First-time tournament takes center stage this weekend in Arkansas, with plenty to prove
April 13, 2017 by Jacob Wilkins and Steve Hill in Preview with 0 comments
Jonesboro, Arkansas — population 67,263 and growing — isn’t exactly known as a classic disc golf destination. In fact — and with due respect to its residents — the city hardly registers as a blip on the sport’s radar, with just three courses in town and four PDGA-sanctioned events on the docket in the last five years.
Brad Pietz, though, is looking to change that. And he’ll take a big swing at putting the northeast region of The Natural State on the map this weekend as tournament director of the Jonesboro Open, a first-time event that serves as the fourth stop on this season’s Disc Golf Pro Tour. It’s part of a mission to take advantage of what he calls a “thriving” scene — Jonesboro’s population grew more than 26 percent from 2000-2012 — and his connections at Arkansas State University, where he is the marketing director for the campus’ Convocation Center, a 10,252-seat multipurpose arena.
“The city itself is, honestly, way the behind times when it comes to disc golf,” Pietz said this week as he put the finishing touches on the event’s preparations. “The neat thing is that there’s just so much opportunity here for people to learn how to play, and in the state in general — being Arkansas’ moniker is The Natural State — with the state in general, it’s just a beautiful state to have disc golf. So the combination of having a thriving city, the potential for a lot of growth, and just a beautiful part of the country, it just sets up naturally in my opinion.”
Still, with other established locales between the last Pro Tour stop in Texas and the next PDGA National Tour event in Kansas, the question remains: Why Jonesboro?
“The answer is, very simply, Brad Pietz,” Disc Golf Pro Tour Director Steve Dodge said. “And obviously it’s not just Brad Pietz — it’s the fact that he brings the course and a sports marketing background.”
That course is Disc Side of Heaven, a 9,840-foot, par 64 behemoth set on a rolling plot of land just 15 minutes west of the city center. The Jonesboro Open field will tackle the track each of the tournament’s four days — today through Sunday — and aim to tame its blind shots, water hazards, and eight par 4s (plus a par 5). Dodge said Pietz reached out more than a year ago to express his desire to host a Pro Tour stop, and that he “was able to check off every check box.” After a trip to the course confirmed its quality as a venue, Dodge added Jonesboro to the schedule, despite the event not having the established pedigree of Pro Tour staples like the Vibram Open and the Green Mountain Championship.
“This is a brand new event in a state that many people have never been to,” Dodge acknowledged. “However, as we are witnessing right now, Brad is killing it.”
In addition to course improvements — Prodiscus turf teepads were recently installed, along with other various cosmetic and safety changes to accommodate the event — Pietz has unleashed a $20,000 media blitz on the Jonesboro metropolitan area that has included television advertisements on the local Fox and CBS affiliates; an additional 1,500 airings of a commercial on a cable network that covers the outlying areas; and radio spots on a 36-station broadcast network that reaches Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
And according to Sarah Hokom, who arrived early in Jonesboro and took part in four radio interviews in one day earlier this week, the flurry of advertisements is working.
“Basically everybody’s super friendly here, so they come up and talk to you, and everyone is talking to us about our van and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is that disc golf? I’ve heard about that,’” Hokom said. “’We’ve been hearing about it on the radio for the last couple of weeks…’ I’ve already talked three or four people into coming out to watch who have never played before.”
And while Hokom has appreciated the effort Pietz and his staff have been putting into the event thus far, she still expressed some reservations about a tournament like Jonesboro being on the Pro Tour in only its first iteration.
“I think a lot of tournaments usually have a history, and then they get, ‘Oh yeah, you’re a quality enough event based on this criteria. This is great, we’ll try it out,’” Hokom said. “This is like the first try [and] it’s gonna try to be a big major, and I think that’s a little bit different.”
Still, Hokom said she was willing to give the event a shot because of its placement on the Pro Tour — where she is currently in second place in the overall season standings — and its purse.
“It’s the combination of the Pro Tour points and $10,000 added cash,” Hokom said. “They’re giving us opportunities to make a paycheck.”
Chris Eads, the highest-rated Arkansas resident playing the event, hoped the tournament would bring opportunities beyond a hefty payday. He alluded to past tournaments in Arkansas that drew touring professional disc golfers, but for various reasons were not successful and had some vowing not to return. As a result, he’s looking for the Jonesboro Open to leave a lasting positive impression on the elite tier of players coming to town.
“It’s good that we have an event that can help bring back the touring players into the state of Arkansas — hopefully with the success that they walk away from the tournament saying, ‘Hey, Arkansas is a good place to play,’” Eads said. “We want these touring players to walk out of the state of Arkansas when they go up to GBO and say, ‘You know what, if there’s a stop in Arkansas next year on my tour, I want to take it.’”
And though not all of the top names are in Jonesboro this weekend, Pietz was encouraged by strength of the field, in which 26 of the 66 Open players have ratings higher than 1000. But he also knew what was at stake with the event and that he had plenty to prove.
“They’re taking a leap of faith — not only with me, but they’re taking a leap of faith with Steve, too, that he’s not just going to put a tournament on somewhere where he doesn’t think it can happen,” Pietz said. “It’s a leap of faith by everybody, and we hope to put on a good show.”
