The best Winthrop Gold has to offer
October 4, 2016 by Alex Colucci in Analysis with 0 comments
As we gear up the United States Disc Golf Championship, which begins tomorrow in Rock Hill, South Carolina, we’re taking time to rank the Winthrop Gold holes in order of excitement. Please reference the USDGC caddy book throughout for usefully-detailed maps of each hole, and feel free to disagree in the comments section. Check out how 18-10 stacked up, and see the cream of the crop below.
9) Hole 2
Is there a better way to really get the USDGC going after the rather milquetoast if tense – hole 1? After the jitters that might accompany the opening hole, what says “It’s on!” better than a 400-plus-foot, low ceiling, uphill tee shot with danger left, right, and long?
On a recent episode of Final Round Radio, Will Schusterick described the par 4, 629-foot hole 2 as his favorite and most fair of all the par 4s at Winthrop Gold. Last year 36 percent of the field managed birdies, 46 percent parred, and the rest carded bogey or worse. That’s a pretty good spread!
We’ve already described the tee shot, so how is that usually played? Let’s see:
Brinster & Schusterick Drive GIF
More often than not it’s either a backhand roller or a long turning air shot players are trying to land in the only large open grassy spot, just short of the out-of-bounds parking lot. A new addition in 2015 – likely to discourage rollers – was the narrow, but elongated hazard area on the right side of the fairway along the fence. And, in 2016 they’ve made it even longer, because, I guess there were still too many rollers? Lame. More variety is better.
As you saw in the above clips, Steve Brinster’s roller from 2013 flipped too much and likely would’ve landed in what is now the hazard area, while the other two throws from Schusterick and Nate Sexton ended up in the preferred landing area.
The approach to the green is still plagued by a low ceiling should players attempt a backhand, and the forehand approach usually requires some skip off the out-of-bounds parking lot to find the green. Coming up a bit short is also a worry, as it is still uphill to the pin from the fairway.
The first of many treacherous, multi-stage par 4 holes at the USDGC, hole 2 is thoroughly watchable.
8) Hole 4
Speaking of challenging, multi-stage par 4s, how about hole 4? This 448-footer derives most of its fun – for the spectators, but maybe not the players – from watching competitors negotiate the mando and the resulting hard-right-turning, fishhook-shaped fairway.
But, the tee shot is no walk in the park either:
It’s a tight, uphill shot with a low ceiling. The challenge has been diminished slightly this year, though: There used to be large hazard area out to the left, but it is no more for 2016. This should give players a little more latitude while trying to place themselves in an advantageous position to make the mando.
That’s still no easy task:
Sexton landed in roughly the ideal location: A little longer than that, and you’d be throwing through a dense line of trees and underbrush; a little short, and you’re stuck having to throw a shot that will act more like a boomerang than anything else, like Nikko Locastro attempted there. Even if you can get that to work, you’ll probably still have to throw into the green, which is surrounded by tall, U-shaped hedges. Yikes!
And, if that approach to the green is just a little off, or gets up and rolls, you might get stuck putting from under those hedges:
Paul McBeth made that look easy, but what doesn’t he make look easy? There’s danger around every turn – literally – on hole 4. Watch to see who gets eaten up, and who can keep themselves out of trouble.
7) Hole 11
Here’s where we see some pretty significant changes that could lead to some more exciting shots. The 734-foot, par 4 hole 11 is generally considered one of the toughest on the course. In 2015 almost half the field took a bogey or worse, and in 2014, exactly half did, while birdie percentages in both years were less than 15 percent.
It’s one of those holes where three well-placed 200-250-foot throws can net you a par putt. An accurate 400-450-foot drive inside the ropes at the far end of the first hill, though, and you’re looking at a good chance to snag a stroke or more on most of the field. So, the question always is this: Who’s going for it, and who’s just playing safe?
The most significant change this year is to the ropes. There is still out-of-bounds lining both sides of the fairway in the form of a parking lot and sidewalk on the right, and a sidewalk on the left. The ropes in between have all been changed from red out-of-bounds areas, though, to yellow hazard areas. A more subtle change is the shape of some of these interior hazard areas.
When comparing the 2015 caddy book to the 2016 version shown above, the roped bubble on the left side of the fairway no longer has the indentation past the fourth tree on the left. This area was often used by competitors as a lay-up zone before attacking the dramatically-sloped green. You can take a look at a throw from there and get a sense of the what the shot entails:
With the removal of this area, competitors will be either forced to approach the green from a greater distance, with the green and its slope being less visible, or attempt to land their drive well past this hazard bubble. And, due to the next significant change in shape to this roped area, that shot will be all the more enticing.
