Masters Cup 2009

The Amateur weekend of the Masters Cup just concluded, and I was up at the course helping out for most of the three-day event. I learned plenty watching the Ams (all but eight of them, who DNF’d likely due to the rain) play three rounds that took 5-plus waterlogged hours to finish. By the way, none of the DNF’ers were women, despite the fact that they’re getting around the course in more throws on average than their male counterparts.

I also got a reminder that there is a whole other (albeit lower) competitive level to our sport, and they take their games as seriously as those of us who plan in Open divisions. In fact, in some ways they’re probably better at keeping things in perspective than us, since no disc golfer yet has been able to make a true living playing the sport. What I saw was a group of people that were able to play with a burning desire to do well, but quickly settle for having a good time while on vacation when Plan A fell through. The only really despondent souls I came across were locals, and I’ve been there before. You look forward to the big A tour event on your home course for months, and when you don’t do well, it sucks. The best I ever finished in Santa Cruz as an Am was 8th, I think, even in the year (1998) that I won several times in the NorCal series. Playing a PDGA tourney – especially one as big as the Masters Cup – takes a whole different approach, but that’s a subject for a different day. Some other observations:

  • Am and Pro events different in several ways. One is how long the rounds take. Am rounds take longer because the players need more throws to complete the round, in turn because they are less skilled. But they also don’t know the rules as well, which leads to discussions about rulings and more fun stuff. And now with the newer high-tech plastic, they can throw their errant shots further as well!
  • We’ve always tried different things to lure Am players into the ‘Pro’ ranks . . . how about round times? I think if the Open players had played this weekend, the rounds would have been between 4.5 and 5 hours, rather than between 5.5 and 6 hours.
  • I watched many throws over the course of three days, and had the oppontunity to give many eager listeners tips on DeLa. What I was this weekend reinforced my belief that – for someone of my skill level and questionable power- playing for safe par on most holes is the best way to ensure a good, strong placing.

Santa Cruz vs. San Jose Match Play Results

The first of hopefully many team match play events in Northern California went well today, with Team Santa Cruz prevailing 8-2. It may seem like a sound whoopin’, but a closer look at and understanding of the numbers will show that the matches were all pretty close.

First of all, there were 16 total match points being contested. Each singles match was worth one point, for a total of 8, and the doubles matches were worth two points each- also totaling 8.

During the matches, each hole is worth a point, and players keep playing out the entire match even if someone wins the match with holes left to play (example, a player/team is 3 up with two holes to play). So with all that in mind, here are the scores:

Open
Shasta Criss tied Manuel Fernandez 4-4
Chris Foss defeated Christlus 8-2

Shasta/Chris Foss defeat Manny/Christlus 7-4

Masters
Jon Baldwin defeated Shannon Carson 6-4
Jack Trageser defeated Thom Magraw 5-4

Jon/Jack tied Shannon/Thom tied 4-4

Advanced
Nick Garcia defeated Eric Kopit 7-5
James Pendergast defeated Assaf Sadeh 7-5

Nick/James tied Eric/Assaf 1-1

Am. Masters
Gregory LeBaron tied James Brennan 4-4
Ed Baskirk defeated Mike Miller 4-3

Gregory/Ed defeated James/Mike 5-2

According to my shaky math, the total by hole-points was Santa Cruz 58, San Jose 46.

So now it’s on to the re-match in San Jose sometime in the near future. A couples side-notes:

  • Manny Fernandez turned his ankle halfway through the doubles match, and Christlus has to play odd-man with one extra shot on each hole the rest of the way.
  • Gregory Lebaron aced hole 21 during the doubles match, after his partner shanked his drive first.

Match Play Gets some Play in Santa Cruz

We’re trying to start small with some ‘club vs. club’ match play this Sunday at DeLa. The Hellyerites (or Hellyerians?) are bringing a team over the hill Sunday to compete in a match play event against us Santa Cruzans for 18 holes of singles and 18 holes of doubles match play. When San Jose team captain Mike Miller mentioned it to players from other clubs at the recent Otter Open, he heard repeatedly ‘we want in,’ and that’s exactly what we hope this eventually becomes: a four or five team club vs. club annual or semi-annual event.

