Disc golf’s popularity continues to grow locally, especially since the opening of the new Richmond Hill course a year ago. Designed by James Nichols and built with the cooperation of the city and the WNC Disc Golf Club, the course was finished just in time for last year’s Mountain Sports Festival.
Consider the roster for this year’s amateur tournament: 35 local players have signed up, compared with just 15 last year.
“Most have been around a couple of years, and now they are willing to step out and expose themselves to tournament play,” says Nichols.
And though the festival will also feature pro-level competition, the amateur event may be the best place to see local talent aim for the chains.
World-ranked Eric Marx, a longtime pro, is sitting this one out after knee surgery, but word has it that another top player, Ryan Pickens, is competing despite recent shoulder surgery.
“We don’t have many pros in Asheville proper,” notes Marx. “But there’s a few close by. You never know who’s going to be here.”
Richmond Hill’s topography and dense tree growth make it a definitive technical course. Where other courses nationwide tend to rely on long open shots, Asheville’s features 18 holes of turns, elevation changes and obstacles. For out-of-towners, the adjustment to purely technical throwing can be daunting.
“We had a former world champion here a couple of years ago,” says Marx, “and he didn’t like it at all.”
That gives players used to throwing through and around Richmond Hill’s unforgiving trees a big advantage. Nichols cites Josh Watson and Keegan “Condor” Eschenbauch as folks to watch. The nickname comes from Eschenbauch’s wingspan, which Nichols says the player uses to maximum advantage.
Meanwhile, converted ball-golfer Nate Kellar will be stepping up for his first pro competition.
And visiting players’ discomfort notwithstanding, Nichols isn’t backing down on his design. The course record, 46, is tough to beat—particularly considering that, in honor of the upcoming tournament, Nichols has extended three holes. “I’d like to see the scores get lower,” he says. “But I just made the course harder.”