6) Hole 10
Who’s ready for some eagle runs? That’s the play for many competitors this week, although its not a high percentage undertaking: Through all four rounds in 2015, this hole was eagled nine percent of the time.
Still, let’s “ooh” and “ahh” for a moment:
Not everyone can sink the putt, though. When his putting is on—like it was in 2014 and 2015—McBeth, however, can:
Talk about gaining momentum heading into the back nine.
Even if players can’t make the putt, it’s still a pretty easy three – 44 percent birdied in 2015 – for those that manage to land it in-bounds from the 554-foot tee. Of course, not everyone makes the green, and if that’s their fate, they’re headed to the drop zone about 340 feet from the basket.
The other play from the tee is a lay up to the left fairway, past the drop zone. This results in an approach to the green from anywhere between 300 and 340 feet. Pretty standard for these pros.
Still, competitors took a bogey or worse here 21 percent of the time in 2015. There’s definite risk involved. McBeth still tried to go for the green and the eagle in last year’s final round even in the wind and rain, while his competition all laid up. Are these guys going to stick to their game plans and risk it? Or, are they ready to change with the situation? That’s all part of the intrigue as you begin watching the back nine.
5) Hole 15
This one’s all about accuracy, and even more so in 2016 with the inclusion of a new triple mando, which is about 100 feet further down the tree-lined fairway than the double mando of past years. Its inclusion also sees the removal of both the hazard area along the entirety of the right fairway and the out-of-bounds area left that helped define the extreme dogleg left fairway.
The low-ceiling, tunnel fairway and acute dogleg make the first third of this hole tough on everyone:
Schusterick made that look a lot easier than it is. And, in the past, other competitors have taken all manner of approaches to this tee shot. I’ve seen forehand rollers, backhand cut rollers, forehands that flip up to flat, and I’m sure some have tried overhands, too. The ideal landing area off the tee leaves players with a roughly 175 to 240-foot approach shot to the green, with very little margin for error. That’s where Henrick Johansen found himself before he threw his approach with what is, essentially, zero room for error:
Schusterick and Johansen did just fine, but check out this other great example of how to play hole 15, by Devin Frederick. That’s a great eagle and two or more strokes on most of the field. And of course, it completely avoids what is probably one of the toughest greens in disc golf:
If your approach is just a little off, good luck finding an easy putt in there. Just another one of the unique quirks that makes the USDGC what it is.
4) Hole 5
The distinction of being both a fan and player favorite places hole 5 high on everyone’s list. It’s visually appealing, on top of being a demanding and fair par 5 measuring in at roughly 1,080 feet, depending on the basket placement. Distance and accuracy are the name of the game here, as competitors look to set up their next shot with the highest probability of success. Let’s see how it’s done:
That’s the preferred landing zone from the tee. Lefties, or those choosing forehands out over the water, have to throw a bit higher over the bushes at the water’s edge to make it there. But, they have an added advantage in the fact that their throws are fading away from the lake:
From that landing area Zach Melton found, it’s time to approach the green. The addition of a mandatory tree to the right of the peninsula green in 2015 changed the decision on this shot for many players.
In 2016 the mandatory tree was moved to another one even further left and closer to the green. Before this was in place, players had to choose to either throw over the water, or play it safe wide of the trees guarding the right side of the green. Now, the decision to attack for birdie or play for par is effectively out of the player’s hands. But, at least there is plenty of video now of throws across the water:
Sexton Hole 5 Throw Across Water GIF
The one bummer? No more thumber approaches anymore. Luckily, the green is still quite the sight:
This is one of the more picturesque and exacting holes in professional disc golf. If that isn’t a great reason to watch, then I’m not sure what else to say.
3) Hole 18
We’re down to the top three!
The new changes on hole 18 had me conflicted about placing this third or fourth behind hole 5. Ultimately, since the fairway on 18 was narrowed – and the 400-foot tee shot to the sloped fairway is hard enough whether a basket is there or not – 18 got the nod. It’s still going to be weird watching players finish up the USDGC anywhere but the same place it always has, especially considering some of the good and not so good moments there.
Let’s start with some good and watch Steve Brinster bring it home for the win in 2013:
Schsusterick had a chance to win it there in 2014. And just like that it’s time for a playoff, starting right back on hole 18.
