By: Jacob Arvidson
“The hardest course on tour.”
“1000-rated will be several strokes over par.”
“The players have never seen a course this demanding.”
Those were the whispers about the Northwood Black course before the 2021 Ledgestone Insurance Open kicked off.
By the tournament’s conclusion those whispers became facts, as revealed both by players’ testimonies and by tournament statistics.
We’ve broken down the entire tour schedule and examined exactly how difficult Northwood Black plays compared to the other challenges disc golfers face around the country.
The MPO layout at Northwood this year was by far and away the most difficult course ever played. It averaged 6.01 strokes over par. The next closest was 1.84 strokes over par at Maple Hill during the MVP Open. That means Northwood Black played more than three times harder than the next hardest course on tour.
The FPO field averaged 8.14 strokes over par at Northwood this year, which makes it the third-hardest course on tour. The Fox Run Meadows course at the Green Mountain Championship averaged 8.22 strokes over par and the Maple Hill Diamond layout averaged 8.18 strokes over par during the MVP Open.
Tournament director Nate Heinold obviously knew the course would challenge players like never before, but a few of the holes still surprised him.
“I don't think we expected hole 14 to play as tough as hole 12 for MPO,” he said. “That was probably the biggest surprise, and we have some small tweaks planned for that hole. I also don't think we anticipated hole 13 being as tough to birdie.”
When the Northwood Gold course came onto the scene two years ago, Hole 12 was the consensus “hardest hole on tour.” But after 2021, that title is up for debate.
For the MPO players, hole 12 averaged 1.34 strokes over par, while hole 14 averaged 1.31 strokes over par. The next-most-difficult hole would be hole 1 at Jones Gold during the Dynamic Discs Open, averaging 0.94 strokes over par. Not only are the two Northwood Black holes significantly more difficult than anything else the players face all year, but they are played within minutes of each other during the same round.
The other glaring stat about holes 12 and 14 at Northwood Black is the birdie percentage. Naturally, with more than a bogey average, birdies are going to be few and far between. Though OB does run alongside the right of hole 14, it’s not much of a factor in limiting birdies. Only three holes on tour allow 2-percent birdies: hole 12 and 14 at Northwood Black and hole 4 at The Fort.
Ultimately, the MPO layout at Northwood Black now contains four of the hardest nine holes on the entire tour.
Not only that, but the FPO layout now has four of the 12 hardest holes on tour.
“Since this was the first year that FPO players have played Northwood for the Ledgestone Insurance Open in several years, we wanted to make sure it was a positive experience,” Heinold said. “While we could have made a few of our FPO tees a little more challenging, others would probably say they were still too challenging. We also took into account the land that was available to us. For example, while we would have liked to have added a short tee to hole 8, there wasn't a good spot for it. In addition, on certain holes we knew we needed to add an FPO tee and sometimes the spot was obvious and didn't allow for a ton of additional creativity; sometimes the land simply dictates what you should do. The bottom line is, we wanted the course to be fair and provide birdie opportunities but still make par a good score. We feel like we did that.”
Heinold also notes, “FPO players honestly did better than I expected in relation to par. We tried to make FPO tees that were fair but that still provided an incredibly challenging layout. Our FPO players continue to knock it out of the park.”
“I think it's great that we created a challenging course, but we still want people to enjoy the test,” Heinold said. “Our simple aim was to make sure to reward great shots, punish bad shots and make birdie feel special, while par is okay. On too many courses birdie is expected, and par feels like a bogey, but we wanted to reverse that trend with this course.”
Even with the successful challenge that Northwood Black provided in 2021, the Ledgestone team is already looking to improve for next year. Course co-designer Kip Taufer was hard at work the week after the tournament concluded and has improvements planned for all 18 holes. Grass is being planted on the freshly cut fairways this fall and should look pristine a year from now. In addition, the rough continues to get trimmed and beaten in. Heinold said he anticipates the course being in prime condition by 2023.
In offering insight on how the toughest course on the planet will continue to improve, Heinold said, “I honestly thought it would play as not only the toughest course on tour, but the toughest course the pros have ever seen on tour.” And indeed the stats seem to show that Northwood Black is on its way to doing just that.