Throwing it out there: Neosho bets on disc golf tournament

·5 min read

May 9—NEOSHO, Mo. — A financial boost from the city of Neosho has been granted in hopes that it will help a disc golf tournament grow both itself and the city's tourism draw.

The Neosho City Council gave initial approval to awarding the organizer of a disc golf tournament $4,786. Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of the allocation, which comes from the city's hotel and motel tax.

"This is going to allow us to push the tournament further than we have in recent years," said Frank Hebert, organizer of the Little Big Show Disc Golf Tournament. "It's a huge step for us to keep growing and moving forward."

The money specifically will be used to purchase supplies and promotional materials for player packs that every competitor in the tournament receives. Such packs usually include custom discs, T-shirts, food vouchers, special offers and other goods. The tournament has been set for July 31 and Aug. 1 at the Roughrider course in Morse Park.

Hebert has been organizing the tournament over the past five years. In making his case for the grant, Hebert told the council that he had hit a sort of plateau: In order to grow the tournament, Hebert needs to be able to expand it into a second day. But prizes and other benefits must be valued by players enough to warrant the cost of an overnight stay, he said.

Growing sport

Hebert, a teacher and coach at Neosho Junior High School, said he discovered disc golf about 16 years ago after an injury knocked him out of wrestling. He said the sport provided an outlet for his competitive spirit.

Over that time, from traveling to different courses and participating in tournaments, he has watched the sport steadily grow in popularity, he said. But over the past year, interest has spiked, likely because of the pandemic.

Representatives of UDisc, an app that tracks disc golf course activity, reported that about 70% of disc golf courses have been built over the past 10 years. In its Disc Golf Course Report for 2020, a vast majority of those courses are free, and participation requires investing in only one disc. Costing about $15, disc golf discs are engineered to be smaller and fly farther than a standard Frisbee, Aerobie or other flying disc.

Also according to the report, about 50 million rounds were played in 2020. COVID-19 played a part — the sport's low investment, outdoor location, physical activity and built-in social distancing helped make it an attractive option.

That growth is part of Hebert's gamble for the tournament. The course is already seeing heavy activity from people simply looking to play. A tournament with bigger payouts for people competing in the professional division should draw even more out-of-town visitors.

Investment

Hebert said the city's investment frees up business sponsorships and other funds to go toward cash prizes for winners in a professional division of the tournament — prizes big enough to draw even more competitors to visit Neosho for the tournament.

More players means a tournament that stretches over two days instead of just one. That means competitors will be spending money at Neosho restaurants, shops and hotels, Hebert said. The tournament is hoped to draw up to 180 players, Hebert said.

"Getting people to town is the biggest hurdle," Hebert said. "While they are here, they have to eat, and they are going to look for entertainment. Money is going to be spent one way or another. Whether it gets spent here or not is the issue."

The tournament will have two divisions; competitors in both divisions will pay an entry fee and receive a player's pack. While competitors in the amateur division will play for merchandise vouchers from vendors and more, players in the competitive division will pay a more expensive entry fee and compete for payouts. About 40% of players in the pro division will win some sort of cash prize, with the biggest winner getting anywhere from $500 to $1,000, depending on entries.

Hotel motel tax

Money was made available for the tournament through the city's hotel and motel tax revenues. A portion originally earmarked for the Neosho Holiday Classic basketball tournament held at Neosho High School was not claimed this year — the tournament was scaled back because of COVID-19.

Part of the basis for making that decision, and betting on Hebert, recognized the efforts he and other members of the Neosho Disc Golf Club have made to improve the courses at the town's Morse Park.

"Anyone in Neosho should follow your blueprint," said council member Charles Collinsworth during the meeting. "I see a lot of people start with asking for a handout of money but have no initiative and expect others to do the labor. You've done the labor and worked really hard."

The city offers two 18-hole courses, and Parks Director Clint Dalbom said Hebert and other volunteers were instrumental in designing and improving the courses over the past few years.

Dalbom said after parks employees cleared nonnative, invasive species of trees and bushes from the course, group members plotted holes and worked to install features such as tee pads and baskets.

"(Hebert) and other volunteers provided valuable knowledge and insight into where those areas need to be," Dalbom said. "They made the course interesting and made it flow for disc golfers."

But the same funds won't be automatically available next year for Hebert and other disc golf tournament organizers. In making his pitch, Hebert knows he'll be asked to show evidence of its financial impact, from numbers of participants to proof they stayed in Neosho hotels. Mayor William Doubek said that he was worried competitors in the tournament would choose to stay in Joplin-area hotels for the tournament, not those in Neosho.

Hebert is planning on making budget requests for future years' tournaments because he believes the sport can be a significant influencer for the city. He has seen similar tournaments grow in such a way, such as in Emporia, Kansas, and has studied what those communities did for success.

"I love the sport and want it to grow as much as it can in the town where I live," Hebert said. "This is my way to give back."