I think it's important to pay as much attention to the AM side of a tournament as you do the PRO side. PRO's, on average, make up the smallest portion of the field in tournaments; so if you are focusing in more on the PRO's, you're alienating the majority of your players. If a tournament features both AM's and PRO's, and the AM side is smaller than the PRO side - that should be a red flag.
I play more PDGA tournaments than most people do and I am career AM to this point. So here are some of the things I have learned to look for when determining which tournaments to play:
1. QUALITY OF THE COURSES. - e.g. If Tulsa decides to have a tournament and I see that the AMS will not be playing Black Hawk or Hunter, I may be less inclined to play the tournament. I want to play the best courses the town/region has to offer. It's not always possible for this to happen, but I want to know that every effort is being made to get the best courses. It shows that the TD is thinking of the AM's just as much as the PRO's. For the past two years in a row, a very popular major tournament north of here wouldn't answer which courses it was going to use for its tournament and it prevented people from coming. People didn't know where to book hotels, or if the tournament was going to be worth going to. It was silly and it cost the tournament a lot of quality players.
2. PRICE - e.g. Is the cost reasonable for the experience? (Cost includes entry, fuel, lodging, food and the social cost from those back home)
A) Player's Pack - A decent player's pack can off-set a high cost tournament. If the player's pack is advertized as "sick" or "huge" without listing any of the items, it's usually a sign that it's a lot of junk and maybe a disc. So I look for tournaments that list what you're getting on their flyer. A player's pack on any event costing more than $45 should have at least one disc or a decent shirt. PERIOD. Stickers, bug spray, vitamin water and other such "free" items don't set my mind at ease when I'm shelling out $75.
(Local tournament player packs:
Dynamic Discs - disc or a tee shirt, or tee shirt and a towel. (traditionally)
LS Discs - Coupon for a disc and a shirt.
Columbia Disc Golf - Disc, shirt, area coupons, towel. They give you the option of upgrading to a better shirt or disc for a price, something I think is cheap in presentation.
St. Louis - At least 3 discs, shirt, towel, mini, coupons, food, and a free disc coupon from Gateway if you visit their store, stickers.
Des Moines - Pro plastic disc, a full color buzzz and a shirt, sticker.
Minnesota - Crystal disc, a shirt, a mini, water, sticker.
Joplin/Springfield - 3 discs, shirt, mini, coupons, water, sticker.
KC -wide open this year (3 discs, a shirt, stickers, towel)
B) Player's parties - The player's party isn't a selling point with me because most of them never meet the purpose for which they were intended. The player's party should be the time when player's can commune with each other in relative comfort. Sadly, the parties are almost always in a bar, which excludes junior players and the non-bar types. A player's party is just becomes a night of going out to a bar and drinking... And not for free, so it's an extra cost. I think free meals (lunch or dinner, etc) are always a more exciting and well received idea than a player's party.
Dynamic Discs - Glass Blown - party at a bar, free visit to a food line.
LS Discs - Mighty Shunga - party at a bar/restaurant
Columbia - Mid America - Party in the park, free food.
Des Moines - First Class Challenge - party at a bar.
Minnesota - Majestic - party at the park, food costs extra.
St Louis - St Louis Open - party at the park, food is free.
Joplin/Springfield - 4 states, etc - party at the park, food is free.
AM Nationals - free breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Player's party at a bar.
Bowling Green - player's party at a bar, one trip to food line.
C) Travel between courses - If round one was at Olathe and round two at Pleasant Hill in the same day, I would probably skip this tournament. I know there were some issues with this at last year's AM Worlds. St. Louis has an issue with this during the St Louis Open every year. It's a long drive between their courses and it doesn't allow much time for lunch, rest or warming back up before round two. What can trump this issue is if the courses are so bad-ass that a long drive would be worth it.
D) Pay out. It's important. PERIOD. Being cheap will cost you in the short and, more importantly, the long term. Trophies are nice, but never has the 7th place finisher out of a field of 20 received a trophy. Nor has he/she been ever been okay with it. I wonder how many PROS would sign up for a tournament if they knew the tournament was only going to pay the winner and no one else? And, if the pay out is HISTORICALLY bad - and the word of mouth is negative - don't expect the AM players to sign up. Every tournament has a positive and negative side to it, but too much negative can doom it. Players know a raw deal when the see it and stay away.
3. THE FIELD - I am not sure why more TD's haven't picked up on this yet, but they need to read the memo - Keeping the PDGA sign up sheet up to date is a HUGE deal for AM players. WHO is playing is very important. If a field looks thin in number - why would I want to go? Is it worth paying 50 bucks to play with just six players? Major tournaments have really dropped the ball on this. AMS who are close to turning PRO are looking for specific AM players to compete against who increase the level of the competition in a tournament. If I pull up the PDGA page and only see four players - who are all locals to that tournament - I'm staying away. If you can't get people to sign up early, send out emails and find out who is THINKING about signing up. Make sure the list of "possibly going to plays" are available somewhere so people can see that there is going to be SOMETHING going on at your event. I can think of two tournaments in Missouri who didn't keep their sign up sheet active and no one went because they saw it was empty. It's a major selling point.
4. COMMUNICATION - Can I get a hold of anyone involved with a tournament to get my questions answered? I played an A tier tournament where the only contact information was a phone number which no one ever answered. When we did get someone on the phone, their answer to the question of where we should go to sign in was, "Old man's house." And that was it. No instructions. No information. AND again, the major tournament up north was quiet on what was going on with the tournament and that prevented people from coming. Have accurate information, which is updated daily or at the very least, weekly. Would you be willing to travel 9 hours to a tournament if you didn't any information about it?
There are other factors which I take into consideration but these are the main ones. I shell out over a grand a year to play tournaments and I want to know my money is well spent.
The best tournament experiences are the ones where the focus is on the player's enjoyment. When the experience exceeds expectation, not falls short.
A good example of what can happen when the prize goes from good to a trophy is about to be displayed in one of Disc golf's greatest tournaments of the year.
KC WIDE OPEN should always be 3 days, four rounds (swope, waterworks, blue valley, rosedale or cliff), and the level of play should be increased(like Swope Gold this year).