How do YOU rate a disc golf course?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

It is true of most things to which the words “subjective” and “opinion” may be applied. And so it is with disc golf courses, as well. When I read user-submitted course reviews on dgcoursereview.com, it’s clear that different people value different features in a disc golf course.

Disc golf courses can be quite unassuming.

Some of the most popular — and most famous — are almost invisible to the uninformed eye when not populated with clusters of people flinging bright colored flying discs. That is because one of the elements of disc golf of which its practitioners and proponents are most proud is its ability to conform to nearly any hikeable environment — with minimal or no alteration. In fact, for a large part of the disc golfing population, the more rugged, the better.

And then there are those — no less ardent in their love of the sport — who highly value open, flat fairways where their discs can soar unimpeded by the “thwack!” of a tree and have no chance of plummeting into a deep, dark brambly chasm.

It’s all a personal preference.

Some players like a remote course that is so removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization (and, they might say, the watchful eyes of Big Brother) that having to hike half a mile on foot just to reach it is a bonus. For others, that would be a deal-killer. They want convenience, safety, and even supervision, and couldn’t care less if the park is shared with other users and bordered by streets with cars constantly zipping by.

For some folks it’s all about the equipment.

If a course doesn’t have some type of permanent teepads and baskets (as opposed to posts or other objects), they have zero interest in playing it. On the other end of the spectrum, I know people who still regularly play courses like Old Sawmill in Pebble Beach, Calif., or Little Africa in Carmichael, Calif., even though neither has regular targets or teepads. They do so because the courses are set in amazing places, convenient to them, and/or consist of great hole designs. But they obviously don’t mind the lack of official equipment.

So what makes a course great in your eyes?

Personally, I break it down into two broad categories: courses that I can play on a regular or semi-regular basis (home courses), and courses I may only get to play once or twice (road courses).

Home Courses

For a home course, I’m looking first and foremost for variety and challenge.

If it has those elements I’ll come back again and again, despite it possibly having some other drawbacks. I want some long holes, and some that are short and technical. It’s fun to be able to throw big, booming shots in wide open space, but if that’s all there is, it gets boring. Give me some where I have to be very accurate in navigating obstacles, as well. If the terrain is varied and allows the course to include uphill, downhill and side-hill holes, that’s also a big plus.

Hole No. 3 at Ryan Ranch in Monterey, Calif., is a good
example of a hole with elevation change and a well-graded,
well-marked teepad.

I want a great course design that enables me to figure out how to score better over the course of many rounds and many months or even years — like a really tough brainteasing puzzle. To me the mental aspect of golf is the best part of the game, and course management is a big part of that. It’s pretty cool to have an “a-ha!” moment on a hole after already playing it 100 times.

And a little characteristic that few courses have but one that I prize highly is the technical green.

I think it’s great when you’re forced to really think about the ramifications of a missed putt, like whether it’s gonna roll or skip away, or even fly down a drop-off behind the basket. DeLaveaga is famous for it’s tough greens, and it’s a major reason why scoring averages in major events there played by top pros remains among the highest — despite the course being more than 30 years old.

Road Courses

Now let’s use the other category to discuss some other aspects of what makes a disc golf course great or merely good (I’m pretty biased in that, to me, there is no such thing as a bad disc golf course). The factors I listed above are important to me whether home or away, but here are some others that are especially important when I don’t know the course yet.

As far as equipment goes, I’ve become spoiled by Mach III or Mach V baskets and concrete teepads, but I’m flexible — to a point. I want some form of catching device that definitely lets the player know if the hole is complete or not. And as far as teepads, I want a good, flat, hard surface from which to throw my drives. And having uniform tees and baskets isn’t just about performance.

a private course 5,000 feet up Mt. Haleakala on Maui, HI.
To him, baskets – whether manufactured or improvised –
make a big difference on a disc golf course.

So those are my major criteria. As you can see, with me it’s almost all about the game itself. Facilities (partly due to being a guy) don’t matter to me. I can pack my water in, and easily find a place in the woods to dispense with the excess. I don’t usually have much need for a place to buy snacks or discs — although I certainly appreciate it when one is available.

