Glass Blown Open TD On What Goes Into Canceling The World’s Biggest Disc Golf Tournament

When a whole community is affected a canceled tournament resonates beyond the course

Photo: PDGA

When the Glass Blown Open fell victim to the PDGA National Tour suspension and was subsequently canceled, it didn’t just affect the professional touring ranks.

The GBO is the world’s largest disc golf event, regularly welcoming more than 1,500 players filling almost every available open and amateur division across the NT and simultaneous A-tier. That doesn’t include the numerous flex start C-tiers and nightly gatherings, as well as those players’ families. Event organizer Dynamic Discs seemingly has the entirety of Emporia, Kansas, reserved for the last week in April.

“It was probably one of the toughest calls I’ve had to make,” said Doug Bjerkaas, Dynamic Discs Event Coordinator and primary GBO Tournament Director, on canceling the 2020 Glass Blown Open. “It hit me like a ton of bricks that all the work that we do — we literally reserve every location for every one of our events the day after the GBO finishes a year ahead — all this work we’ve done, all this work we’ve been paid for, all this work that we’ve invested in is gone and it’s not going to happen.”

With the unprecedented public safety measures taken due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of the event not happening had been lingering on the organizers’ minds prior to last week, but once you have something the size and scale of the GBO under works, it’s hard to start thinking about the worst case scenarios.

“We’re not medical doctors, we’re not experts. Our stance was going to be we are going to continue planning this event until someone tells us you have to shut her down. We never felt that we needed to be a trailblazer in that,” said Bjerkaas. “We had talked about coronavirus probably six to eight weeks before [the cancellation]. I can remember Jeremy Rusco and I have a weekly meeting where we discuss the Glass Blown Open and what initiatives we’re working on and he mentioned the Coronavirus to me.

“I don’t know if I’m ashamed to say this but I’m like, ‘That is not even going to be an issue,’ and Jeremy made the comment about it being 50/50 on whether we’re going to have a tournament or not. I kind of just set it aside and, like, I think I probably should have at the time, I focused on continuing working on the event like it was going to happen at the end of April.”

Once the PDGA decision had been made to suspend the National Tour through April, it also quickly became clear that postponing the event would not be a viable option. Dynamic Discs coordinates with private courses, multiple municipalities, and private companies to rent and reserve everything from the Emporia Country Club and Granada Theatre to area fairgrounds. Similarly, before the PDGA removed all sanctioning, Bjerkaas and Dynamic Discs had consulted with health officials to confirm whether or not running smaller tournaments via online management tools and using tee times and four person cards at courses to limit social interaction would be a viable option.

The first point of contact after canceling GBO was to inform the 1,600 players registered to inform them of their options. Pro players were given the option to receive a cash refund for entry fees while the PDGA’s emergency amendment to section 1.03 of the Competition Manual meant amateurs would be receiving their players packs in lieu of cash.

The temporary change to the competition manual affects tournaments taking place between taking place between March 12, 2020, and December 31, 2020, and is intended to help “handle situations where a tournament director (TD) has spent considerable funds in advance of an event on amateur player pack items for that specific event.” The stated goal is to “ensure that TDs can continue to provide high-value tournaments while mitigating their financial risk and also ensuring that our membership is protected and provided value in return.”

Bjerkaas confirmed that without the new provision it would be hard to justify the risk of running an event the size of GBO ever again. Ams are not out of luck, however, as GBO is known for impressive player packs valued at several times the entry fee, and Bjerkaas said they would be using some of the extra items that were intended to be used at events such as Poker Night and Ring of Fires as bonuses. Bjerkaas had hoped to be able to provide some sort of guaranteed registration for next year’s event to those who were registered for 2020, but the PDGA stopped these types of registration practices in 2019. The GBO Spectator Package had previously offered priority registration for the following year’s event until 2018.

Outside of the disc golf competition, sponsors and local businesses were a major consideration as well: the amount of people that come into town for GBO is a major boon to the local economy.

“One of the first things I did after I sent emails out to every single registered player was I sent emails to every sponsor, hotel, and restaurant that support the event,” said Bjerkaas. “The messages I got back from them was, ‘This is awful. This is terrible. We count on the GBO. We count on it.’

“It’s the biggest economic week in Emporia every single year and there was definitely some disappointment.”

Even with any frustrations of supporters, Bjerkaas is confident that the next time he or Dynamic Discs asks for future help from the community they will receive it.

While GBO may not return in earnest until 2021, scheduling an event later in the season in Emporia is still on the table.

“We’re looking at other weekends where we have other smaller events planned. We are looking at all kinds of options to do something else later in the year,” said Bjerkaas. “If the PDGA were to call upon us to do something special later in the year we would move mountains to do it, if it were for the MPO and FPO. That would be a whole lot easier to put on the schedule than something that involves so many moving pieces to have enough spots for 1,600 players.”

  1. Bennett Wineka
    Bennett Wineka

    Benn started playing disc golf in the '90s but has somehow never gotten any better. He lives in Decatur, Georgia and cares too much about Atlanta United and UNC basketball. Email him at [email protected]

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