First in Flight: The History of North Carolina Disc Golf (Feature Documentary)

As the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship heads to Charlotte this weekend, it marks the return of a premier touring event to a proud scene. North Carolina may be close to Rock Hill and the United States Disc Golf Championship, and home to the east coast operations of Innova Champion Discs, but the state hasn’t seen a major tournament within its borders since the 2012 PDGA Professional World Championship.

Despite well-known pros that call the state home — Jeremy Koling, Michael Johansen, Barry Schultz, Austin Turner, Brian Schweberger, Nathan Queen, Dan Hastings — and a reputation for challenging wooded courses, the recent growth of the sport has only flirted with the Tar Heel state. However, filmmaker Aaron Shindledecker decided to turn an eye to the history of disc golf in North Carolina and produced a worthy examination with his documentary First in Flight: The History of North Carolina Disc Golf. 

Ultiworld Disc Golf caught up with Shindledecker to learn more about the documentary and process behind the film.


Ultiworld Disc Golf: Mind sharing a little bit of your background as it pertains to disc golf?

Aaron Shindledecker: I started playing disc golf in 2012 when my sister came back for the summer from school at UNC – Charlotte. Disc golf was exploding at the time in Charlotte and my sister introduced me to it when she was back in town. I started playing immediately, slowly but surely gaining a huge interest in it. For the first year I only played at my local course at Yadkin County Park. By playing our yearly PDGA tournament, the Yadkin Open and other weekly leagues, I started picking up tips and increasing my skill. I played a ton during 2017 and 2018 in attempt to qualify for the PDGA Am Worlds in Charlotte which I eventually decided to [skip] so I could focus on having the documentary ready to premiere.

I don’t play many tournaments now-a-days except for a few that I won’t miss during their time of the year. And fun fact: My biggest disc golf accomplishment is winning the past two USDGC Doubles Championships with my friend James Hopkins.

UWDG: Same question, but for filmmaking?

AS: I really got into filmmaking during the Summer of 2014 when I set out to make a video depicting a church youth group I was in taking a trip to the Dominican Republic. I was definitely very inspired by Casey Neistat and other YouTube creators at the time, having a big influence and wanting to make videos.

After that summer, I started community college with no career aspirations other than spending my free time making videos for myself and saving money to travel. I was then introduced to the UNC – Greensboro Media Studies program and transferred there where I finished in May 2018 with a B.A. in Media Studies. I learned the basic fundamentals of all sorts of filmmaking where I focused on documentary filmmaking and some client based productions. Today, I work as a Photojournalist for the leading broadcast news outlet in our market.

UWDG: Where did the idea for a NC disc golf documentary come from?

AS: During my final semester at UNCG, I was finally able to take the upper level ‘Documentary Production’ course. I knew the outline of the course was to spend the entire semester making a 7 – 10 minute documentary from scratch  that would debut at the year end screening. A few days before the semester was about to start, I had no clue what to make my documentary about and my friend Jess Cuoco suggested I make it about disc golf since it was one of my biggest passions. So, I took it from there and decided that if I was going to make it about disc golf, I would focus on North Carolina disc golf because of how incredible our state’s history is.

UWDG: What was the aim of the doc? What did you want people to take away from it?

AS: In my eyes, the aim of the documentary is to one, inform people of how much history disc golf has in North Carolina, and two, show them where our sport currently is and serve as a “call to action” if you will.

Someone who may have just gotten into disc golf in NC will within a few months know how big of a community there is in Charlotte and how many quality courses there are. But more than likely, they just take it for granted and don’t know how many of those courses were put in within just the last 10 years because of a group of highly motivated golfers spending their free time putting those courses in to prepare for the 2012 PDGA Pro/Am World Championships.

2012 PDGA Pro World Championship Highlights Disc Golf Planet

Then the call to action. Now that that person knows the history, they can be more thankful for how much work those people put into their areas. Now I want to show that same person that the people who were running those events and putting those courses in the ground are approaching, if not past, retirement age. There needs to be a new generation of disc golfers to pick things up where those before us left them so that our state can not only continue to flourish and be a leading place for disc golf in the United States, but also grow and expand ourselves more than we already are.

UWDG: Who were your biggest resources when putting together First In Flight?

