Seventy-seven of the top amateurs across 28 states and Canada are set to descend upon Fountain Hills, Ariz., to compete for the Next Generation Tour National Championship and the biggest first prize in disc golf history at one of the most recognized courses on the professional scene.
The player who outlasts the competition throughout 108 holes over three days from Nov. 16-18 will stand atop the largest amateur tour in the world and drive off in a brand new 2018 Jeep Renegade.
Among those in the demanding field is Andrew Cornwell, from Pittsboro, Ind., who won the Midwest Premiere event. Cornwell is no stranger to the tour after qualifying for the National Championship last year and finishing in a tie for seventh.
“I participated in this tour last year placing 7th and had greatest experience out of all the events I played,” he said. “NG staff is great and treat players like true professionals. It is great way to build players in their game and help players get to the pro level.”
Cornwell said he plans to be among those competing at the pro level next year and hopes it is with a new touring car in tow.
There will also be a strong contingent of young players at the event looking to make some noise. Both Kentucky’s Zach Arlinghaus and Idaho’s Trenton Higley posted strong finishes at the PDGA Junior Disc Golf World Championships and have won Premier Events.
Arlinghaus is already sponsored by Dynamic Discs and took third in the ≤15 Division at Junior Worlds. This is his first year in Next Gen competition and will look to build on his win at the Northeast (South) Premier Event.
Although he isn’t old enough to drive, the thought of winning a car was enticing.
“I decided to play because of the awesome payouts and the chance of winning a car and playing Fountain Hills,” Arlinghaus said.
Higley finished second in the ≤18 at Junior Worlds and was the Mountain West Premier Event winner. Higley experienced the Next Gen Tour last year but chose to stay mostly local.
“Last year I did not go to the Regional Championships—just the local qualifiers,” Higley said. “I decided to play this year because the Regional Championship wasn’t very far from where I live and the opportunity to win a car is an amazing opportunity. I love the idea of having a national tour for amateurs and I think it is an awesome thing for this sport.”
While Arlinghaus is among those that hopes the Next Gen Tour will be a springboard into turning pro in 2019, Higley said he will likely hold out for another chance at a Junior or Amateur World Title.
Just because the young guns are showing up doesn’t mean you can count out the “old guys.” Roger Gagnon, from Medfield, Mass., will be eligible to play in Masters Divisions next year, but he’s getting another crack at Fountain Hills first after winning the Northeast (North) Premier Event.
“I’m looking forward to making it to Arizona for a second chance,” Gagnon said. “I had made it to finals last year and was injured after my first round, eventually leading to dropping out of competition. Even with that, the experience was unlike no other tournament I had played. I was determined to make it back this year to get a second chance at Fountain Hills.”
Gagnon added that he has spent a lot of time in 2018 fine-tuning his form to avoid another injury.
Ethan Boyd of Aurora, Colo., has also been playing for a while and is looking to make a final splash before making the professional jump next season.
“I started playing in the late 90’s,” Boyd said. “I got my PDGA number and competed in a few tourneys, then moved to Colorado and stopped playing regularly for over a decade. I picked it back up 3 years ago and being going strong ever since. I had such a fun time competing in the Championship last year that my primary goal was to make it one last time.”
Rhode Island’s John Smith is looking for another type of redemption this year, taking third at the Northeast (North) Premier Event. He climbed all the way back from 9th with his career best round on Maple Hill Golds to punch a meaningful ticket to Arizona.
“This is my first year getting the invitation to nationals,” he said. “I missed winning the invitation last year by one spot.”
There are those who have put their predictions out, but for Smith and Colorado’s Chris Moss, they’ll let the tournament play out.
“I have not looked into any of the competition. In my opinion, it’s anyone’s game,” Moss said.