Which shots at Winthrop Gold bring the most drama?
October 3, 2016 by Alex Colucci in Analysis with 0 comments
The United States Disc Golf Championship – one of disc golf’s most prestigious tournaments – begins Wednesday. We here at Ultiworld Disc Golf are super excited, and to share some of that fun with you we’ve decided to rank all 18 holes at Winthrop Gold based on how much entertainment a fan can expect to derive from watching the pros play a given hole. We’ll also provide you with some basics about each hole and how some of the top players choose to approach it.
Today, it’s the first half, which means some holes that may not be quite as spectator friendly, but still pack some punch. Please reference the USDGC caddy book throughout for usefully-detailed maps of each hole, and feel free to disagree in the comments section.
I’ll start this whole thing off by saying that, really, I don’t think any of the holes at USDGC are bad, per se; at least not from a spectator’s point of view. Some are just not quite as thrilling or dramatic as others. That’s really a good thing, though. If every disc golf hole was “the same,” that would be boring—even if all that sameness was geared toward making a course as exciting as possible. If you don’t have some variety or extended range in challenge or extremity, then how can anyone set on consuming something be reasonably expected to truly appreciate and value the overall quality of what they’re experiencing?
Alright, enough of that. Let’s get into it.
18) Hole 3
There’s nothing easy about a 389-foot slightly downhill shot to a landing area roughly 10-meters in diameter, flanked by hazards both natural and arbitrary. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most enthralling. Appearing early in the round, lacking water in play, and being devoid of any obstructive features between tee and basket means that hole 3 is just fine.
It’s Winthrop Gold’s base-level difficulty: Hole 3 isn’t going to separate the cream of the disc golf crop vastly, it will just lop off the tail end. More than one-third of competitors in 2015 birdied it, and almost half the field managed par. Only 20 percent did worse than that through four rounds.
That doesn’t mean cool things can’t happen here, though. Just check out Alex Geisinger’s ace run from the final round last year. So close! But that was probably headed to the hazard if it didn’t hit some chains. Let’s see how some of the pros usually attack this hole.
Starting off, we see last year’s champion, Paul McBeth, getting a nice flip out of what is probably a beat McPro Roc3:
Just the smallest amount of right turn and a straight finish keeps him clear of the hazard area to the left. A clinical exercise in distance control and accuracy.
The only real danger on this hole, besides the roped-off hazard, is the shrubbery to the right of the pin, which in 2016 will also be a roped-off hazard area. Here’s Cam Colglazier getting a little too much late turn on his tee shot, landing pretty close to those shrubs just outside of the circle’s edge and in what would, this year, likely be the hazard area:
He went on to make the putt, but those who find themselves deeper in the shrubs often aren’t so fortunate. Those players who choose the forehand shot also risk ending up putting from the bushes should they get too much skip and/or roll off the tee. Thus are the dangers of hole 3, eminently manageable for most 1000-plus rated pros, and early enough in the round that it shouldn’t be a game-changer
17) Hole 6
Our 17th-ranked hole presents a good opportunity to hop up off the couch or desk chair and make a run to the kitchen for some snacks or beverages while you watch the live stre… Oh wait, uhhh, never mind. I mean, this is a great time to pause the video to do that stuff, or maybe check your phone while all these guys who’ll be on the recorded coverage at least end up with a birdie putt. You’re a third of the way through watching the round: It’s a perfect time to relax for a moment before heading into the dramatic finish at another USDGC.
Anyway, this is a pretty standard disc golf hole, lacking some of the eccentricities that make much of the rest of Winthrop Gold a bit more intriguing. For 2016 the hazard area to the right of the pin is gone, only to be replaced by a larger, bean-shaped out-of-bounds area.
It’s 371 feet long, and the “beach” green on the edge of the lake slows drives and long approach putts that would otherwise skip and roll. More often than not you’ll see the pros go for the long, straight shots that will abruptly fade at about 340-feet, like James Proctor does here:
Less often competitors might try a wider, spike hyzer line, like Ricky Wysocki does here:
While the first option will typically leave competitors with a shorter putt, it runs a greater risk of finding the water or some of the low hanging branches on the left. With the new out-of-bounds area, the wide tee shot may no longer be in play.
