Pennsylvania State Championships - Inside the Prep

One of the highlight tournaments of the year for me is the Pennsylvania State Championship. It brings out some of the best competitors and always proves to be an incredibly fun experience. Last year, I found myself in a competitive position through the first three rounds and slowly falling off the pace for the last two. At the end of it all, I finished tied for 6th place. This year, the event has been narrowed down to three rounds, but the requirements for placing well have increased with a higher-skilled field and more demanding course layouts. In today’s post, we’ll break down what my preparation looks like and how I plan on tackling the tournament to come out better than last year.

This year, competitors in my division will be squaring off at Ship Rock DGC and Muddy Run DGC, with two rounds being played at Ship Rock. In the case of both courses, we will be playing the championship gold layouts. The only exception is hole 1 at Ship Rock, which we’ll play to the silver pin for better flow and safety on the course. Two rounds will be played on Saturday, using the shotgun format for starting holes. The final round at Ship Rock will be played on Sunday with tee times issued to each competitor. To better prepare for this tournament, I’ll be taking a hard look at the courses, my bag, and several miscellaneous factors. Let’s walk through them.


Things to Consider

Before we even get to the course, we need to talk about the often most forgotten piece of preparation for events like this, hydration. This week, I’m taking extra care to hydrate more than normal. Being able to sustain my hydration while on the course and out in the sun for a day and a half will be very important. I’ve seen a lack of hydration kill rounds for others and myself. Not only am I preparing my body with up-front hydration, but I’m also purchasing all the water and electrolyte beverages I’ll need before the day of the event. In addition to hydration, I’m getting the appropriate snacks to keep my body full of what it needs to get through the weekend.

Another big key to preparation before an event is making sure you have the schedule well understood and have sincere respect for how much actual time you’ll need to get warmed up. Some people say that they just like to show up and play, but at the end of the day, when you plan on playing 54 holes across a day and a half in the summer, warm-up and stretching matter a lot. Oftentimes, these tournaments are settled by those who have more energy going into round three. If your arm is gassed because you didn’t take care of it, in the end, it will matter.

Checking out the weather is also pretty significant. I can see that it will be between 83 and 88 degrees for most of the weekend with little chance of rain. However, the umbrella will be in the car just in case. For this tournament, it’s the heat and wind that will end up mattering the most to me. As a guy who runs a bit warm, sweat is a real enemy on the course during warmer conditions. Just like rain, keeping my hands dry is essential to my game. I’ve got the towels and dry bags ready to roll.

The other big factor is the wind. This will come into play a bit at Muddy Run, but it will be a big factor at Ship Rock, the open and hillier of the two courses. Speaking of the courses, let’s dive in and look at each of them.


The Courses

Before I break down each course, it’s important to comment on my overall approach to looking at courses and how that can matter. The first thing I address is how well I know the course. If it’s my first time playing it and I’m playing blind, I try to do some recon on the course. I’ll look for YouTube videos of people playing the course from recent years. I’ll also go look at leaderboard scores on the course to get an idea of what average scores look like. Finally, I will look at previous years to see if the same tournament was run there before and look at what scores were competitive. If I know someone playing, I can make some loose assessments based on the relationship of their perceived skill to mine.

In the case of this tournament, I’m very familiar with both courses and can walk through the holes mentally with no issues. The next thing I consider is my overall approach to the course, the scores I’ve achieved before, the holes I know that I can attack, the holes I know that I need to par, and anything of note related to terrain, weather, and disc selection. With all of that said, let’s break down both courses I’ll be playing this weekend.


Ship Rock DGC

Ship Rock is a course that is a lot of fun to play. Established in 2012 by Travis Dombach, Kyle Meck, and Josh Jantzi, this course sits on some beautiful farmland that incorporates some wooded areas that run along the edge of a creek. The rolling hills create some interesting shots and unique wind reads. Between the creek and the addition of some challenging OB lines, the course can bite you in some places that can make your score climb quickly. Course management is important here.

We are going to be playing the Gold layout, which ramps up the length of the course to 8,025 feet with a par of 63. This is the second longest layout being used in the tournament across all divisions and second only to the other layout we are playing at the second course. There are some sections of the course that I believe are a bit harder than others. In my experience with the Gold layout (minus hole 1 which is playing silver for tournament flow), my scores have ranged from +10 to -4. However, I haven’t played the gold layout in a tournament or competitive setting in over a year. I got a practice round in the other day where I was trying some shots to figure some things out, but that’s it.

One of the things I like to do is sit back and figure out what my best possible score would be on the course. If all of my shots go as planned and I was playing for birdies where possible, what score could I achieve? This gives me an interesting benchmark to think about. I call this my dream scenario score. For Ship Rock, on this layout, my dream scenario score is -17. This is pretty unique since all but one hole on this course is a possible birdie for me in the best scenario. That hole is hole 3, which I think is one of the hardest birdies in Lancaster County.

Now, If I were to take that -17 and go through the same process to now look at holes that I’m likely to birdie without playing overly aggressive, I can come up with a more realistic ideal score of -10. The last score I’ll try to think about is my consistency score. This is what I would get if I shot par on all holes except for those that I have consistently birdied before. This score is -5. This process might seem like too much work and meaningless, but it helps me understand what I’m shooting for on the course. It also helps me understand when I need to step on the gas or apply the brakes.