But now it’s your turn.

I ask again — how do you rate a disc golf course? We want to know what the most important criteria are to you (like equipment, design, amenities, price and convenience) as well as what you value within those criteria (like challenging courses or must have bathrooms).

I’m hoping to get a big response in the comments section on this one, so even if your response is short, please post something. Ideally, one day nearly every community will have numerous courses, with each catering to a different type of preference. We’re already starting to see that in disc golf hotbeds like Santa Cruz, Calif., Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Players in those areas have their choice of nearly all the differences listed above. But to help the future planners and designers of courses in future disc golf hotbeds, tell us what you want to see in courses.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

Disc golf book excerpt #2: The economic realities of golf vs. disc golf

The previous excerpt of my upcoming book hopefully accurately captured the essence of golf, what makes it such a singular sporting activity, and why both versions of golf share the remarkable qualities.

Next up is a point-by-point discussion of where the two sports are starkly different, and why those differences position disc golf as the golf of the future. Today the discussion focuses on the economics of golf and disc golf.

The Economics of Golf

For all but maybe five percent of the world’s population, cost alone is a nearly insurmountable barrier. Even leaving out of the discussion those hundreds of millions in developing and/or impoverished countries for whom any leisure activity will never be a consideration during their lifetimes, golf simply costs too much.

In a 2008 report written for Yahoo! Sports titled “The cost of public golf,” Sam Weinman wrote “The average cost of greens fees for a course built before 1970, according to the National Golf Foundation, is $42.70. The average, however, for one that was constructed between 1970 and 1990 is $48.33, and $60.55 for those after 1990.”

In the same article, former USGA president Sandy Tatum is quoted as saying “The question is do you have affordable access to golf, and on too many fronts, the answer is no.”

Even in the most prosperous countries, $50 for an afternoon of recreation is too expensive for an average member of the population. In countries like Thailand, where total average annual income in U.S. dollars is less than $5,000, it’s not even an option for anyone but the richest of the rich.

 

Golf equipment is an additional, but no less insurmountable, part of the economic roadblock for those who may wish to play. A new set of clubs today runs from $150 on the low end to thousands of dollars for a top name brand set, and possibly tens of thousands for a set that is custom-fitted to the player. Then there is the ongoing cost of balls, which averages about $20-$25 per dozen. Even the most skilled players need to replenish their stock over time, and for the majority of players (whose frequent errant shots are often never found or end up in water) balls are a big part of the ongoing price tag of golf.

And then there are the little extras. Things that are not absolutely necessary to play the game but which most players end up purchasing at some point. Golf shoes, which many would say are necessary, cost anywhere from $40 to $250. Gloves are another $10-$40 each.

The list could go on, with rangefinders costing $200, and pricey golf attire so a player can”look the part” and fit in playing a sport with opportunities to demonstrate one’s financial status are numerous. But right now, we’re talking about what a person needs to pay out to take up and play the game.

For some perspective, consider a question asked and answered on the Yahoo! Answers website.

The question was: “What’s the cost for clubs, membership, clothes etc? Just mid-range gear, but not second hand. And how much would it cost to continue to play fairly often (twice a week)?”

The best answer, as chosen by voters on the site:

I started in July 2007, between games and equipment, I spent $1300 plus. I play on public courses, I bought what is called a Trail Pass in our area which gives a reduced rate at different courses. I bought a starter set of clubs which were the last set at a small golf store. I got them for half price. If there is an Academy in your area, you can get 75 reload golf balls for less than $20. You will (lose) a lot of balls in the (beginning) so don’t pay a lot for them.

You can save on lessons if you get a friend to take them with you. The pros usually have a group rate. As for clothes, wear collared shirts and non-denim shorts you may already have.

Last year, I upgraded my clubs, bought another trail pass and a promotion offer at another course, played about 60 times and spent around $2550.

