It has been a few weeks since the PDGA National Tour was in action. After Ricky Wysocki’s win at the Hall of Fame Classic, many of the top pros traveled overseas for a trip around Europe. While some pros are still hitting the Euro Tour, the vast majority of the highest rated players are in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Discraft Great Lakes Open.
The pros will converge on the famed Toboggan course at Kensington Metropark. The Toboggan course is commonly known as the home for the United States Amateur Disc Golf Championship. Pros haven’t played a tournament on this course since 2007. Disc golfers will need a strong — yet accurate — arm to take home a win on the fifth stop of the PDGA National Tour.
We talked with tournament director John Minicuci to get a preview of this weekend’s action.
All Things Disc Golf: Every tournament has its own special flavor. It seems as if disc golfers really enjoying going to the Great Lakes Open. What makes the Great Lakes Open such a good one?
John Minicuci: Pure Michigan. Michigan is a hotbed for disc golf. It always has been since the PDGA began tracking demographics, Michigan has always been near the top in every category from Sponsored Pros, to Courses, to PDGA events. Anchored by Discraft and a stronger presence from the Michigan Disc Golf Organization (MDGO), which hosts the worlds biggest B-Tier event the past few years, there is a genuine excitement in Michigan about our sport. The MDGO is led by some very strong clubs all working towards one common goal, provide the best experience for our players at our State Championships held annually in Ludington on Labor Day weekend.
All Things Disc Golf: Let’s talk about the courses. First on the amateur side. The Ams will be at Hudson Mills. What will disc golfers encounter?
John Minicuci: Hudson Mills is one of many Metroparks in our Southeast portion of Michigan. Unlike many other Metroparks, Hudson Mills’ main amenities are their two disc golf courses. The clubs working in this area, for many years now, have a strong presence and focus on working with the Metropark at keeping the courses at Hudson Mills in great shape. With multiple tee pads and basket locations on many holes, these courses offer long and short shots to match players with different skill levels.
All Things Disc Golf: The pros head to the Toboggan course at Kensington Metropark. The course is well known for hosting the US Amateur Disc Golf Championship and now the pros get to take control of the monster course. For those unfamiliar, what makes the Toboggan course so special?
John Minicuci: There is no doubt that the Toboggan is a very difficult scenic long and tiring walk in the park. Attempting to skillfully fillet the course in front of you while doing it is an entirely different discussion. Add in an unpredictable weather factor and you have the Toboggan. Understanding the fact that this course is meant to be a challenging afternoon even for the best of players, the fact that the course is only available to be played on for less than a month of the year, and during the stormy weather that late May / early June typically brings in, makes it very alluring. It is like the cruise ship that just left the dock for the Grecian Islands or the plane that just took off for Hawaii, if you miss that small window of time, you will not get to have the chance again until next year.
All Things Disc Golf: Because of the distance, will the pros with the strongest arms feel more at home on the course, or does it take more than that to win? We’re thinking of the Memorial with its long layout.
John Minicuci: No doubt. There are specific holes that favor long bombs but do not let that fool you. We are planning on having many spotters on the course for a reason. Years of watching events here and playing the course myself have taught me that once you stray off of the fairway, you may not see your disc again. The long rolling fairways at the Toboggan in Kensington Metropark are beautiful. They are even more beautiful if you do not go into the woods during your round.
All Things Disc Golf: What goes into running two tournaments at the same time at two different courses? You must have great help, right?
John Minicuci: Amazing help. You cannot even begin to thank them enough. I am humbled to have them around me while we prepare for these events. They often come up with an idea or just take it upon themselves to jump on a task and see it through. We discussed hosting a Worlds and even put in a bid for one. The team was to a point, already formed, but when Worlds did not go our way, these events just fell into our lap and we couldn’t be happier about it. Not only are my closest staff some of my best friends but they have to genuinely be a little crazy to put up with all of my phone calls, text messages, and e-mails. It does not hurt to have been blessed by learning how to host an event from some long time Motor City Chain Gang mentors and many MDGO forefathers.
Discraft has been the center for most of the major decisions I was unsure of but for the most part, the PDGA and Discraft have stayed aside and allowed us to plan the event as we saw fit. So far there are over 230 players signed up and I am sure we missed a few things along the way and may miss a few as we move forward however, we have already seen ways at expediting a few ideas into next year’s event. Regardless of the details and how they pan out, the biggest goal we have is for the players to arrive and get pointed in the right direction so they can focus on one thing: play disc golf to the best of their ability on some world class courses.
All Things Disc Golf: Let’s make a prediction, with nearly every stop on the National Tour coming down to the final round, what do you think we’ll see at the tournament? Any favorites in your mind?
