Year in Review, part 1

With 2015 winding down, there’s not a whole lot left to do except look back and reminisce on the highlights.  As they come to me, I am going to try to put together some short lists of notable moments and things from the past year.  I’ll start today with some course-based lists.

New (to me) courses played

The list is, sadly, a short one to begin with so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to rank them in any kind of order or leave any out.  So I’ll just list them in the order I played them this year.

  1. Cross Farms, Tolland CT – First PDGA of the year for me.  Fun course with a lot of tight, wooded fairways. Didn’t play particularly well, but would definitely go back again, if only for some redemption.
  2. Devils Grove, Lewiston ME – It only took a year and a half for me to finally trek the 10 miles to this one, but as I often say, with a course literally in my backyard, it’s hard to get out to other courses in the area without an excuse.  I finally had one with the Vacationland Open. The course is on the short side, but takes advantage of every bit of elevation change it has to add challenge.
  3. Beacon Glades, Beacon NY – Stopped here to play a round and break up the long drive to PA for the Yetter. Other than a bit of confusion on where to start (a hole was removed and the rest renumbered, which wasn’t noted in the course directory), and a lost disc on hole 17, there wasn’t a whole lot remarkable about the course.
  4. Porcupine Ridge, Vassalboro ME – Another one, like Devils Grove, that it took a few years for me to get around to playing.  Again, a tournament helped get me there. It’s too bad I didn’t play better that day, because the course is fun with a variety of challenges.
  5. Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex Hogback course, North Augusta, SC – A course I’d only seen on video from the National Collegiate Championships, and the videos didn’t really do it justice.  It played a bit shorter than it seemed on the video, but that isn’t a bad thing.  A lot of narrow fairways through the woods that would be a nightmare if they were any longer.  My only regret was that we didn’t have the energy (we certainly had the time) to play the other course on site, Old Glory.  That’s the one with hanging baskets and other tricked up fun that I enjoy and many others scoff at.

I’m hoping that in 2016, I will add more than five new courses to my list.  That will take some concerted effort, perhaps even skipping out on a couple familiar tournaments in favor of something new.

Favorite courses

Tough to distinguish this list from my favorite courses in general, but I’m limiting it to among the 27 courses I’ve played this year in tournaments or for fun. In no particular order, just numbered for organizational purposes.

  1. Tyler State Park, Newtown PA – A sentimental favorite but also one of the best courses I’ve had the privilege of playing. The best part is that it is ever evolving, and always something new every time I go.  This year, six brand new holes were added to bring the grand total to 36.  Though there are multiple pin and/or tee locations on each hole, I usually only get to see it when it is in its longest, toughest set-up for the Yetter, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The front 18 (the East) in all longs plays to a true par 72, and the SSA rating tends to match it.  The back 18 (the West) is a bit softer par-wise, but that’s only due to having more par 3s and fewer par 5s.  It’s every bit as challenging as the East course, though.  Both courses are disc golf as it was meant to be.
  2. Coggshall Park, Fitchburg MA – I thought about not taking how I play the course/tournament into consideration, but I just can’t do it here.  When you play a course particularly well, it’s hard for it not to be a favorite. It’s still a little rough around the edges and could use more/better tee pads, but it seems to treat me pretty well so I can’t find any reason for complaint.
  3. Crane Hill, Wilbraham MA – This one has been growing on me since the first time I played it three years ago.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that I finally played it well in a tournament, or maybe it’s due to getting my one tournament ace of the year there, but something happened this year to raise its esteem in my eyes.  It has a little bit of everything, which is all you can ask for from a course.
  4. Winthrop Gold, Rock Hill SC – I haven’t played a tournament there in close to ten years, and it only makes the cut this year because we happened to stop by on a whim (and actually intended to only play the short Lakefront layout), but it has been a favorite since the first time I played it.  Playing it without the ropes and the spectacle of the USDGC didn’t really diminish the fun factor one bit.  Maybe someday I’ll get to play it again in competition.

