So what’s it like for women to play in the USDGC, an event that’s been open to all players, but has still been virtually all male since its inception in 1999?
Looking back at past USDGC fields, the most females that played in a Championship at one time was four, which happened in 2006, 2008, 2010, and the 2012 Performance Flight. In 12 of the 18 Championships, there’s been two or fewer ladies in attendance.
You can imagine how that can take a little getting used to for some.
“It is definitely a different feeling to be one of the few women competing in an event full of guys,” said Valarie Jenkins, who played in the USDGC from 2007-2010, being the only woman in 2007. “I always felt that there were two types of competitors that I would play with through the week.”
She explained that there were males in her groups that were fully supportive and having a great time, and then there were those whose only motivation was to beat her – which put off negative vibes.
Overall, though, she says it was a positive experience to compete in one of the game’s elite events with the sport’s best players. Plus, she’ll never forget some of her favorite Championship memories like: making eagle on Hole 8 twice, playing with eventual champ Will Schusterick during the first round in 2010, and playing with her future husband Nate Doss.
Jenkins qualified for her four USDGC’s by either being the current women’s World or US Champion for that season – a common way in for many of the USDGC’s past female participants including other great female players like Des Reading and Juliana Korver. Based on our research only Reading, Korver, Elaine King, and now Paige Pierce have qualified by score from regional qualifiers.
In general, Des Reading said she didn’t feel strange being one of few women at the Championship (In 2002, she was the only female). Her mindset at the USDGC was the same as how she approached any athletic endeavor, which was to first focus on her game and later see how she stacked up.
“It is your skill set against the course. Some players will have a stronger skill set which provides more opportunities, but it always comes down to how a player efficiently maximizes their skills when applied to the course and conditions,” said Reading.
Reading said it only got awkward when people believed there was a battle just among the women playing, which was untrue. Like anyone else, they wanted to finish as well as possible.
“We (women) were the least of each other's worries,” said Reading, whose best memories of the USDGC were during its formative years from 2002-2006. “Everyone looked forward to the week of the Championship. It was a week where players were reminded that they qualified to be at Winthrop Gold,” said Reading.
Some of Juliana Korver’s fondest memories of disc golf are from the USDGC. Korver said she’s not one to recount hole-by-hole details years later, but there are shots she made at Winthrop Gold that she’ll never forget.
In 2000 and 2001, Korver was the only woman at the USDGC and she said she enjoyed it.
“The first two years I remember hearing players asking each other if they were above the ‘Juliana Line.’ I felt included. I wasn't given any handicaps for my gender. I was there because I was a top player,” said Korver, adding that she was there to show people what she was capable of and she “loved it.”
When the USDGC began tightening qualification in 2012, it removed most of the exemptions including the reigning World Champion invitation (both male and female) and the US Women’s Champion invitation.
Last year, the US Women’s Champion was again invited to the USDGC along with other US National Champions (Masters, Amateur, and Deaf Disc Golf National Champion). US Women’s National Champ Sarah Hokom declined the invitation. However, a sponsorship wild card invitation was awarded to Catrina Allen, who became the first female to play in a non Performance Flight USDGC since 2010.
After becoming only the fourth woman to qualify by score at a regional qualifier, Paige Pierce will likely be the only woman or one of few at this year’s Championship. Pierce, though, has been there before. When it comes to playing alongside men, Pierce said she doesn’t approach those tournaments any differently. “… I just try to stick to my own game and hope that translates to a good enough score!” said Pierce.