Disc Review: Vibram O-Lace

For me, the Vibram O-Lace fulfills more than four years of eager anticipation. It is the disc I’ve been itching to have in my bag since the first time I held a disc made with Vibram’s X-Link rubber compound in my hand.  Before I get to my full review, though, please indulge me by first reading a little history:

When I got to throw Vibram putters for the first time, part of my initial reaction was ‘the grip is fantastic. I can’t wait to see how the midrange discs and drivers perform when they come out!’

When the Ibex, Trak and Ascent were released, I liked them all, and asked Vibram Disc Golf head honcho Steve Dodge when they would have a long range driver. He explained that Vibram was methodically releasing discs on a regular basis, focusing on having a disc model for each category and sub-category within a couple years. I found the Ascent to be very useful as a stable fairway driver and the Trak as a versatile midrange/fairway driver finesse disc and roller. But I dreamed of throwing a long-range, fast, strongly overstable driver with the grip and ‘grab’ of the current models.

The updated Vibram flight chart
The updated Vibram flight chart

A few months later the Obex arrived in the mailboxes of us testers, and I loved it (and still do). It had all the stubborn stability I hoped for, with unusual forward glide for a disc that stable. That satisfied me for a little while, but we always want more, don’t we? I again inquired about a long range driver with the same qualities, and was patiently and politely reminded that it was coming, in due time.

Fast-forward to the release of the Lace, Vibram’s first long range, high speed driver. It quickly earned a permanent spot in my bag with its ability to go very, very far on just about any line I gave it, but I still yearned for a version that could handle ridiculous combinations of power and anhyzer angle. I said as much in my feedback to Vibram after testing it, and based on the next prototype I received, six months later, their response seemed to have been ‘be careful what you wish for!’

After the release of the Lace, Vibram sent us two models, one which resulted in the UnLace, and the other a disc easily more overstable than any I had ever thrown before. That thing had practically no glide whatsoever and seemed to almost fight the anhyzer angle I tried to give it before it even left my hand, like two strong magnets of opposing polarity. Ok, that last part was probably my imagination, but you get the picture.

I must not have been the only tester who felt that way because when the production model of the O-Lace came out -much like Baby Bear’s porridge, chair and bed – it was just right.

The Vibram O-Lace is a fast, very overstable driver. And while it doesn’t break through any barriers in terms of its speed or stability it is nonetheless a breakthrough disc.

Side view of the Vibram O=Lace
Side view of the Vibram O=Lace

There are a couple characteristics all Vibram discs have in common; first, the rubber compound provides a grip that is superior to any plastic blend, and it also tends to skip less or at least not as far. Second, the the stability-to-fade/glide ratio tends to be better as well. By that I mean that compared to other discs there isn’t as much of a tradeoff between stability and glide. The overstable discs in the Vibram lineup don’t fade as quickly as you’d expect for discs that can handle power the way they can.

All of these factors are present in the O-Lace, and that is why I consider this disc so special.

Think about it: the fastest drivers are normally the hardest to throw and typically involve the most extreme effort on the part of the thrower. What better time to have a sure, reliable grip? And which discs tend to get away at the end of the flight due to a sharp fade? Just check the flight charts. The answer is fast, overstable drivers, of course. But the O-Lace is notably different.

When I took mine out to Pinto Lake, where the holes in the upper meadow all have fast fairways and OB lines left and right on every hole, that difference was remarkable. Thanks to that grip I felt I had full control as I put it through its paces. It handled both low flat screamers and big power anhyzers, always ending with reliable fade at the end. It netted just as much distance as any other similar disc in my bag. And probably the most useful feature on that course where discs so easily skip-and-slide out of bounds was the way it bit and stopped quickly even when landing fast on a sharp edge. I was able to throw much more aggressive drives on those open but dangerous holes, knowing that my disc would not skip fast and far on the hard terrain- unless the shot was designed to do so.

