The perfect playing partner, and the almost near-perfect round

Today was a good day.

More specifically, today was a very good disc golf day in the life of a player whose days of high-level competition are mostly behind him.

At the risk of boring those who could care less about the disc golf exploits of others I will recount my round today, because it gives me the opportunity of sharing yet another lesson on one the sport’s finer points. Specifically, we’ll examine what I think is the appropriate way to act when someone in your group is having a potentially personal-best, or-for-some-other-reason historical round.

A little backdrop: I had been camping with the family and hadn’t played DeLaveaga for almost a week. In that time, the baskets had been moved (some of them at least) for the first time in a couple months. Ten of the 29 baskets were in different spots than the last 20 or so rounds I’d played there.

My friend Asaf and I met for a casual round this afternoon, and for the sake of brevity I will tell you that he shot a +10, which is a little worse than his average and significantly above his recent scores of between +2 and +6.

The round started off for innocuously enough for me with a par on hole 1  (basket in the A position). But I did feel an energy, or strength, on the drive, and it gave me confidence to play Hole 2 aggressively. Hole 2 at DeLa is uphill and also a fairly sharp left dogleg with plenty of trees. As a left-hander it requires a technically near-perfect S-turn drive with premium power. I felt as I released it that as long as it didn’t roll away it would be good, and it was. Close enough to putt with the Ape driver that did the heavy lifting. Birdie number one on the day.

Hole 3 provided the first opportunity for a big putt. I pulled the drive left, leaving a 50-foot jump/straddle blocked by low limbs. Dead center, -2 after three holes.

This 50-footer from an obstructed lie on hole 3 slammed dead-center into the chains.

After a par on hole 4 in the short position (one of the new pin positions), I birdied 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the final of these while playing through a group from the Bay Area Chain Smokers clan- one of whom helped me out big-time in a School of Disc Golf event recently. Thanks Ryon!). Holes 5 and 6 required short ‘tester’ putts, while both 7 and 8 were in the 25-30 range. At this point I was -6 after eight holes and it was hard to ignore the fact that I was off to a rather hot start. It’s worth noting two things at this point: First of all, I try very hard to NOT keep track of my total score during my round. This has been well-documented in previous posts, so feel free to do a little research to understand why I am so passionate about this philosophy. Second, my friend Asaf was also well aware of my hot start, as he later revealed- yet he took pains even at this point to NOT comment on that fact. He is quite familiar with my efforts to not dwell on cumulative score during a round.

Holes 8A through 14 (six holes total) were all pars, but even that attests to the magic of this round. 8A and 10 were both missed birdie opportunities for me, but 9, 11, 12, and 13 are all holes on which I average more than par. Hole 9 is a tough lefty hole, but I played it safe. Hole 11 in the long-left position is tough for anyone, and for me today it required a tough, technical, lefty backhand skip-upshot with a Star Tern to save par. Hole 12 had just been moved to the long ‘Wind-chimes’ position, and I didn’t have the disc I would normally drive that hole with, an OOP, pre-Barry Schultz gummy Beast. I threw the Tern instead and hit the small gap left of the canyon to net a par.

Then I came to Hole 13. I-5. DeLaveaga was installed in the early 1980’s, a time when all disc golf holes were for the sake of consistency par 3. If DeLa were installed new today, hole 13 would today definitely be rated a par 4, but it is and now always will be par 3. For this reason, it is impossible to approach this hole bogey-free and not think about the significance of getting a par 3 here. It’s easily the toughest hole on the course in terms of par, so if you make it past 14 bogey-free, in theory the toughest obstacle has been conquered. Never mind the fact that there are 15 holes yet to go.

The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.
The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.

My drive on 13 was as usual a backhand lefty roller, and it was a good one. I got all the way through the flat, wide-open first half of the fairway before my roller began to turn over toward the steep, wooded canyon on the left. That’s important, because if it makes it far enough before cutting left there is usually at least a chance to eek out a par through the trees. Such was the case today, and my pinpoint upshot with my (secret weapon) soft Vibram Ridge gave me a 23-foot par putt which I was able to hit, keeping my unblemished round intact.

If Asaf made any notable comment or compliment after I hit that putt, I don’t recall it. He likely said something like ‘nice putt’, but I just don’t remember. That’s a pretty big deal in itself, because I’ve actually had people say to me when I was bogey free after hole 13, “Did you know you don’t have any bogies yet?” Now, I’m not truly superstitious, but jinxes aside, there are things that common sense should tell you not to say in certain circumstances. The last thing I want to hear from another player in a spot like that is a verbal reminder that I’m bogey-free.  To reiterate, a bogey-free round at DeLa is a big deal. Almost as rare for a player of any level as a no-hitter in baseball- which brings up another good analogy.

