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.

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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  : )

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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!

Masters Cup 2009: Three Weeks Later

I didn’t bother to blog after my third and final Masters Cup round, because- let’s face it . . . who wants to write about how they saved their suckiest for last? The tournament itself was epic, however, and as a major contributor to the volunteer effort I found that rewarding even if my own performance was not.

After shooting +4 the first round and +2 the second round on the ultra-tough layout, I was tied for 8th out of 38 players. I figured a decent round on Sunday would help me climb a few notches, and that even third or fourth was within reach. Instead, my drives continued to be just a bit off-target, which at DeLa in the long layout usually means trouble. But being the optimist that I am, I have to say that simply by sticking to my gameplan I managed to grab the last cash spot in an NT event without being ‘On’ even once for the whole 84 holes. Consider these stats: Only four birdies, but no missed putts inside 30 feet, no double bogies or worse, and no mental errors where I decided to go for something with low odds. Basically, I was playing for par on everything, hoping to take the birdies when they presented themselves (which unfortunately was not often). I ended up with a +8 on the final day, dropped to 14th place, and didn’t feel much like writing about it until today. So let’s get to the good part!

This year’s Masters Cup was one of the best. We had a handful of aces when most years there aren’t any, including TWO in the lead group on the final day. Even though Nate Doss didn’t win again, he was right there until the end, and the winner, Greg Barsby, is another NorCal homeboy that’s been playing tourneys since he was a kid. Marty Hapner won the very tough Grandmasters division with a score that beat most of the Masters. The weather was as perfect as it was foul for the Am weekend, and the whole vibe just seemed in tune all three days. Plus, I get to play DeLa all year long. The Masters Cup is more like that thing I do once a year. But I’m sure I’d be writing something different if that third round was a -2 instead of a +8!