There is only one thing I don’t like about the O-Lace, and this goes for pretty much all Vibram discs: The variegated (definition: exhibiting different colors, especially as irregular patches or streaks) coloring of Vibram discs create two annoying problems. First, any disc that is not one solid, bright color is harder to find on the course. If you play in an area with lots of rough this is an issue. Second (and this is more of an annoyance than anything else), when you go to pull one of these discs out of your bag you naturally look for a disc of the predominant color on the disc. But if it has a different color on part of its edge, you may forget to look for that color as well and wonder why you can’t find the disc you’re looking for. I assume Vibram does the multi-color thing as a distinguishing design factor, but I’m hoping they someday soon give players a choice of solid or variegated coloring.

My suggestion is to try a Vibram disc if you haven’t already. And if you have room in your bag, consider an O-Lace for the unique qualities I’ve described. Sometimes you want that long skip, but just as often you don’t.

Disc Review: Vibram UnLace

When I started playing disc golf there was no such thing as ‘premium’ plastic. All discs were of the grade we now think of as standard (Innova calls theirs DX). For those who have thrown nothing but the ‘good stuff’ (most players who have taken up the game more recently and can afford the good stuff, you likely missed out on a great developmental tool.

You see, low-grade plastic discs become steadily more understable the more they’re used and inevitably whack trees and other hard surfaces. So that favorite stable driver of yours would become a little less stable over time, than even more ‘flippy’, and finally it would want to turn over all the time. But smart, observant players wouldn’t throw it on the scrap heap. Yeah, they might replace it with a new, more stable driver, but they’d leave Old Faithful in the bag because A- by then they’d become very familiar with its flight characteristics, and B- it would be able to perform a neat trick: start off as a low of mid-height hyzer, then flatten or even turn over a ways down the fairway. If you’ve ever (as a righthander) played a hole that is a low tunnel shot for 150 feet, then requires a a throw that turns right at the end. you know how useful this can be. Especially if your sidearm is less reliable.

Which brings us to the Vibram UnLace. For more accomplished, bigger-armed players, it’s a turnover disc that when thrown with the proper touch and finesse can be made to do all kinds of neat tricks. And the best part is that, unlike those old beat-in standard plastic discs from the pre-Climo era, it’s made of durable (read: indestructible) Vibram rubber. That means it won’t change once you’ve gotten used to it and learned how to get it to do those neat tricks.

I’ll admit that I’ve had it in my for a couple weeks now and still haven’t quite figured out the exact blends of power, hyzer, and line to get it to turn just when I want- but these things take time. Another plus is the better grip that rubber brings. That’s even more important when throwing touch shots.

I haven’t had time to get to know the UnLace like I hope to, but I’m a strong believer in the greater flexibility of understable discs when it comes to crafting mind-blowing, creative shots. I look forward to getting to know this baby and really learning what she can do.

This review also appears as part of a review over at RattlingChains.com. The approach we take for reviews on that site is to have three players with different levels of expertise review each disc, so hopefully readers get the perspective of someone with a game similar to theirs. You can read the full review here.

Disc review: Walking Stick (wood!)

When I first became aware of Flywood disc golf discs (thanks to the reader who brought the company to our attention) my initial reaction was intense curiosity. Wooden discs that are meant to be thrown and used in actual disc golf play?! I always get excited about anything in disc golf that truly breaks new ground.

However, I’m first and foremost a competitive player, and after a quick check I realized that a disc made of wood would never be approved by the PDGA for use in sanctioned events due to the inherent rigidity of the material. so right away it was  clear that these discs are not going to be ‘game-changers’ that break records in terms of distance or control. That would be pretty cool though, wouldn’t it It’d be the opposite of what happened in ball golf when titanium drivers replaced ‘woods’.

Regardless of my discovery that wooden discs would not be vying for a spot in my competition bag, I was still eager to see how one looked, felt and flew. When mine arrived in the mail, I have to admit I was impressed.

The company sent me it’s driver, called The Walking Stick. The disc came came packaged with a neatly labelled chuck of its propietary ‘Boobee’ wax. The stuff is used to improve the grip, and I suspect when applied to their putter it also helps (at least a little) to grab the chains. I’m not sure, but guessing that is also verboten according to PDGA rules as well.

