UAB Disc Golf Team competes, coached by world champion

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Justin Leslie and his teammates found themselves traveling some historic real estate in Augusta, Ga., a few weeks ago when they made the long drive down famous Washington Street. But instead of turning right into Augusta National Golf Club, they kept driving to the — Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex?

Tom Monroe, center, coaches UAB’s Disc Golf Team. The group recently competed in the the 2011 National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship in Augusta, Ga. UAB has finished 10th, 7th and 19th in the competition each of the past three years.

There were no majestic azaleas, no light piano melodies or Jim Nantz soliloquies. But there was a nicely manicured course, many talented golfers and intense competition for the 2011 National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship.

Leslie was making his third — and final — trip to the event. The Moody native will graduate this spring with a degree in biomedical engineering, but he will leave with three years of good memories from his days with the disc golf team.

“I just started playing disc golf my sophomore year, and I joined the UAB team the next year,” says Leslie, team captain. “I went to the national championships in 2009, and it was a great time. I knew it was something that would grow, and it has. It’s being recognized as a sport.”

They’ve been three pretty successful years for UAB’s team in this quickly rising sport. The Blazers have finished Nos. 10, 7 and 19 the past three years. This year 36 teams competed in the national championship.

“We have a chance of being a national championship team,” says Tom Monroe, adjunct professor in Human Studies and coach.

Monroe should be a pretty good judge of talent and UAB’s future prospects. He has won seven individual Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) World Championships and finished in second place on 10 other occasions. He has been a champion in almost all flying disc sports, including ultimate, freestyle and field events.

Monroe came to UAB to teach the flying disc sports course in 2008 and began putting a UAB team together around the time he was hired. Members of the PDGA told Monroe of their plans to start a national collegiate championship tournament and wanted him to put together a team to send to compete.

“I contacted a friend at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and we let guys at the University of Alabama know about it, too,” Monroe says. “We’ve had teams from UAB, UAH and Tuscaloosa go pretty much every year since.”

Disc golf is played much like regular golf except players use discs similar to Frisbees rather than balls and clubs, and players aim for baskets instead of holes. The object is to complete each hole with the fewest number of strokes.

Leslie posted UAB’s best individual finish at this year’s national championship, shooting 14-over-par through four rounds — good enough for a 23rd place finish out of more than 140 competitors. Other team members and their place of finish include: James Salvant, 56th overall; Kevin Dohoney, 83rd overall; and John Roberts, 129th overall. Rounding out the team are alternates Marc Carr and Clifford Smith.

“These guys are athletes,” says Monroe. “They practice and they train. They may come to practice and toss 50 to 100 shots. Many have practice targets in their backyards, and they will spend hours refining that putt and learning different kinds of putts.

“The game is easy to learn, but hard to master.”

Disc golf has been the fastest-growing sport in America during the past 10 years, based on the number of courses built and discs sold. There are more than 3,600 courses nationwide — up from 1,100 in 2000. Membership in the PDGA also has grown to more than 14,400 people.

There are three courses in Birmingham. George Ward Park has a course that UAB students use, and two others are open in Trussville. Monroe’s club, Disc Golf Birmingham, is working to put a course up in the Inverness area near Highway 280 that should be completed this summer.

“Birmingham is becoming quite the disc golf town,” Monroe says. “And it’s growing everywhere. I get Google alerts for disc golf, and every night I have six to eight stories about disc golf in America. It’s seems like every day there’s a new course going up somewhere or a new tournament is being announced. It’s just amazing the growth this sport is having right now.”

UAB’s Disc Golf Team will experience some new growth next year. Several players in addition to Leslie have exhausted their eligibility. Anyone interested in being a part of the team or just learning more about disc golf can contact Monroe at

“It’s really a lot of fun, especially competing in the national championships,” Leslie says. “This year was the biggest and best field. No doubt it had the best teams and the best individual players.”