The Vibram Open at Maple Hill Review – September 2-4, 2011

Disc golf is fun for me on many levels --- athletic competition, design and educational principals related to landscape architecture, the mental requirements it demands of you, similarities to my childhood love of golf and best yet…promotion. Golf is fascinating to me, but to many it’s boring. I feel bad that they think its boring to watch or incredibly frustrating to play, but does EVERYONE know what the sport of golf is, right? Pretty much, yes. Can the same be said about disc golf? “What, you mean Frisbee golf?” Sure, I guess.  It’s actually called disc golf though --- and you’ll like it. It never really struck me that I loved promotion, I just did it. I heard a band I loved and I’d go tell all my friends about it because it was so much fun and so good that I wouldn’t want anyone missing out on it. I didn’t want anyone to miss out on anything fun, simple as that. I went to more and more music as I promoted more and more bands. I’d get free tickets to shows, but it was never about that. It was me not wanting my friends to miss out on the fun. It was about promoting a band because that’s what they want to do it and I wanted to do my part in making sure that it was a reality. Promotion was always natural because there was always something fun going on. The deeper into the music scene I went, the more fun I found.

Now I’ve found my most recent, endless promotion: disc golf. How many people know about disc golf? A lot. How many are OBSESSED with it? A lot. How many don’t even know what disc golf is? More than both those a lots put together. Sad, isn’t it? Disc golf is a sport I will play until the day I die. I literally mean that with ever fiber on my being. The fastest growing demographic of disc golf players is seniors --- and they’re turning out in record numbers! Disc golf rocks! If you know me, I’m not a tattoo guy. I’m tall, skinny, have a beard and like disc golf, music and excel spreadsheets --- a tattoo on me would be awkward. I would get a disc golf related tattoo, though, and it would be amazing. Constant promotion! Haha, now that I read that I think promotion is the reason I’d get the tattoo, but it wouldn’t --- it would be because the sport is fun and I love everything about it. You should too.

My growing love of disc golf over the past 6 years was taken to another level when I spent multiple days at The Vibram Open at Maple Hill in Leicester, MA. This was the last National Tour Event on the 2011 Professional Disc Golf Association’s (PDGA) schedule and the majority of the world’s top pros were going to be in attendance --- all of this a little over an hour from my house in Amherst. I was going to be viewing my first PDGA tournament through the eyes of my new company, Explore Disc Golf. Explore Disc Golf is me using my Master’s in Landscape Architecture, and fusing it with my knack for promotion and my connections within the music industry over the last 9 or so years. If there is only one thing I took from my graduate work in Landscape Architecture, it would be DOCUMENT EVERYTHING --- and I did. I took pictures of everything from tee pads and baskets to porter pottie locations, vending and tee time sheets. What a wonderful weekend it was!

When I pulled in, the family vibe was very apparent. I was parked by the Tournament Director’s mother, and pointed in the direction of the clubhouse where I walked around to check out some of the discs before heading over to check out some of the vending. I was expecting at least half a dozen vendors, but this weekend there were only a couple, Ten Down Disc Golf from Maine and Bachnein Disc Golf from Vermont. Some of the vendors were also dotted throughout the course to provide hospitality to players, while trying to catch some tee shirt and disc sales as well. The only other set up I saw was at the first tee where a large tent was erected to attract patrons over to the tee. The tent and small trailer go from event to event promoting the sport of disc golf, but the first thing I wondered was, “why is this at a disc golf tournament and not at a music festival?” I get it --- it’s a disc golf tournament, but don’t the few hundred people in attendance already know about or play disc golf? Why not take this massive tent and portable baskets to a 25,000 music festival or a beach on a beautiful, yet calm day. Well that’s exactly what Explore Disc Golf is going to do!

After getting my bearings , I decided to go find the first Super Group of the day. I got a late start to my day, but found the group of Nate Doss, David Feldberg, Will Schusterick and Paul Ullibari on the 7th hole. I followed these guys until the 15th hole, where I would follow the other Super Group of the day, which included Nikko Locastro, Avery Jenkins and two others I can’t remember. I apologize for not knowing everyone’s name, but this was my first tournament and I don’t really know the players that well. The name thing was actually one of the first flaws I saw in the system. We are trying to promote this sport, but what about the common person who has no idea who the #1 player in the world is? At a Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) Tour event, there are handouts that have a breakdown of each group. Each player has a color next to his name, and his caddy is wearing that color with his name on it. That makes it easy. Nikko Locastro (Blue) --- oh look at that guy in a blue bib that says Locastro handing that guy a disc; that must be Nikko Locastro. Done, problem solved. I’m not trying to be harsh; I’m just trying to help the sport. I was bummed when I had no idea who I was watching, but then again I was thrilled I could walk right up to someone and bump fists with them after they threw 600’ bomb over water and sat it next to the pin just like they envisioned it. Ridiculousness.

