THUNDER BAY – The discs are already starting to fly at Birch Point as disc golfers start to prepare for this weekend’s Northern Ontario Championship.
About 200 participants have descended on the city for the event, the largest sporting event in the region since the pandemic began.
Golfers will also be testing their mettle at the Dragon Hills course, described as one of the toughest challenges the sport has to offer in Thunder Bay, as well at Bayview Golf Course in Shuniah.
Chris Ozolins, director of the Ontario Disc Sport Association, says it’s great to be back in tournament play, noting the event has grown over the past five years and this year should be bigger and better than ever.
“This is the largest event since the beginning of the pandemic in Ontario,” Ozolins said on Thursday, the finishing touches on the three courses in place and ready for tournament play on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s kind of nice as a precedent for the rest of Canada. We’ve got 200 competitors out here from coast to coast right now.”
It’s a sport that has been around for more than three decades, but one whose popularity has skyrocketed in the age of COVID-19.
Ozolins said they estimated there were 60,000 players in Ontario prior to March 2020, a number that has grown to an estimated 125,000 now.
Much like traditional golf, players are challenged to fly their discs into the hole – a mesh net – in the fewest number of shots, battling nature and the elements, not to mention trees and other obstacles, along the way.
Cara Hovius, a tournament director said the tournament will be run in similar fashion to a traditional golf event, but with two rounds per day per participant.
“We have one round in the morning for most participants and then they’ll go to the following course in the afternoon. On the second day they’ll repeat that, but at two different courses,” she said.
Saturday’s action will take part at Dragon Hill and Bayview, while Sunday’s closing rounds will be at Dragon Hills and Birch Point.
Rather than a shotgun start, tee times will be assigned, in keeping with COVID-19 gathering protocols.
John Cameron, a tourism development officer with the City of Thunder Bay, said he’s excited to get back to having sports tourism opportunities in the region, something that hasn’t happened in more than 16 months.
“March 2020 is in the rear-view mirror right now. It’s been a long haul getting sport tourism back on track,” said Cameron, estimating the Northern Ontario Championship could have a $300,000 economic impact on the city.
“It’s just been a lot of headaches and concerns. But I think now we’re moving forward and having an event like this says that Thunder Bay is open for business for hosting events again.”
The public is welcome to watch the action this weekend, but are reminded to respect COVID protocols.