Greetings from New England. It’s finally upon us, the Disc Golf Pro Tour has arrived at the legendary and celebrated Maple Hill for the 2017 Vibram Open. This will be the
19th time the top pros in the world have been invited to tackle this ever challenging beast of a 8,530 foot, par 60 course. Part of the design of the Golds course was to line up par with a 1000 rated round. I’ve been lucky enough to walk the adventure that is Maple Hill over the last few years and I’ve been out on the course all week. It is demanding and fair, and although par won’t get you close to the leaders, it can certainly feel like an accomplishment for many to finish at 60. Every hole has its nuance, and there are few to zero moments where the pressure to keep it in bounds, out of the woods, and flying clean lets up. Maple Hill is a dramatic course at which no lead is totally safe.
That’s what the course lays out, we’re here to watch what the players will do with it. If the last five years are any indication, drama lies ahead. In the FPO division Paige Pierce is currently on a three win streak looking for a fourth, and in 2015 and 2014 she was trailed closely by Catrina Allen through the fourth and final round of both years. In 2013, Val Jenkins snagged the win from Sarah Hokom who was playing hot only a few strokes behind. And how can we forget 2012, when Catrina Allen won after battling out the final round with Valarie Jenkins and Sarah Hokom through tense ties and all three players holding the lead at some point. I’ve spotted Paige Pierce, Catrina Allen, Valarie Jenkins and Sarah Hokom (2011 FPO Winner) out on the course practicing this week. With this many former champions around we are bound to see some epic battles this year. Read all about what to expect in the FPO division of the Vibram Open here.
In the history of the Vibram Open MPO division it seems no one is ever allowed to win by much (except maybe Paul McBeth but we’ll get to that). If you thought the course was stressful already, imagine what it would feel like to know you’ll be up against some of the top players of all time. Rolling back the clock – you have the bonus golf playoffs in which Bradley Williams bests Michael Johansen for the 2016 title (maybe with some help from a local chipmunk). In 2015, Barsby chases down Ricky Wysocki in the final round and even briefly steals the lead. All of it building up to another close finish on the iconic 18th hole with Barsby coming up short on an attempted eagle that we would need to force a playoff. This time, Ricky picked up his win but Ricky is no stranger to being on the other side of these battles. In 2014 Jeremy Koling bested Ricky Wysocki on the 18th hole when Rick’s approach to the island green skips of the rock wall and out of bounds. The very same rock wall that Ricky over shot in 2012, breaking the tie between him and Cale Leiviska, the 2012 champ. Oh and of course there is 2013, we’re not skipping it, it’s just it’s whole own kind of incredible. Paul McBeth took home the title that year by finishing out the week with a course record 45, officially rated at 1121 – debatably the very best round of disc golf ever played. You can read up more on what to look for this week in our MPO preview here.
It’s been incredible to watch the top players in our beloved sport walk out for their practice rounds over the last week – considering new lines, making careful decisions on disc selection, and of course assessing the new changes to the course. If you’ve been following the DGPT and other major events this year then you’ve seen some familiar and new names alike making the lead card.
One player who is so often in the mix up top but has yet to clench a DGPT win is Gregg Barsby whom I was luck enough to catch up with this week. A lot of the pros and fans down in Pittsburgh last week were asking “Where’s Barsby?”, the answer – here in Leicester, MA getting ready for the Vibram Open. Showing up a full week before most of the other pros, Barsby has a clear goal to be atop the leaderboard. In fact, it was sitting in front of that very board behind the 18th green that I first caught up with him and Matt Bell. When I asked them about the changes to the course, Bell lamented the loss of the signature hole ten but recognizes how the new design fits right into his wheelhouse of “battle up a mountain” west coast style holes. Barsby, commenting on the now longer and more protected hole one target, felt it was going to bring the number of birdies down and pars up, “It makes it an easier decision, once you see your drive, whether or not to go for it.”
Beyond the changes we also talked about how the whole course is playing. Between the two of them holes 6, 7, 9, and 16 stood out as parts of the course that as Bell put it, “are manageable, but need to be managed.” Barbsy put it best when I asked him about strategy for the course, “Straight. Don’t hit trees. Make Putts.” It might sound simple, but the championship tier Golds layout makes that much harder to execute than it is to say. It’s great to see so many folks spending their time at Maple Hill whether practicing or just hanging out. As Barsby said, he’s just “happy to be up here for the Vibram Environment, the Vibram Spirit” which he credits to all the hard work and energy that folks like Steve Dodge, his family, and countless volunteers are putting in.
If you’re in New England and you haven’t started driving get in your car now, we are less than 24 hours from tee off tomorrow. If you can’t make it by then don’t miss our live coverage starting tomorrow afternoon. We will be treated to an absolutely incredible feature card comprised of former Vibram Open Champions Jeremy Koling, Ricky Wysocki, and Paul McBeth rounded out by last week’s Vibram Open AM side Winner Zach Longeill Out of Griswold, CT. Until then go watch some old rounds, there is hardly a moment that isn’t enthralling at Maple Hill for the Vibram Open.
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