Unless you have seen professional disc golfers play, you have no idea what you’re missing out on. It took me less than 10 minutes to start laughing uncontrollably, and even tearing up a bit. That’s what I did when I saw Zach Deputy for the first time in 2007. The same thing happened when I saw Rubblebucket in 2007, as it did when I saw Australian-based sensations OKA in Nova Scotia in July of this summer. It’s all I know how to do when I see something I can’t believe. I just have to laugh and cry --- and take pictures.  The reason I get all weird is because I know I'm seeing the future right in front of me. I was formerly a Tour Manager for a nationally touring band, and went through college seeing music 3-5 times a week. I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs --- but when I see the FUTURE --- I lose it. Zach Deputy and Rubblebucket have one of the fastest growth rates of bands I’ve ever seen. OKA will destroy the U.S. music scene in less than 5 years. And disc golf? There is just so much goodness already in place, but still TONS of opportunity. I’m a nerdy, attention-to-detail guy and there is so much missing in the sport. These guys are INCREDIBLY talented, and once I really saw it in person, I almost couldn’t take it.

The one thing I really took from my time watching these players is the confidence they putt with. I remember watching David Feldberg putt on the island green of the 9th hole --- he had a downhill putt of about 25' with water less than 10' beyond the basket. He doesn’t see the water --- he sees individual chains. The guy strokes it and smiles as he walks back to his bag and onto the 10th hole. Unreal! They aren’t limping these putts in either. The disc is going UP as it hits the chains. I usually throw a pancake putt in there so it’s high enough to give myself a chance to float it in, but if I miss, it’s not wet. I really think anyone can throw the Big D. That’s just technique and torque, but putting is where the money is made and championships are won.

This year’s championship was won by Nate Doss. Nate had just picked up his third World Championship five weeks prior in Santa Cruz, CA before trekking across the United States to win the year’s final NT event. I watched this guy for two full rounds and he was solid as a rock. I think over the two days I watched, he had two bogies, maybe three. If you saw this course, that fact would rock your world. He avoids the high highs and low lows. He doesn’t get pissed when he messes up; he fixes it. He doesn’t celebrate when he makes birdies; he marches to the next tee. It was such a pleasure to watch him play because he was almost robotic. There’s something to be said about playing with no emotion and ice in your veins. Like I said previously; all this on the PDGA Tour in related back to the PGA Tour. Some of my favorite golfers are the most boring --- not calling Nate Doss’ playing boring, but it was methodical. I distinctly remember him kicking a small rock on the 10th hole on his final road, and after a massive 500’+ drive over water and between trees, his disc nestled up next to the basket on the 16th hole where he tapped in his birdie and gave a mini fist pump before marching on. You should have seen this drive on 16 --- a huge carry over water, skirting between trees as it crossed land and before carrying another 100’ or so up to the pin before it came to rest for a kick in birdie. And all he did was a mini fist pump? He just locked down the tourney! I would have jumped in the fucking pond in early celebration! Did I mention he almost aced 17?

Not knowing or ever speaking to Nate, he seems like a great face to promote the sport through. Avoid the high highs and low lows, one stroke at a time, every shot counts, bogeys are easier to get back than doubles --- all that stuff. Too many people get all caught up in the fact that they just made a double bogey and they lose their concentration. Then when they lose by one shot at the end of the round, it’s the end of the world. If they stayed focused after that double and didn’t compound it with another bogey on the next hole, they would be tied at the end of the round and going into a playoff instead of losing by one. Sorry to break off on a weird scenario there, but it’s true to the game, and true to how Nate plays. The three other players that played together in the Super Group on day one were some of my favorites as well. As enjoyable as following around the lead card on the last day was, day one really stole the show for me. I really enjoyed watching were Ullibari, Feldberg and Schusterick as much as I enjoyed Doss. The thing I remember most about watching these guys --- Schusterick in particular --- is the fact that they don’t step when they throw their mid range shots. They anchor their front foot into the ground and just uncoil on it. Uphill shots of 300’ with an anchored foot are no problem for these guys, as you could imagine.