Another great touch is that the disc has a card attached that actually numbered my disc (#371) and dated it as well. This was a great reminder that I didn’t just have another disc on my hands, but a handcrafted work of art. I’ll finish by returning to this point, but for now I’ll just say this is where I think Flywood can get the most traction with its products.

When it was time to take my Walking Stick out for a test, I picked an area where it would land on nothing but soft grass. I know that ideally I would have tested it for durability as well as flight characteristics, but I just couldn’t bring myself purposefully inflicting damage on such a work of art.

Unfortunately I don’t have much positive to say about the flight of the disc, except that it did indeed fly like a golf disc, and it was reasonably stable. But compared to plastic or rubber discs it didn’t seem to have much ‘sail’ or ‘float’ to me, wanting instead to plunge back to earth as soon as the energy I put into the throw had dissipated. Also, as the disc released from my power grip, there was noticeable discomfort. The inner edge feels smooth enough to the touch, so I suppose this is due to the rigidity of wood.

It seems to me that Flywood has two different market for its disc: The first is a small subset of the disc golf crowd, players who care deeply about the environment and desire that as many products as possible that they use and/or consume be completely natural. If you love disc golf but have issues with petroleum-based plastics, these discs are your answer to being able to make an already environmentally-sensitive sport even more so.

The other market for Flywood – and the one I’d think could make these discs quite popular – consist of people who feel that the flying disc is an ideal subject for all forms of art. I love the idea of a hand-crafted disc, especially if it’s master-crafted the way these are. If you’re the type that collects all things disc golf, the price tag of $30 is well worth it for what you get. Just imagine having a perfectly shaped wood disc on your wall along with all your other wall discs. Which one do you think will catch a visitor’s eye first?

Exactly.

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.

Product review: DGA Elite Shield Disc Golf Bag

After using the DGA Elite Shield bag for more than a month, it gets my endorsement as my favorite bag ever as well as in my opinion the best accessory product ever marketed by Disc Golf Association. Time will tell whether it passes the all-important durability test, but it seems to be very well equipped in that regard as well.

DGA Elite Shield disc golf bag

It should be mentioned right at the beginning that one’s preference of disc golf bags – like the golf discs they are designed to carry – is a highly subjective matter. Most significant in this regard is size. Some prefer the minimalist approach: a bag that is as small as possible and meant to hold a few discs and maybe a small water bottle. Others represent a rather different philosophy, and represent the “If there is even the remotest chance I might need it, I want to carry it” school of thought. These folks want to carry 30+ discs, two wardrobe changes, enough food and water to survive in the wilderness for 10 days, and seven miscellaneous pockets and straps full of ‘other stuff’.

I prefer something between these two extremes. I want room for around 14 discs, a large water bottle, and the outer layer of clothing I’ll remove halfway through the round. Several convenient storage pockets for my snacks and little stuff, too. And now that I’ve gotten used to backpack-style straps, my bag must at least include that as an option as well. Finally, I’d like to keep the cost reasonable- under $75.

Obviously not an overly large bag, the DGA Elite Shield nevertheless easily holds 16 discs with plenty additional storage room.
Obviously not an overly large bag, the DGA Elite Shield nevertheless easily holds 16 discs with plenty additional storage room.

So keep in mind these personal preferences when I say that the Elite Shield bag by DGA is the ideal bag for me. Now, on with the review!

The company is best known for its dominant share of baskets installed worldwide and its pioneering status in the sport (perhaps you’ve heard of ‘Steady’ Ed Headrick, PDGA #001, Father of Disc Golf, inventor of the Pole Hole catching device), but also markets its own line of discs, apparel and accessories. They try hard to innovate in everything they do, and this bag really hits the mark in that respect and many others as well. In fact, there are so many cool features included on this bag  – a couple which are completely unique to the Elite Shield – that I’m going to list them bullet-style, along with impressions after a month’s worth of use.