AS: It’s hard to single out people because of how many people helped me with this project. From a research aspect, every person I interviewed was immensely helpful in sharing their time and knowledge, opening up their home, and showing me their personal archives to help make this film possible. And from a production side, I also had an amazing crew of camera operators, Imani Thomas, Emma Gilmore-Cronin, and Jess Cuoco, helping me shoot interviews as well as additional visuals I needed.

I do want to single out Marty McGee, who served as a great resource suggesting who would be good resources and interviews, as well as helping with technical aspects from editing. He allowed me to use his immense library of local disc golf videos he had shot over the years as well as just serving as an inspiration to produce quality disc golf content.

UWDG: What do you think the impact or legacy of NC disc golf should be?

AS: I’m not exactly sure what the legacy of NC disc golf should be. I think the impact of NC disc golf can be seen not only at tournaments throughout the state where there is always quality competition from amateurs and professionals alike. I hope that anyone coming from the outside looking in sees quality competition at a well-run event with courses that are taken care of. Quality events and quality courses don’t just happen. It’s a labor of love from sometimes a small group of people who are all doing their part, taking pride in their local course, and wanting to make sure others enjoy it.

UWDG: Is the sport heading in the right direction in the state?

AS: I think the sport is heading in the right direction. We have so many caring groups of golfers all over the state that take pride in making sure everyone is enjoying themselves playing recreational as well as groups dedicated to improving everyone’s abilities. Overall, that’s what it all about. Making sure people are having fun playing disc golf. Personally, I would like to see more high caliber, Professional events being held throughout the year to bring more excitement in for those who love to follow disc golf. Everyone should get the chance to see the worlds best take on the toughest course in their area.

UWDG: What does bringing another high profile event like the DGPT Championship to the state mean to you?

AS: I love it! I’m so excited for the DGPT Championship in Charlotte. I will unfortunately be out of town that weekend with a trip I booked before the venue change was announced. This is the first Professional event on the scale of a Major or NT that has been in North Carolina in quite some time. So many people in Charlotte take pride in and love to watch USDGC every October and think of it as our own as local golfers, but that 45+ minute drive back each day reminds you that it’s not really yours.

There are so many incredible events throughout the year in NC that attract all the local Pros and Ams alike, but unfortunately with the way the touring schedule is more or less established. It is so tough to make a stop that Pros will come to. This is a big win for Charlotte and NC.

UWDG: Who are the movers and shakers in the sport in NC that people around the country/world should know?

AS: There is an incredible amount of current day people pushing their areas in NC that I want to highlight. My three that every one should know about and that I love to mention are as follows. But seriously, there are so many more that I’m not as familiar with but that do just as much for their areas.

Chuck Connolly. If you’ve played a Spike Hyzer event, you know why. This man loves disc golf, and loves running events and helping others events run smooth. Chuck has ran more than 35+ events in a year before and made every one special. He has more or less at some point ran or helped run every long running tournament in the state. His events run smooth, reward players, and play good courses. I think that big leap for a causal player getting into disc golf more is when they go play their first C-tier at their local course on a weekend. In North Carolina, there’s a second big step after you’ve played your local C-tier to the first time you play a two day tournament that Chuck runs. You can really notice the expertise Chuck has for running disc golf events and making them special for everyone playing.

Bobby Henn. Bobby is the current work horse behind the North Carolina Points Series as well as running events and putting courses in and around Clayton, NC. The NC Point Series has such a historical background that I won’t tell you about now, but you can get in the know by watching its chapter in my documentary. It takes a ton of effort to run a year long point series following tournaments across the entirety of the state, but Bobby has been that person for the past few years. And has somehow managed to continue his incredible local impact on his local disc golf community.

Mark Huether. Mark is the current mule in Charlotte, doing his part on and off the courses working on details no one notices to make every golfers experience in Charlotte great. He serves on the board of the Charlotte Disc Golf Club and was an incredible force in bringing the PDGA Am Worlds to Charlotte last year in 2018. Mark is just the man. He donates all his personal time and more to make and keep Charlotte on the level it is now.

UWDG: up and coming players we should know about?

AS: I don’t think there’s anyone I can single out here because North Carolina disc golf is so competitive. On every level from Amateurs to Professionals, so many people are killing it and running up the ranks from having a podium finish at an MA2 tournament to competing on top card in Open a few months later. People in North Carolina can learn it all and lower their scores sometimes overnight and I am just sitting back enjoying watching it.

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