To make this sport and tournament even cooler, there were dozens of other activities planned to round out this high profile event. There were putting competitions, accuracy challenges, long distance drives, speed contests, match play challenges, ultimate showcases, pie eating contests and more. These guys are very driven and very competitive, but they do enjoy the laid back atmosphere that the sport is based around. It seems that the disc golf community is very close and very supportive. I wish I could have spent more time at The Vibram Open, but I enjoyed every minute I had. I can only wait for more tournaments and more exposure for the sport. My advice to readers is the next time you think or hear about disc golf, look up a course with a 5k loop or playground nearby. Tons of information can be found out about particular disc golf courses on on www.discgolfcoursereview.com. When you do finally find that perfect course --- go over to the 5k loop and take a walk or even branch off on some holes and use the fairway as a hiking trail. Maybe you’ll find hikers, dog walkers or off road BMX bikers. See how disc golf fits into the landscape with almost no visual impact whatsoever and think about how well it connects on-site features. Disc golf can be enjoyed on so many levels --- from the spectator to the promoter to the player. Go out and give it a try, I promise you will have just found a recreational opportunity that you will enjoy for the rest of your life.

The Redwood Curtain in Arcata, CA

Have you ever played a disc golf course that you absolutelyloved, never to have played it again? Have you only played HALF of a disc golf course that you absolutely loved, never to have played it again? Well, until this summer, I thought the second half of that statement was applicable to me. Here’s the back story on a beautiful course: In 2008, I took the summer off to travel. I spent the first part of my summer in Honduras and Guatemala, with the later half of the summer spent trekking across the US hitting up all the festivals I promoted for throughout the school year. Early July found me at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA having the absolute time of my life --- raging late nights into the early morning, only to do it again the next day with new found friends. After four days at High Sierra, I hitchhiked back to San Francisco, eventually making my way to Arcata, CA for a couple nights of couch surfing before an even wilder trip led me to Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, OR.

The two days in Arcata, CA found me exploring ever piece of the town I could. I ended up in a park playing Frisbee and listening to some banjo pickers before seeing a couple kids walk by with disc golf discs. I picked up my gear, tracked the kids down and joined up for an afternoon of back nine disc golf. These kids were a blessing for a couple reasons --- 1.) I would never have found the course if it wasn’t for them and 2.) I would never have been able to find the next hole, either. This course was INTIMIDATING! If I could get past the sheer size of the redwoods that laid the framework of each hole, I still had absolutely no idea where the next hole was or where an appropriate place was to miss, as the vegetation was so thick and the signage so poor. Playing the course several times, I was only able to play six or so holes before getting completely lost, only to find the remaining three holes a day later. I never did play the front nine as my time spent in Arcata was limited, but I did enjoy the local bars and music scene with the guys from the disc golf course and a couple kids I met on the ride in. I was bummed I barely completed the front nine of the course, as I was leaving early the next morning to meet up with friends I met at High Sierra for a couple day hikes that would take us to who knows where.

Fast forward to July of 2011 and I’m back at High Sierra, tour managing Zach Deputy who is playing a total of four sets over two days. After a fly in date to Electric Forest Festival in Michigan and a show in Mendocino County, we were tired, but ready to wake up early for a trek up to Arcata and a round at The Redwood Curtain. Last time I played this course I walked from the park to the college then over to the back nine of the course. I can’t remember much of the back nine other than it started with a par 3 over water with an elevated island green. The island green was created by a three foot retaining wall that turned good enough shots into bad shots, as the wall would spit discs right back into the pond that your disc just cleared moments earlier. The rest of the back nine have a mix of long, narrow holes that are framed by towering redwood trees as opposed to the skinny pine trees that I’m used to in my home state of Maine.

We parked our 50 foot long Sprinter and trailer under the shade of the redwoods as those in the back laced up their shoes and get mentally prepared for what we thought was going to be a long, grueling round. Coming up to the message board that denotes the first hole, you could see that this course had put in some effort to educate the public about the vegetation along the course. In my opinion, this is the least that a disc golf course can do, as the holes are just an extension of the landscape, grabbing you and forcing you to interact with nature. The message board, signage on the tees or even in the fairways can and should educate the public about their surroundings, as there is so much to be know about this wonderful world. How the hell do these trees get so big? Why can you eat some of the plants on the course and not others? And how do you know which plants are edible?

