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20 Year And The Volunteers

Las Vegas Challenge Tournament Director Jeff Jacquart (left) has been at the helm for two decades.

HENDERSON, Nev. – Flashback to January 2000. It was just beyond the turn of the millennium, the Y2K scare not yet a distant memory. Next Friday topped the box office for a second straight week by netting a shade over $8 million, while Christina Aguilera’s “What A Girl Wants” spun on repeat on the nation’s airwaves. The St. Louis Rams, under the guidance of a former grocery bagger-turned-NFL MVP, were just about to win their only Super Bowl in franchise history.

Paige Pierce was in fourth grade. Eagle McMahon was still in diapers. Eveliina Salonen wasn’t even born yet.

And on the 22nd day of that month, Jeff Jacquart and 43 other brave souls took to Southern Nevada’s Sunset Park – just a few long drives from the famed Las Vegas Strip – for the first Gentlemen’s Club Challenge, a PDGA-sanctioned C-Tier tournament.

Nineteen years have passed since that first event, and disc golf both in Las Vegas and beyond has grown exponentially since. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the effort that underpinned the tournament.

“I guess what was an eye-opener for me was, even though we only had 44 players, how much worked is needed, is involved in order for it to be successful and as smooth-running as possible,” Jacquart said as he took time out from planning this year’s tournament, now known as the Las Vegas Challenge, which celebrates its 20th anniversary as it kicks off the 2019 PDGA National Tour today. “That’s what I really took away from that. It was, ‘Boy, this is a lot more work than a couple guys getting together and challenging other people.'

“That was 44 people,” Jacquart continued. “Now, we’re 15 times bigger than that.”

Indeed, Jacquart and the Las Vegas Disc Golf Club have grown the Challenge into a perennial mainstay on the professional touring scene, welcoming 187 players to the National Tour event and an additional 378 to the concurrent A-Tier that now run over four days at Wildhorse Golf Club. With three courses, a bar and restaurant, and plenty of spectator-friendly sightlines here in the suburban enclave of Henderson, the venue is a pleasant respite from the neon haze and energetic bustle of Sin City. Instead, the focus is solely on competition on a platform that oozes professionalism.

Assistant Tournament Director Scott Merritt, who has worked with Jacquart since 2007, said Wildhorse’s wow factor was rivaled by few locales on tour.

“The atmosphere’s not like anywhere you go,” Merritt said. “You come to one parking lot. You walk out, there’s three courses, you see all the tents and everything – there’s this huge atmosphere. I’ve only gotten this at Worlds, or Junior Worlds I went to with my son last year in Emporia. The atmosphere is really unique. I love watching people coming for the first time. They’re like, ‘Ahhhh.’”

The environment, though, has its foundations in its staff. Jacquart has a dedicated team of more than two dozen volunteers, and that doesn’t count the endless supply of single-day helpers on hand. He paid tribute to all of them – plus his original crew from 2000 and the three players who have played every iteration of the tournament – during a raucous, yet sentimental player’s meeting Wednesday night. When listing out the main reasons why he continues to put on such a mentally and physically taxing event each year, his team came in at the top.


Wildhorse Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada, provides for an elite-level venue. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen

“Seeing the volunteers get into it, enjoy it, take leads, want to come back…that’s one of the drives,” Jacquart said.

“Every year we get people that are volunteers that they are telling me, ‘We’re just gonna volunteer, we’re not even gonna play,’” Merritt said. “They’re telling us that in June.”

Jacquart also pointed to the support he receives from sponsors – he is a proponent of listing their financial contributions in the event’s caddy book so players can see exactly what goes into the tournament – as well as competitors. He admitted that, while in the past he may have made rulings that were more reactive than they should have been, or that he might have taken negative feedback to harshly, he’s developed more patience and a thicker skin.

“It’s the post-[tournament] player input that’s probably the third leg on the three-legged chair that makes me wanna say, ‘OK, we’re doing this again next year,’” Jacquart said. “’Let’s start planning it out.’”

First, though, he has to get through this 20th edition. He received recognition from the PDGA last night for his outstanding tenure as the event’s director, and now has four days of hustle and bustle ahead of him. But as he toured tournament central all day Wednesday, he looked calm and collected – even if he wouldn’t let himself admit that he was feeling the pressure that comes with hosting an event of this caliber.

“Oh, I’m stressed,” he said with a smile.

Still, he’s not stressed enough to think about another 20 – or even 30 – Challenges.

“I would love to get 50 in – I would love to be part of [number] 50,” Jacquart said. “I would be 81 if we got 50 of them in. What I’ve learned from the Las Vegas Disc Golf Club is we have built, through the tournament, many of leaders in the disc golf community.”

And, it provides a breeding ground for the next generation of players. Plenty of new touring competitors will get their feet when this week, and on the home front, Merritt’s own son – who wasn’t born when he first played the Challenge – is playing in the advanced division.

It’s the perfect embodiment of an event that countless staff and volunteers have poured their energy into. Indeed, the Las Vegas Challenge has fit a lifetime of adventure into its 20 years.

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