Before getting hooked on disc golf in the mid 90’s, I was (like Paul McBeth) an aspiring baseball player. And as all baseball players know, there are a numerous time-honored traditions. One involves how teammates treat a pitcher who is in the process of potentially recording a no-hitter. In baseball, as the outs and innings tick by, the pitcher’s teammates work harder and harder to avoid him. By the eighth and ninth innings no one will even sit near him in the dugout- much less engage him in conversation. Asaf has never played baseball, but he has  impeccable golf etiquette, and his instincts on how to react to my hot round were spot-on.

As I said, my par putt on 13 drew a perfectly measured response from Asaf. Hearty congrats for parring a hole that seeing may more 4’s than 3’s, but nothing to draw attention to the fact that I just cleared the biggest hurdle to carding a bogey-free round at DeLa.

Hole 14 was in the 2nd-toughest of it’s four possible pin placements, and after a drive good enough to get a pretty routine upshot for par, I kinda blew it. I hit a high limb trying for a high hyzer upshot and left myself 29 feet away. Feeling for the first time the full pressure of bogey-free potential, I hit the putt to keep hope alive. Asaf once again didn’t betray his recognition of the significance. I uncharacteristically celebrated, but I don’t recall him saying much of anything. I mentioned earlier that I’d had only four bogey-free rounds at DeLa in more than 20 years . . . well, I’ve made it past hole 13 only to get my first bogey on 14 at least 10 times. So that was a hurdle to clear as well.

Hole 15 was my first birdie in seven holes, hole 16 saw one of my longest drives there ever (400-plus feet in the air, but I missed the 40-foot putt), and hole 17 resulted in a birdie for both Asaf and me. Hole 18 and 19 were both pars for me, but Asaf birdied 18 so he took the teepad for the first time. I remember kind of liking that as it took the focus off me and my round.

On hole 20, which had just been moved to its right position, I likely came close to an ace. We couldn’t see the result from the tee, but my drive ended up just past the hole, 18 feet away. I birdied that  hole, as well as 21 and 22, a long drive across an OB road- which I based. Holes 23 and 24 were pars, which left me with what we refer to at DeLa as ‘The Hill,’ the final four holes that play up, across, and down a steep, rutted, and tree-filled slope.

Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both  the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.

Hole 25 was recently moved short, which is a good thing, except that the short pin placement is close to an OB road to the right. For a guy throwing lefty backhand hyzer, at that position for the first time in months, it caused a good deal of consternation. My Vibram O-Lace came through, though, and the reliable grip enabled me to turn a big S-turn into a drop-in birdie. Asaf, in retrospect, was treating me more and more like radioactive material.

Hole 26 in the long is one of those holes where it’s nearly impossible to just ‘play it safe’ off the tee. I did what I normally do, got a good result, layed up as safely as possible for par (if you know this hole you know that there is no such thing as a routine par here) and thankfully kept my card clean for another hole. 27 holes down, two to go.

Hole 26a was added around 10 years ago – maybe longer – at a time when we were trying to ‘rest’ some environmentally sensitive holes like 17. The idea was to always have 27 available to play. It sits on a narrow ridge between the basket for 26 and the tee for 27, with steep DeLa-style drop-offs on both the left and right sides. 26a was one of the holes just moved- to it’s long position. I knew if would provide the final challenge to a bogey-free round, as hole 27 (normally Top of the World) to an ridiculously short position.

My drive on 26a, thrown with a Legacy Rival for stability and control, came out exactly as I wanted. However, at the end of its flight  it got caught by some Scotch Broom foliage in the fairway and left me with an obstructed 200-foot upshot. I did everything I could with my soft Ridge given the circumstances, and it came down to a 40-foot low ceiling look for par. My lean/jump-putt looked good most of the way, then hit the top nubs of the Mach X basket and fell unceremoniously to the ground. Bogey.

What happened next, though, was pretty cool. It was obvious that Asaf had been for many holes holding in the desire to show his support for my effort. We discussed what had been moments before taboo, then quickly moved to the fact that he could preserve a single-digit score by parring the final hole.

