Next up in our Q & A Series is Dr. Justin Menickelli. Justin is the PDGA Board of Directors President and is a Professor at Western Carolina University. Justin is the co-author of the Definitive Guide to Disc Golf. He is friends with Ledgestone TD Nate Heinold, though they both agree that they only agree around 47 to 48% of the time. Even then, they can’t agree on the number.
Pictured from left to right, Nate Heinold, Justin Menickelli and Dan "Stork" Roddick
1 - How did you get into disc golf?
I played Ultimate for a long time, including at LSU where our team captain won the Callahan. Around 2004, I started playing disc golf exclusively. I liked to play both traditional golf and Ultimate. It just seemed natural and inevitable. I was hooked almost immediately.
2 - You have been the PDGA BOD President since 2017. What has that been like?
It’s been a labor of love and a lot of long hours.
3 - We heard a rumor that you won a bet against Nate Heinold but never made him pay. Do tell.
Nate and I were playing a wooded course near Branson, Missouri during one of the BOD summits. Nate piped a beautiful 400 ft drive through a gap in the woods. I made a joking comment how his drive was “decent.” As I stepped on the pad, he said “Fifty bucks if you out drive me!” I then proceeded to throw the best drive I had thrown in at least six months to best him by a few feet. We all laughed our heads off. Nate tried to pay me but I said that I would rather have him owe me so I could keep telling the story. At the next summit in Santa Cruz, Nate and I bet Steve Ganz and Pete Crist that we could take them in a doubles match. We did. Steve and Pete paid us on the spot, clearing all bets. It was glorious.
4 - How often do you get to play disc golf in a normal year?
Not as much as I would like, especially tournament play. I do get to play with my kids, and weekly dubs a fair bit.
5 - What's your favorite disc golf venue in the US?
Probably Smuggler’s Notch. I am from the nearby Adirondacks and had skied Smuggs in the winter. It is remote, challenging, and simply beautiful. To me, it is disc golf heaven on earth.
6 - In a few short sentences, where do you see disc golf in 10 years?
I see the sport continuing to grow in all aspects. We were riding a tsunami of growth before the pandemic hit. I see that amazing growth returning once the world returns to some sort of normalcy. In ten years, the sport will be bigger and better. It has too much going for it not to be.
7 - You have done extensive research on disc golf, including the sustainability and safety of the sport. Is disc golf safer than other mainstream sports such as football, baseball, etc?
While no sport is entirely safe, playing disc golf is significantly less risky than playing the sports you mentioned. Add that to the list of reasons why disc golf is awesome.
8 - Ledgestone TD Nate Heinold has been called many things over the years, some not as positive as others. You have worked with him for the last 3 years on the PDGA Board of Directors. What's it been like to work with Nate?
I often say that Nate and I agree 48% percent of the time. I change the percentage every time for laughs. We don’t always agree. In fact, we may not often agree-- but that doesn’t matter to us. One thing we have in common is we both work a lot of hours for the good of the cause. And that has created a mutual respect.
9 - You wrote a book about disc golf. How did that come about and where can people buy it?
I was writing a book I could use in teaching a course for academic credit at Western Carolina University. My eventual co-author was writing a separate book. We met over a pint and decided to collaborate. The book morphed into more of a trade press than an academic endeavor. We were both a little surprised at the number of publishing offers once we finished our proposal. It is available everywhere--at nearly every disc golf specialty store, Amazon, Wal-Mart, nearly everywhere.
10 - The PDGA is currently weathering one of its largest disruptions in history with the spread of COVID-19. Organized sporting events all over the world have shut down. Some have said that disc golf is "safer" than other sports and sanctioned play should begin immediately. How would you respond to that?
The longer we can socially distance, the better for humanity. I think we are going to see a gradual return to competitive play in sports like disc golf and traditional golf. Sports like Ultimate are going to have to wait longer for obvious reasons. It is very frustrating but we will get through this. Many PDGA members who are also health care professionals have expressed their admiration for our approach.
Thank you to Justin for answering our questions. Stay tuned for our next article in the Ledgestone Q & A Series!