The Saratoga Sun -

Growing a tournament

Organizers work to expand the Wyoming Open, add TV coverage

 


Shannon Fisher sits at a table at the Platte Valley Community Center focused on the lathe in front of him. Next to him is a card table with a crowd playing poker. All around are dozens of people coming and going, most with pool cue cases slung over their shoulders.

On the lathe in front of him is part of a pool cue to which Fisher is affixing a tip. The harder tip, he explains, helps the pool player jump the cue ball over an opponent’s ball.

Fisher says he’s been coming to the Wyoming Open every year since it began 10 years ago. He does enough business at the Open to pay his expenses for the trip.

“That’s about all I ask for,” he says as he focuses his attention on the pool cue in the lathe. Fisher, whose full-time job is as a crane operator, makes pool cues in his spare time. The Wyoming Open is a chance for him to do a little business on the side.

This year, the event was bigger than it ever was before.

***

The Wyoming Open was the brainchild of Saratoga’s Mayor, Ed Glode. Glode, a native of Saratoga and avid pool player, came back to town from college and one year decided to host a tournament.

“I like pool a lot, probably more than my family likes,” Glode explains. “Every one of those cool annual events needs someone to take care of it, and that was me.”

The Wyoming Open had a humble beginning. According to Glode, the event started out as a “little tournament” held at the Lazy River Cantina 10 years ago. Eventually, the event branched out into other little tournaments held in bars like the Rustic. But the big break came after Glode got to use the great hall at PVCC.

“As soon as we got the great hall, it was immediate, that’s what we were going to do,” Glode says. “We just didn’t have the facility for it before.”

Over the years, the event grew and continues to do so. Two years ago, there were 192 competitors. Last year, 208. This year over 240 spots were filled in record time.

The event is not the biggest in the state, according to Glode. The State Championships in Casper are a much larger event with hundreds of players from around the state. But the Wyoming Open, Glode said, brings much more nationally and even internationally recognized competitors to the state.

The organizers of the event also add more money to the payouts than the State Championship. And, the event has even begun to compete with national events. This year, the Wyoming Open coincided with what is billed as the largest pool competition and trade show in the U.S., the Super Billiards Expo held in Philadelphia.

Next year, organizers will coordinate with organizers of the Philadelphia event to ensure the two do not overlap, said Monte Thayer, another organizer of the event. There are players, he said, who wanted to attend both but chose the Wyoming Open over the Expo.

***

This year, organizers of the Wyoming Open will also be working hard to grow next year’s event.

The biggest change will be that the event will start a day earlier next year, according to Glode. The Masters’ event will start Thursday evening and other classes will begin playing earlier in the day Friday.

Glode also said organizers will be making significant expansions for female players, and will be adding a whole other class for women. “Next year, we’re trying to get over 300 players,” Glode says.

According to organizers of this year’s event, Saratoga hotels were booked solid for the weekend, a fact evidenced by the numbers of camping trailers and RVs parked near the PVCC during the event. With goals of expanding the tournament, finding places to house competitors and spectators might become an issue as the tournament grows.

“We think we can get creative with people renting out their homes,” Glode says, explaining that there are many seasonal residents who have not returned by the time of the Open, and renting homes on a short term basis has become easier with online services such as Airbnb, a website that allows people to rent homes or even rooms to guests on a per-night basis.

Organizers also have their sights set on another goal for the event: televising it on a national network. Thayer, in an interview with the Saratoga Sun said a goal of organizers was to develop the tournament into an event worthy of being televised on a network like ESPN. Currently, the event is streamed online on http://www.OnTheRailTV.com.

Glode, for his part, seemed cautiously optimistic about such a goal being met. The event, up until now, has been played exclusively on bar tables as they are easier to move than a full size nine-foot pool table.

“A nine-foot pool table usually has three pieces of slate, and it takes a couple days to set up,” Glode says. “Bar tables are one-piece slate and you just remove the legs and bring them in sideways.”

Nine foot tables, Glode says, would be a big change for the Wyoming Open. Games played on bar tables are easier, and there are few people clamoring to watch bar table games on TV. But four nine foot tables and seating might change that.

“If we had four nine foot tables in the great hall and seating all around them, we could start a fresh match at noon and a fresh match at 1:00, make them about hour–and–a–half matches,” Glode explained. “That would be great value for online or ESPN or something like that to come here.”

***

Late Saturday afternoon at the PVCC, crowds began to wane. Players and spectators were heading out to get dinner before going to bars in town for pool brackets stretching early into the morning. On the way out, some stopped to see a trick shot expert showing off game-legal shots on a table in the foyer.

Downtown, staff at Duke’s Bar—the birthplace of the “little tournament” that became the Wyoming Open back when it was called the Lazy River Cantina—prepare for a busy night of pool and partying. The bar has a special permit to remain open for 24 hours Saturday night.

As crowds dispersed, Fisher, the pool cue maker, was polishing a pool cue. Loyal visitors to the event greeted him as they filed toward the exit, many calling him “Fish.”

In front of the lathe sat four pieces of wood, each about 16 inches long, with spiky, ragged edges. Each piece has a swirl of pink coursing through it, setting off a contrast to the yellowish hue of the rest of the wood.

It’s burled box elder, Fisher explains, and each piece cost him about $50, a price he says is a steal. He’s planning to make a pool cue from them, but warns it might not be easy since burled wood is notoriously difficult to work with.

As it is, it takes him about year to make a custom pool cue in his spare time, with each one taking about 80-120 hours of painstaking work.

Unlike crafting a pool cue, Glode says the amount of time needed to craft an event like the Wyoming Open goes down as things grow. Organizers have the benefit of economy of scale. Each year, organizers start out with a blueprint from previous years. Each year, organizers have a corps of loyal visitors to count on.

Each year, organizers get to draw on the previous year’s work and make incremental expansion.

By next year’s event, it’s possible that Fisher’s burl box elder with the pink swirl will be a pool cue, on display with the others he sells for up to $750.

Organizers of the Wyoming Open, likewise, plan for the event to be bigger and more prestigious than before.

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