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Stars of disc golf mark decade in Rock Hill

U.S. Disc Golf Championship event director Jonathan Poole talks about the tournament that starts Wednesday at Winthrop Lake. The tournament, which features best disc golf players in the world, is in its 10th year at Winthrop.
U.S. Disc Golf Championship event director Jonathan Poole talks about the tournament that starts Wednesday at Winthrop Lake. The tournament, which features best disc golf players in the world, is in its 10th year at Winthrop.

Disc golf's biggest event returns to Rock Hill for the 10th consecutive year this week, when the 2008 U.S. Disc Golf Championship takes place Wednesday through Saturday at the Winthrop Lake area.

Ken Climo and Barry Schultz have combined to win eight of the first nine disc golf championships in Rock Hill. David Feldberg is the only other player to win here. Feldberg won the 2008 World Championship last month in Kalamazoo, Mich.

All three will compete this week.

Climo, a five-time U.S. champion and 12-time world champion, is from Clearwater, Fla. Schultz, who comes from Stevens Point, Wisc., is a three-time U.S. champion and has won the World Championship twice.

Tournament director Jonathan Poole said six countries and all 50 states will be represented in the field of 170 participants this year.

Local officials say the event offers a welcome boost to the local economy. City officials have estimated the past economic impact at around $200,000.

Poole was busily tending to details last week, leading up to the start of the tournament. He has an eye for the minute extras. He was a competitive disc golfer until latching on with Innova Disc Golf, which oversees the championship.

The course was receiving lots of attention late last week. Fairways have been cut and are being outlined in yellow string stretched between stakes. Targets are all in place.

There were some tree limbs that remain to be clipped, pine straw to be strewn and a few miles of yellow nylon rope still to be strung. But Poole is comfortable with the progress.

"I think we are on schedule. We can never do enough to be ready for this, but we've had 20 to 25 people, including Winthrop University staff, working for about a month to get the course ready for the championship," Poole said.

Poole manages a crew of 100 volunteers and spotters to get the event ready and to make it run smoothly.

Kalamazoo had 900 players and only 30 staffers, Poole said.

"We are so far ahead of all disc tournaments, it is almost uncomfortable," Poole said. "People come here to get ideas on how to run tournaments. We are elevating the sport."

The course is spectator friendly, and there are several good places to watch the tournament. Here are a few to consider:

• No.3 Green -- A nice area to watch tee shots come down from the hill above the lake to the third green. You can see a variety of tee shots at the horseshoe-shaped fourth hole. Some players will play a drive to the top of the hairpin and a second shot close to the target. Others will play a high throw over the trees and try to land it in the fairway near the green. It is a gutsy, risk-reward shot.

• No.5 -- This is a classic par-five. It is the longest hole on the course at 1,053 feet. If you set your chair three-quarters of the way down the fairway you will see some 450-foot drives. The second shot can be played safely down the right side, but many players will attempt to reach the green in two by throwing over the water.

• No.9 -- This hole lies between Eden Terrace and the huge black wall behind the Winthrop Ballpark's outfield fence. There are ample opportunities on this hole, which features narrow fairways and requires carefully placed shots, to sit in the shade.

• No. 7 Green, No. 8 Tee and No. 16 Green -- Three holes converge in this area. The seventh is the 269-foot, par-three Bamboo hole, where the green is protected by a half-circle of tall bamboo poles. The tee shot on the eighth hole is a difficult one that forces the players to be accurate with a lot of large trees with which to contend. Coming in on the 16th hole, spectators will be able to see players a second time as they go into the final two holes.

• No. 17 Green -- This may be the best view on the course. Choose a shady spot or sit right at the lake's edge. Either way, lawn chairs and a picnic basket will make this a great tournament vantage point. This is a tough downhill par-three, with players throwing directly toward the water. Some players will be careful here while others will watch a disc sink in the lake after being too aggressive.

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