Hills, Hot Rounds, and Hamsters - The History of the Discraft Great Lakes Open

Hills, Hot Rounds, and Hamsters - The History of the Discraft Great Lakes Open

We wouldn’t be here without a dead hamster.

Go ahead and read that intro again if needed.

Yes, the Great Lakes Open - Discraft’s hometown showcase, the site of Paul McBeth’s famous 18-under, and a mainstay on the Disc Golf Pro Tour - began with the death of a small rodent named Weenie.

On August 29, 1982, the hamster’s legacy was honored at the 1st Annual Weenie Memorial. The small disc golf tournament gave out shirts celebrating the animal and memorialized Weenie’s memory with two rounds of play at Starr Park in Royal Oak, Michigan. 

The following summer, an up-and-coming disc golf manufacturer in the area stepped in to sponsor the second edition of the event.   

That manufacturer was Discraft.

The tournament was rebranded as the “Discraft Great Lakes Open” (DGLO) and advertised to players from across the region. After four years at Starr Park, the event moved seven miles north to Firefighters Park in 1986. It was here that FPO star Elaine King began making appearances. King would go on to secure nine Great Lakes Open victories over the course of her illustrious career.

Prestige continued to rise and DGLO reached PDGA A-tier status for the first time in 1992. Three years later, to match the growing popularity and ever-increasing annual attendance, the event moved courses once again, heading to Dexter, Michigan to utilize the Hudson Mills course.

The move to Hudson Mills came under the direction of the Great Lakes Open’s new tournament director, Mark Ellis. Ellis continued to build the brand and attractiveness of the event, eventually passing the torch to Rob Hower. 

It was under Hower’s leadership that the tournament took another leap forward when it was included in the brand-new PDGA National Tour in 2003. Barry Shultz took down the title that year in an exciting playoff with Steve Rico.

After a 5-year stint on the National Tour, the event dropped back down to regular A-tier status, even spending 2010 and 2011 as a B-tier. But in 2013, the tournament rejoined the National Tour under the direction of John Minicuci.

Though DGLO only rejoined the National Tour for one year, Minicuci impacted the tournament even more with the inclusion of a new course to pair with Hudson Mills: the Toboggan. 

The Toboggan is a temporary course located in Milford, Michigan within the Kensington Metropark. It was created for the PDGA World Championships in 2000 and re-installed for a few weeks annually to host the United States Amateur Disc Golf Championship. 

In 2018, Minicuci made the Toboggan the exclusive course for the MPO and FPO fields as DGLO was added as a midsummer stop on the DGPT. The event’s first inclusion on the sport’s most prestigious tour was forever cemented with Paul McBeth’s 18-under second round which sent shockwaves across the sports world, even appearing on ESPN’s SportCenter.

In 2021, leadership changed again as Discraft brought in successful Ledgestone Open tournament director, Nate Heinold, to bring the event to even greater heights. 

Heinold went to work immediately, leading the charge to install permanent cement tee pads on the Toboggan course. Being a temporary course only open for a few weeks per year, the first two decades at the Toboggan had featured rubber tee pads. The rubber tees were the one consistent complaint on a course that was otherwise seen as one of the best on the planet.

Serving as a toboggan run during the winter months and being only a small portion of a massive park complex, convincing the Metropark of the necessity for permanent pads was a tough sell. But ultimately, Heinold’s pitch was successful.

In early 2021, as the cold Michigan rain wreaked havoc, the cement crew was on site pouring new tee pads. Though a slow process with the weather and heavy elevation changes, Heinold’s vision became a reality in time for the 2021 USADGC and, most importantly, the 2021 DGLO event.

The tee pads at the Toboggan were priority No. 1, but Heinold has continued to make additional changes to professionalize the course since 2021, with a design team lead by Bob Julio, Mike Wagner and Jim Kenner..

The biggest changes include the addition of six new holes (current holes 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 15) along with small out-of-bounds tweaks to add difficulty or speed up pace of play throughout the course.

As expected by Discraft, Heinold and his team have brought DGLO to new heights. Since joining the DGPT in 2018, the pro purse has more than doubled, reaching $100,000 in 2023. 

Attendance has gone through the roof as well with an increase from 315 players in 2018 to 920 players in 2023.  This extreme growth is due in large part to the overwhelming success and popularity of the amateur side of the event which utilizes multiple area courses. 

Much like Ledgestone, the DGLO brand has become well-known around the disc golf world. Special edition discs and merchandise commemorating the popular event can be purchased at Shop Ledgestone.

Disc golf fans can find University of Michigan and Michigan State University-themed polos and sweatshirts, as well as the highly sought-after DGLO CryZtal Undertaker and the Colorshift Z DGLO Fierce, all available on the online store.

Blog by: Jacob Arvidson

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