It was the warmest winter in all of my years in Kansas City. Usually the cold weather keeps me off the courses and I'm stuck inside day dreaming about disc golf. This year was different - I was on the course every single day. The thinking was that we should play while we still could because eventually winter was going to arrive and this party would be over. Best to live it up while the gettin's good. But that cold never came and the party just kept on a-rockin'!
The main problem with playing all winter long is that we never let our bodies slow down and let them heal up from all the playing. Every major sport has an off-season and during that time, you let your body do what it needs to do to prepare for the next season. Mainly, rest. We just never stopped and our bodies were achy.
The talk of where to go and what to do for this season wasn't much of a discussion at all. "All new" was what we agreed upon; New Courses, New States, New Tournaments and New Experiences. We knew that our resources were limited and this could very well be our last big year, so we had to make this season count.
And so it begins...
The first stop was a no-brainer. We had played Fountain Hills on a trip last July (Minna almost died of heat stroke but played it to an unbelievable 59), but we wanted to play the Memorial for the experience. Traditionally, the Memorial is a disc golf destination/oasis which people flock to after all the horrible months of freezing cold snow back home. People kill themselves to get into the tournament just so they can play in shorts again, and free themselves from their parka. Everyone looks like pasty-white bears freshly awakened from long hibernations; They're groggy and hungry and they just want to sit in the sun and warm up.
The price is reasonable, but the schedule is horrible. You play during the middle of the week and the tournament ends on Saturday. Most people are in school or working during the week so this tournament is a real sacrifice if you want to play it. The fact that it fills up shows just how desperate people are to play in the sun again.
The AM side gets only three days of play to the PRO side's four. The thinking is that the AMS will want to stick around an extra day (extra night in the hotel, extra rental car day, extra food, etc) just so they can watch the PROS play. I guess some do stick around, but not us. We were going to play PRO but we couldn't afford the extra day.
We decided to fly and it was a wonderful experience trying to explain to security what the x-ray configuration of my disc golf bag contents was all about. "They're disc golf discs." Which is then followed by a long explanation of what disc golf is. I don't know if other people check their discs as luggage, but I would rather lose all of my luggage than my favorite buzzz and putter in baggage purgatory.
SIDE NOTE: Minna is deathly afraid of heights, so flying is a real treat.
We stayed in a cheap hotel near the airport and made our way to check-in at the Vista Del Camino course. The AM side was given a decent player's pack containing a Memorial back pack (does anyone want mine?) sunglasses, the new "ti" plastic discs and a few other odds and ends. Pretty decent haul when compared to the entry fee. We walked passed the Feldberg vs. Crazy John clinic and watched Paul McBeth quietly showing off his putting prowess on hole 3. He hit every putt from 80 feet and in. It was insane. And very warm.
The Memorial gets its name from the Fountain Hills course which has a Memorial for Vietnam Soldiers near the teebox for hole 1. I am assuming the tournament name as an easy choice over the second most noticeable feature of Fountain Hills. "The Memorial" is much classier than calling it the "Discraft Duck sh1t Open." And even though it is called the Memorial, we were not asked to remember anything. Just show up and play.
We both played well and finished top twenty. We also were able to witness the future of disc golf when Paul McBeth and Dave Feldberg destroyed the courses and shot 14 under at Vista. Everyone realized at that moment - The game has to grow. These PROS are stepping up their talent and they will need bigger challenges. Time to make things even harder.
RAM N SALMON:
Prairie Center got a face-lift. The old course I spent so much time playing when I first moved to town is barely there. Many of the trees have died and been cut down making the course a less attractive choice when looking around for a place to play. Then Andy and a few of his friends spent a bunch of time improving the course to make it harder than the original and I was excited to get back to the course and play it. Cooper asked me to join him and we really thought we had a solid chance at cashing in the tournament - A chance no one else gave us. We played well enough to be in second after the first round and we were on the card with Eric McCabe, Tank, Arturo and Mike D for the final round. Not too bad.
We didn't cash. But we got to watch a lot of great disc golfers attack that new course.
This one almost didn't happen. Minna had to move into a new place and we had already played the tournament the year before, so it wasn't on our short list of tournaments to play. But when Minna was able to move a week early, we had a window and we decided to jump on it.
She won the INT division last year but it was on a different set of courses and she really wanted to play the courses on the ADV side. I was in first place after the first round but pulled a muscle in my chest and didn't end up finishing strong, so for me, this was a tournament of revenge - to come back fighting and get some payback.