  • Shield Pocket- This is the stand-out feature for which the bag is named, and it’s a hard shell storage compartment designed to keep a phone, sunglasses, or anything else you want to keep from getting broken or wet safe and sound. DGA general manager Scott Keasey told me he got the idea after watching a bag (turns out it was HIS bag) get backed over by a car. I’m not sure it would withstand the weight of a car, but I love having a place where I know my breakables will be safe. Like most great innovations, it’s simple but brilliant.
  • Gel Foam back padding- I’ve personally never had an issue with my bag feeling ‘hard’ against my back, probably because it comes into contact more with my backside than my back. Still, the padding is quite cushy and I can notice the difference.
  • Retractable Towel Lanyard- This is a detachable device that consists of a clip that attaches to a hook inside the large side pocket on one end, another clip that attaches to a towel, and a length of strong but skinny string that automatically retracts back into the device. I didn’t know at first whether I’d use this, but find that I like not having to deal with stuffing my towel back into the bag after using it. I’ve never used towel clips before because they required me to use the towel right next to the bag- which is awkward. Now, thanks to the lanyard I can have my cake, eat it too, and not worry about losing it (the towel I mean, not the cake).
  • PVC diamond-plated water resistant bottom- This is actually a biggie for me, as I play in pretty rugged terrain and the bottom of bags here is usually the most likely failure point. Most bags are not only made of the same material as the rest of the bag, but are completely flat as well. The Elite Shield’s bottom is rugged plastic, and also includes ‘feet’ that keep the bottom surface slightly elevated to reduce exposure to moisture and other wear-and-tear.
  • Foam insulated beverage pocket- My favorite parts of the beverage pocket are elastic gather at the top which keeps even my small aluminum bottle secure, even when I’m running, and the mesh plastic bottom. I hate it when my bottle leaks for whatever reason and I discover a pool of liquid accumulating in the holder. The mesh will prevent that from happening. One small downside is that a large Nalgene bottle is a tight fit. The fit is actually nice and snug and not too tight, but getting it in takes some wrangling.
Using the included customizable dividers, 14 discs fit snugly in the center of the main compartment, providing easy access to the discs in the middle and ample room for towels and clothing on either side.
Using the included customizable dividers, 14 discs fit snugly in the center of the main compartment, providing easy access to the discs in the middle and ample room for towels and clothing on either side.

 

The more standard features of the bag are all quite agreeable as well. It comes with a skinny should strap, but the four well-placed connectors accommodate the backpack straps of your choice. DGA sells it packaged with their Gel Strapz, but I attached mine and they work perfectly.

The storage pockets aside from the Shield pocket are all I could ask for One large zippered compartment and another small one outside of that, with a couple small ‘tuck’ sleeves outside both for a mini, pencils, or whatever (The smaller one fits my School of Disc Golf cards nicely.

The putter pocket presents one small drawback for me, but only because I will sometimes jog during and between holes on the course when time is tight. I keep two putter in the pocket, and a couple times now the one on the outside has popped out. Absolutely no concern if you’re walking on the course like most people, but speed golfers be aware that this might happen.

You can see from the images above that this is a medium-sized bag. I personally have room for 12 discs in the main compartment in addition to the two in the putter pocket, and using the included configurable dividers the discs sit neatly in a middle section, with storage in both side-corners of the main compartment for clothing, extra towels, etc. This bag can obviously hold many more than 14 discs. In fact I recently met a guy at a local course that recognized me from the TV show, and I noticed he was using an Elite Shield bag. When I told him I’d be reviewing it soon, he said he was able to fit 30 discs! Way more than DGA intended with the design, but it gives you an idea of the capacity.

DGA’s website – with the enviable URL of discgolf.com – includes a great gallery of pictures of the Elite Shield bag. It lets’s you see the bag from every conceivable angle.

If like me and Baby Bear you prefer a bag that isn’t too small, or too big, but just right, and also includes a bunch of cool extras, and is also designed to last- yet doesn’t cost too much, I think you’ll like the DGA Elite Shield bag.

New disc review & giveaway: Say hello and so LONG to the Vibram Lace

Is there anything Vibram’s X-Link Rubber Compound disc’s can’t do?

