By Marty Gordon
After she finished in the top 20 of the World Amateurs disc golf competition this past weekend, Virginia Tech PhD student Rebecca Minnick now ranks among the best players on the circuit.
Disc golf is a flying disc sport in which players throw a disc at a target. It is played using rules similar to golf. The latest estimates say more than a million people regularly compete in disc golf.
Jim Conrad, last year’s world professional champion, is a Blacksburg native and is encouraging others to follow in his footsteps.
“It’s an amazing sport that is very cheap, is extremely accessible andis becoming more and more so with the addition of new courses. You can easily play it by yourself or in a group,” Minnick said during a recent interview.
She started playing disc golf only a year and half ago but now runs a large Ultimate Frisbee group in Blacksburg.
The two sports are similar in that they both use a plastic disc commonly known as a frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee is a non-contact, self-refereed team sport. Two teams of seven players compete on a playing field about the same length as a football field, but narrower, with an end zone on each end of the playing field. Each team defends an end zone.
Disc golf is a game that is very similar to golf. Instead of using golf balls and golf clubs, players throw a disc into a basket or at a target. The score is kept in the same manner as golf with the lowest score winning.
Minnick is looking to turn her love of disc golf into a professional career and recently launched a GoFundMe effort to help with this endeavor.
“It’s simple. I fell in love with this sport a little over a year ago,” she said. “This year, I decided I wanted to make a career out of disc golf. I have never felt so sure about a direction in my entire life. This journey has been an amazing dream.”
Her GoFundMe is to help cover tournament fees, traveling costs, and lodging expenses.
Her competitive schedule for the year includes more than 30 tournaments.
“I spent a lot of time researching which tournaments I wanted to compete in,” she said. “I was interested in several things: 1) I wanted the tournaments to have a large playing field in my division (for more competition); 2) I wanted as many A-Tier tournaments as possible and B-Tier if they were good tournaments; 3) Most of the tournaments needed to be less than eight hours away; 4) I wanted tournaments that I believed would give me the opportunity to prepare for playing open and going on tour.
“I have used all of my tournaments to work on my mental game a lot,” she said. “I have focused on working on my mental game/preparation more so than my disc golf game because I believe it to be more important.”
Minnick is originally from West Virginia and has lived in Blacksburg since 2012. Her tournament travels have led her to 14 states and Canada. So far, she has been successful on the tour including representing Virginia Tech as a member of the Disc Golf Club.
“I am competing at a very high level for only having been in disc golf for just one and half years,” she said. “I will likely be a PDGA 900 rated player by the end of the year, which is definitely pro level. For most of the year I was ranked #1 in the nation for collegiate disc golf women and my team, which consisted only of me, was ranked #2 in the nation,” she said.
Earlier this year, she tied for first place at the Collegiate Disc Golf National Championships against 31 other women, going into a sudden death playoff and eventually placing second.
So far this year, she has finished in first place in 18 tournaments.
She has also won three A-Tiers this year in FA1 (Advanced), which is the highest division before going to FPO (Open/Pro).
She is also becoming pretty popular on social media, specifically Instagram with her handle: AceBabieee. Minnick gained that name after hitting two aces in two consecutive tournaments.
Her ultimate goal is to become a touring pro.
“I plan on making disc golf the main part of my life and see where that takes me,” she said. “It’s very exciting. I am loving life and what I have been given the opportunity to do, and I have never felt more sure about anything in my life.
“I have not followed James Conrad’s career in detail, but I have seen him play on coverage a significant amount,” Minnick said. “I am still very new to disc golf, so I don’t know a lot about many of the pro’s careers in detail, but I am learning more and more as I have time. I’m honestly too busy playing disc golf myself, working on my PhD, playing ultimate frisbee, and just living life to have time to keep up with any one pro.”.
For those wanting to get into the sport, Minnick encourages them to buy a putter and maybe a midrange disc and go play a short nine-hole course, google it, and/or connect with the local disc golf community, and ask them what discs are good beginner-friendly discs.
“There are also usually people that are happy to give form advice and help people to have something to aim towards or work on, if that’s what they’re wanting,” Minnick said. “The main thing is to have fun and enjoy it and there are so many ways to do that.”
The Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Department has a 37-hole Disc Golf course at 390 Cinnabar Road. This unique course consists of wooded fairways with a variety of elevation gains. Out of 4,300 national public courses listed in the disc golf course database, Golden Hills is one of only 19 in the United States with 37 holes.