Do Live Broadcasts Grow the Sport of Disc Golf?

The Disc Golf World Tour debuted last weekend and for the most part, it delivered on Jussi Meresmaa’s promises. But whether it can deliver on his long-term vision of disc golf as a spectator sport- well, that’s another matter. As is the question of whether his and the other new tours’ efforts will ultimately help or hinder the sport’s growth.

He said his new high-profile tour series would be broadcast live with better production quality- a slicker, more polished presentation if you will – and it was. In that sense, SpinTV delivered, and then some.

Open courses can be picturesque, but do they really show off disc golf's best features?
Open courses can be picturesque, but do they really show off disc golf’s best features?

The on-screen graphics and animation during live coverage of the inaugural La Mirada Open represented a huge leap forward. Little details like on-course sponsor signage, the pads wrapped around the basket pole colored the same yellow as the Innova DisCatcher band, and even the DGWT branding on handheld microphones added to the overall effect. On Saturday, when we couldn’t see residential streets and chain link fences in the shot, La Mirada looked like Augusta National. Even the commercials looked to be more professionally done.

Announcers Jamie Thomas and Avery Jenkins (who both performed fairly well and will certainly get even better) made much ado of the next-level ‘metrics’, Greens in Regulation, Putts Inside the Circle Ratio, Putts Outside the Circle Ratio. Sports fans definitely love their stats and having these on-screen graphics available at any time is a big step in that direction.

Speaking of the announcers, did you know Avery starred in another disc golf TV show five years ago? Discmasters, a show featuring Avery, Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins and your truly (Jack Tupp) was filmed for local TV in Santa Cruz and made the rounds on YouTube. Hopefully, he’ll get to show his lighter side on SpinTV as well.

One last big positive to point out: the player profiles mixed into the broadcast. Media experts have understood that the more insight viewers get about what makes the players tick, the stronger their connection to the action.

As an avid disc golfer, I have an appetite for live disc golf action and I can appreciate the strides that have been made by  DiscGolfPlanetTV, Smashboxx, and now SpinTV. It’s definitely getting better and better. But I have two major concerns about the direction things are headed.Logo-web

The first is the fact that with the current course and camera configurations these broadcasts don’t come close to conveying the essence of disc golf. Even with two cameras, the angles are almost always from behind the thrower and behind the basket. In both cases, the disc remains fairly static on the screen and so does the backdrop. Ball golf uses at least six cameras to properly film a hole, and that’s just not feasible for disc golf yet. Disc golfers who are viewing can convert what they are seeing into the majestic S-turn we know the shot required and appreciate the amazing skill. To a non-disc golfer, it’s just people throwing Frisbees again and again.

The other nit I’m gonna pick today is with the decision – or rather the necessity – to feature mostly wide open holes. The logic that open holes film better is sound, at least as long as the technology is limited to two camera angles at ground level. But it’s regrettable because another essential aspect of disc golf’s mystique is the wooded hole. In terms of how the games plays, two important elements of disc golf that distinguish it from ball golf in a positive way are missing in coverage of wide open courses; The holes with multiple obstacles players must navigate on a single shot, and the fact that disc golf can be played on very rugged terrain. Forest? Jungle? No problem! That needs to be part of the elevator pitch- which five minutes of live coverage seen by a non-disc golfer amounts to.

Once again, if the aim is to use the broadcasts to introduce potential new players and fans to the sport I don’t think it’ll work. In fact, seeing guys throw Frisbees in what appears to be, and usually is, a city or county park probably just confirms their misguided preconceptions.

What’s the real goal here? If it’s to entertain disc golf enthusiasts, then fine. Well done (Although your typical disc golfer likes to be outside on a Saturday afternoon, so even that market gets diluted somewhat). But if the goal is to ‘#growthesport’ of disc golf, we need players, and we need even more courses. For now, the best solution is still the one that got us where we are today. Support your local club. Volunteer, become a dues-paying member. Sponsor a hole.

Then take a break and watch some live Disc Golf World Tour coverage. If you’re already a disc golf nut, it’s a treat to stream the best players in the world onto a big screen TV.

2013 Masters Cup: Plenty of Santa Cruz locals to watch

Every year in April, Santa Cruz, CA is not only the ‘Epicenter of Disc Golf’ – the label we gave ourselves in 1989 after the nearby Loma Prieta earthquake – but the center of the professional disc golf tour as well. DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course has hosted a National Tour event every year since the tour was established, and the Masters Cup has drawn the sport’s best talent for about 20 years before that.

