Sports

Karl Lindholm: Angus Barstow is a golf pro & elementary school teacher

ANGUS BARSTOW IN his trademark Crocs footwear drives off the tee in a practice round at Cold Hollow Disc Golf Course in Enosburg. Photos courtesy of Angus Barstow

Going into the final round of the “Hills are Alive” Tournament in Stowe last September, Angus Barstow, 31, of Middlebury was four shots off the lead.

On these final 18 holes, he sizzled, shooting five under par on the front nine with three consecutive birdies on holes 7, 8, and 9 — and then shot five under again on the back nine to win the tournament by three strokes!

For this win, he earned first-place prize money: a jackpot of $297.00.

Angus Barstow is a disc golf professional.

He is also a second-grade teacher at the Bridge School in Middlebury. He played in 10 tournaments last year (he hopes to play in more this year) and finished in the money a number of times. “I made enough that I had to claim it on my taxes,” he told me in a conversation last week.

“I throw every day pretty much,” Angus said of his routine. He has a basket in his back yard and another in his basement where he practices his “putting,” which are throws from 50 feet and in. “The same as golf,” Angus explained, “that’s where tournaments are won.”

To play a practice round, he heads to nearby disc golf courses at Camp Keewaydin (where Angus has been employed for the last 11 summers) and in Pittsford at the public recreation park there. “Disc golf is similar to golf but the ‘status element’ is not there,” he said.

“There’s great variety of disc golf courses: no course is the same. The majority of courses are on public spaces and are free. The best course in Vermont at Smugglers Notch is just $10 to play.

“What I like about disc golf is that it rewards accuracy under ever-changing circumstances, all the while providing an excellent excuse to spend time with friends outdoors.”

No doubt you have passed by a disc golf course in an open area somewhere in your travels, recognizable by the distinctive “baskets” three or four feet above ground. Some are out in the open while others weave through heavily wooded areas.

The rules and terminology of disc golf are very similar to its better-known sticks and balls and holes in the ground precedent: nine- and 18-hole rounds, birdies, pars, and bogeys. The par threes are 150 to 200 feet from the tee, par 4s are 300-450 feet, and the par 5s upwards from there. The longest par 5 is in Vermont is 1,200 feet at Smugglers. The longest distance throw in disc golf history was 1,108 feet.

If you have access to YouTube, you might watch “the Holy Shot” by James Conrad, easily found, the greatest shot in disc golf history, a 247-foot birdie in the final round of the 2021 National Championship in Ogden, Utah.

“In disc golf,” Angus explained, “the club and the ball are the same. There are over a thousand different molds of discs. They typically weigh about 175 grams, and all are about the same diameter (21 centimeters). It’s the shape of the edge of the disc that determines its speed and flight pattern. Players carry 15-25 discs in their backpacks in a round. Just as in golf, there are lost discs.”

MIDDLEBURY DISC GOLFER Angus Barstow stops for a photo at the 2020 Green Mountain Disc Golf Championship at Smugglers Notch in Jeffersonville.

Photo courtesy of Angus Barstow

There is a growing pro disc golf tour with 25-30 events, both “Elite Series” events and somewhat lesser “Silver Series” events, and a professional disc golf association, the PDGA. A number of equipment manufacturers sponsor events and players. “It’s a billion-dollar industry,” Angus said. “Three players are making over a million dollars a year.”

“Vermont,” Angus explained, “is one of the most influential states. We have at least one big tournament each year, and this year the World Championship is being held at Smugglers.”

Disc golf has been around for a while. The sport is perhaps an inevitable outgrowth from the universal appeal of casual frisbee throwing.

(No, I’m not going to tell the story of how Middlebury College students in 1939 invented the pastime by tossing Frisbie pie plates to one another: another time maybe.)

Also, the sport of Ultimate Frisbee has been gaining adherents and legitimacy for decades now and is a club or varsity sport on many campuses, including Middlebury College.

Disc golf’s quite extraordinary growth is significantly the result of the pandemic: It got people out from their solitary interior spaces to the great outdoors, into an enjoyable physical activity that could be played in relative safety in groups, much like the other golf.

Angus sparked controversy last year when he had the audacity to play a big tour event filmed live, the Green Mountain Championship at Smuggler’s, in a pair of Crocs. This choice of footwear alarmed some of the cognoscenti in the sport and elicited this headline and a lively subsequent discussion online (check it out!): “Angus Barstow playing in Crocs is a slap in the face of Discgolf. He is playing a pro tour event in Tupperware for your feet!”

“I always wear Crocs in competition — they’re far and away my favorite footwear,” Angus asserts defiantly.

Angus enjoyed more conventional sports growing up in Middlebury. He skis in the winter and was a midfielder on the soccer team at MUHS and decathlete in track. But his passion, before disc golf, was pool. He is a highly skilled pool player and has played APA (American Poolplayers Association) competitions in Burlington.

“Between high school and college (he graduated from Wheaton College, an Asian Studies major, in 2014), I took a year off and worked for a local builder and played pool every day for three or four hours, mostly at the Grille at Middlebury College.

THE SETTING SUN casts a warm glow on Hole 5 of a “secret disc golf course whose location cannot be publicly shared.”

“I was fixated on pool. I never had a bad time playing pool. It’s the pinnacle of positional strategy games. You play against yourself on a shared surface. But playing pool was not possible during the pandemic, so I went outside and started playing disc golf. Now I hardly play pool at all.”

In both golf and pool, side bets are very much a part of the game, but not for Angus. “I don’t gamble in any sport I play.

“I’ll happily beat you for free.”

—————

Karl Lindholm, Ph.D., is a retired dean and faculty member at Middlebury College. Contact him at [email protected].

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