Giving it a fling
Despite the onslaught of media coverage, 14-year-old golfer Michelle Wie isn’t the only teenager making a name for herself on the national sports scene.
In fact, there is a Grass Valley teenage “golfer” who is raising some eyebrows with his play, as well.
OK, so maybe ESPN won’t be deferring its coverage of Wie’s PGA exploits for highlights of the Professional Disc Golf Association any time soon. But Gregg Barsby’s performance on the PDGA tour has earned him a nomination for Rookie of the Year honors.
Barsby, a 16-year-old Nevada Union High School junior, has been holing out in disc golf for more than half his life. He first gave the sport a fling when his family moved next door to Grass Valley’s Condon Park disc golf course.
“I found a disc just lying on the ground, and I started throwing it in my backyard,” said Barsby. “I didn’t know there was a course around here until someone told me, ‘See those metal things? You throw it in there.’ Two weeks later, I was hooked.”
Apparently, though, you won’t find many hooks or slices – unless intended, of course – in his drives. And, considering he says he hits the course for an average of two rounds per day, there’s reason to believe he’s every bit a straight shooter.
But don’t take his word for it.
Instead, look at his performance in his first year of giving PDGA-sanctioned events a throw:
Of the 16 PDGA tournaments in which he “teed” off, Barsby carded 10 top-10 finishes, including taking first place at both the Toney’s Mountain Golf Challenge in Grass Valley last May and September’s 25th Gold Pan Open in Somerset, near Placerville.
He also finished second in the junior division at the world championships in Miami, Fla., in 2002. That high placement helped put the Grass Valley teen on the national scene – something that eventually led to his recent sponsorship deal with Discraft, a leading disc manufacturer.
The support of a sponsor – no matter how high the amount – is something Barsby says is vital to him in continuing his disc golf career. He won $1,702 in PDGA prize money from those 16 tournaments in 2003 and earned roughly a total of $2,200 for the year from the sport. But those winnings don’t go very far in the course of a season, especially when the tour’s courses take him far from home.
“It’s different than what most people might think,” he said. “There’s travel costs, like food and hotel costs. It costs about $90 just to enter a tournament.”
“Really, I just break even.”
First-rate role models
Barsby might be a new name on the national disc golf scene, but his hometown is somewhat of a hot bed for the sport.
With locally grown, nationally known pro disc golfers like Geoff and Johnny Lissaman, Barsby said he has learned from some of the best right in his own backyard.
Each of the Lissamans, who could not be reached for comment, earned five first-place finishes in the masters division of the PDGA tour in 2003. Geoff took first place in the Master’s Cup Pro-Am in May and won the SoCal Championship in October. He also placed third in the master’s division of the 2003 PDGA World Championships in August.
Johnny, in addition to his five wins, also placed fifth at the SoCal Championships and 16th at the Pro Worlds.
Those strong finishes have resulted in productive pay days for the Lissamans, with Geoff earning $6,782 and Johnny $4,328 on the PDGA tour.
Like the Lissamans, Nevada City’s Ray Johnson has pocketed some PDGA paychecks. The 25-year-old Johnson totaled $3,680 on tour, including 10 top-10 finishes and a $1,000 prize for a sixth-place finish at The Memorial in the Phoenix area last March.
Johnson also happens to be Barsby’s primary playing partner. Despite being nearly a decade apart in age, the two find common ground while walking the disc golf courses at Condon Park or Penn Valley’s Western Gateway Park.
But their love for their sport might be all they have in common.
“It’s not in music, that’s for sure,” said Ray, with a laugh. “I like alternative or pretty much anything rock and roll. Actually, I like everything except death metal.”
That’s unfortunate for Barsby, at least when the two are carpooling to play a round of golf.
“Those are the two passions in my life, disc golf and music,” Barsby said. “Right now I’m thinking about actually pursuing singing in a death metal band.”
“That’s so-called singing,” Johnson interrupted. “They call it singing, but it’s not.”
“It’s actually called ‘growling,’ and you can’t understand the lyrics unless you read them,” Barsby explained. “But I think that would be really fun.”
That is, of course, if disc golf doesn’t work out.
Turning a fling into a career
“I do want this to be a career. I always have that in my thoughts,” Barsby said. “I just don’t want to do something I don’t like doing. I’ve always liked disc golf, so I want to do it.”
Making a living on tour might be a stretch, but apparently it can be done.
The 2003 winner of the PDGA Pro World Championships, Barry Schultz of Cheboygan, Wisc., brought home a total of $40,896 from the tour last year, according to the PDGA’s Web site, (www.pdga.com). Those winnings include a $10,000 grand prize from last October’s United States Disc Golf Championships in Rock Hill, S.C.
“Just like with the PGA, it’s the really good golfers in the country that make the money,” Barsby said. “Right now, that’s pretty much everybody else in the world that’s better than me.”
According to the PDGA, though, there aren’t many disc golfers Barsby’s age who are better than him. He is one of nine nominees for the tour’s annual Rookie of the Year award, and the winner will be announced at the World Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, in August. Another of the nominees is Barsby’s not-so bitter rival Miles Harding of Santa Cruz.
The two have known each other since they were both 8 years old and often end up together in the top tier of tournament standings.
“My goal this year is just to play good the whole time,” Barsby said. “If I get Rookie of the Year, then great. But it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t. I’d rather play really well and not get it than play just well and win it.
“It means more to me to play well than to get some trophy.”
Johnson said he expects that Barsby will continue to play “really well” in the coming year, which essentially begins with the St. Patrick’s Day Super Tour tournament in Orangevale.
“He’s pretty good,” Johnson said. “He’s got lots of potential for his age.
“I’d say either him or Miles are the best in the world for his age.”
Barsby said he’ll take just being the best he can be.
“I knew I had a talent right when I started,” he said. “Then people started to tell me that I was good and I thought, ‘Maybe I am good. Maybe they’re not just trying to make me feel good.’
“But then I started winning tournaments and I thought, ‘I am good.'”
What is Disc Golf?
Disc golf is played much like traditional golf. Instead of a ball and clubs, however, players use a flying disc, or Frisbee. The sport was formalized in the 1970s, and shares with “ball golf” the object of completing each hole in the fewest number of strokes (or, in the case of disc golf, fewest number of throws). A golf disc is thrown from a tee area to a target which is the “hole”. The hole can be one of a number of disc golf targets; the most common is called a Pole Hole, an elevated metal basket.
As a player progresses down the fairway, he or she must make each consecutive shot from the spot where the previous throw has landed. The trees, shrubs, and terrain changes located in and around the fairways provide challenging obstacles for the golfer.
Finally, the “putt” lands in the basket and the hole is completed. Disc golf shares the same joys and frustrations of traditional golf, whether it’s sinking a long putt or hitting a tree halfway down the fairway. There are few differences, though.
Disc golf rarely requires a greens fee, you probably won’t need to rent a cart, and you never get stuck with a bad “tee time.” It is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages, male and female, regardless of economic status.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
As far as experts go, The Union’s “experts” have not exactly lived up to the billing so far this season.