BROOKINGS – Brookings is home to a growing disc golf community, with full courses at Larson Park and on the South Dakota State University campus.
While disc golf is popular mostly with those college-aged and older, two younger players have started taking the local disc golf community by storm.
Brookings brothers Loren and Layne Buterbaugh, ages 13 and 9, got started when Loren got a disc from a birthday party. At the time, Loren didn’t know how to properly throw a disc, hurling it around, often times only getting it to go a few feet or watching it roll around in circles. The disc, and the sport that he then knew little about, sparked his curiosity. Soon, he, his dad, and his brother began venturing out to Larson Park to play disc golf together.
They began learning the game and throwing the disc better and better, learning the different techniques, forehand and backhand, that are primarily used. Once COVID-19 hit, and school went remote, they started playing all the time.
“They would come home and tell me they went and played at Oakwood, then Madison, and then in Brookings,” Robin Buterbaugh, mother to the two boys, said. “They played all the time, and they played everywhere.”
The family affair with disc golf began to grow, and the Buterbaugh clan began to look for tournaments to play in. The brothers, along with their dad, began traveling to local tournaments, including the Oakwood Open.
Eventually, they found out about a disc golf league in Brookings that met on Tuesday and Thursday nights when the weather was nice. They started becoming “regulars” at league, and their game continued to rapidly improve.
“These two are the most passionate young guys I met so far when it comes to disc golf,” Devan Weitala, disc golf league player and part league organizer said. “Since they joined our league last year, I have seen nothing but improvement. They went from some kids coming to play with their dad to tournament players in the matter of one offseason.”
As their love for the game grew, Loren decided that other sports he was involved with were taking too much time away from disc golf. Soccer practice often conflicted with league, which meant soccer had to take a back seat.
“If you have talent, you should pursue the sport,” Loren said. “But you have to practice a lot.”
Disc golf for most players in South Dakota is a spring, summer and fall sport. But for the Buterbaugh brothers, disc golf is year-round. During the winter, they joined an indoor putting league, helping them master their “short-game.” They also practice a lot of “shots you don’t think you’ll need,” during the winter. Winter doesn’t mean that no outdoor disc golf is played, however. In February, the brothers played a tournament in Aberdeen.
“That was a little too cold,” Robin said.
When the brothers first started playing in tournaments, they signed up and played in the junior division. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other junior disc golf players out there.
“No kids that I know play disc golf,” Loren said. “Some teachers do though and some kids that I am friends with say, ‘Wow, disc golf is fun.’”
At tournaments, this means that they often play alone or with each other. At the South Dakota 2020 State Disc Golf Tournament in Aberdeen, Loren and Layne went 1-2, but they were the only two to compete.
“When there are junior divisions, there’s usually no one in them, so if Layne plays, he wins,” Robin said. “But he doesn’t get to play with anyone.”
This means that the brothers play “up” in division. Loren started the year playing recreational, then jumped up to intermediate. He was winning most of the recreational divisions, so moving up made sense.
“People assume that since I am a kid, I am not very good, so they put me at the bottom of the card,” Loren said. “At intermediate, I play with better players, and that helps me to play better.”
“Loren recently won the Albatross Tour for the recreational division, beating out many people who have played a lot longer than he has, before moving up to intermediate division now,” Weitala said. “Layne has made huge this year and even won the junior division at our Jackrabbit Throwdown 2 sanctioned disc golf tourney in Brookings.”
According to Loren and Layne, playing league with the guys each week has really helped their game, as they learn different throws and techniques from some of the older players.
“The guys in league have really been welcoming and taken them under their wing,” Robin said.
“(Loren) is giving us league guys a run for our money each week,” Weitala said. “Their development has been amazing to watch, and with the experienced league (with advanced and open division players) there to help with tips, tricks, and answers to questions along the way, I expect great things from both of them in the future.”
This summer, tournament disc golf really took off for the Buterbaugh brothers. According to Robin, they have been traveling to tournaments constantly, playing in Brandon, Custer, Mitchell and Sioux Falls, just to name a few. Recently, they played in a bigger tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both of the brothers have aspirations to become very successful in the disc golf world.
“(Loren) wants to be like James Conrad (a pro disc golfer),” Layne said.
Pro disc golf has taken off in recent years, with some tournaments being shown on ESPN2 and prize money for tournaments beginning to skyrocket. On YouTube, videos of pro disc golf tournaments consistently get more than 500,000 views.
“These two are going to do great things in their respective divisions in the future,” Weitala said. “For how good Loren is getting, he better watch out for Layne, because he has a three-year head start on him for when they began playing disc golf.”
“My dream is to be on the pro tour one day,” Loren said. “And win one.”
At the South Dakota State Championships, which took place on Sept. 18-19 in the Black Hills at Pageant Hill Disc Golf Course near Custer, both Loren and Layne came away victorious in their respective divisions. Loren won the intermediate division, posting an even par full tournament score. Layne won the under-10 junior division, posting a +36 score for the full tournament.
Other results from Brookings-area players included Weitala, who finished 20th in the open division. Michael Kuechenmeister finished third in the advanced division with Paul McDowell finishing 16th. In the intermediate division, Chris Bahr finished 31st.
Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]