In 2015, 89 percent of players managed a par or better here. Basically, everyone you’ll see on video next week will be able to at least give themselves a putt for birdie. It’s one of the ones everyone wants to get.
16) Hole 14
This one is a wide open, long downhill tee shot, measuring in at 413 feet with a hazard area the whole way on the left and an out-of-bounds parking lot deep and to the right of the basket. If a player chooses the right-hand backhand hyzer line and leaves it too far wide, there’s ample open space to hope the disc lands in. Laying up from there down to a green that slopes away from you surrounded by hazard, though, isn’t necessarily a given.
2015 saw only 20 percent of the competitors manage a birdie, and the addition of an elevated basket made putting a bit trickier. Either way, getting your tee shot to land without any skip has always been the objective, as demonstrated here:
Yep, that’s how to stick the landing. Players opting for the forehand hyzer don’t have to worry as much about skips as their shot fades into the sloped green:
‘Big Jerm’ is most pleased.
This hole appearing where it does—in between two of the more challenging on the course—can make a difference in a round. It’s one of the par 3s on the back nine that everyone wants.
For everything this hole lacks in terms of obstacles, it makes up for with the chance to watch some discs stay in the air for a while and go real far. And, if someone manages to hit that walking path just right, you might even get to see an ace. Ståle Hakstad knows all about that.
15) Hole 1
The video pops on, the player’s name is announced. He steps up to the tee and gives a few practice strokes while gauging the wind. Then: go time.
This short, 253-foot downhill shot through a window of branches and over some rocks is where every USDGC round starts. There was even an ace last year. And there are a few small changes to the hole for 2015. Gone is the mando tree to the right of the large rocks, but there are two more interesting changes: The tee pad has been moved back five feet, and there is a second basket placement only a few feet directly left of the original one, which will be in play for rounds two and three.
Not only does hole 1 set the tone for every USDGC round, but it can also factor in later should there be a playoff, where competitors would play holes 18, 1 and 17 in succession until there is a winner. Let’s use 2014 as an example:
Not every USDGC is won on the 18th green. That’s part of the reason hole 1 is always one to watch for.
14) Hole 16
There are two basket positions here, surrounded on three sides by hazard rope and tucked in behind a few large trees, with an out-of-bounds road deep. The line of trees running down the entirety of the right side and the large tree 150 feet in front of the tee pad force players to take one of two routes on the 396-foot hole. Many right-handed players seek to avoid the trees altogether with a wide backhand anhyzer or forehand shot:
Others attempt to split the gap between the line of trees and the lone tree in the middle of the fairway:
The wide line often runs the risk of not coming back right enough and finding the hazard, while splitting the trees and managing the lower ceiling presents its own challenge. Misplayed shots on the direct route get caught up in the branches or land too short for a manageable birdie putt.
Much of the intrigue for spectators – and tension for the players – arises from this hole’s place within the round itself. It’s the third-to-last hole played, sandwiched between some of the tougher ones on the course. Because so much can still go wrong on just the two holes left after this one, this is not where anyone wants to slip up. The long walk from the basket on 16 to the tee of the infamous hole 17 is always on the tip of commentator’s tongues.
Greater than one-third of the field came away from 16 carding a bogey or worse last year, though, and fewer than 20 percent managed a birdie. Watch to see who’s going to come away from this one with some momentum going into the final two holes.
13) Hole 9
Ranking this one and even being able to say anything definitive about it got a lot harder after the USDGC released its new caddy book. Hole 9 is awfully different. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but that means there isn’t much of a reason to share gifs of this one.
The old hole 9 started with a pretty restricted tee shot with trees near the tee and a mando. This forced 200-240-foot shots up onto sloped hill in front of the baseball stadium outfield wall. Then, competitors either laid up into a non-out-of-bounds grass area 175 feet or so between the hill and the green, or just went for the green. And more often than not, they got there with a birdie putt. Almost half the field managed to birdie this hole over four rounds in 2015.