For now though it’s just two 8-player teams (2 open players, 2 masters, two AM-1’s and two Am Masters players). If you’re interested in checking it out, we’re planning to tee off around 8:45 AM on Sunday. For those that don’t already know, match play is a form of competition where (in the singles format) a player from one team goes head-to-head against someone from the other team. Rather than cumulative scoring, though, each hole is worth a point. It’s like skins, but ties on the hole don’t carry over to the next hole. So if two players in a match both get pars on the first five holes, then player A birdies hole 6 and player B pars it, player A now is “Up 1” in the match. It’s especially challenging since normally in golf we condition outselves to try to block out what the other players are doing, in match players we make shot decisions based in large part on what the other guy just did or might do. Match play also lends itself well to the team concept, which should make Sunday both fun and interesting.

Schaeffer Park, Santa Cruz, CA

I played the St. Francis Charity Cup event today at Schaeffer Park in Santa Cruz, and I didn’t score well. My +3 eighty-one left me out of the cash, and without hardware for the first time in tournaments at Schaeffer Park. Up until today, that tournament has been good to me. And the reason I’m writing this blog entry right now, with my possibly broken left big toe in a bucket of icewater, is I realized that it’s still good to me. At this stage of my competitive disc golf journey, it doesn’t get better than a round at Schaeffer Park followed by a barbecue lunch with a keg of a local, organic microbrew beer.

It’s easy to write Schaeffer Park off as a disc golf novelty, with the numerous different types of homemade catching devices which sometimes border on the humorous. But those ‘baskets’ serve a couple different important functions. First, and most memorable, they give Schaeffer Park the moniker of the ‘Disneyland of Disc Golf’. I guarantee you’ll not find a course as ‘out there’, anywhere. But some of those quirky baskets also make some short holes tougher, and actually present legitimate skill challenges in terms of getting a disc to obey your commands.

Another thing that I was painfully reminded of today is the fact that Schaeffer Park contains some of the roughest rough around. There are plenty of drop-offs that slope away from narrow fairways, gnarly thickets of thorny blackberry and poison oak, and even an OB creek for good measure, and on one hole I got to sample all of it. I took a triple-bogey on a hole less than 300 feet long, and didn’t get within 200 feet until my fourth throw. I estimated that the look I got on my 2nd and 3rd throws were among the 10 worst lies I’ve had . . . . ever. I’ve been playing since 1988, most of it at DeLaveaga, so rest assured it was a bad hole. The +3 on the hole wasn’t nearly as bad as what I had to go through to actually finish the hole (shudder). But it’s behind me now, and I didn’t break anything, so it’s all good.

Another thing I noticed today (maybe cuz I’m gettin’ older) is that the course has 26 holes, and most require you to throw drives at full power or close to it. There are very few pushover holes (the steep downhill holes all seem to have water lurking close behind), and the fact that you’re usually throwing with uneven footing adds to the challenge.

Our round took four hours, it kicked my !@#$%^&*, and I needed ropes to traverse parts of the course. ‘Nuff said. If you haven’t played this tournament yet, and it’s at all possible to for you to get to Santa Cruz in September, try to make it in 2009. Take it from a guy that didn’t win, didn’t cash, ended up covered with dirt, stickers and sweat and almost got killed . . .it was a blast. And of course I can’t blahg about the tourney at Schaeffer without applauding Mark Karlskind (and his daughters), Mark Farrar, Kirk Hatfield, and of course Wayne Schaeffer himself for giving so much of their time to raise money for the St. Francis Soup Kitchen.

The next entry of this blagh will include pictures and video from today’s round at Schaeffer Park, and Schaeffer is something you have to see to truly understand. Make sure to check it out!

Black Mouse Monster Match

Third Sunday or every month, at 9:30 AM SHARP.

