2023 Preserve Championship Preview: The Last Stop Before Europe

The Preserve. Photo: DGPT

It’s been a tiring month of competition on the Disc Golf Pro Tour, which has traversed 2,600 miles from Portland in just the past four weeks. For many players, this week will be their last tune-up before traveling another 3,800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, where the Elite Series will resume in Norway at the PCS Open.

The Preserve Championship was born in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when course designer Cale Leiviska purchased an abandoned golf course along the banks of the Mississippi river and began turning it into a disc golf destination. The Airborn Disc Golf Preserve sits an hour northwest of the Twin Cities and now features three courses which are combined into the championship level Black Bear layout.

Last year, Paige Pierce went wire-to-wire to win the event for a second time, defeating Missy Gannon. Many fans were shocked to see Bradley Williams win his first Elite Series event since the inaugural DGPT event back in 2016. Williams will not be present to defend his title this year, as he is currently competing in Europe.

The Preserve has one of the most unique trophies in the sport, a giant wooden black bear engraved with the winner’s initials. While the bear remains at the Preserve, last year’s winners also received custom gold rings with the Airborn logo. With a course that is very scorable and a far more favorable forecast than last weekend, players are going to need three hot rounds if they want a chance to hoist the Bear.

Before the tournament gets underway, though, the PDGA and DGPT once again found themselves in court this week defending their policies on eligibility for gender-based divisions after Natalie Ryan sued for a temporary injunction.

Past Winners

2023DGPTRicky WysockiCatrina Allen
2022DGPTBradley WilliamsPaige Pierce
2021DGPTRicky WysockiKristin Tattar
2020DGPTNikko LocastroPaige Pierce

Five Things We’ll Be Watching

1. For the second time this season, Natalie Ryan has won a temporary injunction against the PDGA and DGPT, which will allow her to compete in the FPO division at the Preserve. Ryan was granted a similar ruling in May at the OTB Open. An appeals court overturned the OTB decision on a jurisdictional basis following the opening round, forcing Ryan out of the event. While another appeal could be filed in this case, the question of jurisdiction is not an issue this time around.

The state of Minnesota has established some legal precedent in a similar case when a judge ruled in favor of JayCee Cooper, a transgender powerlifter. In the Ryan order, judge Kari Willis noted that Ryan’s case “involved issues strikingly similar” to those in Cooper. In a statement released Wednesday evening, the DGPT stated they “disagree[] with the decision but will comply with the order, and the event will continue as planned.”

Per the current PDGA policy, Natalie is only allowed to compete in the FPO division at A-tier and lower events. Ryan has played 6 A-Tiers this year and won 5 of them, averaging a 957 rating. Natalie finished in 18th place at last year’s Preserve but recently won the Minnesota Majestic.

2. Kristin Tattar finally became a repeat Elite Series winner last week at the Des Moines Challenge and now comes to an event that she did not play in 2022 but dominated the year prior. The 2021 Preserve was a major turning point in Tattar’s career. Having just edged out Paige Pierce to win her first career ES tournament at the Great Lakes Open, Tattar then ended her 2021 US tour by shooting rounds of 1005, 998, and 998 to win the Preserve by 10 strokes.

In Kristin’s absence last year, Paige Pierce won the Preserve for a 2nd time, averaging 1009 and 998 ratings in those wins. Pierce said in her press conference last week that she was “sick of messing around,” and when play was halted due to weather on Saturday she was the outright leader. Once play resumed on Sunday, Paige shot 9-over par and dropped back to a 9th place finish. Considering both players’ history on this course and Paige’s recent competitive rejuvenation, this week feels primed for a Tattar vs. Pierce battle.

3. Eagle McMahon has not yet returned to action after re-injuring his throwing shoulder at the Portland Open. McMahon dropped out of the Des Moines Challenge but did participate in a meet and greet this past Monday in Minneapolis. Eagle did not play this event last year but came in 2nd to Ricky Wysocki in 2021. Kyle Klein, on the other hand, was able to return from injury last week but came in with his worst ever Elite Series finish at 61st. Klein tied the hottest round of the week at the 2022 Preserve and finished just three strokes behind the winner. Kyle admitted to being less than 100% last week: he struggled to get off the tee and stay in bounds.

With the European Open less than a month away, Discmania’s two premiere players would certainly like to get in one good tournament before heading over to Europe

4. Another player who struggled in Des Moines was Ricky Wysocki, who finished 18th and was uncharacteristically shaky on the putting greens. Wysocki also struggled at Pickard Park last year, taking home a career-worst 57th place finish on the Elite Series. One property Ricky has not struggled on is the Airborn Preserve, and he’ll be looking to bounce back this week. Wysocki won the 2021 Preserve and finished as the runner-up last year. Regardless of how well he gets off the tee this week, the putting will need to get cleaned up if Sockibomb wants to hoist the Bear for a 2nd time.

5. For how long the Black Bear course measures, this event has traditionally been birdie-or-die when it comes to staying in contention for the win. With an ideal weather forecast, this week should be no exception. The lowest MPO score to par in a three round Elite Series event this season is -31, which has been the winning score three times. Don’t be surprised if this week’s winner goes even lower: they will likely need to average 10 or 11 under par in each round. For the FPO division, it might be tough to match Paige Pierce’s -25 performance at the OTB Open, but a few players in the field are certainly capable of exceeding that number with a few hot rounds.

Course Changes

The Airborn Disc Golf Preserve was purchased by Cale Leiviska in 2020, and the Black Bear course was very quickly designed for the 1st Preserve Championship that summer. The course went through several changes last year and has been reworked once again for this year’s event.

Hole 5 is a brand new design, a 275 foot wooded par 3. To make room, the previous hole 13 has been removed. The MPO division now plays hole 14 as a par 5 from the previous hole 13 teepad, and the FPO division will now play hole 14 from the previous MPO teepad. Hole 10 has a new basket placement and teepads but utilizes most of the same area of the course. It still measures 1,000 feet for FPO, but the MPO design is now 122 feet shorter than last year at 1,158 feet. Hole 12 plays the same as last year, but the mandatory has been removed for the FPO division. Hole 15 plays very similarly, but has a new teepad and a mandatory close to the tee. Lastly, the tunnel shot on hole 17 will now have OB left as well as the water behind the basket.

2023 MPO: 11,081 feet Par 67
2022 MPO: 10,896 feet Par 66

2023 FPO: 9,648 feet Par 67
2022 FPO: 9,674 feet Par 67

Extended Forecast

Low winds and hot temperatures should lead to plenty of hot scores!

Friday: Mostly sunny with highs in the upper 80s. Winds 5-10mph.
Saturday: Partly cloudy with highs in the upper 80s. Winds light and variable.
Sunday: Mostly sunny with highs near 90. Winds light and variable.

  1. Justin Westfall
    Justin Westfall

    Justin Westfall is a contributor at Ultiworld Disc Golf who enjoys living in Southern California, where he can play disc golf year-round. Off the course, he works in the film industry and prides himself on being a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan. You can find Justin on Twitter and Instagram @PDGAStats.

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