The first hole wasn’t the hardest of holes, but the visual intimidation was extremely significant. The uphill, dogleg left hole called for an Eagle that would split a sliver of redwood trees, while making it far enough up the hill to leave yourself with a clear second shot to a pin that was guarded by a couple fallen trees. The fascinating thing about disc golf (as well as golf in general), is how some holes just don’t fit your eye. The opposite end of that would be holes that perfectly fit your eye, but this was not the case on the first hole for me. Usually I pick a line and try to keep it, but this time I just looked at a couple big windows in a general area and hucked it. Lucky for me, it landed perfectly at the bend of the dogleg, leaving me with a kick in par and a significant weight lifted off my shoulders. The second hole boasted one of the more unique features I’ve seen in all my disc golf travels...the tee was located on top of a redwood stump! There were a couple hand and foots holes to help players climb up the stump, as it was a good 8 feet above grade, giving a neat perspective of the second hole as well as looking back down to the first hole and the flying discs coming up the fairway. I ripped a Shark on this tee, turning the corner to the right and moving hard to the basket. There wasn’t a lot to this hole, but the experience on the tee is one of the coolest I’ve had yet.

The remaining holes then headed deeper into the Arcata Community Forest, at one point even criss-crossing and blending in perfectly with the local bike and hike trail system. I love disc golf so very much, and with more courses trying to fuse the sport with its surroundings will bring the sport more promotion as there are far more number of hikers, bikers and dog walkers than us disc golfers. The signage on the course was a unique feature, as the wood burned placards were nailed to the massive redwood trees, giving a unique appeal to a common feature in the disc golf world.

Overall, the front nine of the course was relatively easy in comparison to what I remember about the back nine. I’m not going to say I was disappointed, but I was hoping for much more of a challenge and some better scenery. The trees were significantly smaller on the front nine and there were even a few holes that didn’t have the same feel as the rest of the course. These holes could be considered “field” holes, but were just clear cut woods that were now home to access roads for a plethora of vehicles. This is all well and good; it just took away from the continuity of the rest of the course, as well as a lot of the challenge. I finished at +1, but felt like I left a couple strokes out on the course --- showing how easy it was playing. All in all, the course is one I would recommend to any avid disc golfer, as the sheer size of the redwood trees and the rugged terrain you play on makes it all worthwhile. There aren’t too many big D opportunities out there, but precise driving and precision approaches are in high demand. With a couple pole holes dotted throughout the course, disc golfers must be ready for a challenge, as these narrow poles are significantly smaller targets than the normal baskets that we are used to. With a plethora of challenges and unique course features, if you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest for any reason, check out The Redwood Curtain in the quaint town of Arcata, CA for a real sleeper of a course. Be forewarned --- don’t be awestruck by its beauty, cause if you’re not on your game, it will eat you alive!

Disc Golf Mecca: Walnut Creek Park in Charlottesville, VA

Since this is my first contribution to Disc Golf Traveler, I wanted to take a second to introduce myself. My name is Brian Giggey and I’m the tour manager for nationally touring band, Zach Deputy. Zach and I met in 2007 when I was in my first year of graduate school at UMass where I was getting my degree in Landscape Architecture. When he came to play Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA in April 2008, I made sure to introduce him to a deep passion of mine: disc golf. I had only started playing disc golf about two years prior, but it’s all I could think about. My golfer brain would think about flight patterns, course management and pin positions, while my land arch brain would drool over riparian corridors, ridge lines and the amicability of the sport with other uses such as hiking, biking and dog walking.

Fast forward two years and I find myself putting the final touches on my disc golf course design: Orchard Hill Disc Golf at UMass Amherst, which will hopefully play host to several Zach Deputy disc golf tournaments in the future. As I pack my bags and say goodbye to Amherst, I’m ready for my new full time adventure of traveling town to town and state to state across the country. Zach, Innova’s newest sponsored celebrity, is a touring machine --- six nights a week for months on end. As we approach markets with shorter drive times between shows, our angst for disc golf grows. We start paging through DGCourseReview for the local goodness. Ratings and reviews left by other players are like gold as we seldom like to derail from our path unless we know it’s worth it. Low and behold, almost a year to the day after I joined the road full time, I find my favorite course thus far.

After our show at Clementine Café in Harrisonburg, VA we headed south to Charlottesville, VA for two relaxing days off in the old stomping grounds of Dave Matthews Band in the early 1990’s. As we traversed the hills and valleys of the local roads, I couldn’t help but wonder where Haunted Hallows was; the custom built recording studio for DMB and their associated projects. The farm lands and mountain vistas already have me thinking of a potential house here in the future, but the amount of disc golf courses in the vicinity is surprisingly low.