I was disappointed to lose the bogey-free round on the second-to-last hole, but also still aware that I had a pretty hot round going anyway. After my teeshot on 27 looked like another likely birdie putt and we were snaking out way down the 68 steps from tee to fairway, I mentioned that I thought I still might have a shot a double-digits under par. Asaf  replied that he thought I was easily at that mark, but I wasn’t sure. As I mentioned earlier, I try hard not to keep track of my total, and if I had to guess at that time, I would have guessed that I was either -9 or -10 at that point.

Turns out I was -12 when I missed my par putt on 26a, and then -12 after I hit my 13th and final birdie on 27. I tied my personal best (recorded in 2006), didn’t get the bogey-free round that really meant more to me, but still floated around the rest of the day basking in the glow.

The best and most lasting memory, though, will be of my conversation with Asaf afterward. He said that he was so aware of my round, from the hot start to the par on 13 and on, that he didn’t want to do anything to mess it up. He said it got to the point, on the last six or seven holes, that he didn’t even want to touch my discs. I hadn’t noticed that, but appreciated it with a chuckle after the fact. As an old baseball player – an old pitcher, in fact – I could not have not asked for anything more in a playing partner.

So the specific advice is this: when you’re playing with someone who has a hot round in the works, do like Asaf and refrain from any commentary that draws attention to the hotness of the round. If the player brings it up then you’re in the clear. But don’t be the one to raise the topic. In fact, generally speaking, you can never go wrong by limiting your narrative on other peoples’ shots (and your own for that matter). Let the game for the most part speak for itself, and use the time together to discuss other things.

The Golden Rule of Disc Golf

Recently a disc golfer I know was disqualified from an event two hours AFTER he sank his final putt on the last hole. The fact that he won his division, and $750, was nullified because according to the tournament director and PDGA officials on hand he violated personal conduct rules by which we all agree to play. His reaction to the ‘DQ-ing’ resulted in a one-year ban from PDGA competition, or longer if he doesn’t acknowledge his transgressions and show some contrition for his actions.

The point of this post is not to address the rightness or wrongness of the fact that a win and $750 was in essence taken from this dude ‘after the fact,’ although that question has sparked much debate. Rather, it is to shed some light on what makes for an ideal playing partner in any form of disc golf competition. There are plenty of disc golf enthusiasts out there who are good people off the course – solid friends and rational individuals in most other respects – yet get a bit uncorked due to the frustrating aspects of the game of golf. I know, because at one time I was one of the worst, and I’m still far from perfect.

If you set out to list the qualities you’d most like to see in someone with whom you’re playing a round of disc golf, what would they be? How about the qualities that define the person who you don’t want to play with? Make your lists, then do an honest evaluation of yourself as a playing partner. Which list do think your fellow disc golfers would associate with you? Check out my lists below, and see if you agree with my assessments. More importantly, ask yourself which list best describes you as a disc golfer.

Good Qualities in a Disc Golf Playing Partner

  • Appears to be genuinely having fun no matter how he (or she) is playing or scoring on a given day. Good moods are contagious, and if the others in the group are enjoying themselves, chances are we will too
  • Watches others’ shots as closely as his/her own, and earnestly helps search for lost discs
  • Uses the time between his shots to decide what to do next, so when it’s his turn he’s ready to throw
  • Is considerate and courteous to other groups, observing correct etiquette such as giving groups on the higher number holes the right-of-way and keeping still when in the sight line of a player about to throw

Qualities in a disc golf playing partner you’d prefer to avoid

  • First of all, think of the reverse of all the points listed above. No one enjoys playing with someone who is constantly angry – whether at himself or others – especially if they exhibit that anger in demonstrative ways.
  • The most narcissistic of players barely make any effort to help others locate discs, and then will unbelievably expect everyone to search for half an hour
  • Other examples of selfishness on the course are not holding still and keeping quite while others are taking their turn to throw, repeatedly throwing out of turn, and throwing second and third shots in competitive rounds.
  • If you prefer not to breathe second-hand smoke, hear excessive foul language, or be close to other ‘personal taste’ related activities, you’ll likely avoid people who are insensitive to the fact that their idiosyncrasies hamper your enjoy a round of disc golf. On the flip side, people who take part in these activities but make an effort to minimize your exposure to them make a huge positive impression, even if their values and/or habits differ from your own.

The disc golf culture is one of the most open and clique-free in modern society. Newer or less experienced players who find themselves in a group with ‘pros’ often feel pressure to perform at a certain level so as not to stick out as the worst player in the group. Even the best disc golfers care far less about how you perform or score, and more about the lists above. Behave the right way, don’t waste time needlessly, and don’t bring the group down with anger, and you’ll be quickly accepted and invited to join them again.