So, that brings great news of a brand new layout for hole 9 in 2016. It’s now a 447-foot tee shot from right of the original tee. The fairway is quite narrow, surrounded by hazard area, and passes up and over the aforementioned hill, with the baseball stadium outfield wall still behind the hill, now to the right of the fairway. The basket has been moved to what was the lay-up area before and remains slightly elevated.
Are we going to see players go for the small green and the eagle on this one? 447 feet is certainly reachable for plenty top pros, and with the green being wider than the rest of the fairway, maybe that’s a good idea? Who knows. Even if they miss the green, it’s just a one-stroke hazard penalty and a long-ish putt for birdie.
What’s the safe play going to be on this one? The hillside being halfway down the narrow fairway is perhaps a spot to go for.
12) Hole 8
Accuracy is the name of the game for the narrowing, tree-filled fairway on hole 8. There’s a new tee area for 2016 that lengthens the hole from 667-feet to 697-feet, and the hazard area on the right side of the fairway, before the baseball field, has been removed.
Still, with all the trees and out-of-bounds area on the left, a placement shot off the tee – to set up the approach to the green on the par 4 hole – will likely still be the most common play. It’s the approach to the sloped green interspersed with trees where things get even tighter:
While a right-hand forehand shot is typical on the second throw, competitors will occasionally go for a slight turnover backhand through the gap, or even a backhand roller.
This is one of the last holes for a while where the players will really have to deal with an abundance of trees. Those who will be in the hunt for the win might be smart to just play for the par here, which was found 66 percent of the time in 2015. Only eight percent managed a birdie. Those confident enough to play smart and attack this hole – if the opportunity presents itself – are likely to be picking up a stroke on most of the field.
11) Hole 12
One of the only holes at Winthrop Gold where you can watch the best in the world crush on some drivers as hard as they can (if they want to) on a long downhill tee shot, hole 12 is a 901-foot par 4 with rolling hills through the fairway and an out-of-bounds area to the right that’s shrunk a bit from the 2015 configuration.
Those throwing big hyzers off the tee are trying to land on top of the first hill to the right of the drop zone, about 450 feet from the tee. This gives you a chance to see more of the landing area around the green on your approach shot.
If it’s windy, or if a competitor turns over his tee shot just a bit, the out-of-bounds area to the right of that first hill can come into play. The out-of-bounds surrounding the basket also comes into play on the approach shots. So, with limited O.B. options, if either of those things happen, you’re either headed to the drop zone, or re-throwing from your lie with the penalty stroke until you land in-bounds.
And, unfortunately, the difficulty in approaching the green is enhanced considerably from the drop zone. You can no longer see the landing zone around the basket from the low area between the two hills in the fairway. Sometimes competitors force the blind, uphill 330-foot shot to an O.B.-surrounded green, when they could play it safe down to the left of the green.
Here are two examples of play with variable success from the drop zone:
Who’s going to get stuck re-throwing here this year? Wysocki was in the lead going into hole 12 last year.
Enough worrying over who’s going to card a 6 on this hole. Let’s watch some discs go real far!
That Sexton roller probably went, like, 700 feet. It was going so long that it exceeded the fifteen second limit on gfycat .gifs.
10) Hole 7
The bamboo triple-mando highlights this one. If players miss in any direction, they have to play from one of the two drop spots with a stroke penalty. This one is so comparatively short–measuring in at 284-feet–that all the competitors want to birdie it, and a little more than a third of them do. Conversely, almost twenty percent take bogeys. Plus, it’s the last par-3 before six challenging, roped-up par 4s in a row.
By and large, it seems the top players just throw the shot they’re most confident in that will carry at least 230-feet – which, while leaving you short of the mando, at least leaves a run at a 50-or 60-footer. Here are two examples of pros taking different approaches to make the gap:
Be sure to check back tomorrow, as we get into the most exciting holes USDGC has to offer.