Favorite tournaments of the year

To make this a bit more interesting, I’m disqualifying any tournament I had a hand in organizing or helping to run in some way, as well as any tournament I won, from entry on the list.  Sorry Coggshall Fall Finale, Tournament of the Damned, Yetter, Porcupine Ridge, and anything at Dragan Field, this list isn’t for you.  In chronological order…

  1. First Folf and Fort Doubles, Ft McClary, Kittery Point ME – Lumping two events into one since they share the same course…an object course in a small park that was formerly a Revolutionary War era military installation.  Good old-school times with a lot of good people.
  2. Coggshall Spring Fog, Coggshall Park, Fitchburg MA – A little bittersweet to include this tournament on the list, as it took losing in a playoff for it not to be disqualified for being a tournament I won.  Hands down, the second round was the closest and most intensely competitive round I played all year.  After hole 1, I never trailed (until I lost the playoff hole) but I was never more than a single throw in the lead either.  Win or lose, those are the best rounds to be a part of.
  3. Crane Hill Open, Crane Hill, Wilbraham MA – An ace, a top 5 finish, and less than a handful of bogeys on the day.  Can’t really beat that against a deep and talented field of players.  That it doubled as the lone road trip of the year with a good friend made it even better.
  4. Newton Hill Open, Newton Hill, Worcester MA – Nothing like persevering through adversity to make a good finish at a tournament feel like a great one.  And for the second year in a row, the final round was just a tad too short (six holes) for my taste.  🙂

That’s what I have for now.  I intend to put up a second part to the year in review soon.  Maybe I might even come up with enough ideas for a part 3 as well.

Road Tripping

I love ending the season with a bit of a bang: the longest road trip of the year to play the last PDGA event on my schedule.  For the third year in a row, I made the trek south to the International Disc Golf Center for the Directors’ Cup tournament and seminar.

I left a little after 7am on Thursday, arriving to meet my travel buddies John and Joe in New Jersey around 4pm.  We headed out from there just after 7pm.  We arrived in Augusta GA a bit before 6am.  Yay to 23 hours spent mostly in the car. I feel like we made good time.

After a pre-sunrise breakfast at Waffle House (a morning staple for this trip), we back-tracked a bit over the border to South Carolina to watch the sunrise over the Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex, home of the National Collegiate Championships.  We then played an early round on the Hogback course there (not enough energy to play Old Glory as well), which was a fun little course that put an emphasis on throwing straight and accurate.  It is also home to a bit of a landmark in disc golf, the giant basket which we found on the 5th hole.

The giant basket at Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex in North Augusta, SC.
The giant basket at Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex in North Augusta, SC.

I really only mention our trip to the Hippodrome so I can post the picture and also to note the one new addition to my list of courses played.  In the three years of making this trip, I have added at least one to the list each time, outside of the courses at the IDGC (which were only new the first time).

After our round, it was on to the IDGC where we caught up with our friends on staff, toured the Hall of Fame museum, and relaxed on the comfy couches in the lobby.  Before we left at the end of the day, I squeezed nine holes in on the W.R. Jackson course.  Fortunately, I ran out of daylight to play the rest.

I say fortunately because for all the deserved high praise the course gets as a “gold” level course, the back nine is extremely cramped and condensed, especially in contrast to the spacious, sprawling front nine.  It’s a bit baffling that the space wasn’t used more efficiently.  I’ve played it before, and I wasn’t that bothered to not get to see it again.  Anyhow, on to the main attraction…

The Directors’ Cup is a free invitation-only event for tournament directors, state coordinators and other movers and shakers within the PDGA.  It involves a two round tournament (one per day) and a number of seminars covering a range of topics.

Saturday began with a number of sessions headed by various PDGA staff members in which they tackled topics within their area of purview with the PDGA.  From the basic structure and aim of the organization to where it is headed in the near and distant future.  Some things were informative though most felt quite basic and remedial for a room of experienced TDs and ardent supporters of the org.

The most invaluable aspects of the weekend were really found in the “down” time in which the attendees were able to converse and share thoughts with fellow TDs from around the country.  I was able to get far more out of talking to folks during lunch from California, Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, and Alabama than I did sitting in a room hearing the same spiel from PDGA folks that I heard last year and the year before.  I think in the corporate world, they call it “networking”.  Lots of good networking to be had all weekend long.

Then there was the golf.  There was a bit of a laid back atmosphere relative to most tournaments I play through the year.  With all the other activities and conversations going on, the competition seemed secondary and it showed, at least in how I played.