John Minicuci: Wow. To be honest, I haven’t had the time to actually think about that one. Our club is just coming off a 120 person tournament [a few weeks ago]followed up by our league on Monday night that saw its lowest turnout of the season at 123 players. We average 144 players every Monday night on an 18 hole disc golf course. Meanwhile, along with our day jobs which Mark Stephens, the current President of the FlintTown Flyerz, Chris Leo of the Motor City Chain Gang, and myself all have, these events have consumed the majority of our time. I do not recall one discussion predicting an outcome. Knowing how past USADGC competitions have ended here at the Toboggan, I would guess a very tight race towards hole 16 and the 1st errant shot after that could decide who the 2013 Great Lakes Open Champion will be.
All Things Disc Golf: What else is going on besides the disc golf tournament? There is a clinic open to the public, correct?
John Minicuci: These details are still being planned so I am hesitant at saying these are absolute. What I do think might happen is a PDGA Clinic on Thursday before the event begins, at Kensington, and conducted by a few of the Pros who are competing. The preliminary time for this is around 6 pm. The Toboggan course at Kensington Metropark will be closed for casual play on Thursday to allow the Pro players time to practice on the course and to gather later in the evening for the PDGA clinic. On Saturday at Hudson Mills, Discraft will be conducting a Discraft video clinic where players and spectators are invited to attend. The format will be open topics and player questions with a demo on technique. Discraft is also planning on hosting a ring of fire and other games many free give away items.
All Things Disc Golf: For the Ams, it looks like you have a great players pack ready to go. What will players get when they show up?
John Minicuci: We will have a pseudo check in early in the morning at Hudson Mills on Saturday where each player will be given 2 Discraft discs, a Discraft Flex Fit hat, a tee shirt that may include the graphical winner from the 10th Year Anniversary Buzzz online contest, a pair of Discraft sunglasses, a mini, a Discraft water bottle, and stickers. We will allow them time to take their goodies to their vehicles and warm up before a brief welcoming players meeting and allow them to head out to their holes for a shot gun style beginning…
All Things Disc Golf: Who makes it possible to run the Great Lakes Open?
John Minicuci: First off, it is Discraft. There really is no Great Lakes Open without them. To complete the other main ingredient, it is the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. I mean, really, both courses at Hudson Mills AND the Toboggan. Seriously, having them allow us to organize events at two of their facilities is really an honor just being in one of the many conferences with them. So, Discraft and the Metroparks have to be first in line for this honor.
In addition, my closest staff of Mark Stephens and Chris Leo who have been instrumental in listening and assisting. Todd White has jumped in on many occasions and held me in check when I wanted to organize and add even more on to these 2 weekends in a row. Don’t forget, the 2013 United States Amateur Disc Golf Championship begins 6 days after the DGLO does at the Toboggan. Todd is the 1st TD of that event and his wisdom and experience is sought out and greatly appreciated. Mark Ellis, Al Haaksma, and Keith Aten have all offered hours of phone advice while tracking down other tournament duties like trophies and spotters. Their work here at this event will be under appreciated by some but definitely overlooked. JBird yet again has donated a huge amount and and his presence in the MDGO community is huge. The rest of the MDGO led by Jeff Schwass, Matt Rinker, and Rob Schaffer will be crucial to the success and help the flow for the players. I do know that once we start to thank some people, others will eventually not get mentioned so for those not mentioned but have shared many messages with me these past few months, take solace in knowing your help has meant more than you know. Smile a little because you know you probably held many of my crazy ideas in check.
All of these people are absolutely amazing to work with however, I honestly think Mark and Chris’s wives, Toni and Jennifer will someday block all incoming calls from my cell phone. They have been wonderful allowing me disrupt their lives with my disc golf obsession. Through it all, somehow, my amazing wife Brenda still, sometimes reluctantly, assists in any way she can. I come home after a long event and she listens to my disc golf rambling. I tell her stories and she rolls her eyes. I ask her for help and many times she is right there dropping off a disc to me at a park that I promised someone or picking up something for me I simply ran out of time to get on my own. We spend many hours with our disc golf friends but our families take a back seat to our commitments we as organizers made long ago. Without our family and friends around us, mine specifically, I couldn’t have participated in organizing these events any other way.
All Things Disc Golf: Is there anything else you want to cover?
John Minicuci: Sure, an invitation. To any of the many out-of-towners who are staying longer to either spectate, participate, or assist with the 2013 USADGC. If you are going to stay in town, plan on playing in our league on Monday night at Firefighters Park in Troy, Michigan. Spanning 5 weeks so far this season, the Motor City Chain Gang disc golf league is averaging 140 players a week. It is a very impressive sight to simply sit back and watch the registration process as well as participate in an event with groups of 8 that move along in small herds across our smaller city course. Many good people come out to the league and all work in their own way to make this a fun night out of disc golf and still have an opportunity to hit a big ace worth a few dollars. I mean, how can it not be a nice Ace Pool with so many people playing each week, right?
We know the planning of these events take up a lot of time and we appreciate Minicuci taking some time to work with us on this preview. Best of luck to everyone competing at the Great Lakes Open.
Our friends at Disc Golf Live dug up some footage from 2007 when the pros were at the Toboggan course. Take a look at Cale Leiviska, Dave Feldberg, Matt Orum, and Matthew Blakely as they battle on the back nine of the Toboggan course.