If you follow the tour, you’re familiar with many of this weekend’s competitors. Young Guns Ricky Wysocki, Paul McBeth, Will Schusterick and Nikko Locastro will all be there, as will veteran champs Ken Climo, Dave Feldberg, Nate Doss and Avery Jenkins. And there are plenty of other names you’ll recognize as well, like Philo Braithwaite, Paul Ulibarri, and Josh Anthon.

You know all about these guys already, and they’ve proven that any one of them can step up and win on any given week. I’m not about to pretend that I can predict who will win, although Josh Anthon is a Norcal player who knows DeLa well and has come close, Nate Doss grew up and honed his craft here, and Wysocki and Shusterick are good bets too. But this post isn’t about picking a winner.

On Saturday, after the first round is in the books, and even Sunday when it’s down to the last 24 holes, there are bound to be some names you don’t recognize on the tops cards. Or rather, you would not have recognized if you hadn’t read this. You’re welcome.

And let me state for the record that I’m not ignoring the women’s divisions. It’s just that there is a big separation between the top women and the locals, and there is no chance of a surprise. Kristy King, a DeLa local and DGA-sponsored player, has a chance of finishing in the top third of the field and cashing, but the win will likely go to Sarah Hokom, Valarie Jenkins or Paige Pierce.

Local pro and longtime course maintenance leader Jim Hagen works on his backhand form while starting up his mower four days before the start of the 2013 Masters Cup.
Local pro and longtime course maintenance leader Jim Hagen works on his backhand form while starting up his mower four days before the start of the 2013 Masters Cup. Photo by Jack Trageser

In the men’s divisions, on the other hand, the combination of a deep pool of local talent and the idiosyncrasies of DeLaveaga as a course that plays very different than most courses on the pro circuit makes for some intriguing possibilities. I’m not saying that any of these guys will win, mind you, just that they can. Look for one or more of the following names on the lead and/or chase cards Sunday, and remember I told you so.

Matt Bell- Disc golf is a sport where the best players improve on a super-steep curve, and can go from beginner to world-beater in a hurry. Matt Bell played half of his 15 PDGA events last year in the Advanced division, but this year has been turning heads locally. He won this year’s Enduro (Ice) Bowl at DeLa this year, topping a number of known players, and has the power, savvy, and local knowledge to make a run. Look for him to be in the running at least until the magnitude of the situation hits him- and maybe longer.

Shasta Criss- He enjoys a rep as a solid player and great guy on the tour, especially on the West Coast, but Shasta flies below the radar to most pro disc golf followers. He’s DGA’s top sponsored Open Division player and has all the tools necessary to make a run, including a penchant for hitting 50-foot putts. Plus, that name is just meant for disc golf, and it’s impossible not to like him. If you see his name in the mix, feel good about rooting for him.

Chris Edwards- Big, easy power and a recent ascent into 1000-rated territory mark Edward’s game, along with a sincere desire to promote disc golf locally and beyond. He’s the coach of the UCSC disc golf team, and if his mental game catches up fully to his physical talents he’ll be in contention. Edwards is a birdie machine when he’s on and simply needs to eliminate or minimize the mistakes.

Myles Harding- Like Nate Doss, Myles literally grew up playing DeLaveaga. Longtime NorCal tour players remember that he and Greg Barsby went head-to-head in Juniors, then Advanced, then Open, both winning lots of hardware- but as kids and teens Myles actually won a bit more. Harding, like his dad Rob, has all the shots in his bag, super-smooth form, and the ability to turn in some low rounds. Whether he can string together three of them in a row is the question, but he’s done it plenty of times before.

Don Smith- I know firsthand of Don’s tenacity as he beat me once on the 11th extra hole of an epic sudden-death playoff at a local monthly with an 80-foot uphill birdie putt. Since then I’ve gotten older and he’s gotten better, making disc golf his full-time occupation. He’s been on tour nonstop for a couple years now, and that and the the fact that he’s likely played 1000 (or more) rounds at DeLa are the reasons I would not be surprised to see Smith in contention on Sunday. He’s got the game necessary to shoot double-digits under each round, and that’s what it will take to win.

Tony Tran- I gotta mention Tony because he can show up at DeLa for the first time in nine months and throw out an 11-under. He used to play more than he does now, and he never plays anything but local events anymore (I’m not sure if he ever did) but he’s got game. He’s another guy to pull for if you’re a fan of feel-good stories. If he wanted to put the time in, he could be as good as most of the guys who try to play for a living.

