History of Disc Golf in the South

Evolution of Disc Golf Discs

  In 1973 , Tom Monroe was in Atlanta for the summer working to earn money to go back to college at UNA in Florence AL.. That was the year that Wham-O held nationwide Frisbee event's in conjunction with radio stations all over America. They were called "The Great Frisbee Fly In". Tom had played Frisbee with his roommate in college and could throw pretty good for playing catch and doing a few tricks. Now he would see just how good he really was. Hundreds of people showed up for the Fly In at Grant Park. The events were Distance and Accuracy.       Tom won both.

  74'. After returning to the University of North Alabama, Tom wrote a letter to Wham-O. He was a senior, soon to graduate and figured they should give him a job. They referred him to the International Frisbee Association. After a few letters back and forth, fate had Tom flying to California for his sister's wedding. Was it meant to be?   Tom's father was in the Aero-Space business and had lived in Birmingham and Huntsville before moving to Ca. Tom's parent's lived within 10 minutes from Wham-O's headquarters.  Ed Headrick sent a car to pick him up. During their meeting , Ed told Tom about the World Frisbee Championship they had just run in August.  Tom told Ed, that had he known about it ,he would have been there.  Ed laughed out loud and told Tom that "you have to be invited".  Tom told Ed that he would be there next year. He was.

  After touring the plant, Ed took Tom to play disc golf  at the new course at Oak Grove. Ed explained that the was working on a design to catch Frisbee's, but all they had in the ground at the time were metal poles. Tom met and played with Ed's son Kenny and Women's World Champ Monika Lou.  Ed told Tom about a couple of Frisbee champs on tour with the Globetrotters. John Kirkland and Victor Malafronte were the World Champs in 74. They performed a halftime show for the basketball icon's. Tom met them in Memphis and then again in Atlanta. They showed Tom how to do the "nail delay" in Memphis and were amazed that he had mastered the trick only a month later in Atlanta.  Later that summer Tom beat them both to win the International Accuracy title in Toronto. Within months Tom had established himself as a major player . After watching the Frisbee show's, he also knew what he wanted to do as a profession.

  Tom returned to college totally psyched  about Frisbee Sports. The first thing he did was lay out an 18 hole Frisbee golf course around the campus at UNA. He recruited members and formed the Florence Frisbee Team. They were the first players from the South to venture to such established tournaments as the National Frisbee Tournament in Michigan and the  Octad  at Rutgers in New Jersey.   Perhaps the best thing that came out of Rutgers that year was a grad student named Dan "Stork" Roddick. His nickname came from his amazing abilities during Ultimate and Freestyle play. He was also the Editor of the Flying Disc News magazine that circulated around the East Coast.  Wham-O recruited Dan and he become the new Director of the International Frisbee Association.. His first order of business was to establish a network of reliable Frisbee players around the country who could organize and run events.  He soon drove across America on this quest. It was during this trip that he made his first venture to the South and met with Tom and the Florence Frisbee Team. After the visit  he asked Tom to become the Regional Director for the IFA.   Now Tom had a job as he started Graduate School.    During these first few years of working with the IFA, Tom began performing Frisbee demonstration's. This was another source of income and led to a "company car" from Wham-O. Tom picked out a brand new, full size , customized Dodge van. Now he was able to do shows all over the country. His new team, "Frisbee South" traveled America spreading the fun from public schools to college campus's. They also did major promo work for Wham-O and other venue's as major league baseball and basketball games.            

  

  As part of his position with the IFA, he was responsible for starting State Frisbee Tournaments in the South. He had done this in Florence during the fall of 74 after his return from Wham-O.  That was the first ever event that included Frisbee golf, along with Distance and Accuracy.    Tom managed to help start State Tourney's in MS<FL<GA<TN<N.C., SC and KY.  These events were the seeds for all of organized Frisbee to follow in the South. While Tom was in college he met Lavone Wolfe and formed a lifelong friendship. Lavone is the founder of the Disc Golf Hall of Fame  and was the Tournament Director for the 93 PDGA World Championships in Huntsville.

