Nate Heinhold yielded most of the time during the Professional Disc Golf Association World Championships press conference to six of the best players in the world, seated to his left and his right.
Heinhold, the PDGA World Championship Tournament director, is merely a disc golf everyman when in the same room as four-time PDGA World Champions Paige Pierce and Paul McBeth, and that’s not even mentioning the reigning champions Gregg Barsby and Paige Bjerkaas.
There’s a van driving around the events this week with Ricky Wysocki’s face on it, how could Heinhold — or any of us — compete with that?
But toward the end of the press conference on Monday, Aug. 12, someone in the audience directed a question to Heinhold: of the 37 years of world championships, none, until now, have been held in Illinois. What took so long?
Heinhold led his answer with a joke, something he did a few times during the press conference; as tournament director he’s more Adam Silver than Roger Goodell. He had been thinking about the question for sometime, though — five years, he said — and answered it diplomatically and honestly.
“It really takes a dedicated volunteer and then a very patient family, probably, to do this,” said Heinhold. “You can’t spend 100 hours on this. It’s fair to say that I have (put) 2,000 hours in this tournament.”
Heinhold said he spent what was essentially two years of working a part-time job to put together this tournament. That comes in addition to his full-time job as the vice president of Ledgestone Insurance Group and the creator of the Ledgestone Insurance Open, one of disc golf’s highest paying tournaments.
To put it simply, it’s a lot of work, and Heinhold — who credited others for their hard work — was up to the task.
“I think Illinois just hasn’t had that person that wanted to do (this) until I had that crazy idea … and then this worked out,” said Heinhold.
Part of the process is getting the participating towns and cities to believe in the event. Heinhold was in front of the Pekin City Council as recently as March 25 asking for hotel and motel tax support for the tournaments.
“They want you to know what you’re doing,” said Heinhold.
In addition to proving to the cities that disc golf will bring benefits to the area, they also have to prove to the PDGA that the courses are up to snuff.
Seth Frederick is one of the assistant directors of the World Championships, he also designed and installed the Sunset Hills course that the women’s division will use from Aug. 13 to 17.
Like Heinhold, he puts in hours of work to maintain the course and make sure that it’s ready for tournament play, and he thinks they make the mark.
“This is the best of the best playing against each other on the best courses that we have to offer,” said Frederick, in an earlier conversation with the Daily Times.
The best in the world were on hand to speak on the course quality Monday morning and, for the most part, agreed that they were deserving to host.
Catrina Allen said Northwood in Morton was in her top three favorite courses, and Barsby said he was disappointed the men wouldn’t be playing at Sunset Hills in Pekin because he enjoys the course.
Pierce credits Heinhold and his team for making the necessary changes to bring a tournament of this caliber to the area, particularly at Northwood.
“I will admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Northwood before their redesign,” said Pierce. “It’s really unbelievable that it’s the same course. It’s grown night and day … and it’s one of the best courses that we play in the United States.”
Heinhold’s years of hard work are paying off, and when this tournament is over, his name will be forever attached to the first PDGA World Championships to be played in Illinois. And even if it weren’t, the disc golf community would remember his efforts.
“His dedication and his whole team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed,” said Pierce.
The PDGA World Championships begin on Tuesday, Aug. 13 with the final rounds being played on Saturday, Aug. 20. For information on how to watch the tournament, click here.