Jon Baldwin- This guy won the world championship playing here in 2011, so no one should be surprised if he wins the Masters Cup. Baldwin, DGA’s most marketed sponsored player, is a golfer in the best sense of the word, winning with focus and guile as much as with his sufficient power, steady putting and all-around game. Look for him to be right there all three days in the Masters Division. He’s played three major events this year and taken 2nd place at all three (to Phil Arthur, Ken Climo and Jason Tyra), so he’s certainly hungry for a win on his home turf.

The players listed above are all Santa Cruz locals. They call DeLa home. But other participants in the Masters Cup have lots of experience here as well. The aforementioned Josh Anthon and Ray Johnson are NorCal stalwarts, Steve Rico and Philo Braithwaite show up often from SoCal, and we still claim Nate Doss as our own.

The cream does in the end rise to the top, and it’s likely the trophy will be lifted by someone you knew before reading this preview. But Santa Cruz has tons of local talent, and more so than at any other NT stop you can expect to see some unknown players in the mix.

Discmasters, the world’s first disc golf variety show

Most of you who read this blog know that I run School of Disc Golf as a side-gig, mainly because I thoroughly enjoy getting new players hooked on the game and helping those already addicted to get better. You’ve likely at some point read that I used to play all the tournaments I could get to, topped out at a 999 player rating (so close!) and for a time was an officer of the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club.

What I don’t think I’ve mentioned in quite a while in this space – if ever – is another off-and-on project of mine- Discmasters TV. Since the first new episode in quite a while just hit YouTube I thought I’d take a little time to tell you about the show and its origins.

It all started when I came across a video on YouTube that covered a tournament in Santa Cruz called the Faultline Classic. I thought the video was well-produced given the obviously limited technical resources and decided to approach the guy who posted it with an idea I had been tossing around for some time. The concept was for a ‘lighter side of disc golf’ type variety show that would incorporate instruction, interviews, and cheesy, badly-acted comedy. It should come as no surprise the last part came naturally.

My original model for the show and indeed the name itself came from a cheaply-produced fishing show from the 80’s called Fishmasters that itself was a spoof on another show called Bassmasters. I liked the way Fishmasters turned their minimal technical capabilities (which I think were still greater than ours) into a positive by having it add to the comedic element of the show- knowing that anything we could muster would have the same limitations.

So as I said, I contacted the guy who posted that original Faultline Classic video and learned that he worked for Community TV in Santa Cruz, and the video had actually been broadcast there first, on local TV. At this point, let me introduce that guy- Ben Baker.

Ben had a year or two before that graduated from San Francisco State University with a film degree, and his job at the TV station was his first film-related position. He liked the idea as much as I did, and was even more excited when I told him that I had spoken to disc golf luminaries (and friends) Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins and Avery Jenkins and gotten them to agree to participate as well. As luck would have it, the disc golf touring season had just ended and Nate, Val and Avery would be in Santa Cruz for the next couple months, enabling us to spend time in both the studio and on courses shooting footage.

A side-note about Ben: When we started the project he was enthusiastic about disc golf but pretty much a novice player. His sidearm shot had power yet score-wise he was all over the place. I even hustled a lunch out of him giving him a stroke per-hole at DeLa (that’s 28 strokes!). Ben was not altogether pleased with that introduction to disc golf gambling. That was a couple years ago. This past season, he captured the overall Championship for the venerable NorCal Series tour in the AM2 division. Good for you, Ben! I’d like to think that my instruction and Val, Avery and Nate’s excellence rubbed off on him.

As we envisioned, the show has covered lots of disc golf-related territory. There have been instructional posts by me (on the show known as Jack Tupp), Nate, Avery, Val and even one on putting by Nikko Locastro. There has been lots of tournament coverage, including the 2011 Pro World Championships and the Otter Open in Monterey.

Lots of disc golf celebrity appearances in addition to our regulars: Greg Barsby, Eric McCabe, and Nikko come to mind, but there have been plenty of others (you’ll have to watch the shows to find out who else.) Viewers also get introduced to players known better in Santa Cruz than the rest of the dg world, like Shasta Criss, Don Smith, Tony Tran, and Jon Baldwin (who became World Champion in the Masters division after his Discmasters appearance).

We  managed to get a cool logo created by Nate’s step-sister, the talented Audrey Karleskind. Even a cool theme song (lyrics by Yours Truly). And of course, there have been numerous bits of cheesy comedy.