While Tom was in Huntsville he helped the nationwide movement to put the PDGA into the players control.  Ed Headrick realized that this was a good idea and asked Tom to be on the newly formed Board of Directors.  Tom stayed on the BOD for ten years and was influential with forming new policy and procedures.

  One of Tom's accomplishment's in college was the design of the first ever disc golf course in the South. It was situated throughout the campus of the University of North Alabama.  The 18 hole object course utilized such diverse targets as trash cans, light pole's, archways and headstone's. The archway shot into the Science Building was one of the coolest shots in the country at the time. The tee was on a hill next to a girls dorm. and the target was simply the line in the cement of the 12 foot archway at the entrance to the building about 60 yards away. Your chance of a hole in one was just as good as a bogie if you hit the side of the building and rolled back into the street.                  The first Annual Southeastern Nationals were held on this location. The events included Accuracy, Frisbee Golf, Maximum Time Aloft and Distance. Indoor events included Gut's and Freestyle in the air conditioned gym.  The first ever Alabama State Overall tourney was also on the UNA campus. That event has run continuously ever since. The SE Nationals ran for 20 years. They both moved to Huntsville with Tom in 76 and the SE Nationals went to Fl. and turned into a major PDGA event for it's last ten years.  The AL States has run for  over 30 years.

  

Player Status : in 75 Tom was pronounced Rookie of the Year within the IFA. He had won the International Accuracy title in Toronto by beating the current World Champs during his first season and finished 2nd in Freestyle at the Worlds in the Rose Bowl with thousands of fans watching.  From 77 on , Tom has been the man to beat in the Self Caught Flight events. He won virtually all those events in State and National competition. During the 70's and 80's  he and his team traveled to most of the Southern Overall IFA tourneys where he usually won the field events and then Overall titles. These states included N. and S. Carolina, TN, KY, GA, FL, MS and AL. He has probably won the Overall AL title more than anyone. He is also a contender for most Over All Titles ever.

  From 75 on Tom, was invited to every Wham-O World Championship. This included an all expense paid trip to L.A. in August to compete in the Rose Bowl. During the 79 World Frisbee Championship, Tom set a World Record in the Throw , Run and Catch (TRC) event with a toss and catch of 90 yards. This feat put him in the Guinness Book and was very helpful for future publicity and Frisbee South bookings.  The day after the big throw, Tom appeared on all three national network morning shows with Olympic Star Bruce Jenner.

  The first PDGA tournament was held at the Stix River KOA on I-10 between mobile and Pensacola in 1977.  Not only was Tom the TD , but he and Ed Headrick designed the course together. Steve Slasor, # 055, won.. Second place was Tom #033

   Tom was named Disc Golfer of the decade for the 80's by the PDGA. Ken Climo wrestled the title away for the 90's. Tom was actually the first Pro that Kenny beat on his way to such an amazing career. When asked what the thought about the kid from Clearwater who had beat him at his own tourney, Tom just said, "that kid is going to be good"!

  As Tom grew into the Masters division he won the very first PDGA Masters World title at the same event that he ran in 83. With some creative entry fee structure he also finished 2nd. in the Open just behind the winner Jeff Watson. During that week of play Tom shot a -16 on the Redstone Arsenal course to set the lowest round ever recorded at a World Championship. It was eventually broken at the Worlds in South Bend . Johnny Lissaman shot a -17 on a much shorter course.

  Tom played organized baseball from the third grade into college. He picked up the Frisbee skills quickly.  Before long he and the team were doing Frisbee demonstrations all over town. Soon Tom branched out and began performing in bigger venues.  Wham-O was very pleased and soon gave Tom a brand new Dodge Van to travel around the country. Not only were the Frisbee shows a good way to earn a living but they were instrumental in spreading the word about this great new sport.  Tom's traveling team was known as "Frisbee South". 

  While in Grad school Tom did a semester of Student Teaching.  Somehow he was able to teach a High School Frisbee class.  The passion for teaching/coaching was ignited and he later coached a Frisbee class for credit at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Florida. tom was the coach at UF for 15 years. The class was called "Flying disc Sports" and filled up every semester.

