Deaf disc golfer Boyes will represent at the World Championships
By Ryan Moses
Posted: 08/05/2011 01:30:54 AM PDT
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Disc golfer Nathan Boyes celebrates a good throw with a simple gesture. He brings the back of his right hand to his lips, and taps the tips of his thumb and index finger together, making the shape of a small beak opening and closing. The other deaf players in his group know what that means -- Boyes has just made birdie.
Boyes, who was identified as deaf at the age of 2, is the president of the Deaf Disc Golf Association and one of three deaf players set to compete in the Professional Disc Golf Association World Championships. The tournament will be held Saturday through Aug. 13 at four courses in the Monterey Bay area -- DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, Pinto Lake in Watsonville, Ryan Ranch in Monterey and The Oaks course on the CSU-Monterey Bay campus.
More than 430 players from 14 countries are set to compete, including reigning men's champion Eric McCabe, reigning women's champion Sarah Stanhope and two-time winner Nate Doss of Capitola. There are eight division titles and more than $100,000 in prize money up for grabs.
The deaf competitors earned their way into the tournament with their performances at the 11th Deaf Disc Golf Championships in Austin, Texas, earlier this year. Justin Ashton won the open division with Boyes taking second, and Todd Thompson won the 40-and-older title.
"As far as having an opportunity to play Pro Worlds is super awesome, but it means more knowing that the Pro Worlds Committee reached out and held spots for us, and I earned
my way in with my play at Deaf Nationals, [which] makes it all more valuable," Boyes wrote in an email. "I just hope I represent my Deaf disc golfers well."
Disc golf has been steadily gaining popularity in the deaf community over the last decade, according to Kent Schafer, former president of the DDGA, which hosts annual tournaments for deaf players around the country. The organization currently has 128 active members, an increase of 70 percent in the last two years, according to Boyes, who estimates there are several hundred deaf disc golfers in the U.S.
Schafer said many deaf people have picked up the game while attending Rochester Institute of Technology in New York or Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., both colleges for the deaf that have disc golf courses on campus.
"Disc golf is taking the Deaf community by storm because those who are already involved in the sport are good people and good leaders who recruit new players all the time, sharing their pure love of the game," Boyes wrote.
Tom Schot of Santa Cruz, executive director of the World Championships, believes this is the first year deaf players have competed in the tournament. The DDGA hopes the deaf community's increased participation in PDGA events will help break the communication barrier between the deaf and hearing.
Earlier this year, deaf disc golfer Tan Nguyen caddied for his hearing friend Paul McBeth when McBeth fired a 12-under in the final round to win a PDGA National Tour event in Oregon. Tournament officials at the World Championships have arranged to have an American Sign Language interpreter present at official meetings, the opening ceremonies and finals.
"I went to their world championships online and I was shocked at how many people were playing disc golf -- shocked at how big it was," Schot said. "I'm trying to bridge that gap. They're in our disc golf family and we want to make them feel welcome and comfortable playing in the tournament."
Boyes said the PDGA's efforts are a big step in the right direction. He's been at events where a deaf golfer was hit by a disc because of lack of communication, and said many hearing golfers are uncomfortable when he tries to communicate with them.
"You would be surprised how often people break down when all I do is gesture to ask them how they did playing-wise after a round," Boyes wrote. "Simple gestures for us is sometimes too much for some people to take in."
Boyes recently posted a 12-minute lesson in disc golf sign language on YouTube featuring touring pros demonstrating gestures. Deaf disc golfers also keep pen and paper handy to jot down quick notes to competitors and officials who don't understand sign language.
Boyes, Ashton, Thompson and their families will all be staying in a house together in Santa Cruz during the World Championships, along with several hearing pros.
"I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to take on the challenge of competing with the best players in the world. I look forward to having a lot of fun at the event, and I will do my very best to win," wrote Ashton, who is a three-time national deaf champion. With a 990 rating [similar to a handicap in traditional golf], he is close to becoming the first deaf player to reach 1,000. Comparatively, top pros like Doss and 12-time world champion Ken Climo have ratings closer to 1,030.
Schafer has seen the sport grow rapidly since he was one of five out-of-state players to compete in the first Deaf Nationals in Austin, Texas, in 2001. Next he would like to see younger deaf people exposed to the game with courses installed at K-12 schools for the deaf nationwide.
"Culture-wise, it thrills me that more and more Deaf disc golfers are competing on the professional ranks. I look forward to seeing some Deaf disc golfer taking down the top dogs," Schafer wrote. "I hope that with this continued exposure, the communication barrier becomes smaller and smaller."