Hannah Leatherman didn’t think of disc golf as a real sport when she started playing casually with her friends in high school.

“I just thought it was like going to the movies or like mini-golfing,” the 32-year-old Bowdoin native said.

But now Leatherman is a professional disc golfer and the 2015 United States women’s champion. She’ll defend her title this weekend when the Professional Disc Golf Association brings its women’s national championship to Maine at the Sabattus Disc Golf Complex. The three-day event, which starts Friday, will be the first major PDGA tournament ever held in New England.

“Disc golf is growing so fast, and it’s really cool to be a part of,” said Leatherman, who lives in Pennsylvania. “Women’s-only tournaments are exactly what the sport needs to grow.”

PDGA – the governing body of disc golf – had 30,454 members in 2015, an increase of about 25 percent from 2014 and nearly twice as many as in 2010. About 80 percent are amateurs.

But less than 8 percent of PDGA members nationwide are women.

“The demographics are slowing changing,” said Peter Ruby, owner of the Sabattus Disc Golf Complex. “You’re starting to see more and more women wanting to compete in addition to just playing.”

Ruby and the Maine Sports Commission – a nonprofit that attracts new sporting events to Maine – submitted a bid for the tournament. Of the 94 professional and amateur disc golfers registered to compete this weekend, 16 are from Maine. Prize money will be awarded to the top finishers, but PDGA events manager Michael Downes could not specify the size of the purse. Leatherman said the maximum amount of prize money awarded for winning a PDGA tournament is typically $5,000 for women and $10,000 for men.

Disc golf follows similar rules to traditional golf – with an 18-hole course and lowest score wins – but uses a flying plastic disc instead of a golf ball and clubs. The holes in disc golf are standardized targets, most commonly an elevated basket. Competitive disc golfers carry between 10 and 15 discs in their bag, with each having different aerodynamic characteristics.

Patti Joseph lines up a throw near a basket while practicing Wednesday at the Sabattus Disc Golf course. Joseph, from Florida, is one of nearly 100 women from 30 states and three countries competing in the U.S. Women's Disc Golf Championship this Friday through Sunday at Sabattus Disc Golf. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Patti Joseph lines up a throw near a basket while practicing Wednesday at the Sabattus Disc Golf Complex. Joseph, from Florida, is one of nearly 100 women from 30 states and three countries competing in the U.S. Women’s Disc Golf Championship this Friday through Sunday at Sabattus Disc Golf. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Leatherman played soccer at Mount Ararat High School, under her maiden name, Hannah Levesque, and at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. After her initial foray into disc golf, she picked it up again when she was 24, playing with her husband and his buddies.

“They were just so much better than me – it was frustrating,” Leatherman said. “Because they’d already been playing for a good year, they were trying to give me pointers. I got fed up with it. I couldn’t stand losing to them.”

So Leatherman turned to YouTube videos for pointers on how to throw a disc. She eventually joined a women’s league in Philadelphia, where she discovered her love for the sport.

“They taught me a lot about disc golf, and I could take it from them better because they were women who understood,” Leatherman said, “versus guys, who can throw it 350 feet no problem. We’re not built the same.”

Leatherman won last year’s championship in Ohio in what she called a “major underdog situation.”

She is ranked sixth internationally and will enter this weekend with a couple of nagging injuries, including a ripped abdominal muscle and a dislocated rib from playing disc golf.

Professional disc golf is not typically lucrative. Leatherman – a physical therapist – works part-time during the season, which runs from February to October. She has won a total of $11,377 in prize money over six years as a pro.

“I’m not hitting all the big tournaments because I can’t,” Leatherman said. “I’m doing the best I can, but it’s not the easiest thing.”

Leatherman plans to eventually tour full-time and save up by working in the offseason. However, she is not sure how the full-time pros make ends meet.

Lizbeth Besok of Florida releases a disc while practicing on a course at the Sabattus Disc Golf Complex. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Lizbeth Besok of Florida releases a disc while practicing on a course at the Sabattus Disc Golf Complex. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I’m pretty sure they’re just scraping by but, at the same time, they love it,” Leatherman said. “I could see other women picking it up and loving it just like I do.”

Jessi Brooks of Turner agreed. Brooks, who competes recreationally, said she stopped playing disc golf for five or so years because of the lack of women.

“The guys really made it super competitive, so it just wasn’t fun,” Brooks said. “I just wanted to go out and have fun playing with other women.”

Ashley Audet-Severy of Durham had a similar first impression of the sport after her husband got her involved last year.

“I hated it,” Audet-Severy said. “He would drag me out, and I would go with him just because it was nice to spend time with him. But I was terrible at it.”

Audet-Severy then found a women’s league at Bittersweet Ridge Disc Golf in North Yarmouth and eventually started the Maine Women’s Disc Golf Facebook group, which has 65 members.

“The more women I played with, the more I liked it,” she said. “Even last year, there were hardly any women at the tournaments. It has gotten a lot better.”

Megan Norton of New Gloucester said the disc golf community in Maine has grown rapidly since she started playing four years ago. She recently found a note on her car, which is adorned with a Bittersweet Ridge Disc Golf bumper sticker. The message read, “Good job supporting BSR.”

“To have that tribe of people – it’s kind of this unspoken family,” Norton said. “We’re all in it to grow the sport.”

Brooks, Audet-Severy and Norton will compete in the intermediate division of the women’s national championship. They are excited to compete against women from across the country and watch the world’s top three-ranked female disc golfers – Catrina Allen, Paige Pierce and Valerie Jenkins – in action.

“If I play really bad, I’ll probably have an early tee time and be able to go check out the pros,” Audet-Severy said. “Either way, I win because I’m a Mainer, and I get to be in my backyard watching this stuff.”