The Pro You Don’t Know
The pro you don’t know
Coveite battles with top pros on PDGA Tour
By TJ MAXWELL
This is part one of a series on one of the fastest-growing sports in the world – disc golf. This article focuses on Copperas Cove resident and professional disc golfer Jamie Callis.
Most everyone around the Copperas Cove area sports’ scene has heard of Robert Griffin III, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, Josh Boyce and Shereka Wright – unless you’re living under a rock.
A name you likely have never heard, Jamie Callis, is also a professional athlete from Copperas Cove.
Callis, whose fulltime job is in the medical profession, works a second job in some of the most beautiful and serene environments one can imagine.
Callis, a former baseball player, is a professional disc golfer.
“A group of friends carried me out to play (my first time), but I would go back out by myself all the time,” he said. “I was a baseball player for years growing up. I was probably 24 when I started. It was a way for me to get back out and get active in something with sports.”
Disc Golf, like ball golf, is played on a course with the object of completing each hole in the fewest strokes. Disc golf, however, uses a series of flying discs throw at a suspended basket with chains.
When not saving lives, Callis competes on the Professional Disc Golf Association’s pro tour against some of the top athletes in the sport from all over the world.
Callis, who turned pro within a year of first throwing a disc, has made nearly $10,000 in career earnings and has 10 career wins playing a game with a Frisbee® as a professional.
Callis was competing at the top level in 2011-2012. He competed in 25 tournaments, winning four and pocketing almost $4,000 in winnings, but soon burned out between traveling for practice and holding down a fulltime job. Callis, is now reenergized and ready to get back in full swing. A course in Cove would allow him to increase his confidence to play in more events.
“I’d probably do a few more (tournaments) over a year span,” he said. “I’m pretty consistent and I play some of the same events every year. I got burned out a couple years ago, but I’m getting back into playing now and it’s fun again. It got to be a job for a while, especially when you’re playing in the top division, if you really want to compete - that’s just to compete for cash. It’s almost like a second job.”
It didn’t take him long to develop that love for the sport. Like many people who play the sport, it was one shot, one day that hooked him.
“I had been playing maybe a month and a half since I first picked up a disc,” he said. “Some people were going to come meet me later. I was playing the first few holes. On the second hole, by myself, I aced the hole. Since then I’ve been going out and playing with the more competitive guys.”
As with anything, to compete at the top level you must hone your skills and practice, practice, practice – which is easier said than done in the disc golf world.
In your major sports - football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, tennis and even golf – communities have gyms, stadiums, fields, courts and courses to accommodate those wanting to play.
The same can’t be said for one of the fastest-growing and all-inclusive sports in the world.
Even with the ease and low cost of construction and upkeep, many communities have yet to jump on the disc golf ban wagon – despite there being more than 6,200 course worldwide and steadily increasing.
That makes it more of a challenge for guys like Callis, who must navigate his way to a course in another town to get in some much-needed practice because his hometown of Copperas Cove doesn’t have a course. He must travel to Gatesville, Killeen, Harker Heights, Burnet or even farther in order to practice his craft. That affects his standing on the professional tour. To be competitive you must put in the hours on the course and that’s difficult to do when there is not one close by.
“To really do it and compete at the top level, you have to spend 6-8 hours a day,” said Callis. “If there was a course in Cove I would absolutely play more. There has been few times I’ve actually taken my baskets to Ogletree Gap and got out there and threw around. I met up with Terry (Johnson) and Mike Peyton. We made our own holes and played from different tees.”
Johnson and Peyton are among the rapidly-growing group of avid disc golfers from the Copperas Cove area.
Ogletree Gap is the proposed location for possible disc golf courses in Copperas Cove but the $40,000 needed to build a championship course, designed by disc golf pioneer John Houck, must be raised to design and build the course. There will be more to come on that topic in the next installment.
Despite only getting to the courses on tournament day because of a lack of practice facilities, Callis finished third in his last two events, including his favorite tournament – the 16th Annual Nacogdoches Open.
Callis, who competes in the Master’s Division (age 40 and above), shot a -12 under par to finish in a tie for third out of 22 players in his division.
The Nacogdoches Open has grown from a fledgling event with mostly local players to 216 that competed in the 16th tournament.
“I’ve seen that tournament with around 50 or 60 players,” said Callis. “Last year there were 180 and this year it was up to 216. They were full a month beforehand. Nacogdoches is basically a college town with a population pretty close to Cove’s, around 30,000 – if that.”
“Out of the 216 players, probably 200 of them were out-of-towners that had to come in and spend money in the town,” added Callis. “If you figure a minimum of $100, although many spend $200 or $300, that’s around $25,000 to $50,000 that comes to town that weekend with the extra taxes you get and money pumped into the local economy.”
Those numbers can definitely help grow a city’s budget with the added tourism dollars.
Even when PDGA-sanctioned tournaments aren’t being held, courses bring in tourism dollars from surrounding communities as disc golfers like to experience different courses that require different skill sets.
Hundreds of disc golfers visit local course each week and spend money in the towns they visit, says Callis.
“You’ll have people driving up from all around, especially at the beginning when the course first goes in,” he said. “Anytime anything opens in the area, disc golfers are good about getting out and supporting it and helped getting it open.”
Unlike traditional golf, grass conditions aren’t really an issue for disc golf. Golf courses spend a vast amount of money on upkeep of the different grass surfaces of a course. Disc golf needs minimal upkeep as the shots are made through the air.
“The disc golf community is rally good at taking care of courses,” said Callis. “Of course, in every walk of life you are going to have some people that aren’t the best, but most are good about policing themselves, picking up trash, and upkeep on the course. The only thing the city usually has to do is mowing and maybe hauling off fallen limbs. The city upkeep is minimum.”
Although the sport has gained national attention recently - being featured on Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays on four separate occasions, including an ace by top 10-ranked Dave Feldberg during the Maple Hill Open last week – the prize monies are still not enough for most pros to make a living.
That, too, is changing.
As more and more courses are built and more and more players take to those courses, more sponsors are coming out of the woodwork to put up prize money for the professionals and merchandise for the amateur players.
Paul McBeth of Huntington Beach, California, the No. 1 ranked male player in the world has made over $205, 000 in his eight-plus years as a pro - $148, 646 of that has been earned since January of 2012. As more sponsors are exposed to the sport of disc golf, the prize money grows.
Paige Pierce of Plano is the top woman in the sport. She has over $78,000 in career earnings since turning pro mid-2009.
Callis has one message for anyone that has never played the sport of disc golf.
“Come out and play,” he said. “Get a group of your friends together and go out. It’s a walk in the park and you’re just playing disc golf along with it. It’s a way to be out and be active but it doesn’t take a high level of skill to be out. They have all different levels – from your basic beginners all the way up to the top level. It’s just about getting a group of friends and having fun.”
Callis will next compete in the Waco Annual Charity Open, an A-tier event, at William Cameron Park and Brazos Park East in Waco on August 22-23. Proceeds from the tournament benefit the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic.