Northwood Black continues to reign as the hardest course on the Disc Golf Pro tour.
At the 2021 Ledgestone event, the finished course was just over one month old, took between five and six hours to play, and averaged over six strokes above par to achieve a 1000 rated round.
Disgruntled whispers from the touring pros complaining of long rounds, brutal rough, and tiny landing zones on long par 5s trickled their way down to tournament director Nate Heinold. Heinold has always been committed to making Northwood Black a world class course, including taking players’ concerns to heart and making changes when necessary.
“Holes 6 and 14 had pinch points that were too challenging to set up someone to throw a birdie,” Heinold said. “There were some, but it was super rare.”
Criticisms centered around those two par 5s which together averaged two strokes over par for the MPO field. Heinold believes the difficulties and dense rough of holes 6 and 14 served as primary factors in the long rounds causing the leaders to finish at dusk.
“Those holes severely backed up the course and that led to longer round times,” he said. “It led to what some players called ‘boring’ shots, like the third shot on 6. It wasn’t as exciting. Same with hole 14. The second shot was a 150-foot dump shot. By addressing the pinch points we are able to fix the round time concerns and also make it more exciting.”
Staff and volunteers contributed around 600 total hours between holes 6 and 14 alone, expanding fairways slightly and completing major cleanup of the undergrowth along the fairway edges.
Beginning at the short pad on hole 6, both the left and right side roughs have been cleared out an additional 30 feet for the entire length of the fairway. On the approach, the constricting left side of the right-to-left corner has been cleared. Several trees remain, keeping the fairway the preferred route, but with 50 feet of vegetation removed, discs can push closer to the pin without getting hung up in the jungle where the single option is a straight pitch out.
The difference in Hole 14 is even more noticeable. The first landing zone has been widened on both sides of the fairway, specifically on the left side where up to an additional 50 feet has been cleared. After the right-to-left corner, the menacingly tight tunnel approach remains compact, but the shrubbery flanking the hole has been beaten back. A kick off to the right or left now offers chances to scramble and won’t cause massive search parties for lost discs on every card.
Work focused primarily on holes 6 and 14, but they weren’t the only ones receiving attention. Work on the rough along high-traffic areas of holes 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 16 and 18 improved them as well. And growth from the intervening year has transformed the freshly-cut fairways of 2021 into beautiful green carpets meandering through woods.
“Nothing beats playing golf in the woods with green grass fairways,” Heinold said.
In 2021, a 6-over-par in MPO was 1001-rated, while a 5-over-par in FPO rated 950. Heinold expects those numbers to stay similar during the 2022 event, suggesting the course won’t play much more than a stroke easier.
“We don’t want them finishing at dusk and we want them to have fun,” he said. “But the goal is for players to still say it was the most challenging course they’ve ever played.”