Saturday afternoon’s round was on the Jim Warner course, which is my favorite on the property.  It is a challenging course with a lot of semi-blind angles and significant elevation changes.  Arguably for those same reasons, it’s supposedly the least popular of the three at the IDGC…it wasn’t even used for the National Tour event hosted there in September (they put the concurrent Am A-tier on it instead).

I continued my recent trend of riding the roller coaster of birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey for much of the round, heck for the whole weekend.  I opened with a birdie only to follow it with an immediate bogey, and it continued from there.  I putted fairly well through the round, it was getting in position to make those putts birdie putts that proved difficult.  The only blown birdie putt of the day came on the gorgeous hole 14 after a great drive just missed acing by a foot or so.

A view of one of the prettiest holes at the IDGC, hole 14 on the Jim Warner course. Steve Dodge on the tee.
A view of one of the prettiest holes at the IDGC, hole 14 on the Jim Warner course. Steve Dodge on the tee.

I followed that missed bird with the most unfortunate shot of the round.  On the extremely challenging par-5 hole 15, I threw my drive around the corner, only to find the narrowest of narrow OB creeks.  The creek at most was maybe a foot wide, and my ~9 inch wide disc managed to find the dead center of it.  OB throwing three while still 500 feet and a whole lot of uphill to go to the basket, I scrambled to salvage a double-bogey 7.

I followed that with a pair of deuces, but it wasn’t enough to get back to par, so I finished with a 64 (+1).  Good news was that was the second best score in the division.  Bad news was that it was seven behind the leader who shot 57.

After some excellent southern BBQ for dinner and an evening of watching an MMA PPV (not my idea), it was back to the IDGC on Sunday for a couple more seminar sessions and then round 2 on the Steady Ed course.

It should be said that after a long dry spell, the area around the IDGC had been hit with an extraordinary amount of rain in the last month.  As a result, the lake the complex is set on was at extraordinarily high levels this weekend.  Certainly higher than I’d seen before, which made the course a whole lot more of a challenge than it has been in the past.

The first hole affected by the high water is the iconic hole 5.  Water that was kinda sorta in play when playing to the long and barely a thought when playing to the short placement was high enough to render the long placement unplayable and the short a bit trickier.

Hole 5 on the Steady Ed course at the IDGC. The lake was unusually high after a lot of rain, leaving the long pin a bit wet and unplayable.
Hole 5 on the Steady Ed course at the IDGC. The lake was unusually high after a lot of rain, leaving the long pin a bit wet and unplayable.

The water wasn’t the problem for me on hole 5 though I still managed to take a bogey on the hole after starting off the round with three straight birdies.

I did find the water off the tee on hole 12, which normally has a dry 40-50 foot wide fairway to throw on with the water safely (for this lefty) to the left.  On this day the water was up to a point where there really was no “fairway” for the first 300 feet or so.  Got wet twice more on hole 13, once from the tee, and once on the green. And on hole 14, I went from nearly acinge to rolling within a few inches of finding the water again.

Once away from the water again, I notched two more birdies then found another narrow creek for another OB bogey, and that was that.  Another 64.  Another one-over-par round. A third place finish overall.  On the plus side, though, it was a trophy spot and the trophies for the event were nice carved wood plaques. It was better than some first place trophies I’ve taken home.

We departed early on Monday morning, but we couldn’t resist one lengthy pit stop on the way home.  I think the pictures speak for themselves…

One of the many iconic views at Winthrop University's Gold course: tee 5.
One of the many iconic views at Winthrop University’s Gold course: tee 5.
Another iconic spot on Winthrop Gold: hole 9.
Another iconic spot on Winthrop Gold: hole 9.
Hole 15 at Winthrop Gold. That's my second shot just to the left of the basket, after splashing out of the chains from 300+ feet.  Could have been a hell of an eagle, instead a drop-in birdie.
Hole 15 at Winthrop Gold. That’s my second shot just to the left of the basket, after splashing out of the chains from 300+ feet. Could have been a hell of an eagle, instead a drop-in birdie.
Hole 17 at Winthrop Gold.  Not quite as intimidating without the pine bales creating an island green.  Still fun though.
Hole 17 at Winthrop Gold. Not quite as intimidating without the pine bales creating an island green. Still fun though.