  After college Tom moved back to Huntsville One of the attraction's of moving to Huntsville were Wayne Walters and Patti Kunkle.  Wayne organized Ultimate activity and Patti was/is the First Lady of Frisbee in  the South.  Tom and Wayne played on the Huntsville Ultimate Team and helped Ultimate grow in the 70's.

  Soon after moving to Huntsville, Wayne Walters did the legwork for the City to buy the Brahan Springs course. It was one of the first course's to go up in America. It went in soon after Wham-O donated a 9hole course to Miami and Atlanta. Tom did the initial design. It was around the whole park. He then went to a tournament in Toronto and Ed came to town. After seeing the park Ed decided that the whole course should be in the infamous pine trees. Tom was quite surprised when he returned.

  Tom found time to teach a credit class at UAH one day a week. After the first year, it was expanded to Beginning  and Advanced Flying Disc Sports. One of the more gifted players to come out of those classes, was a high school kid named Joe Thacker. Joe went to the U. of Al. where he became a legend in Ultimate Frisbee. Tom and Joe played on the Huntsville team for a year or so.

  While teaching the Frisbee class Tom installed the first disc golf course on the campus of UAH. The targets were the very practical cement water culverts turned on end with a round fence post sticking up through the middle. The "culvert" course saw many a tournament and helped teach hundreds of new players. It was used for the non qualifying ,qualifiers round at the 83 Worlds. A few years later they were replaced with pole holes.

  Tom was the TD for the 83 PDGA World Championships in Huntsville With help from Lavone Wolfe and the newly formed Chain Gang, they held one of the best events the PDGA has ever seen. Lavone was the TD for the 93 Worlds and it produced one of the best video's of any tourney ever. Lavone also got Pizza Hut on board as a major sponsor and the video was shown on National TV. Tom won the very first Masters title at the 83 Worlds and came back in 93 to win the Grand Masters title.

  During the winter, Frisbee South  concentrated on doing Frisbee show's at public schools. One tour had them performing 3 show's a day , five day's a week throughout the Midwest. When spring rolled around , they did shows at college's and universities from Boston to Texas.    Some of the more significant Frisbee show's that  they put on were in the Super Dome  and Atlanta for the Hawks  and the Braves. One of their show's helped kick off the Worlds Fair in TN.

  Some of the college shows included the U. of Fl., FSU., Auburn,, U.N.C.C,,  Va.Tech,  U of Ark., Boston College, UAH,    UNCC, etc.  

  Tom was also involved with several Wham-O programs which included the Special Olympics and the Assoc. of College Unions.  Many future players came out of the college Union event's. These events took the best Frisbee players from the participating college's and sent them to a regional and National playoff.  Tom was in charge of running these events in the South. he also ran one of the Nationals.

 After years of Frisbee and Disc Golf , Tom was inducted with the first class of the PDGA Hall of Fame. At the 10 year reunion  Worlds in Huntsville in 93' Lavone Wolfe had realized a dream. He is the founder of the Hall of Fame. Tom was inducted with the likes of Ed Headrick, and Dan Roddick. It was a big moment for Tom and Disc Golf. Tom had the honor of inducting Lavone a few years later.

  After 15 years as the Frisbee Coach for a credit class at the Univ. of Florida, Tom has returned to the city where he grew up, Birmingham.

Now he sells and designs disc golf course's for the DGA. He is the Course Pro and can be found at the George Ward disc golf course helping new players learn to throw and pick out the correct discs for their skill level's.  he no longer runs events but is the producer of many.  In 04, Tom was the first person to link disc Golf with an outdoor music festival. It was the Odyssey Festival near Auburn. Over 500 people played on the 18 hole course that Tom set up for the 3 day event.

Tom produced the first annual Alabama Amateur Open, disc golf tourney. It should continue to run for years.

I, Tom Monroe, am the author of this article, and I release its content under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 and later.