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Championship Course: Oakwood hosts amateur world championships

Delaware native Donnie Ferguson throws around a tree at last week’s Professional Disc Golf Association Junior and Amateur World Championships. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)

Arizona native Ryan Mapus was frustrated with himself last Wednesday.

Mapus carded fours on two of the holes he considered to be the easiest on the Oakwood Park course during the Professional Disc Golf Association Amateur and Junior Disc Golf World Championships.

“It’s one of those courses that is deceivingly difficult,” Tournament Director Mike Snelson said. “It may seem easy, but the scoring on it is going to keep you honest.”

That was evident throughout the morning Wednesday, as even on the shortest holes players were challenged with difficult angles and challenging disc maneuvers, forcing them into shots they weren’t entirely comfortable with.

That can lead to mistakes, which were ever present throughout the day’s action.

“The biggest thing is that you know you left five to seven strokes at least,” Delaware native Donnie Ferguson said. “ It’s not a hard course, but when you come from courses that are big it’s really difficult.”

That’s one of the main differences between Oakwood and some of the other championships courses the world’s top amateurs are accustomed to playing -- length versus woods.

The longest hole at Oakwood is around 550 feet. Many courses around the country feature holes that are 700-800 feet long. Traditional thinking would suggest that the decrease in length would make Oakwood easier, but it might be just the contrary.

“You’ve got to be more skilled to play in the woods,” Missouri native Gary Polkinghorne said. “A lot of people have long arms, but you’ve got to be skilled to play in the woods.”

The narrow fairways forced players to attempt to bend shots around trees on some holes, while flying their discs completely straight to avoid hitting a tree or sending their disc into the wetlands on other holes.

The most experienced players might have been able to successfully navigate the woodsy terrain, but for players like Kansas native Drew Stevens, who has only been playing for a year and a half, it was tough sledding.

“Courses like this eat me up, but you don’t get better unless you play them,” Stevens said. “This had a mix of both. You had some open [holes] and a lot of technical, but you could score well out here. It’s a fun mix. I just didn’t, but that’s alright.”

Still, despite the difficulty they provide, many of the players prefer to play through the forests versus in open fields, including Mapus, who doesn’t see too many forests in Arizona.

“It’s got good, tight, challenging fairways, which makes courses a lot of fun,” Mapus said. “Even though the holes aren’t that long.”

But there was one element to playing in the woods during a Minnesota summer that players did not enjoy.

“The mosquitoes and the bugs,” Ferguson said. “That would be a big for all of us.”

Snelson said he would rank Oakwood in the middle of the several courses used for last week’s championships in terms of difficulty.

He said the course was selected because it provided the proper challenge for a tournament of this level.

This wasn’t the first time Oakwood played host to a premier disc golf tournament. The Cottage Grove course hosted the 2001 Pro World Championship, as well.

“I think that that really helps the credibility of Oakwood is to have that large tournament 13 years ago,” Snelson said.

Snelson said the tournament staff didn’t feel the need to lengthen or make any major adjustments to any of the holes. The only changes to the course were cosmetic, with white flags placed around out of bounds areas and arrows taped onto a tree to inform players which way they must play around the trunk on holes No. 4 and No. 18.

Oakwood hosted 636 amateur players from 45 different states and four continents, ranging from 7-77 years of age at last week’s championships.

And overall, Palkinghorne said Oakwood was a championship-worthy challenge.

“It’s a tough course and it definitely challenges your skill set,” he said. “You have to have a variety of skills. … You’ve got to have all of the shots in the bag.”