A little over 10 miles outside downtown Charlottesville lay Walnut Creek Park. As you drive down the entrance road, excitement grows as baskets and pin positions begin to reveal pieces of the course. I’m already making mental notes of where pins are tucked and where not to miss. The road culminates in an impervious parking lot with a large facility that houses vending machines, picnic tables and family gatherings, overlooking a large lake that’s pressed up against the backdrop of rolling hills and mountainsides. This lake will come into play several times throughout your round, so get ready for it. If it’s not hypnotizing you with its beauty, its making you sweat a couple bullets as it entices you to bite off a little more than you can chew. Flanking the parking lot are two small playgrounds and a few huts that are ready to host your family barbeque. All of these separate entities are perfectly connected by a trail system that runs throughout the park, aiding bikers, hikers, fisherman and disc golfers in their daily activities.

Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the disc golf course that circumvents the park is a shot maker's course through and through. With a 4.21 rating on DGCourseReview, I knew we were in for a treat. We all piled out of the Sprinter with excitement running through our veins, me especially, as tight wooded courses are my specialty. Zach is more of a rolling hills and fields player, while I could care less for those big D opportunities --- Walnut Creek Park: advantage me. Created in 2002, the course’s three designers put together a beautiful mix of uphill, downhill, open and wooded shots. This course is extremely challenging from either tee box, as each hole has multiple tee boxes and a variety of pin positions. Pin positions, as well as league information and course layout can be found at the message board near the parking lot, so head over to it before you venture off to the first tee.

As is standard with many disc golf courses across the nation, the primary feature that was lacking at Walnut Creek Park was signage between holes. Easily discernable to locals, wayfinding between some holes for us was quite frustrating. The only other negative in my opinion was that fact that all the tee pads were a compacted type of gravel, which depending on their structural integrity and amount of rainfall, were in either fair or poor condition. A course of this caliber should have permanent tee pads. Speaking from a landscape architecture point of view, less impervious surface (such as concrete or pavement) is a good thing, but in this case, concrete pads are a must.

After only three holes, you could see that this course was going to provide us with a wonderful mixture of both hyzer and anhyzer shots. Walnut Creek Park will bring out every shot you have in your bag! With tight fairways, water hazards and numerous elevation changes just on the front side, I was happy to be right around level par headed to the back. Notable holes on the front nine were the downhill, overwater 2nd hole, where if you split the uprights of the towering trees, you will be left with a short, level birdie putt. The 6th hole was the first of many holes with genius pin positioning. A relatively open field hole, the drive is uphill through a shoot of trees leaving players with a second shot that only affords them a glimpse of the top of the basket. Situated on a 45 degree slope, players need to figure where they want to putt from. I decided short right would leave me the best putt, as who knows where my Roc would roll to if I flirted with that slope. I made par and left happy.

The 10th hole is your window to make up any shots you may have given back on the first part of your round. A straight shot, 235 foot hole, anything more than a par should make you think about heading to the car early. The 11th and 14th are two holes that being too aggressive will only lead to birdie sometimes and bogey most of the time. With the baskets situated on severe slopes, unless you have a kick in, you might just want to take your par and move along. Saving the best for last, the 17th hole is one of the most breathtaking holes you’ll see. What initially looks like a big downhill drive and an awkward second shot slowly reveals itself to be so much more. With an elevation change from tee to basket of a couple hundred feet, this is your chance to let out all your frustrations. Be warned though, the lake on the right hand side is very much in play, while the thick woods on the left will catch the majority of drives. As you make your way down to the plateau that catches most drives, a new obstacle presents itself --- more water! From the plateau to the basket isn’t much more than 125 feet, but the severe elevation change and water in the background should make you think for a bit before you throw. Remember that your disc is going to break A LOT when it slows down, so give yourself a large buffer from the water as it runs along the back and left hand side of the hole, leaving an almost island green to some degree.

Our round at Walnut Creek Park only took a couple hours, but this is a place where anyone could (and should) spend the day. If you’re in the area, block out a part of your day and really take the opportunity to explore this beautiful tract of land. Besides some wayfinding issues from hole to hole, there aren’t many negative things that can be said about this course. Charlottesville, VA has a prize in the form of Walnut Creek Park, so I urge you to put this course on your “to-play” list. You surely won’t regret it.