Another answer, with a little less editorializing:

Mid-range clubs: about $700. Mid-range golf balls: $25 per box. Greens fees $60 per round, $15 for cart if you want one. Clothing, $60-80 for collared shirt and pants/shorts.

Memberships to private clubs cost a lot, it could be (more than) $10,000 just to join ,plus monthly fees, but public courses are charged per round.

While these totals don’t completely price everyone out of the option to play golf — especially in the United States — they are high enough to be prohibitive for a large majority and at least a major consideration for nearly all of us.

The Economics of Disc Golf

When it comes to the monetary cost of playing a sport, traditional golf is at the high end of the spectrum and disc golf is at the opposite end. In fact, disc golf is not only inexpensive in comparison to ball golf, but in comparison to nearly all other sports as well. Pretty much anyone that wants to play disc golf can find a way to cover the minimal cost.

One of the big reasons is the majority of disc golf courses around the world are free to play. No charge whatsoever. According to online course directory Disc Golf Course Review, as of August 2012, 3,420 of the 3,951 courses listed have no fees. That’s 87 percent.

Of the courses that do have a fee associated with access, many (usually in city, county, or state park land) simply charge a vehicle parking fee of $2-$5. Courses that do charge a per-player fee (known as pay-to-play courses in disc golf because they are the exception and not the rule) usually charge somewhere between $3-$10 to play an entire day — as many rounds as the player feels like playing. The most expensive disc golf courses, naturally, are those that were installed on existing ball golf courses. In these cases the course usually charges disc golfers the same green fees as the ball golfers. (As a side note, the growing number of instances where golf courses open their venues to disc golf speaks volumes about the opposite trends of the respective sports, and the ball golf course owners’ recognition of those trends.)

The comparison between the cost to play the average disc golf course and the typical golf course is obviously no comparison. But how does disc golf rank with other popular recreational sports?

It’s hard to beat free.

Public tennis courts are usually free but limited. Team sports normally require seasonal fees to cover the costs of field maintenance, officiating, and administration. Pick-up basketball is a notable exception — but like tennis — supply can be quite limited. Ever hear the term “I got next?” Downhill skiing is right up there with ball golf in terms of both the cost to use the facility and the equipment cost — and it requires a snow-covered mountain.

It’s hard to think of any sport that is more affordable than disc golf in terms of course costs. And unlike ball golf, certainly, and most other sports as well, even the equipment is within practically everyone’s budget.

Aside from the course, the only specialized equipment one needs is a few discs. Disc golf discs — quite different from the Frisbee-style flying discs used for playing catch — cost between $8 and $20 new, but used discs can be purchased for even less than that.

As far as the money it takes to play disc golf, that’s all that’s required. Certainly the rise in popularity for disc golf has spawned specialized disc golf bags, apparel, and various accessories, but none are required to be able to play the game. You can wear whatever you want on any course you play, use whichever pair of shoes suit the terrain best, and use whatever carrying case is handy to hold your discs.

Coming soon: Time requirements, level of difficulty and environmental impact.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional editor at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

Totally New Product Review: DiscBeeper

The following product review is based on the perspectives and tests of two people- myself and fellow blogger at RattlingChains.com, P.J. Harmer.

Disc golf equipment technology continues to undergo slight refinements, specifically when it comes to discs. But the advances are slight, like a disc that flies slightly faster and farther, or a basket with chains that hang at diagonal angles rather than vertically. And even in the world of disc golf accessories, nearly all products to have hit the market are manufactured versions of gadgets that do-it-yourself types likely had already been building and using on their own. Those telescoping poles that help to retrieve discs from water and trees come to mind.

The Disc Beeper falls into neither category. It’s an entirely new innovation, it solves a problem that every disc golfer encounters at one time or another (a lost disc), and despite the fact that numerous people have probably mused on a similar concept, no one has ever actually built anything like it.

The Disc Beeper is a small electronic device that has a diameter somewhere between a nickel and a quarter and weighs in at about five grams. It attaches to the bottom of a disc and when activated beeps at three second intervals after a 45-second delay, allowing the player ample time to go through her/his routine between activation and launch.

