Getting off the Teepad
In the summer of 2021, I was still fresh to the disc golf scene, and just starting to compete in tournaments and leagues. I was hungry for more ways to get enmeshed in the community and wanted to grow my circle of disc golfing friends. I saw a social media post by a local brewery called Riverlands promoting “Frisbeer Thursdays,” and went to check it out a couple weeks later.
Upon arriving at the brewery, I saw a lonely yellow basket sitting on the patio with some putters in it, apparently belonging to one of the bartenders. Initially dismayed, I was soon approached by the one other patron who had brought discs, and we got to talking and putting. Ray and I became friends almost instantly, as men with shared interests typically do. After a couple weeks of playing “HORSE” and other games, we began inviting our friends and making Riverlands a regular thing. As the months rolled by and we got to know the bartenders, they started expecting us on Thursdays, and advertising for “Frisbeer Thursdays” faded.
This is where I believe the gears started turning. In 2022, we started inviting people we met at tournaments, and encouraged them to bring their friends. Around the end of summer, Ray suggested putting some cash on our games to up the ante on our friendly competition. Initially reluctant at the idea of betting money on my putting skills, I saw I was outvoted and so grudgingly agreed. Ray created a small handmade disc golf basket as a trophy for the winner to keep for the week. That trophy would spend much of that summer in my possession, as it turned out.
Come September, the idea to formalize our weekly get-togethers as a putting league started being discussed. Ray came up with a name and logo, and even created social media pages for the league. We promoted our pilot event on a local disc golf page in October, and Putts n Pints was officially conceived.
As we got started, we got some operational help from good friends we’d made as the league was taking shape. One such was Jon, whose wizardry in Excel sheets was essential, letting us automatically calculate payouts and track scores, as well as generate unique stats for each player. Our other friend, Andy, runs his own summer league, and was able to help us with operations and provide extra equipment when we needed it. And by collaborating with Josh at Airmail Discs, we were able to offer putters for sale, which meant curious brewery patrons could join us when they didn’t have their own.
Going for Eagle
As we started losing the Riverlands patio to other events and wanting indoor space for the approaching winter, we began looking to include other local breweries as potential hosts. Ray, who seems to know everyone who runs a business in the Tri-City area, reached out to his acquaintances at Penrose, D&G, and 93 Octane breweries, securing us options for the coming season.
Now having greater local promotion, Putts n Pints formally began as a Thursday night league at the advent of 2023. The weeks cruised by and we got our legs under us. While out of work due to a small surgery, Ray got the bit in his teeth to start planning something bigger.
Over the course of the season, we had set aside a small portion of entry fees for charity. We decided we wanted to do more with that. Penrose had their anniversary coming up, and was planning a week of activities to celebrate. Ray worked his magic with the owner, and we got the green light to start planning our first tournament-style putting event, the Anniversary Open.
We designed a wacky 9-hole layout, and secured the needed baskets from friends we’d made at league night. Forklifts, ladders, tables, kegs, and more were used to enhance the different holes. We aggressively promoted this event. All proceeds would go to the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a nonprofit that provides free services for the mentally ill and their families. Making good use of his extensive social network, Ray was dauntless in securing donated raffle and tournament prizes from local businesses, breweries, and artists.
The Anniversary Open, held on the first Saturday of April, was a smashing success. We hosted some 60 attendees, and raised $1500 to donate to NAMI. We received a letter of thanks from the organization and the family that the money helped. It was a powerful reward for such enjoyable work, and only drove us to want to do more. This event inspired our league’s motto, “Uniting disc golf and craft beer for a good cause.”
Since then, we’ve worked with local businesses to design and coordinate two more events, the first another putting course event, and the second a disc swap. Between them, we raised another $2200, which went to nonprofits that support our local watershed and suicide prevention. The latest feather in our cap was being consulted for the designing of the 9-hole course that opened in Schaumburg late last year. We have found purpose and passion in these projects, and I’m incredibly proud to have been involved with them.
As we worked to get Putts n Pints started, we encountered some roadblocks. One of the first big ones was the struggle to get firm commitments and timely communication from the breweries that had expressed a verbal willingness to host us. This made it difficult to promote the league nights and give people time to plan accordingly. It was also largely why we took several months to formalize Putts n Pints as a regular putting league. With some additional persistence from our end, we eventually smoothed out this issue, and got the breweries to start promoting our events ahead of time. This season, Ray nailed down every week’s location so that we could have a formal schedule in place ahead of time that people could reference.
A less obvious obstacle we’ve faced is our location. There is a very prominent disc golf scene in the Chicagoland area, however, our locale is outside some of the more active nuclei in the northern and southern suburbs. While it is a blessing for disc golfers to have so many courses and activities in a rather small radius, they generally tend to gravitate to the more well-established leagues, which has made it difficult for us to significantly grow our attendance numbers. The temperamental winters here also contribute to this problem. Unfortunately, these elements are somewhat outside our control.
Another challenge we’ve faced has been formatting. When we began, we kept to our original single or dual basket layout with minis to mark 5 progressively further stations. The only real variety was provided by PuttConfidently’s Champ Cap and the length of the space we had. It made for a lot of waiting and spectating while one person attempted putts at each station. While it was great for socializing and helping the brewery’s beer sales, this made for some rather late nights. This season, we largely resolved this by gaining access to more brewery space, which allows for layouts akin to what we used at the Anniversary Open - a putting course with multiple baskets and more shot variety, as well as more efficiency.
As I’m writing this, Putts n Pints just wrapped up our second week of our planned 13 week season for 2024. We have a sponsorship through a local brick-and-mortar shop, and partnered with our good friends at Tri-City Disc Golf League. These collaborations have brought some awesome prizes, and a point system that will incentivize more consistent attendance. With our updated format, we can handle larger crowds at most of our venues, which include Riverlands, Penrose, 93 Octane, and a new brewstillery called Grainology. We hope the improvements and new prizes will bring more fresh faces to our league this season.
As far as bigger events planned for the year, Ray and I have registered as Certified Officials with the PDGA and are planning to work with some more experienced friends to direct our first sanctioned event. Beyond that, we hope to repeat some events we ran last year and continue to raise funds for nonprofits that are important to us.
Freshly brought to the table is a tentative plan to volunteer at IMSA this summer to run a disc golf clinic for the youths attending the school. As the year progresses, we will keep looking for more ways to give back to the community and grow the sport within it.
Putts n Pints Instagram page link: Here