Sure it’s not quite the same without the ropes and the staff and the galleries, but it was still a treat to play the Winthrop Gold course for the first time in five years.  Since I was traveling with an Innova sponsored player, we also made a stop at the Innova East warehouse so he could do a little “shopping”.  I’ve been there before, but it felt a bit strange going in there as a player now sponsored by a rival.  Definitely the first time I haven’t come out of there with a stack of goodies for myself.

Took another 24 hours once we left there, but I finally made it home in one piece and thoroughly exhausted.  It was a great trip and a great way to wrap up the traveling season.  Between now and the spring, I don’t anticipate much disc golf activity other than a couple doubles tournaments and as much practice as I can muster.  Now’s the time to rest up, heal up, and start the process of preparing for 2016.


Thorndike Success

Playing a tournament can be exhausting.  Running a tournament can be just as exhausting.  Playing a tournament that you’re running at the same time…extremely exhausting.  I can’t seem to learn that lesson.

Yesterday was one of those dual role days, and unlike my last tournament, I was full on into both roles not just on tournament day, but in the week or so leading up to the event.  All the work paid off, at least on one side of the ledger.

I probably should have seen it coming when pre-registrations for the Thorndike Memorial exceeded the field we saw at last year’s tournament.  21 total players last year, 26 players signed up in advance this year.  But even with that hint of what was to come, I was overwhelmed to have another 33 walk-up registrants in the morning for a total of 59 players.

Now that may not seem like a lot, but historically the Thorndike is a small tournament, having never exceeded 34 players in any of its previous12 years.  And with small tournaments, it’s not too difficult to handle running the tournament and playing in it at the same time.  I’ve done it a bunch, even winning the Thorndike six times while simultaneously being the TD.

The warning signs were there.  I have repeatedly told myself that if any tournament I’m running exceeds 50 players, I should drop out and concentrate on being the TD.  I didn’t follow my own advice, but only to my own detriment as a player.

I didn’t really play horribly, just not up to my own standards.  I finished just a throw out of the money at the end of the day, so apparently my standards are getting high.  But from the first throw of the day, my head wasn’t in the game the way it felt it needed to be.

I missed a birdie putt on the first hole of the first round (yay for not bother to throw one warm up toss), and then didn’t find another par until the 11th hole of the round.  I traded off birdies (5) and bogeys (4) until I finally settled down on the back nine.   Two birdies on the last four holes allowed me to finish with a reasonable score of 52 and four throws behind the leader.

Second round started off worse than the first.  Par on the first hole, then an OB drive and a bogey putt cutting through the chains to spit out the backside on the second hole.  Then I picked up with the birdie-bogey pattern again on the same stretch of holes as the first round.  Except when I got to the part of the course where I settled down in round 1, I picked up back to back bogeys to dig the hole deeper.

Teeing off on hole 9 during the second round of the 2015 Thorndike Memorial. Photo courtesy of Pic Perfection Photography.
Teeing off on hole 9 during the second round of the 2015 Thorndike Memorial. Photo courtesy of Pic Perfection Photography.

I managed to stop the bleeding as quickly as it started with a birdie on hole 14, then pars through 18 and a birdie to finish the round on hole 1.  Final score of 56 and a 108 total score.  As far as I’m concerned, it is borderline miraculous that I didn’t fall down the standings at all.  I began the round in 7th and finished in a tie for 7th.


Enough about my misery (which was short-lived and self-contained).  The real story of the day is that the tournament itself was a HUGE success.  In addition to shattering all previous attendance records, we raised $830 for the tournament’s designated charity, the Maine Childrens Cancer Program.  50% of the ace pot and a bunch of raffles supplemented the donations included in everyone’s entry fees.  Everyone went home with something…players packs, CTP prizes, raffle prizes, door prizes, cash for the pros.  A great day all around.

So it might be the last time I play the Thorndike, as if it continues to attract this kind of attendance next year I will most certainly bow out of playing.  On the plus side, doing that means I can make it an even better event and experience for the players than I can if I’m “distracted” with the nuisance of playing.  That would be worthwhile.

Next event, and the next to last tournament of my year, is the biggest road trip on my schedule.  The annual trip to the IDGC and the Director’s Cup is just a week away.  Judging from the registration list, it should be the biggest one yet.  I can’t wait.