That’s exactly what the flyer promoting the monthly at Black Mouse said. So I had not one but two surprises when I showed up around 9:15 ready to play. First of all, there was no one there running things (TJ showed up eventually and all was cool), and I don’t think we started until after 10:30. Second, the first two people I saw were Myles Harding and Don Smith (both sponsored by DGA- the bastards), so my preconceived notion of being the proverbial big fish in a small pond that day was immediately shattered.

When we eventually started, everyone that showed up was lumped into one division (fine by me!), and placed in three groups of five. First off hole one were me, Don, Myles, Sean Roybal, and Rob —. I started out hot for the first seven holes and grabbed an early lead, but cooled off in the middle and let Don and Myles get within a couple strokes on the back side of the course. We had one streak where everyone was hitting long birdie putts. In fact, the hottest guy at the end was Sean, but he had too much ground to make up and fell short.

By hole 16 I had a two-stroke lead with a downhill 30-footer for birdie. I went for it because Don was hitting everything and laying up was no guaranteed thing either, and of course it rolled enough to result in a -7 and -7 tie. After that, even though Myles had a couple chances to make it a three-way tie, we all parred out to result in a first-place tie between Don and I. We decided to split the cash, but still had to settle bragging rights. I wanted to get revenge for Don’s victory over me in sudden death after the Schaeffer Park tourney last Fall. If I had know it would take 10 HOLES, though, I would have settled for the tie!

I was already in hot water because we started late and ended late, so I just wanted to end it one way or the other. The problem was, every hole I birdied he birdied, and when I parred he parred. We were cursing each other for ‘not winning it’. Then came the penultimate hole, a short uphill with a blind dogleg right. My disc hit a tree and left me 35-feet short and obscured by more trees, and Don’s went right at it hard. When I got to my disc I for some reason thought he was based, and went for my only birdie option, a right-handed backhand shot around a redwood stump- and I made it! Don then walked down past me and saw that his disc had sailed past the basket and down the slope 60 feet away. I had maybe 20 seconds to celebrate my victory (and more importantly the END of the playoff) before Don nailed his impossible do-or-die attempt. To push it to the next hole. Wow! Ugh.

In what could be nothing except anticlimactic Don based the next quirky short hole, and I hit a tree, then clanged my long birdie throw. The end.

Ugh. And, wow!

Big Sur Royale

I finally got the chance to play the Big Sur course I’d heard others rave about for several years now. Surprise, surprise . . . they were right!

The Course: It’s almost a given that when you take a landscape that includes Redwood trees, soaring mountains, and a bubbling river, then add baskets, the experience will at least be visually stimulating. But I want to give the Monterey Disc Golf Club credit for designing a course that had a great variety of shots and was really fun to play. Of course, I may be a little biased considering the course is quite lefty-friendly, but I heard nothing but positive comments from the other players as well. We played flat holes, downhill holes, uphill holes, and holes that were mostly wooded and also mostly open. The river came into play on maybe 4 or 5 holes, and even on the water holes discs could be retrieved. The teepads were pretty solid, all in all, considering they were natural and temporary.

The campground: A little pricey, but waddya expect? It’s Big Sur, and the facilities and ammenities matched the gorgeous natural surroundings, so I thought it was worth it with or without the disc golf. The place also has a good restaurant, tavern, and store, so if you want a quasi-camping experience this is a good fit.

The tournament: I came back with several general impressions when this tourney was over, but the most prominent was that Fun really did seem to rule. My best explanation for this was the fact that, with nearly 60 of the 74 participants in Amateur divisions, this was for the most part an Am tourney with a small Pro contingent. I’ve been playing in the Open divisions for so long now, I forgot how different the atmosphere is when Am players get together. These are people that are here more for the experience, fellowship, and partying than for the rush of competition. I think people still have a good time at Open tourneys, but their primary focus is on playing well- even before and between the actual rounds of golf. I experienced a little nostalgia for those more innocent Am days, even though back then I was one of those players that was more into winning than anything else.