Thursday: A great first day of weather is in store for the opening round of the Jonesboro Open. Mid to upper level atmospheric ridging should lead to warm and relatively calm conditions. Expect partly cloudy skies to increase through the day with highs topping out around 80°.
- 9 a.m.: Mostly sunny and 65°F. Light southeast wind.
- 11 a.m.: Partly cloudy and 72°F. Light southeast wind around 5 mph.
- 1 p.m.: Partly cloudy and 77°F. Light southeast wind around 5 mph.
- 3 p.m.: Partly cloudy and 80°F. Light southeast wind around 5 mph.
- 5 p.m.: Partly sunny and 80°F. Light southeast wind around 5 mph.
Friday: Wind will look to become more of a factor on Friday as an upper level disturbance moves close to the region. Fortunately, most of the forcing for the disturbance looks to move to the north of the region. This should limit precipitation chances. However, an isolated shower or thunderstorm may form during the heat of the day. Outside of that, expect partly cloudy skies with southerly winds around 10 mph. Highs should top out around 84°.
- 9 a.m.: Partly cloudy and 68°F. Southerly winds around 7 mph.
- 11 a.m.: Partly cloudy and 76°F. Southerly winds around 10 mph.
- 1 p.m.: Partly cloudy and 80°F. Southerly winds around 12 mph.
- 3 p.m.: Partly cloudy and 82°F. Southerly winds around 13 mph. Isolated shower or thunderstorm possible.
- 5 p.m.: Mostly cloudy and 80°F. Southerly winds around 10 mph.
Hole to Watch: With southerly winds expected on Friday, hole 14 will probably prove difficult. The 520-foot par 3 (460 feet for Open Women) will present plenty of challenge to players outside of strong winds. However, a slight headwind could make things even more interesting thanks to a creek that runs through the hole about 320 feet off the tee. It will take every bit of a 400 foot shot to clear the OB creek.
Saturday: A low pressure system will begin to move to the north of the region by Saturday. Fortunately, upper-level forcing will remain well north of the region, thus no rain is in the forecast for Saturday. However, a tight pressure gradient will lead to gusty winds once again on Saturday. Partly cloudy skies should increase throughout the day as highs top out around 80°.
- 9 a.m.: Partly cloudy and 66°F. Southerly winds around 10 mph.
- 11 a.m.: Partly cloudy and 74°F. Southerly winds around 15 mph.
- 1 p.m.: Partly cloudy and 76°F. Southerly winds around 15 mph.
- 3 p.m.: Partly sunny and 78°F. Southerly winds around 15 mph.
- 5 p.m.: Mostly cloudy and 78°F. Southerly winds around 15 mph.
Hole to Watch: With stronger southerly winds in play on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how hole 2 plays out. Hole 2 is an 820-foot par 4 with an OB fence lining the entire left side. If this wasn’t challenging enough, there is a row of trees in the middle of the fairway that players must navigate in order to get in position for their birdie putts.
Sunday: A bit of a complicated forecast is in store for Sunday. A cold front is currently forecast to move through northern Arkansas throughout the day, which will lead to a chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms. Based on current model guidance, severe weather is not much of a concern for now, as morning showers and storms may limit atmospheric instability. Details will become clearer in the coming days.
- 9 a.m.: Showers and thunderstorms possible. Temperatures around 66°F. Southwest winds around 10 mph.
- 11 a.m.: Showers and thunderstorms possible. Temperatures around 68°F. Southwest winds around 10 mph.
- 1 p.m.: Showers and thunderstorms possible. Temperatures around 75°F. Southwest winds around 15 mph.
- 3 p.m.: Showers and thunderstorms possible. Temperatures around 72°F. Southwest winds around 12 mph.
- 5 p.m.: Showers and thunderstorms possible. Temperatures around 70°F. Southwest winds around 10 mph.
Hole to Watch: The obvious obstacle on Sunday may be the potential for wet weather. However, winds will also shift a bit more southwest and remain gusty. One interesting thing that may occur is a fairly strong tailwind on hole 9. Hole 9 is a 750-foot par 4. With southwest winds, some players may sail their upshots into the water waiting just beyond the basket.
It should be noted that wind forecasts do not take into account the local topography of the Disc Side of Heaven course. If there is quite a bit of elevation change some swirling of the wind is possible. However, given the prevailing wind direction, a good guess can be placed on holes that may see troublesome winds.
How To Follow
The Jonesboro Open live broadcast schedule deviates a bit from prior Disc Golf Pro Tour events. While the event itself kicks off today, the first live streaming will begin with round two on Friday. SmashboxxTV and the Disc Golf Pro Tour YouTube channel will syndicate the action at 4:00 p.m. EDT on Friday and Saturday, with final round coverage moving up to 2:30 p.m. EDT.
Jomez Productions and Prodigy Disc Video will be providing post-produced coverage for all rounds of the tournament — Jomez will have the round one card featuring Eads, Jeremy Koling, Simon Lizotte, and Ricky Wysocki — with live scoring and statistics available at UDisc Live.