For two years now I’ve touted the durability, and the grip, and even the consistent, reliable flight path. But I always assumed that distance was the one area where the tackier material made of rubber would not be able to match the sleekness and (I thought) superior aerodynamics of plastic.

After testing the Lace, Vibram’s first true long distance disc, I think I may have been wrong. Very wrong.

When I give it some thought, though, I should have seen this coming. After all, the Obex and Ibex can produce incredible distance for mid range discs, and the Trek and Ascent both fly pretty far for supposed ‘fairway drivers’. But the Lace takes things to a whole new level. I’ll do my best to explain, but after a couple fieldwork sessions and a stellar round at DeLaveaga today (-6, thanks in part to the Lace) I haven’t quite figured out how the disc flies so fast and long, so effortlessly.

This disc isn’t available in stores until November 23rd, but if you want a chance to win the tester they sent to School of Disc Golf, read on.

Those that have read my reviews in the past know I’m not big on the technical aspects of discs. I don’t flightplates diameters and all that jazz. If you need to know that stuff it’s on Vibram’s site. And while you’re there you might read their description of the disc, which says in part that it’s “like a faster Trak with a ton more glide thrown in as a bonus.” I don’t totally agree with that assessment.

While it is indeed much faster and goes way further than a Trak, this disc is way more stable. In fact, I think it’ll act like most other super-fast discs do for players without a surplus of power. I grudgingly let me friend throw it once today (hey, by the time I realized what it could do I needed it for the long holes at DeLa), and he is an accomplished player. Even after I told him it could handle all the power he wanted to give it, he still underestimated it and let it hyzer out way too soon. It’s happened to me a bunch of times too. But even when I didn’t get the gradual S-turn I plan for when going for maximum distance, I still ended up longer than expected, time and time again.

A couple times at DeLa I even discovered new possibilities- and I’ve been playing that course for almost 20 years! It’s hard to put into the right words, but when I watch the flight of my Lace I expect to find it in one place and I end up finding it somewhere else, usually further down the fairway and closer to the hole. Case in point was hole 20, a dogleg right over and around tall trees. It was my first hole of the day with the Lace and I didn’t expect it to be so stable. It hyzered way sooner than I wanted, and I started plunging into the trees thinking it went in way short and maybe even trickled down into the canyon. Nope. It was on the right fringe, but barely, and only 40 feet short of the hole. A good throw would have blasted past the basket. It’s that glide that Vibram touts.

As far as feel is concerned, the Lace has that superior grip that just makes you feel like you’re in control. Some power discs just feel in my hand that they’re uncontrollable, but not this disc. It fit into my hand comfortably and came out smoothly.

Another thing related to the rubber compound that I like: as with the other Vibram discs, it tends to stop pretty soon after touching down, which I consider a bonus with a long range driver in certain cases. There are times when you need to get 400-plus feet yet you need that disc to stop quickly afterward. Until now that really hasn’t been an option. If you wanted that distance you had to be willing to risk the possibility of skipping and/or sliding at the end of the flight. Now, with the Lace, you can have your cake and eat it too.

I don’t hide the fact that I love Vibram’s rubber discs, and I’m mildly surprised that the rest of the disc golf world hasn’t yet gone ga-ga for rubber. I guess these things take time. But I have a prediction. In golf there is the well-known saying, ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’. Distance and power gets the most attention, and now that the Lace is here, expect Vibram to start getting LOTS more attention.

Now for the contest. Since I want West Coast disc golfers to wise up to the Vibram vibe, I’m gonna do a live contest at the next DeLaveaga club monthly, December 1st at DDGC in Santa Cruz, CA. Participants will get the chance to test drive Vibram’s other drivers or mid range discs (Trek, Ascent, Ibex and Obex) and then pick one to take one crack at a CTP contest on hole 6. Winner gets the Lace. NOTE: To get in the contest, you gotta RSVP via the comments section below.

And since I don’t want to leave out readers that can’t get to the DeLa monthly, I’m also gonna give away another Vibram disc with a School of Disc Golf hotstamp to a random person who comments on this post. Let us know your thoughts on rubber vs. plastic, or something else relevant to the topic. Good luck!

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: