As the calendar flipped to 2018 and the third iteration of the Next Generation Tour was set to kick off, Tyler Searle thought it was about time Panama City, Fla., got serious about disc golf.
Searle calls nearby Fort Walton Beach home, and noticed Panama City was having a tough time getting a competitive scene together as leadership changed and championship level courses were hard to come by.
“A lot of club leadership went in and out, and in Panama City there are just so many distractions,” Searle said. “Leadership kind of fell off and the atmosphere was kind of loose and relaxed, so the only events I could run were smaller, non-sanctioned events. Land is valuable here, too, so it’s tough to find a space for bigger courses.”
The ocean breeze shifted and so did the direction of the Panama City Chain Bangers, the local club. In his eight years working for Dynamic Discs—six driving a Chasin’ the Chains Tour RV—Searle has been able to network and gain an understanding of how to run clubs and tournaments.
Webb Warren and John Adams came to Panama City with similar experience and helped stabilize the leadership. Warren works for the city and caught wind of a retired ball golf course, a perfect fit for the championship level disc golf course that was missing in the area.
Warren, Adams and the club got to work on the course while Searle talked to JohnE McCray and his wife Jennifer about running a Next Gen Qualifier. It was a perfect recipe for bringing Panama City’s first-ever sanctioned event to life.
“The club really came together and the county stepped up,” Searle said. “It was awesome. They wanted to do a grand opening for the course this year and I brought up rolling a grand opening into a sanctioned C-Tier and Next Gen Qualifier and they were all for it. The final 9 holes of the course went in the Saturday before the tournament. It was great.”
Excitement built as players came from different parts of Florida and even from out of state to participate. It even made the local news.
Searle said he was excited to see 50 players on tournament day and added, “Next year, we’ll definitely be able to fill it up.”
Players dealt with tough weather conditions, as wind gusts and three bands of rains passed through. A lightning delay toward the second round led to a brief stoppage in the action, but participants toughed it out and kept a positive attitude.
Don Cropenbaker stayed consistent through both rounds and took a one stroke victory in the Gladiators Division, while David Hamm and Marty Gayler staged big second round comebacks in the Knights and Saints Divisions, respectively. Gayler capped his six stroke swing on the 18th green to take the win.
With a successful event now under its belt and new leadership in place, the future of the Panama City Chain Bangers and disc golf in one of the Sunshine State’s most popular destination looks bright.