Flying Eagle Disc Society pulls off rare feat
GYPSUM — When Steve and Jessie Klehfoth started the Flying Eagle Disc Society four years ago, they never imagined a season like this one.
After registering 165 new members in 2015 and transforming Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater into a course to start the summer during the GoPro Mountain Games, Klehfoth ended the summer on Sunday by pulling off a rare and impressive feat. He invited disc golfers from all over the state to play on a ball golf course.
“Ball golf” is a term disc golfers use for the sport most of us would refer to as, simply, golf. The legend of playing disc golf on a ball golf course is so rare an opportunity it’s never been done at a professionally sanctioned event in Colorado.
When the Professional Disc Golf Association learned of Klehfoth’s tournament, they posted a notice on their site. That’s how Ashley Sloan, who would go on to win Sunday’s contest at Gypsum Creek Golf Course, learned of the tournament.
“I’ve never played on a ball golf course,” she said. “I’m always on PDGA’s website, just seeing what’s coming up, and so I saw that and signed up when it opened.”
The tournament, dubbed the Flying Eagle Open, had 140 available slots. Averaging 10 entries per hour, it filled on the same day it opened.
“It was mind blowing,” Klehfoth said. “It was a first-year event, double the capacity of most tournaments, and we were able to fill it in 14 hours. Insane.”
BUT COULD HE DELIVER?
Thanks to a series of easy-going negotiations with what Klehfoth described as a course that seems truly interested in being a steward of their local community, Gypsum Creek Golf Course was ready to host 140 frolfers. Those disc golfers were ready to play a ball golf course, and the tournament was poised to be among the best any of them had seen. But one question loomed on everyone’s minds — would Klehfoth and the Flying Eagle Disc Society deliver?
Sloan said she knew it had promise from the minute she saw the caddy books.
“They were fantastic,” she said. “They had a hole-by-hole guide of distance, what’s (out of bounds), and little tidbits about what to watch out for. Very clear and well organized.”
Well organized turned out to be a description offered by many who played the Flying Eagle Open over the weekend, and that proved to be the difference between it and a less enjoyable round. That, and some beautiful weather.
Klehfoth said he’s been watching and learning from other tournaments for years. He said Jessie and he have been studying tournaments since 2011 when the Flying Eagle Disc Society started, and they first had a dream of hosting their own Professional Disc Golf Association sanctioned event.
“We started making note of what was good, what was bad, what could be improved on, and what great ideas we wanted to steal from other people,” he said. “We just combined it all into this one thing, and said we’re going to make it ridiculous in its first year. Thankfully we have the right people in place to make it happen. The event wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of our incredibly dedicated club board — Jeff Woods, Lenny Siegel, Jessie Klehfoth, Brian Morrell, Nick Kettinger and Brandon Swonger.”
In addition to the support from Gypsum Creek Golf Course and Eagle County, Klehfoth also picked up a bevy of great sponsors, including Bonfire Brewing as a title sponsor, and Stoneyard Distillery, Pazzo’s Pizza, EMCC Elevator Modernization and GE Johnson Construction also sponsored the event. Adventure Ridge on Vail Mountain donated the use of their disc golf baskets, and Dynamic Discs, Mile High Disc Golf Club and Throw Colorado were supporters, as well.
‘RANKS RIGHT UP THERE’
Santos Montoya came in from Colorado Springs to play the Flying Eagle Open Tournament. He rented a hotel room in Eagle and scoped out the grounds.
“It was five minutes from everywhere — Bonfire Brewery, the Eagle disc golf course and the Gypsum Springs course,” he said. “It’s very rare you get to play on a ball golf course, and what Steve has done, wow.”
Montoya has been playing for 15 years. He plays 8 to 12 tournaments per year, but before Sunday, he had never played a Professional Disc Golf Association sanctioned tournament on a ball golf course.
“This has been the best,” he said. “The best ever. The best course, the best sponsors, food, crew, everything that they do to make this possible, not just on the course, but off the course, it’s all been the best.”
Men’s winner Eagle McMahon, of Boulder, played on the top card at the 2015 Disc Golf World Championships in Pittsburgh this summer, eventually taking 10th. He has played disc golf in 15 different states this year.
“(The Flying Eagle Open) ranks right up there with any other tournament that I’ve played,” he said. “It was a great event, Steve did a phenomenal job at running it, he could run a national tour event, in my opinion. I don’t want to miss any of his events in the future.”
All in attendance seemed to agree they would relish the opportunity to return to Eagle County to play another Flying Eagle Open Tournament at the Gypsum Creek Golf Course. Klehfoth said he’s also hoping for that chance.
“Who knows?” he said. “If we could have the course for two days, we might be able to host 200 people. But first we’re just going to bask in the glow of this one.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.