August 16th, 2014. Late afternoon, do you remember where you were? I do. I was sitting at home in my recliner watching Disc Golf Planet as Paul McBeth and Ricky Wysocki went into a sudden-death playoff for the 2014 PDGA World Championship at Blue Lake DGC in Portland, Oregon. Fast forward to May 27th, 2019, and instead of watching from home, I’m standing at hole 1 at Blue Lake, as Drew Gibson and Eagle McMahon are getting ready to go into their own sudden-death playoff for the Portland Open title on the same course, less than five years later
Playoffs are what drive disc golf fans to watch and compete. The World Championship in 2014 ushered in a new age for disc golf, the era of Ricky and Paul. While Ricky had taken second place to Paul McBeth several times before, this was the first time, on a Major stage, where Ricky had gone toe-to-toe with Paul and pushed him to a playoff. While Ricky would not earn his first World Championship until 2016, Portland Worlds is where Ricky showed the disc golf community he had arrived to compete against the “McBeast.”
What makes Portland and Blue Lake in particular so compelling for playoffs? There are several factors to consider, including course design, spectatorship, and media.
Blue Lake was designed for championship disc golf. Coming in at 10,220 feet, the Blue Lake Disc Golf Course has championship distance. But distance isn’t everything; tee pad and pin placement also key. Placed on a piece of property reserved for a municipal golf course, the design crew of Dave Feldberg, Tyler Christensen, and Jeff Hagerty had plenty of space and possibilities to build a top tier course. The course takes advantage of the park’s many established trees to create picturesque and challenging fairways, and also uses the open space and tall grass to shape distinct fairways and OB lines.
Oregon disc golf is strong, and Portland serves as an epicenter. With the local Stumptown Disc Golf Club at the helm, spectators show up en-mass for top-tier events at area courses. Worlds in 2014 provided some of the most extensive galleries filmed from a non-combined World Championship, and the spectators for the more recent 2019 Portland Open were equally impressive. With the rise in popularity of disc golf, spectatorship has grown as well. Blue Lake DGC was designed with spectators in mind. With room along each fairway for spectators to watch, galleries build as the competition mounts. Sports are meant to be watched live, and throngs of spectators help to build the anticipation and excitement on the ground. When reflecting on the spectators at the 2014 Worlds, Ricky Wysocki said: “The people of Portland have a really high disc golf IQ, and you could tell everyone knew how important the situation in the moment was. So that just increased the vibe that they were giving off. They really appreciated the moment, and we really felt that as players.”
Whether it’s live or post-produced coverage, we can all agree that disc golf is more exciting to watch when we can catch the full flight of a disc. Blue Lake Disc Golf Course was designed with cameras in mind. The ability for spectators to have the same experience online and in-person is one of the things that helps Blue Lake DGC stand out when it comes to playoff disc golf. In 2019, experiencing playoff disc golf in person at Blue Lake DGC took me straight back to watching live in my living room in 2014. This can be attributed to the design of Blue Lake DGC pairs with the needs of disc golf coverage. Blue Lake DGC offers a free view of the basket from the tee on nearly every hole. A clear shot is key for making sure the fans at home have the same experience as the fans on the course, and it’s one of the reasons Blue Lake is one of the most enjoyable spectator courses in the world.
All three of the above aspects of the Blue Lake course come together to help create compelling competition. The PDGA World Championship in 2014 is no exception. Paul entered the Final 9 two strokes back of Ricky but was able to catch him just three holes in. Ricky gained one throw on hole six, but Paul would take it back on hole seven. After making it through the next two holes of the final nine unscathed, Ricky needed a miracle to keep his hopes at a championship alive. His miracle came in the form of a 90ft throw-in on the 960-foot par-five hole fourteen.
The last hole would push, and one of the most storied playoffs in disc golf ensued. Playing the same configuration as the final nine, Paul and Ricky were able to push until course hole seven, the fifth hole of the playoff. Ricky hit a tree on his upshot, which allowed Paul to seal the win with a C1 putt on the elevated green.
When asked about the playoff in a recent PDGA article, Ricky said, “From a spectator, player, venue perspective, it was one of the — if not the — most epic playoffs in disc golf.”
McBeth had the same sentiment “There were the battles at Worlds before 2014, but that probably put more eyes on it, and people followed that rivalry more than ever after that.”
Watch it all again with new insight
Central Coast Disc Golf was one of the many media crews filming the 2014 Pro Worlds action. This Friday, Ian Anderson and Mahmoud Bahrani will be sitting down together and commentating live on the storied final nine round and playoff exclusively for DGN subscribers. Make plans to tune in and watch live!