My favorites are the ones that involve me playing bongo drums while Avery tries to putt, followed by Avery nailing me with a disc with Kung-Fu like accuracy, and magic minis that adversely affect my wardrobe. And of course there is the hipster-doofus named Jimmy Shank. Gotta love that guy. And possibly the best is yet to come as we shot some great footage in which Valarie stars. Stay tuned for that.

The just-released clip I mentioned earlier is a 48-minute studio interview of disc golf hall-of-famer Tom Schot and Monterey disc golf pioneer Merle Witvoet. It was shot just before the 2011 Pro Worlds so part of the talk is about that, but I think the most interesting discussion centers on the history of disc golf in Santa Cruz, of which Schot is principally responsible. Disc golf historians should find it interesting.

The best way to see all the episodes and other miscellaneous short clips is to visit the DiscmastersTV channel on YouTube. And if you’re eager to see new episodes, visit the Discmasters page on Facebook and let us know. Hope you enjoy watching them as much as we do shooting them.

The ‘Ground-Up’ Approach to Saving Strokes- Part 1

You’ll read the term ‘saving strokes’ all the time in my instructional posts, because I believe the best way for an average player to improve her score is to cut down on taking unnecessary bogeys, doubles, and – shudder – worse. Birdies are wonderful, but for those who consider breaking par consistently to be a lofty goal the quickest way to get there is to identify the avoidable mistakes we repeatedly make- and eliminate them.

There are many ways to do this, and the good news is most don’t require increased athletic talent so much as an understanding of three things: what’s likely to happen given the situation; your current skill level; and a number of environmental factors. This post will focus on a big part of what happens after the disc leaves your hand- specifically the moment when it obeys the law of gravity, as all discs must eventually do. What goes up must come down, and unless your disc lands in a tree or on a roof or somewhere else above the playing surface, it’ll end up hitting the ground.

The question to ask yourself is, when you’re planning the shot you want to throw, how much thought are you giving to what happens after your disc first makes contact with the ground? If your honest answer is ‘none’ or ‘not much’, you’re likely taking some unnecessary strokes during your rounds. And if you’re like me, you might have been giving the subject plenty of consideration for years and still not realizing the important points.

My goal with this lesson is to list a few factors related to the angle or texture of the terrain that may affect your decision making when determining the exact shot you plan to execute. In Part 1 we’ll cover the best ways to deal with holes that slope- uphill, downhill, and side-to-side. Part 2 will address the texture of the terrain – thick grass, dirt and rocks, thick brush, hard-pan. Each presents special considerations, and we’ll cover ’em all. Now, on with the book, er, blog learnin’!

Don’t be a dope- pay attention to the slope!

On courses in many parts of the country, all the holes are completely or pretty much flat. If that describes your neck o’ the woods . . . first of all, I feel for you. Slopes add a whole different element of fun (and sometimes frustration) to disc golf. But assuming you occasionally get to venture to other, more mountainous (or at least hilly) courses, you’ll still want to pay attention. Sometimes the slope of the terrain on a hole goes downhill, sometimes uphill, sometimes left-to-right, and sometimes right-to-left. In each of these cases there is a specific adjustment you can make to your throws that will give you better results than if you had throw the hole as if it was flat.

Uphill & Downhill- The first thing to keep in mind when throwing to spots above or below you – especially on downhill shots – is to be sure your flight line is roughly parallel to the line between you and the target. When the teepad is flat but the target is far below, like the famous Top of the World #27 at DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA, players that don’t know better tend to throw on a line parallel to the teepad. The result is a shot that flies high into the air, then fades out way short and wide of the target. When throwing downhill it’s important to make that line of pull-back and release match the slope of the terrain- not the flatness of the teeing or throwing surface. Watch the video examples given by Greg Barsby, Don Smith, Pat Brown and Avery Jenkins in the DeLa link above. In each of them you can easily notice the player angling their throws downward.

27_Tee
On hole 27 at DeLaveaga, throws that are not aimed downward toward the hole look for a second or two like they’re headed to the Pacific Ocean. Then they fade quickly and severely and get nowhere close to the hole. Photo by John Hernlund.

Uphill shots require this same principle, but because it’s pretty obvious that if you don’t adjust your angle upward you’ll throw the disc right into the ground, players make that mistake less often and less dramatically. The main thing to focus on when throwing uphill is not letting the disc hyzer too much and keeping it somewhat flat. It’s hard enough getting uphill distance; shots that do the ‘ol float-and-fade will be even more pathetic when the slope causes the disc to drop helplessly down, occasionally right past the player (I’ve seen it happen).