My personal experience was limitied to the 4-person Open Master group of Marty Hapner, Mike Brown, Steve Thomas, and Mike’s ever-present dog Skippy. Merle Witvoet, who used to live with Mike, nicknamed Skippy ‘Two-Stroke,’ and I can understand why. Skippy didn’t dart around like some dogs do when discs are thrown, but he didn’t stay out of the way, either. Even though the dog didn’t really bother me too much (I was enjoying the laid-back atmosphere too much to be uptight) he really should not have been on the course during a PDGA-sanctioned event.

In some ways this event was excruciating, because I didn’t feel like I was playing good golf, and yet I was always within a few strokes of the lead. I guess I was aware that I was right there with a chance to win, but didn’t deserve to be. Finally, with three holes left to play, I birdied to take the lead over Mike and Marty. But Mike was not to be outdone, and he matched my birdie on the next hole, then reeled off another on the hole after that to tie it up. Then, on the last hole of regulation, he stepped up on a difficult river hole and drove to within 20 feet. I had to do likewise to force a playoff, and I did . . . whew! We basically traded mediocre throws for the first couple playoff holes, and I won it on the third with a nice long jump putt for birdie.

If you haven’t played in this event, I suggest you do. If you’ve never played in a PDGA tourney, this one would make a great first tourney experience.

2nd Place, whether it matters or not

I play in the ‘Pro’ divisions, and in NorCal that means stiff competition no matter how big or small the event, whether I’m playing Open or Masters. It’s also dawned on me that in tourneys my distance is now a little less than the average competitor. I can barely throw 400 feet, and it seems almost everyone I play against can throw further. The only way I can be competitive is to play really clean golf and hit lots of putts, and both require a great deal of focus. For this reason, I find the important tournaments a little stressful, or at least mentally taxing. How do I define important? If a tourney is PDGA sanctioned, affects my player rating, costs more than $75 to enter, spans two or more days, or all of the above- it’s important.

The Faultine Classic, which is one of two annual PDGA events at my home course, DeLaveaga DGC in Santa Cruz, was played last week and it’s what I consider an important event. Not only does it meet all of the above criteria, how well I do in that event factors into whether I get to represent Team Santa Cruz in San Diego in December- a match play event that has been going on for more than 25 years. So at least in the context of my personal world of disc golf, it’s important.

For events like the Faultline, I’ve conditioned myself to try to make fun, socializing, imbibing, and even enjoyment secondary to score. My casual rounds provide me with plenty of time to indulge those visceral benefits, and I guess I’m one who feels compelled to feed the need to test (prove) himself from time to time. Then there is that whole different kind of disc golfer, and my friend Gregory is in that second group. We use DeLa bag-tags and occasional small monetary bets to inject a competitive element into our weekly rounds, but Gregory feels no need to take his competitive jones any further than that. He hasn’t played any kind of tournament for years, even though he’s pretty good and has been getting better and better over the past few years.

I somehow convinced Gregory to be my partner in a worst-shot doubles event at San Jose’s La Raza and Hellyer 9-hole courses, part of a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the installation of Hellyer’s course (one of the courses I’ve helped to install). Part of my logic in convincing Gregory to play was the fact that the 18-hole tourney would be a low-key, fun-first event. Indeed, it was just that, and as a good contrast to the Faultline, it served as an example of what I’d consider a competitively non-important event. Following is a summary of both events, and why I enjoyed each immensely for what they had to offer.

The 2007 Faultline Classic

The Faultline is a pro-only event, meaning no amateur divisions are offered. Either play with the big boys and girls, or don’t play. It’s also billed as the California State Championships, but this year it had a bit more local flavor due to a conflict with one of disc golf’s majors, the US Disc Golf Championships in South Carolina. For that reason current World Champ and lifelong local Nate Doss, among many others that usually attend, were absent. Add to that the fact that the club was a little lax in getting the word out, and the divisions were wide open for locals to win. And win they did.