The Golden Rule applies to many things in life, and golf is certainly one of them. Try to see your actions as others would perceive them, and if adjustments need to be made, make ’em. At least one person found out recently that bad sportsmanship can be costly, in many different ways.

Disc Golf Etiquette

In the world of disc golf, many players are unfortunately not even aware of the ‘etiquette’ concept. I’d guess that most players have had no exposure to ball golf prior to discovering disc golf, and everything about our version of the sport is more casual. Most courses have no pro shop, no marshal, no tee times, and feel much more like what they are: a public park where people can come, go, and do as they please.

However, anyone familiar with ball golf knows that etiquette is a big part of that game. Golf is a self-officiated game, with no referees, umpires, or the like to point out when a player has broken a rule or committed an infraction. But ‘golf etiquette’ is specifically concerned with the unwritten rules that have less to do with the scoring part of the game and more to do with respect for the other players in your group and on the course.

According to Merriam-Webster, etiquette is defined as ‘the
conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by
authority to be observed in social or official life’. In the ball-golf
world, this translates to a universally-understood group of social mores that all serious competitive or even learned recreational players observe. The more casual nature of disc golf means that the rules of etiquette for our sport will differ as well, but we still have to act within unspoken but generally agreed-upon mores.

I personally enjoy a disc golf setting that simulates this aspect of ball golf as closely as possible, and if you’re reading this Blahg odds are that you treat your rounds of disc golf as more than just tossing plastic for a couple hours as well. If that is the case, please read the non-exhaustive compilation of disc golf etiquette guidelines and let me know what you think. Tell me if you agree or disagree, and if there is anything I overlooked (which I’m sure is the case).

In general:

  • Groups should be no larger than five players. If you must play in a herd, be very sensitive to smaller groups behind you and go out of your way to offer to let them play through.
  • If you notice that a group behind you is waiting for your group, offer to let them play through. Everyone should be able to play at the pace they desire if possible.
  • If you notice a player on a nearby hole getting ready to throw or putt, and see that you are in their sight-line, stop moving and talking until they release their disc.
  • If possible, try to grant the requests of other players, however ridiculous they may seem to you (like “don’t talk to my disc” or “don’t stand directly behind me-even if you’re 15
    feet away”. It’s always easier to just take the high road and
    let it go.
  • One big difference between ball and disc golf is the fact that it is common for disc golfers to start on a hole other than Hole #1. This is okay, but if you do ‘jump on’ in the middle of the course, take notice of the groups on the preceding hole(s). It is bad form to start on, say, hole 7 if there is a group putting out on hole 6. That group will suddenly have to wait behind a group that just jumped on, and that ain’t cool. If you do ‘jump on’ in the middle of the course, try to find a spot where you don’t interrupt another group’s flow.
  • If you feel compelled to share etiquette tips with others, make sure to pick your words and tone carefully. Most players are not ‘rude’ on purpose, but out of blissful ignorance. They don’t consciously plan to aggravate you. And they may be disc golfing for the first or second time ever, so try to enlighten them with a smile rather than scold them with a scowl.
  • If you see an errant disc disappear into the rough near you, from another hole, take the time to give the unfortunate thrower an idea of where to look for her/his disc
  • If you find an abandoned disc, attempt to reunite it with its owner. Ask the groups ahead of you if they left a disc behind, then either turn it in to Lost & Found or call the phone number on the bottom.
  • Some obvious ones: Pack ALL of your trash, including cigarette butts; pick up and remove your doggie’s doo
  • Speaking of dogs, keep your dog on a leash, and don’t bring a dog on the course at all if he/she is likely to bark uncontrollably or chase random discs

Within your own group (these are subjective, depending on what you and your playing partners find acceptable):

  • Stop moving and talking when another player reaches the teepad. He/she may not seem ready to throw, but everyone has their own pace and focus strategy and deserves silence and stillness when it’s their turn. Same goes for putts and to a lesser degree upshots, since you may be standing far apart in the middle of a long fairway.
  • Stay perceptively behind the disc of whoever is out (the player whose disc is furthest from the hole). This one is obvious, but also easy to violate.
  • Don’t talk about someone else’s game unless they bring it up.
  • Don’t talk about your game too much.
  • Don’t talk too much, period. Unless your regular group likes to talk nonstop, of course, in which case- gab away! But keep the volume at a level that doesn’t force other groups to listen to your banter.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m eager to hear feedback from others.