Playing primarily on mountainous and heavily wooded courses such as DeLaveaga, Pinto Lake, Black Mouse and Ryan Ranch, opportunities for lost discs abound, so I was naturally very eager to test this particular product. After putting it through a variety of trials, the early word is that it does what it is supposed to do without any noticeable detrimental effects on the flight of the disc. The bottom line is that a disc thrown with a Disc Beeper attached to it is almost certain to be reunited with its owner. This is the full review:

I received my Disc Beeper in a package that included the device, an alcohol wipe to clean the bottom of the disc I planned to attach it to, and detailed instructions on how to properly attach it. Oh yeah, and also a nifty Disc Beeper sticker. Attaching it was pretty straightforward, with the most important aspect being the centering of the Disc Beeper on the disc. Obviously if it isn’t centered, it’ll adversely affect the flight. Since the operation is pretty much irreversible, I chose a disc that was not a critical part of my ‘starting lineup’. The downside to this choice is that I won’t be able to share any specifics about how the Disc Beeper changes a disc’s flight characteristics, but that would require having two identical discs (one as the control subject of the experiment) anyway. So, no detailed feedback on how the Disc Beeper alters a disc’s flight other than to say I didn’t notice anything obvious.

The Disc Beeper is very simple to operate. It has a single button, and three different types of ‘beep’ from which to choose. I prefer the one that sounds similar to a cricket as it is just as loud and distinctive as the others while fitting best into the natural surrounds of a disc golf course. To activate you simply hit the button once turn it on, and another 1-3 times to cycle through the beep choices. After you’ve settle on a choice, you have that 45 second delay for it begins to beep at three second intervals. People who take so long to throw that they worry about the beeper going off before they’ve released the disc will realize a second benefit of this nifty product: as a training device to help them get their throws within the 30-second limit required by PDGA rules.

For my tests, I tried to come up with the best and most varied challenges possible. I wanted to see how it would perform in a noisy environment, in tall and thick vegetation, in an area where the disc could fly or roll down a steep slope, and finally a couple situations where the disc could fly so far I’d have little idea where to start searching.

The first test took place not on a disc golf course but among sand dunes next to the Pacific Ocean south of Monterey, CA. The wind was blowing hard and waves were crashing, which combined made hearing the beeper more of a challenge than at most any course I’ve played. I repeatedly threw the disc – a Champion TL – into blind spots among the dunes, then trudged in the general direction in which I had thrown. The wind also served to give me less of an idea of where the disc ended up, but inevitably I’d hear the beeping and be able to make my way to it like Yogi Bear honing in on a fresh pie.

Next I headed to Ryan Ranch, a great course also in the Monterey area. The choice was based mostly on the fact that I’m still not completely familiar with this course and as such would not automatically know where to search for a disc on each hole. It has enough elevation and rugged vegetation to lose a disc for sure. I played a regular round while there, and sometimes threw the TL for my ‘real’ shot, and other times as a second disc. As in the first test, the beeper performed exactly as it was supposed to. One thing I noticed, though is worth mentioning. I was teeing off on a blind hole and it was long enough that I needed to use my cherished ESP Nuke for my real drive. After that I threw the TL. As I walked up the fairway I heard the TL beeping from more than 100 feet away. No problem. Then I began to look for my Nuke and that familiar fear – we’ll call separation anxiety – started to creep up inside me as I couldn’t immediately locate it. I did find it after a short search, but it made me realize another benefit of the Disc Beeper: it eliminates that separation anxiety because you know you’ll hear that beeping. You know if the Disc Beeper is attached to a disc, you won’t lose it.

The nest stop on the Disc Beeper test tour was Pinto Lake, home of the finals for the 2011 Pro Worlds. The first four and last six holes are typical Santa Cruz County mountainous terrain- but they were not the setting for this round of tests. Rather it was the other nine hole, the upper holes, that would put the Disc Beeper to perhaps its toughest challenge yet. These holes are nearly all long, wide open, and flat. But the fairways are carved out of tall natural grasses and scrub brush. If your disc flies into the rough, you won’t see it until you’re almost on top of it. Add in a typically brisk wind and you can understand why the place has a reputation for swallowing Squalls and burying Buzzzes.