Jon Baldwin won the open mens division, Jim Hagen won Masters, Kristi King won women’s open, and the final nine was all locals- Jon, Don Smith, Stan Pratt, and quasi-local J. Michael Barry. Usually, when I follow along as part of the final nine gallery, there is maybe one local participant in the top four and I root for him. This time all four were friends of mine, so I felt conflicted. In the end, I’m glad Jon held onto his four-stroke lead (barely) to capture a win that will hopefully (and deservedly) put him on the map. He’s a disc golfer that makes the most of his abilities and does everything well, on the physical as well as mental side. Plus he’s a truly good guy. But the other three are, too- hence the ‘conflicted’?

Side Notes:

  • It was especially gratifying to see Stan gets results in a tournament equal to his abilities. In my opinion it was only a matter of time, so hopefully he can use this as a springboard to continued success.
  • J Michael Barry qualifies for the age-protected Grandmasters division, but he now often chooses to play Open. No wonder! He won the SF Safari, and finished 2nd in the Faultline, with only a spit-out birdie putt preventing him from tying Jon on the last hole of the final 9 (hole 27). Michael provides inspiration for those of us trying to play their best golf after 40.
  • Prior to this event, Jon Baldwin and I tied at the last three major events at Dela (two Masters Cups and a Faultline). Thanks to his -14 in the first round this year compared to my (ugh) par, that streak ended rather abruptly
  • I ultimately finished 2nd in the Masters division, one stroke behind Jim Hagen, and after that horrid first round 2nd place tasted pretty good. My gameplan worked out for me, as I minimized mistakes and hit the birdie putts when I had them (after the first round). The last two rounds I had only three total bogey strokes, and had the best score both rounds. Jim has been playing great golf this Summer and was bound to get me sooner or later.
  • I played all three rounds with Doug Werner, a great guy and excellent golfer who I think is still getting better. Thanks to Doug I found out about the Hellyer/LaRaza event, and got the chance to play him on his turf for once.

Hellyer and La Raza worst-throw doubles

There are several things I want to comment on here, but I’ll first summarize by saying that the entire experience was positive for me and for Gregory. Sure, we finished 2nd in Open and won a little cash, which will help the next time I try to convince Gregory to play in a tourney, but I think that factor was minimal. After all, this was what I consider a ‘non-competitively important’ event. Translation: I was able to make having fun a priority. So here are some observations:

  • Hellyer- The course is basically the same layout as the last time I played it, years ago, and even locals will admit it’s just so-so in terms of challenge and variety of shots. But they’ve really made the most of the land they have there. The whole course seemed so much more developed and groomed, and, dare I say, landscaped.
  • LaRaza- This was my first time ever playing the 9-hole LaRaza, and I was impressed! For a flat course (again, you work with what you got) the length and numerous trees and other foliage made for a good test of disc golf skills. This course is seasonal and will soon shut down for the Winter, so if you want to check it out, do it now. They have a tourney coming up soon (see http://www.svdgc.org for details) which can make for a great way to play the course with locals.
  • Worst-shot doubles-If you’ve never played worst-shot doubles before, it’s completely different than anything else. The best shots count for nothing, long putts are even bigger than normal, and part of the strategy is selecting which of your companion twosome’s throws are worst each hole. Gregory and I shot a +2, and the winners (Stick and Manny, with whom we played), shot a par. Those guys were great, by the way, and very helpful considering neither G or I had ever played LaRaza.
  • The South Bay Disc Golf Scene- I was pleased and impressed to see the turnout and cameraderie, and felt very welcomed as a representative of Santa Cruz. several people made a point to express their appreciation of us coming over the hill, and I will for sure be back for another event. I also got the chance to see my old friend Sean Hager, a regular playing partner from a decade ago and fellow Hellyer course installer.

In the future I’ll try to treat this space more as a blog, with more frequent, less lengthy entries. If you read this entire post at one sitting, I’m impressed!

Keep on Chuckin’!