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Michael Conlee Gets Second A-Tier Win of the Year in Bowling Green


HB Clark #553 (left, TD) and Men's Advanced winner Michael Conlee #41267 (right).
Photo by Tray Desnoyer #55440.

If you were to ask a random disc golfer what the biggest Amateur event is, the answer you’d likely get a majority of the time would be “Am Worlds”. In many ways that may be true, but if you’re looking at the number of registered competitors, the correct answer for the past several years would actually be the Amateur Championships at Bowling Green.

In 2014, the PDGA Amateur and Junior Disc Golf World Championships had a combined 612 competitors making up 16 different Advanced and age-protected divisions. The 2014 Amateur Championships at Bowling Green broke their own record, boasting 697 registered competitors across 10 different divisions. Like most other A-tiers, Bowling Green offers multiple ratings-based divisions that aren’t offered at Am Worlds (e.g. Intermediate, Recreational, etc.) allowing for more players to sign up in divisions where they feel they have a better chance of placing well.

The Amateur Championships at Bowling Green continues to grow each and every year, and this past weekend an astonishing 755 disc golfers made the trek to Kentucky! They were split into nine different pools and competed on 11 different public and private courses in the greater Bowling Green area.

We caught up with the Tournament Director, HB Clark #553, to get some insider info on how this event has become what it is today, the largest Amateur disc golf event in the world. To say this guy is committed to the sport would be an understatement. The only chance we had to speak with him was just after he was leaving Bowling Green on Monday afternoon. After helping clean up all morning, he called from his car as he was heading south to Tennessee to start working on yet another disc golf course. “Ask my wife…”, said Clark, “Disc golf is my life.”

How long have you been running the Amateur Championships at Bowling Green?

I was the TD for the first event we ever ran in Bowling Green in 1978. A few friends brought some baskets, since there weren’t very many available at the time, and we named it The April Fools Tournament, since it took place on April 1st.

When did the name and format changed to what it is today?

The name has changed several times over the years. After calling it The April Fools Tournament in 1978, Ultimate players in Philadelphia that were also using that name for their own event threatened to file a lawsuit over it. It was a meaningless dispute, since we wouldn’t have had anything to give them even if they won.

Over the years the name changed to The Bowling Green Open and eventually we had enough players to split it into separate weekends: The Bowling Green Pro Open and The Bowling Green Amateur Open. The number of pro players dwindled over time so we decided to let a different club deal with the pro side. That way, we could put all of our attention on the amateur event, which was increasingly getting bigger and bigger. A few years back PDGA Executive Director, Brian Graham suggested we change the name to what is now, The Amateur Championship at Bowling Green, and it’s been the same ever since.

Do you have any idea as to how many tournaments you've been the director of over the years?

I’ve either been the Tournament Director or a behind-the-scenes guy for this particular event ever since it started. When I could, I would compete in the events but that’s not even a possibility anymore. Lavone Wolfe #580 recently asked me how many tournaments I’ve run and I said, ‘It’s kind of like aces Lavone. I stopped counting a long time ago.’

How much time do you spend each year planning for and organizing the Amateur Championships at Bowling Green?

In the three months leading up to it, it’s a solid part-time job. I’ll spend maybe four hours a day working on it. When it’s about a week away, it quickly becomes a full-time job. During the week of the event itself, I’m up and at it by 5am and usually work straight through until midnight each day until it’s over.

What plans do you have for the future of the Amateur Champions at Bowling Green? How much bigger can it get?

The number of players is limited only by the number of courses we can assign them to. We’re already working on 3-4 more courses and we are planning on adding two of them for next year. That would mean a total of 12 courses plus a 13th if you count the Finals, which is a temporary nine-hole layout. If we can work it out so that we have the maximum of 90 players on each of the 12 courses, that’s 1,080 potential available spots.

Competition

The Advanced division was made up of 168 players from across the country with ratings ranging from 811 to 983. For a lack of a better description, this is what is considered by most to be the “main event” but there were just as many competitors in the Intermediate division (163), and even more in the Recreational division (176).

The weather was far from ideal in the early rounds of the tournament, but that wouldn’t stop several players from throwing unofficial 1000+ rated rounds. Only one round was played on Friday, and a true group of leaders wouldn’t emerge until the end of the day on Saturday after rounds 2 and 3 were completed.

Going into the final full round on Sunday, a handful of players had separated themselves from the pack. Josh Coghill #63364, Mike Conlee #41267, Austin Turner #54049, Jason Elsner #48392, and Aaron Rothrock #45117 all emerged from the A-pool to make up the lead card for the final full round in that order.

The leader at the time, Josh Coghill, sparked a bit of controversy, as he is registered with the PDGA as a Professional player and accepted cash in four events during the 2014 season. However, as stated in the "PDGA Player Divisions, Ratings, and Points Factors - Pros Playing Am", registered professionals may compete in amateur divisions under certain conditions. With the Amateur Championship at Bowling Green being an A-tier and Coghill's player rating being 968, he was eligible to enter the event in the Advanced division with only a point to spare. 

The fourth round was played on the short but technical Hobson Grove Park DGC. Michael Conlee started the round with four thows separating himself from Coghill. After gaining two thows on Coghill on Hole 6, he had already tied it up. Conlee then went on a tear, as seen on the hole-by-hole scores on PDGALIVE.com, carding seven birdies on the remaining 12 holes, finishing the round at nine under par, whihc was unofficially rated at 1023; the highest rated round of any player all weekend.

The field was the cut down to the top 8 plus ties for the finals. A total of nine players would take the temporary course set up just for the finals on the property behind at WahBah Steakhouse, one of the event’s presenting sponsors.

With a lead of four and only nine holes to play, Conlee would not be stopped. Even with a final round score of one over par, he held on to his four-throw lead to take home the win.

This is the second A-tier win in the Advanced division for Conlee this year, having secured a victory at the prestigious Memorial Championship in Scottsdale, AZ against a field of 186. It’s safe to say that he’s off to a great start in 2015

Congratulations to all of the competitors at the 2015 Amateur Championships at Bowling Green and to all of the event’s staff and volunteers for putting on such a wonderful event. Last but not least, we’d like to extend a special thank you to Marc Flanders #55451 and Tray Desnoyer #55440 for volunteering to help with live scoring and live tweeting (photos and videos included) of the Men’s Advanced rounds on Sunday. Their hard work can be seen on PDGALIVE.com and @PDGALIVE on Twitter.

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