The cost is nominal and the player's pack is silly, we were given two discs and some literature. No backpack! Can you believe it? The best part of the weekend was the fly mart - McCabe was there with DD and Discraft selling Ti plastic; we were able to find some rare plastic we liked, and we were able to watch Kansas play into the final game with Kentucky, on their turf. Always a good time. The fly mart is a real attractive element to the tournament and I hope future tournaments try to incorporate into theirs.
We both played well and both finished in the top five. The revenge was there and we said goodbye to the tournament knowing full well that we were done with our BOWLING GREEN AM days, and with AM in general.
GLASS BLOWN OPEN/COLLEGIATE NATIONALS:
I stayed AM for nine extra months so that I could live out my fantasy of playing for Kansas. It meant the world to me that I was able to suit up and play, especially at 39. I'm sure the rest of the team wasn't thrilled with having a teammate my age, but they were very generous with making me feel welcome.
Collegiates is held in Augusta, Georgia where the 2006 World Champions were held. The courses are novelty in design, with lots of baskets buried up to the top of the cage so you have to slide it in, or placed on top of two 55 gallon drums next to a hill to make it a spooky putt. There are a few hanging baskets and lots of baskets on top of 30 foot mounds. There are four courses, all of which are tough, and the format meant you would play most courses twice. Two rounds of doubles and four rounds of singles.
The fee was low for a four man team, and the player's pack contained four discs with the collegiate stamp and a pretty amazing dry fit. The player's party was pizza and cookies, the usual fare for college students who thought they were in heaven. And there was a lot of insanity with 53 colleges all trying to beat the sh1t out of each other at GUTS.
If you're not a fan of Kansas, forgive me, but we did well and finished 14th. We earned an invite to next year's tournament and we had a great time being a team. In disc golf, it is one of my top five favorite disc golf memories.
Sadly, the footnote to this whole experience has an all too real ending with a death and a great deal of of life-interrupted. I won't give details, but what was once glorious is now a tragedy.
In Emporia, the Glass Blown Open was being literally blowing away. By now everyone has seen the video of Jay Cram putting into a head wind only to watch it fly 60 feet behind him. I think I will take a basket on a 55 gallon drum over 55 mph winds any day. I don't envy those who had to play in the wind, but I hear the courses were excellent and everyone had a good time. The price was pretty high, but the player's pack was chock full of goodies including a glass mini and a ti WASP (which Minna never got) and some other odds and ends.
Minna couldn't find her game and she couldn't figure out what to do. She was pretty upset and it was a full week before she got over it. Minna learned the hardest lesson in disc golf; There are those who can throw a disc, and there are those who know how to play golf, but not everyone knows how to do both. She discovered that she wasn't playing golf at the GBO and now she spends her time learning to play the game and not just how to throw.
SWOPE SPRING RENEWAL:
I love swope.
This was another last second decision. Minna and I played this tournament in 2011 and won as a mixed pair, so this year I played it with someone else. Brian Gaskil - a friend from Marshall. The cost is low, and if there was a free disc, I don't remember or forgot to pick one up.
The big surprise of this tournament was Avery Jenkins. Avery was in town and seems to love Swope as much as I do. He had a lot of great things to say about the course and his history playing there. Of course, he won his world title in KC so he has a real soft spot for the town and I'm sure he always will. I played two rounds with Avery making it the second tournament this year I have played on a card with a former World Champion. Only this time I won. Well... I didn't win, but I did cash.
David Emerson has cancer. In his own words; he should be dead by now. I have known him for a few years and he has been nothing but a great man to me and the sport, so I don't want him to die. What blows my mind is that he could be spending his time with family, close friends or running all over the world finishing up some bucket list, but instead he decided to run a disc golf tournament. He's thin, he's weak, he can't play anymore... but he has the strength to put on a disc golf tournament in his spare time. If he is willing to give his time, I'm willing to give mine.
Thornfield is another Brigadoon course. It shows up once or twice a year, and you have to play it while you can before it disappears. You have to relish the course and all of it's unique beauty because as soon as you have lost your mind playing it, it's gone - and there is no revenge. There is no second shot to make up for a bad one.
The cost is high, and the player's pack is irrelevant. The player's pack should just be a map of the course. You play both for the course and for David. One day this will all be over, and all we will have are the powerful memories and those are worth every penny we spend on them.
Coming up... The WIDE OPEN.