didn’t know it at the time, but that was object golf. So I guess I’ve been playing since the early ‘70’s. Somewhere in the middle of that first round on baskets I fell in love with the sport and knew I would be playing for as long as I was physically able.
2 - Peoria has a long history with disc golf. How did Peoria get on the map with disc golf?
Peoria was one of the first areas in the state to get disc golf courses. Marshall Hopkins was the “mover and shaker” back then. He would sell discs out of his trunk to help get the funds to install the courses.
3 - Bradley Park and Marquette Heights were some of the early courses in the Peoria area. What do you remember from the early days when Peoria was just getting off the ground?
In the very early days there weren’t many players. Very rarely would I see anyone on the course. I didn’t even meet Marshall for well over a year. That’s when I bought my first golf disc, a Thunderbolt from Lightning Discs. That is also when I learned of the Marquette Heights course. There wasn’t internet in those days.
4 - The Greater Peoria Open was a long time staple on the PDGA's Super Tour. What made Peoria an attractive destination for touring pros back in the day?
The GPO was started after the course at McNaughton Park was installed. Oldman changed the name of the event from the Peoria Open to the Greater Peoria Open because McNaughton is in Pekin. The GPO was the first Super Tour ever in Illinois. Most of the appeal in the early days of the GPO was playing at McNaughton. Many of the top Pros at the time listed McNaughton in the top 10 courses. Another factor was that Team Wallis always ran a good event. The payout was decent, and everything always started on time. We delivered what was promised.
5 - Your parents, Bill and Mary Ann Wallis, better known as Mom and Old Man Wallis, were PDGA volunteer heroes throughout their service to the sport. What was special about the sport of disc golf to them?
I got Oldman into the sport before Mom joined the team. Oldman would just walk the course with me while I played. In the early ‘90’s we decided that we wanted to give the TD thing a try. We both got satisfaction from running smooth events. After our events got a little bigger, we brought Mom in. We put her in charge of player check-in so Oldman and I could concentrate on the other last-minute details of the event. Mom loved talking to all of the players and they loved her right back! Running the GPO and the USWDGC became a family bonding thing. We also had help from my brother Chuck, my wife Linda and my daughter Jennifer. There were other key Peoria Frisbee Club members involved also. You can’t run a successful event without lots of volunteers!
6 - Mom and Old Man's volunteer reach spread over the entire country. The only time I played the USDGC I remember throwing out of bounds on hole 18 (Nate speaking) and walking up and seeing Mom had marked my shot OB. I had no idea they traveled out to Winthrop every year. How many years did they do that?
Oldman and Mom worked the USDGC for 10 years. 2007-2017 always on hole 18, as well as various other duties.
7 - You have now been involved with Ledgestone for several years. What is special about this event?
I first wanted to work Ledgestone because it is in Peoria. I always want Peoria to be at the top of the list in disc golf, even though I moved away in 1993. I figured I might as well be involved because I would get the questions about it anyway. Also, I just really enjoy working big events. I love disc golf and working at events is one of the ways I give back to this great sport.
8 - How would you compare Peoria to other disc golf destination cities in the country? Where does Peoria rank in terms of quality and quantity?
Peoria has a lot of courses for a town of its size. 60 courses within about an hour’s drive. There is a good variety of courses for players of all abilities. Some wooded, some short, some long, some flat, some with elevation…and then we have Northwood Gold! I think Peoria ranks right up there with the best in terms of disc golf.
9 - You have been a part of many PDGA majors over the years. Have you lost count?
The first Major I worked was the 1996 Pro Worlds in South Bend. In total I have worked at 9 Am Worlds, 8 Pro worlds, 12 USWDGC’s (7 of these as the Asst TD), 3 USDGC’s and 1 Tim Selinske Masters.
10 - In 2019 Peoria was lucky to host a World Championship for the first time. Disc golf has come a long way in Peoria. Did this make your parents proud to see this prestigious event come to their town?
Yes. Due to Oldman’s health, they couldn’t be a big part of it, but they still liked having all of the Pros and the PDGA staff here.
Thanks to Wilbur for answering our questions! Stay tuned for our next article in our Q & A Series.