At this point I was pretty confident that I’d be able to find that TL no matter where it ended up, so I purposefully launched it far into the rough on one of those holes and then quickly turned around so I’d have as little idea of where it went as possible. As I walked up the fairway and listened for the beeps, I realized that I had discovered a game within the game: Follow the beeps! Needless to say, I found it that time and all the others at Pinto Lake.

The final testing ground was at famous DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz. And I had only one throw left to make. I decided to launch the disc off hole 27, ‘Top of the World’, with the intention of sending it as far as possible. Over the basket, over the street behind it, and over the parking lot on the other side of that, where a trees and a steep ravine would hopefully swallow it up. That was fun! It flew great, and long, and indeed ended up about 700 feet away, next to hole 20. But alas, the Disc Beeper removed all drama as I began to hear it from the parking lot and had no problem finding its hiding place even though I otherwise wouldn’t have had a clue where to start the search.

A few other bits on information on Disc Beeper:

  • The company expects it to sell for somewhere around the price of a premium plastic disc. They sell it on their website for $19.99, and it should be available from select retailers in the near future.
  • They also have some video clips on the site that show it in action.
  • When I told them that I thought the Disc Beeper would be more popular if it could be switched from one disc to another, rather than having to permanently attach it to one, the agreed and told me that was in the works. It’ll likely be accomplished by creating tiny neoprene sleeves that attach to the bottom of a disc. The beeper will slip snugly inside, allowing for easy transfer.
  • The power for the device is supplied by a battery that charges via a USB micro connection. This open connection could seemingly have problems with dust or moisture getting inside, but the guys at Disc Beeper have been pretty thorough with their testing so I’d guess it’s not much of an issue with normal use.
  • The PDGA is excited about the possibility of beepers on both discs and baskets enabling sight impaired people to experience disc golf. They are in the process of evaluating Disc Beeper for PDGA approval.
  • The beeps can be heard from up to 200 feet away. This could cause a problem for other players teeing off on very short holes, but in most cases the beeper wouldn’t be needed on such holes.
  • When the disc lands rightside-up on a flat surface, the beeping is noticeably quieter, but still plenty loud enough to hear it from at least 50 feet.

P.J. Harmer

There’s not, honestly, a lot I can add to Jack’s well-done review on this product.

My personal take is that this kind of a product can be a strong addition to any disc golfer’s arsenal.

The biggest thing I can note is that it needs to eventually be a product where people can switch the beeper from disc to disc. Without that ability, I find it hard to believe that disc golfers will go out and spend $100 to get five beepers for different discs.

The other reason behind that thought is if these can’t be used during sanctioned play, there needs to be a way to take them off a disc and not leave anything behind. If I am going to use the beeper, I want to have it on discs I throw. I don’t want to have a “Disc Beeper disc” and then have others. The cost-effectiveness of doing something like this would be quite bad.

I’ll be interested to watch how the PDGA goes with this as well. Though not super heavy, it does add weight to a disc and makes it a little different. If something like this is approved for play, what about things like stickers for the top of a disc and so forth? This could be a major step for what can be done to discs if this is eventually approved for competition.

In the end, this is a very cool product and I could see myself using it for casual play, especially when going to a new course. The beeper has a waterproof design and the battery charge lasts about 7-8 hours, which is easily enough for a couple of rounds. The $20 price tag isn’t much, especially if you will eventually be able to switch it from disc to disc. This kind of product will probably be suited more for the casual player (for now) as it will be nice when out throwing around.

Overall, the product was easy to use and worked as intended. The beep is loud enough so you can follow and find the disc. In the end, that’s what the product is supposed to do and it has delivered. I look forward to this product moving forward in production.

Disc Beeper on the Internet: