Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Glass Blown Open Traditions

By Courtney Elder

2019 GBO Champions, Paul McBeth & Catrina Allen
The Glass Blown Open. To those who aren’t involved in disc golf those four words hold very little weight, but to thousands of people across the world, they signify an event that you just can’t miss. Hosted each year in Emporia, Kansas, some might liken the GBO to a red carpet event, as it’s complete with multiple days of competitive play between the sport’s top players, block parties that rival the best backyard gettogether you’ve ever seen, and events that keep friends, family, and visitors engaged.

Within the disc golf community, The Glass Blown Open is known as a prestigious event that’s run with the highest level of professionalism out there. Months of work behind the scenes goes into the tournament each year, and as soon as it’s over the team at Dynamic Discs is already working hard on the next one. But beyond the family-friendly atmosphere and the amazing courses that are part of the competition, there’s something more that really sets the GBO apart from other tournaments.

Any event that’s been run year after year likely has a rich history in itself, but in Emporia, there are a few things we do a little bit differently here. Some might say that these are the reasons they make the trek to the middle of the United States each year, while others describe our traditions as the icing on the cake. Whatever words you choose to place behind them, these elements set us apart from the crowd. Have you figured out what they are yet? Keep reading to learn about the history of the tee-off songs at the Glass Blown Open, gain some insight into the beautiful trophies we present each year, and find out who those guys are on the mike when you step up to take your first shot of the event.

Bust A Move

Even if you don’t go to concerts all the time and have a terrible singing voice, one thing is for certain - you probably like music. It’s an incredible thing that tends to bond people and has become a significant part of the tee-offs at each year’s GBO. While the assumption that players choose their own songs is completely accurate, what’s not always as clear is just how interesting some of these song selections tend to be.

During registration each year, GBO players are given the option to request a tee-off song of their choosing. Given that this tournament is a family friendly event, lyrics must not contain any profanities and for the most part, the tunes chosen are ones that are upbeat and put players in a pumped up state of mind. For our 2019 event, we saw a few favorites come in across multiple divisions with a pretty infamous melody being requested 18 times. What could it be? None other than “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. A close second, with 16 requests, is “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, proving that the classics never die.

Some may find that these choices are cliché, but you can’t overestimate the mental effect that tee-off songs have. Here’s a perfect example from 2011 FPO Champion Valarie Jenkins:

“If anyone has ever played in my group, they know that I am always humming a song that’s stuck in my head. Most of the time, I’m not sure where the song came from but sometimes it’s a song I just heard, so picking the right tee-off song is more crucial than one might think.

Since they only play the first 30 seconds of a song, you have to make sure you like the first 30 seconds. In 2015, I chose the Taylor Swift song “Shake It Off” and when my name was called and the song was cued up… I listened to those words ‘got nothing in my brain.’ Needless to say, I didn’t play well in those first couple of rounds of the tournament.

When it came to the final round, somehow they had lost the list of songs and asked what I’d like to play. I said ‘pick anything.’ This time, when my name was called and the song played it was ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ I ended up shooting a 1011-rated round as well as the hottest round of the day for FPO.”

Subliminal Messaging

As Val’s story illustrates, the words in one’s tee-off selection can play a major role in the rest of the day’s round. With that in mind, it’s intriguing to look for patterns between song requests and the game of disc golf itself. Want to head out and score a ton of birdies? Simply listening to a song with “bird” in the title like Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” or “Blackbird” by the Beatles could help you to play well, but wouldn’t an eagle be better? Both “Comfort Eagle” by Cake as well as “Fly Like An Eagle” by The Steve Miller Band are popular picks.

Plenty of players opt for lyrics that include the word “win” or “winning”, both obvious choices when gearing up to tackle a tough course, but there seem to be mixed feelings about just how important the song’s message truly is. While Jenkins and others find their selection to be critical, others don’t necessarily feel the same. 2012 and 2013 MPO winner Will Schusterick said he simply chooses whatever song is on his mind at the time of the event. It seems that Simon Lizotte, MPO winner in 2014, also doesn’t put much stock into his choice:

“I honestly don’t really remember the songs I’ve chosen. I don’t even remember what song I chose this year. If I had to guess, I picked a song I liked at the time. I didn’t really put much thought into that. I try to not get affected by anything when I start playing. I think there could be any song playing in the background and I wouldn’t even notice.”