The other thing to keep in mind on uphill or downhill shots: take notice whether the area where you plan to land is a continuation of the slope of the shot, or if it levels off. For uphill shots with an intended landing zone that is also uphill, don’t count on much skip or slide. Conversely, if it’s downhill plan for extra distance after the disc first touches down- especially if the slope continues down well past the basket/landing zone.

Sideways Slope- Holes with a terrain angle that cuts across the fairway are much trickier to adjust for a couple reasons. First of all, the slope may be partially sideways and partially uphill or downhill. When that is the case you need to consider the information coming next and do your best to combine it with the tips I just shared. But the really tricky part of playing a hole with side-slope is the roll-away potential. And while being the victim of unintended and undesired rolls is sometimes unavoidable, you can increase your odds significantly by understanding a pretty simple principle.

I’m a bit embarrassed to write that it took me a long time to figure this one out. But when I did, it was one of those ‘A-ha!’ moments.

For the longest time, it just seemed logical to always try to land my disc at as close to the same angle as the slope as possible, reasoning that when I did that it would be more likely to slide or skid to a stop rather than stand up on an edge and roll away. And I was partially right, but the key thing I was ignoring was the direction of the spin. I’ll give an example, but as a lefthander and I am going to exercise my right to use the ‘left-hand-backhand’ example rather than the typical R-H-B-H that is usually cited. (You righties will just have to make the adjustment like we lefties normally do  : )

DSCN0363
Hole 4 at Pinto Lake in Watsonville, CA is sloped so severely from right-to-left that most players feel compelled to throw forehand upshots so the disc will be cutting into the slope when it hits the ground rather than sliding down the slope. Photo by Jack Trageser.

So I’m a lefty throwing backhand on a hole with severe right-to-left slope, like Hole #3 at Pinto Lake in Watsonville, CA.  In the past I’d start my upshot above the hole and planning for some slide try to land above the hole, and hope it touched down flat and stopped before too much slide. But this approach has two major problems: First of all landing nice and flat on a slope often results in much more skip and/or slide than you bargain for- especially if the surface is hard and bare (more on that in Part 2). But worse, left-handed backhand throws spin counter-clockwise, and when the slope is right to left that becomes a very fast roller with the slightest inducement. If the disc lands anything less than perfectly flat, or experiences one bump off a root or rock, it’s ‘off to the races!’

After this happened to me a few hundred times, a realization began to illuminate my thick, dark, cavernous skull. If this approach results in disaster so frequently, maybe the opposite would be better. I think I got the idea from guy named Costanza who I played frolf with once.

So I instead threw an exaggerated lefty backhand hyzer that crashed into the ground at an angle practically perpendicular to the slope- the very angle you’d normally associate with rollers. But – and this is the key – the counter-clockwise spin acts like backspin and stops the forward motion of the disc. Also, the momentum of the disc, while going forward, is also going uphill rather than downhill.

Using this technique the disc stops pretty close to where it lands a large majority of the time. It usually flips over upside down immediately like a good disc. Every now and then I catch a bad break and the disc stands up on an edge and there is just enough gravity to start it rolling. But as I said, when slopes are involved nothing can prevent that from happening once in a while.

The takeaway here is pretty simple: When your shot is going to spin clockwise and the slope is right-to-left, you’ll get less roll-aways by throwing sharp hyzers into the face of the slope. When your spin is counter-clockwise and the slope is right-to-left, same thing.

Part 2, which focuses on the texture of the terrain, is coming soon!

The ‘Worldwide Broadcast TV Premier’ of DiscmastersTV

So here’s the lowdown on the TV show: We’ve got the first episode complete and online on our YouTube channel here. We have enough footage already for the first four episodes, but will be shooting more soon.

We now also know when the show will air on local Santa Cruz cable. If you’re interested in helping it get aired in a different community, let me know. Here are the initial Santa Cruz show times:

+    Sat    05/21/11    03:00 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Fri    05/20/11    08:30 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Thu    05/19/11    06:30 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Tue    05/17/11    01:00 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Mon    05/16/11    09:00 PM    Channel 27/73

Future episodes feature Nikko Locastro, GreGory Barby, Jon Baldwin, Shasta Criss, and a bunch of other local and Pro players. Enjoy!