The other day I had the opportunity to play Maple Hill Disc Golf Course in Leicester, MA --- it was the closest thing to playing on a major tournament course I’ve ever experienced. Playing golf since I was 6 years old, I have been brought up watching the sport’s majors intently. I used to dream of what it was like to play on the courses --- fully manicured, greens rolling 14 on the stimpmeter, grand stands erected, rough 4” thick and tournament officials walking about. What would it take to get me to be able to play those courses only days after the event? Probably nothing --- no chance. Now I’m 27 and have had a new passion for 6 or so years now --- disc golf. So what would it take to play in such a setting --- a major event on the Professional Disc Golf Association tour schedule? Apparently, simply driving to the course, paying my $5 fee and strapping up my shoes would suffice. Cool!
Wrapping up our 3-week Northeast tour with Zach Deputy, we enjoyed a couple days off in Massachusetts before having to head down to Fredericksburg, VA to pick up tour at The Otter House and follow up on successful summer music festival appearances at All Good Music Festival in Masontown, WV and Camp Barefoot in Bartow, WV. Our two days off proved to be very enjoyable, as I was finally able to play Maple Hill which has been a course I’ve had on my to-play list for a while now. Maple Hill will play host to The Vibram Open in a couple days, from September 1-4 to be exact. The Vibram Open is the 8th and final National Tour event on the Professional Disc Golf Association tour schedule. All the top disc golfers in the world will be there, and I’ll be ready to document every little sliver of information.
I’m a landscape architect professional and disc golf enthusiast. I have spent many hours documenting proposed courses all over the United States, but am yet to actually attend a disc golf event. I’ll be at The Vibram Open on Thursday, as well as the United States Disc Golf Championships at Winthrop Gold in Rock Hill, SC in early October. To be able to see the operation of the tournament directors, video crew, score keepers, hospitality staff, maintenance crew and more is something I will watch very closely. My life as Tour Manager for a nationally tour banding (and Innova-sponsored celebrity ambassador) has afforded me the opportunity to see massive production from behind the scenes. I am able to see the overall flow of it all, and get down to the nitty gritty and see the finest of details from paperwork in the production office to candy in the dressing rooms. Disc golf is an emerging sport --- I still can’t believe how unknown it is to many --- and I’m unbelievably thrilled to be able to see a National Tour event less than an hour from my home.
When we pulled up to the parking lot, I popped out excitedly with camera in tow --- snapping pictures of everything I saw! Taking pictures of the woodchips, signage, skid steers, pro shop, practice putting area, old signage from last year’s Vibram Open, and the extensive Christmas tree farm. I personally have always wanted a Christmas tree farm, so to see this course integrated so beautifully within one was a nice surprise. Douglas Firs acts as a whole other level of hazards in disc golf, too. Have you ever thrown a disc (or hit a golf ball) through a tree and heard someone say, “Trees are 90% air”? Ok, now let’s think about a Christmas tree. On the 11th hole, I had a routine second shot into the pin for what I thought was a solid par. I let down my guard for a minute and my Roc clipped the edge of the Douglas Fir, batting it down to the ground without a second thought. There is no way to penetrate a disc through one of these trees, so to dot them around your course (or to put a course in the middle of a Christmas tree farm) is highly intelligent.
The 1st and 2nd holes are located within the Christmas tree portion of the property as well, but that should be the last of anyone’s worry. Standing on the first tee, disc golfers face one of the most difficult shots on the course right out of the gate. With no practice throws and only minimal stretching, I took my Umphrey’s McGee Valkyrie out of my bag in hopes that I wouldn’t plunk it in the drink. Maybe this was my demise --- thinking “Don’t put it in the water” instead of “Put it next to the pin.” I put a good huck on the disc, but not enough as it landed in the water about 3 feet short of the stone retaining wall. I hustled down to the basket, took of my sneakers and anything valuable off and jumped in to get my precious disc. I love this thing more than a lot of things in my life, and there was no way I was losing it! The next couple holes were routine pars, but things got exciting once we got back to the water again. Holes 4-9 were an absolute blast, as water was in play most of the time. I really enjoyed this stretch cause a lot of the shots were all about positioning --- leaving yourself on the correct side of the fairway, or putting your shot in a location that takes the water out of play, but still leaves you an uphill putt for par. The only shot on this stretch of holes that is all about muscle and less about discipline is the drive on the 8th hole. With a 275 foot carry all over water, you can’t miss your drive left OR right. Short and left is the large pond, while to the right side of the pathway that takes you to the hole is more water! I tried to peel a left to right turning Sidewinder into this hole, but I didn’t get enough on it and left it about 5 feet short and wet. After plunking two discs in the water through 8 holes, I turned my game around and finished up quite nicely.
Hole 10 isn’t the prettiest of holes, but it does have a signature element to it --- a castle wall. The wooden retaining wall perches the basket well above grade, giving disc golfers even more of a challenge to this Douglas Fir-lined, uphill start to the back nine. The tee shot is pretty straight forward, while the second shot demands a pin high right approach, leaving a level putt for par. If you end up short on your second shot, par putts will be to a basket that is located 10 feet above grade --- very tricky par from there! The back nine is significantly longer than the front, but much more open for the most part. There were a couple wooded holes that really caught my attention, but were much more straight forward than their wooded counterparts on the front nine. I strung together a lot of pars on the back nine and escaped it only +2, which was a thrill for me after a +6 front nine. Ugh.
I was happy to keep it under +10 on my first attempt at this course, but was very disappointed with my play on the tight wooded holes, as those are usually my specialty. This wasn’t my best round, but it was more of a course introduction for me so I’ll be prepared for The Vibram Open, which starts in a couple days. I have seen the gold ropes laid out, making the course THAT much tougher for the world’s best. I remember standing on several holes, looking at the out of bands surrounding us, and just laughing at the gold rope. I’m a halfway decent player, but this blew my mind! I can’t wait for the tourney to start and see these guys BOMBING discs like I’ve never seen before. I’ve scouted out some slot holes that I’ll probably stake out just to see these guys peel it in, landing it within feet of the basket. The Golf Course was fun to see, but very humbling to say the least. Seeing the course in tournament conditions, the pin locations, the out of bounds, the tee signage, and the overall course layout were a treat. The world’s best are about to descend on Central Massachusetts and I hope that attendance for the tournament exceeds expectations. There is no reason for every avid disc golfer within a 4 hour drive not to be here. We are talking about seeing the world’s best at one of the finest, most demanding layouts in New England! For those who don’t come, look for a follow up to the tournament, chalk full of pictures, video and extensive review.