GBO’s Tee-Off Origins

Erran Harter & Scott Hayes
Whether you love the idea of a tee-off song or not, there’s a good reason for it, and it stems back from the early years of involvement from tournament announcers Scott Hayes and Erren Harter. Both work at KVOE, a news, talk, and sports radio station in Emporia, and they’ve been partnering with Dynamic Discs since the beginning. Back in the day when Jeremy Rusco outgrew operations in the basement of his home, he rented space at a property managed by Erren. The two struck up a friendship and soon after Scott also became acquainted with the original DD crew.

Harter and Hayes have been volunteering at the Glass Blown Open for years, and initially their duties included helping with a poker tournament and announcing each player as they stepped up to tee. The player’s name and hometown were the only things said into the microphone at the time, with filler music playing in between cards. In 2013, however, things started to get a little more interesting as the pair tried to personalize each player’s experience by asking them if they’d like to hear a song during their shot instead of silence.

The next year, selecting a song became a more standardized practice, although it still took another year before this information showed up on the player registration form. As each individual would approach the tee, Scott and Erren would ask what song they wanted to play, wildly search for it, and hoped that it was clean enough to put on for an all-ages crowd. “People were really into it. Even though a lot of the people who come to play are pretty serious, even the AMs can be serious, but still like to have fun. Having that song playing like that - it became a special little extra thing that the Glass Blown Open had,” Scott explained.

Seeing Positive Results

Not only did the players react well to the idea of tee-off songs, but both Erren and Scott noticed a huge difference in the mood of the crowd as a whole. Scott described what people can expect when watching players tee in person:

“Anytime you have an announcer it’s a cue to fans around that something’s about to happen. Music is playing and then they cut to me announcing a welcome, and that’s when Erren is getting the song ready. Everybody quiets down and starts to pay attention. It has become a really great way of letting the fans know when something’s about to happen, and helps to build excitement - you can feel it build as we get close to the lead cards and the music’s feeding into that. People can go down the hill so they can watch players tee off. It’s added to it as a spectator sport, at least here in Emporia.”

One might consider Erren to be the man behind the scenes as he’s usually trying to get songs organized in a timely fashion, but he too gets to be a spectator in his own right. “It starts their round off on a good note,” he stated about how it affects the players. “A disc can go out of bounds but they can turn around and play air guitar.”

Working Through Challenges

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns however, as the duo has run into some concerns in past years. If they personally aren’t familiar with a song’s lyrics, they’ll look them up to make sure it’s appropriate. Several times a few choice words have been dropped without their knowledge, and while they are incredibly diligent about keeping things clean, they also can’t really preview 1500 songs before the event either.

Some artists aren’t on Spotify as well, and since it’s the platform that Hayes and Harter use during GBO, it has left them needing to find other options. “Richard Cheese is a Vegas lounge singer [with Lounge Against the Machine] - he covers everything. We use him when we can’t find music,” said Scott. And what about if someone doesn’t pick a song or says they don’t care? That’s right, they’re getting “MMMBop,” “Barbie Girl,” or something from New Kids On The Block.

Like most of the people that work to put on the Glass Blown Open, both Scott and Erren volunteer their time because they love what disc golf brings to the community. Rather than feeling like celebrities, they take a humble approach to their skills, although not everyone sees it that way. In the summer of 2017, Scott accompanied DD team members to the Disc Golf Experience in Nashville, and that’s when it really hit him that he’s making a difference:

“After the event was over players were coming up and having me sign their discs. I thought ‘people are asking for my autograph when there’s professionals standing around?’ That’s when I realized that it’s valued and it’s pretty cool.”

Diving Into A Passion

Depending on how you look at it, one might describe that Scott and Erren’s involvement with the Glass Blown Open was simply fate, and while they struck up a close relationship with many on the Dynamic Discs team, you don’t have to be acquainted for years to make a huge difference. Such is the story with Brice Turnbull, an artist who currently lives and works in Colorado. If you don’t recognize his name, you’re surely familiar with his handiwork, as he’s the man who makes the gorgeous trophies for GBO each year.