How did it play out last year? Just see for yourself. Finally, McBeth gets his USDGC win and a Major sweep.
The thrill of victory and the agony of…yeah, yeah, you get it, I know. Even one cliché is too much. That’s where it’s always happened for the eight United States champions. And, it’s still that same hole for two rounds, at least.
When it is in the long position this week, an added wrinkle is the movement of the out-of-bounds line: It is no longer perpendicular to the lake and behind the basket. This perhaps affords players a little more confidence making the blind, uphill, turning approach shot to the green.
There have been plenty of memorable moments finishing up the USDGC here on 18. But perhaps no other USDGC—and hole 18’s involvement in it—has compared to 2003’s sudden death playoff between Barry Schultz and Ken Climo. Playing the loop of holes 18, 1, and 17 so close to flawlessly three times in full, and to have it end on the 10th sudden death hole, is astonishing. After so many long birdie putts to keep it going, to have it end on a rather innocuous putt and not because of the numerous other hazards out there is what’s even more surprising. Not to mention, Climo almost skipped it in for an ace to win it on hole 1 and then Schultz follows that up by hitting metal from the tee on 17!
Here’s hoping the new final round basket placement can make this hole at least half as exciting as it always has been, even if it’s elevated now.
2) Hole 13
Nicknamed ‘888′ for the traditional distance to it’s long pin, hole 13 plays more like a game of Pitfall than probably any other hole in disc golf. There’s danger around every turn, and with every shot comes the chance of disaster. It’s chewed up and spit out some of the best in the game.
‘888′ has a slightly new look in 2016 – it’s been dropped from a par 5 to a 4 – but that shouldn’t make it lose its teeth. The major difference is the tee box is moved well left of its original location next to the road. Now it’s out in the large, open grass area, which is still lined with hazard ropes.
This means competitors will have to carry the hazard area for anywhere from 200 to 450 feet, depending on how much of the narrow, O.B. and hazard-lined fairway they dare to bite off. If they go long, into the out-of-bounds parking lot, they have to re-tee; this is one of the two holes where the stroke-and-distance O.B. rules are most likely to come into play.
The out-of-bounds rules apply for approaches to the island green, too. Whether playing for par or birdie, competitors will have to approach the island green from one of two areas.
The first one is the grass area just after the tree that is roughly 400 feet from the long pin. This is the landing zone from the tee for those playing for the birdie. And, this 300 to 400-foot approach is further complicated by its slope and being bookended by trees, with another in front creating another obstacle. If you don’t land at the top of the slope – the closest area of the fairway to the O.B. – the approach will be blind. This clip of Paul McBeth gives us a look at what this shot is like:
The second one is the more open area 150 to 200 feet further down the fairway. While the approach here is shorter and lacks the obstacles of the first, the sloped ditch is at a greater angle, increasing the difficulty. Let’s watch Nate Doss make it look easy in the rain:
It’s safe to say playing this hole well makes a difference: In 2015, 30 percent of the field took a bogey or worse. It will be interesting to see how the scoring spread plays out after the changes this year. Regardless, this is a highlight of the back nine at every USDGC, eclipsed by only one other hole.
1) Hole 17
Perhaps the most discussed, dreaded, and downright exasperating hole in the game takes the cake at the top of the list. It is the most anticipated and watchable hole at the USDGC.
I was originally planning on .gif-ing a bunch of stuff and explaining how awesome it is, but my words are not worthy.
Just watch for yourself as 17 snags Schusterick in 2013:
Schusterick 2013 Hole 17 Video
See it eat away at JohnE McCray in 2014
Finally, behold as it befuddles Ricky Wysocki just one year ago:
This isn’t the kind of hole to watch in snippets or one off .gifs. Watching how the best in the world finish out arguably the most prestigious tournament the sport has to offer must be seen in it’s entirety to be fully appreciated.
First, there’s the long walk to the tee, followed by the pacing behind the box as players just wait for their opportunity to test the island. Next, the reaction once they finally get the chance to throw, as the disc in the air, and once it lands safely or drops with their hopes for the win. Finally, either the turn with elation after a clean hit, or constrained dread as they reach for another disc.
Simply, this is what makes the USDGC what it is, and what makes 17 the moment to watch at Winthrop Gold.
Will the long walk from 16 to 17 get that island stuck in the leader’s head in 2016? Only one days until we find out.