Despite pandemic, 10th Annual Ledgestone Insurance Open a ‘hole-in-one’ for Peoria area

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PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — A professional disc golf tournament goes on despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 10th Annual Ledgestone Insurance Open takes place this weekend at multiple sites throughout the Peoria area. It’s an event that continues to be a hole-in-one for tournament officials and the area.

Professional disc golfers from around the country and the globe traveling to Central Illinois for the annual Ledgestone Insurance Open part of the Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT). Jeff Spring, DGPT tour director, said it’s an event players want to win.

“This is one of the founding events for the pro tour,” Spring said. “It is one of the biggest events on the tour by far in terms of participation.”

Despite COVID-19 concerns, some of the best disc golfers are still participating in the tournament with safety being a top priority. This includes abiding by state and local guidelines when on the course or in public. Tournament Director Nate Heinold said it’s difficult to plan large events, let alone planning for a pandemic.

“We have an eight-page COVID plan, the pro tour has a COVID plan,” Heinold said.

Jeff Spring said the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) had stopped touring for almost three months because the group was planning how to proceed safely.

“When the PDGA resumed sanctioning, our interest in terms of the pro tour was ‘let’s set the best example we can for events across the country’,” Spring said.

Heinold said courses are limited to players, volunteers, staff, and media with social distancing and masks enforced. Heinold said the tournament will feature men’s and women’s competition and feature live fans wearing masks and staying socially distant.

“People have to wear masks outside,” Heinold said. “On the players’ side and staff side, they have to wear masks 50 feet from a tee pad. We have circles painted around baskets and tees, bought about $700 of hand sanitizer.”

Even with the restrictions, players are excited to play in front of live fans and be a much-needed distraction. Five-time world champion Paige Pierce said it’s nice to have support.

“I’m excited to feel the energy back and spectator,” Pierce said. “[The] people clapping, wearing shirts with your logos on it and here in Peoria.”

Defending men’s champion and winner of 2019’s Ledgestone Open Paul McBeth said he’s hoping to defend and take home one of the largest payouts on the tour.

“I’m thankful we’re still playing and that we have such a big event still going on with media and people at home being able to watch this,” McBeth said.

Adam Hammes, who has 21 career tournament wins, said playing in front of crowds in Peoria is always a treat.

“Peoria is great. This tournament is huge and the spectators are out of control ever year. They definitely do it right here,” Hammes said.

Hammes said he feeds off the excitement of the fans who cheer their favorite players on.

“I think it’s something to fuel off of and it’s a boost of confidence seeing so many people out there rooting for you. It’s really cool,” Hammes said.

Athletes and spectators also impact the local economy by utilizing area hotels, restaurants, and bars. CEO of Discover Peoria J.D. Dalfonso said the tournament is a win in the middle of a pandemic.

“It’s great. Any economic opportunity we can get right now we love it. This is bringing that here to hotels, restaurants and any spending that they have here,” Dalfonso said.

This year’s tournament is four rounds and starts Thursday, Aug. 13 with play at courses in Pekin, Washington, Morton, and Eureka.

The winning payout is nearly $110,000 and tournament directors hope to bring in almost $55,000 worth of proceeds for St. Jude.

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