Brice used to live in Emporia and had been in the area for about four years when the original creator of the trophies, Hal Berger, passed away at the age of 54. An accomplished glass blower in the area, Brice had studied under Hal and took note when Dynamic Discs put out a call for new artists to create their trophies. “I worked on some ideas then went and talked with Eric McCabe and Jeremy Rusco. They seemed really friendly and I showed them the ideas. They decided to go with mine, which was great - I’ve been doing them for 12 years,” Turnbull said.

While the method of crafting the trophies is similar to their original design, Brice did come up with new ideas right off the bat and explained his thought process behind some of the pieces that we’ve come to know and love:

“[Hal’s] were kind of a teardrop, and the idea was that I wanted to do something colorful for the first generation. Right now they have sort of a stardust inside but at the beginning, they had just multicolored brush strokes. I wanted a globe [shape] because I wanted something round - it was either a globe or a disc, and I thought for a trophy a globe was easier to hold. After a while, they asked if I had any other ideas. We went with the one [design] for four to five years, then I came up with a few variations. My favorite is the one we’re using now.”

If you’d like to see behind the scenes footage of him creating these special pieces, make sure to visit his Instagram @briceturnbull.

Disc Golf From A Different Perspective

Despite living in Emporia and partnering with Dynamic Discs for over a decade, Brice isn’t an avid disc golf player, saying “I’ve dinked around a little bit” when it comes to the sport. He’s visited the Glass Blown Open several times since moving to Colorado and is amazed at how big the event has become. “Part of the fun for me has been meeting some of the people who have won trophies that I’ve made and to meet some of the players on the circuit,” he said.

Beyond just making trophies, however, Turnbull has really gotten to see how disc golf as a whole can shape people’s lives in the most amazing ways. He shared a story about someone he knows who played in the Glass Blown Open that was truly touching:

“One of my friends in the Rotary Club was going to meet up with his son and play in the GBO. He was hopeful that they might win a trophy! My friend is about 68 or so - he and his son weren’t close growing up but disc golf is the main way that they reconnect. They get together and travel together and get to be around a bunch of positive people. It gives them a chance to do something and not just talk on the phone but get outdoors, get in the sunshine, get physical, and not have to articulate what everything is only in words all the time.”

Working Selflessly

The fact that someone who isn’t immersed in the disc golf community day in and day out can see this family dynamic and how disc golf has brought them together in such a positive way clearly demonstrates just how incredible the sport is. Brice isn’t making these trophies for a huge payday, but instead really enjoys how his artistic talents can be an added bonus within the overall player experience:

“I enjoy the group and I enjoy what it represents. The really cool thing about making awards is that you’re helping someone celebrate something they’ve worked really hard for - I get to be a part of that day. I really feel like in life we don’t celebrate positive accomplishments often enough, and I think it’s really cool that I get to help people mark that part of their lives.”

Players also see the value in Turnbull’s creations, as 2017 FPO Champion Hannah Leatherman explains, “I love the Glass Blown trophies. For me, it’s my favorite trophy I’ve gotten, and probably the best one I will ever get.” Val Jenkins mirrors that statement with her experience,  “The GBO glass trophies are beautiful. Through the years, I have had the honor of collecting quite a few trophies from all the tournaments I’ve played and my favorite ones to display are the works of art. I have boxes full of wooden plaques, but the unique glass trophies are displayed proudly in our home.”

Continuing The Traditions

Jeremy Rusco & Brice Turnbull
Anyone who has visited a Glass Blown Open event will proudly tell others that they have to attend and that it’s a trip worth making at least once in a lifetime. Even if you’re not competing, simply being around thousands of other disc golfers in a town that welcomes everyone so wholeheartedly will certainly shift your perspective about the sport in general. The traditions we share here work to make the event that much more special.

As the years go on, the team at Dynamic Discs hopes to continue our current practices of tee-off songs, block parties, beautiful trophies, and so much more. Being able to partner with others around the nation who have the same heart for the sport is what makes the long nights of planning all worth it, and who knows - perhaps we’ll begin to establish some new traditions in years to come.

Whether you’re a new player to the sport who is excited to become more involved in tournaments or you feel like Emporia has become your second home, the unique details of the Glass Blown Open truly make this an event to put on your bucket list. If you’re playing in 2020, start thinking about your tee-off song now, and perhaps if it’s inspiring enough, you can win one of Brice’s incredible trophies!
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