In the case of Ship Rock, we are playing the course for the opening round and for the final round. In the opening round, finishing with a score of -5 would be incredibly acceptable to me. When the final round starts, it’s helpful to know that a score better than -5 would be possible. It informs me that I can put my foot on the gas pedal and press if need be.

As for the course itself, it’s fine to sit around and think about scores and possibilities, but you can’t ignore that the OB and fairways demand attention. Mistakes are going to happen. The dream is a bogey-free weekend with no OB strokes across the three rounds. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No. The big focus for me is going to be on two main stretches of the course that are the most prone to cause the OB strokes and hiccups in the round.

The first stretch of the course to be focused on is holes 11 and 12. Hole 11 is the shortest hole on the course, but with a slightly off-line throw, you can find yourself in instant bogey territory. In fact, with a great shot, you can find yourself in bogey territory. The final part of the fairway drops off about 20 feet straight down to the basket with water about 25-30 fee from the hill. This hill is a master at causing very unfortunate rolls into the water. You will likely also lose your disc due to the depth and color of the water.

Hole 12 demands a very nervy tee shot from an elevated position that puts you in line with the underside of the canopy which protects the air space of the fairway. You need to throw a shot that challenges the height limit while also pushing forward and down. The two major issues are the mental game caused by the massive tree on the right side of the tee. It’s very easy to imagine yourself hitting your arm on the tree. You need to get that thought out of your mind. Secondly, the creek runs along the entire right side of the fairway. A tree kick means a lost disc. I’ve played this hole a lot, and I’ve lost two discs on it, birdied it one time, and every other score in between.

The second stretch that can be troublesome is much more of a concern. This consists of holes 15 through 17. These three par 4’s total a combined distance of 1,757 feet. The main reason that they are troublesome is that I can birdie all of them, but I can also double-bogey all of them. They require some bigger shots and have very punishing OB. The reason this grouping is more dangerous is that unlike the previous section where you can layup and give yourself safety, these holes don’t get easier when you layup off the tee pad.

Aside from these two stretches, the course has teeth in other places. The biggest concern is wind. For the large majority of the course, there is no cover and the wind does as it pleases. There is a fun joke about Ship Rock that you have a headwind on every shot. It seems impossible, but I’ve experienced it too many times for it to be fake. That creates a reason for the last major preparation for the course. The discs.

Going into most courses, I’m not altering my bag too much. About 95% of my bag doesn’t change, but there are a few slots that might get altered depending on certain scenarios. With a course like Ship Rock and the wind, I might slide in a couple of the more stable discs I have. If I get into a spot with a bad headwind, having some beef in the bag will be a big deal. I might slot in my Zone OS, Captain’s Raptor, or another beefcake driver.

Even though we are going to be playing this course twice, I firmly believe that the major decider of the tournament will be our middle course. Let’s talk about it.


Muddy Run DGC

Muddy Run is a course that stands as one of the best I’ve ever played. It requires distance, accuracy, endurance, and strategy. Fail to bring one of those, and you’re in trouble. Designed in 2017 by Kurt DeMarra, Travis Dombach, Jon McDowell, and Justin Weaver (in collaboration with Keaton Eachus for an Eagle Scout project), Muddy Run has reached the status of #57 in the rankings for the top 100 courses in the world according to Udisc. It is also #20 on the list when looking at free-to-play courses. With beautiful views, massive drives, and challenging shots, the gold layout is the ultimate test of your skills. The entire layout stands at an impressive 9,044 feet.

When I look at the rounds I’ve put in on this course, the scores are somewhere within the range of +6 to -1. My dream round score is -13. My ideal score is -8. My consistency score is -6. Now remember, these are all assuming I’m taking pars at the worst on every hole. This course takes a lot from you if you go off your line. I believe the single biggest reason most people get bad scores on this course is because they wind up off the fairway or out of place and decide to try and save the par or do something heroic for a birdie. Taking a bogey on this course is normal. Taking 3 bogeys on this course is normal. Taking your medicine is a big factor at tournaments especially when playing them at courses like this.

My bag doesn’t change very much for a course like Muddy Run. I might throw in my second Titanium Flick for the thumbers and my flippy Innova Rat in case a need a very understable midrange. My whole bag is going to be tested, and I would be surprised if there is a single disc that doesn’t get used at least once on this course.


Final Thoughts and Predictions

This tournament is going to be a tough one. There are a lot of solid competitors in the MA2 field this year. If I was to predict a winning score, I’m thinking it must be someone shooting double-digits and leaning hard on the rounds at Ship Rock to do that. I’m willing to bet that -12 takes the event. For me personally, I would love to be that guy. At the end of the day, I would love to shoot -5, -2, and -5 for the three rounds respectively. Those are scores that I’m definitely capable of. My biggest goal is to play clean disc golf and not have any one area shine as a weak spot. I want solid putting, decent drives, and tactical scrambling/upshots.

I take competing very seriously. I’ll always have a smile on my face and make sure the feelings on the card are cool and comfortable, but deep down, I want to win. Straight up. I’ve always been taught that anything worth doing is worth doing 100%. Time to give it all and see where I come out. Come back next week to get my tournament recap and thoughts. I’m hoping to be here showing you a sweet trophy.


- Gary Daddario III -

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