The new DGA Mach X basket: How they differ from the Mach III, and what to do about it

The DGA Steady Ed Memorial Masters Cup starts tomorrow in Santa Cruz, CA, with the Amateur event this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the National Tour pro version in a couple weeks. This short post is for the benefit of all the participants of these events and any others on courses that have recently had DGA’s new Mach X (pronounced Mach ‘ten’) baskets installed.

Product photo of the Mach X from discgolf.com, DGA's website.
Product photo of the Mach X from discgolf.com, DGA’s website.

The baskets at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course, site of the Masters Cup, just got ‘upgraded’ from Mach III’s, and if you’re heading to DeLa to play in the Masters Cup you should know that the Mach X catches very differently than the Mach III. Disc Golf Association refers to it’s new product as a ‘game changer’, and after playing more than 150 holes with Mach X’s I have to agree. But my assessment is that the new innovations they’ve employed with the Mach X provide don’t result in a ‘game improver’, which would have been better.

One look at the Mach X will tell you all you need to know about what is better about the Mach X as compared to the Mach III. The ‘X-pattern’ inner row of added chains should eliminate putts that cut through the middle of the chains and spit out the back. And I’d think that all that added chain (40 strands in total now) will be much better at catching and holding hard putts and long distance shots (i.e. Ace Runs). Also, the deeper cage will certainly make it less likely that a disc bounces off the bottom of the cage once inside and slips out.

One of the newly-installed  DGA Mach X baskets at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA.
One of the newly-installed DGA Mach X baskets at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA.

No doubt those are all good things. But the design modifications have resulted in a few changes that are not entirely positive, and one that I think makes it less likely to catch soft putts.

As you can see in the photos, the outer chains hang noticeably further out than the chains of a Mach III. In fact, at the point where the chains are closest to the upper rim of the cage, there is a difference of several inches. I have observed this to effect incoming putts of several types.

First and foremost, putts that are dead center but low and soft often hit that outer chain which is now so close to the edge of the cage and push the disc back out. What is better for players with a line-drive putting technique is certainly worse for those who like to use more finesse. And those outer chains have another likely unintended effect as well.

When we’re talking about aiming at a basket, we will often use the term ‘strong side’ to describe the right side for a right-handed putter, with the left side being the weak side. This is because a right-hander’s putt will usually be hyzering at least a little to the left, toward the center of the basket in the case of a putt aimed at the ‘strong side’ and away from the basket on a putt headed for the ‘weak side’ of the chains. All other baskets are better at catching the disc that is headed toward the center pole than one headed away from it, but the Mach X is rather opposite. It catches weak side putts better than strong side putts. To me it appears that for a right-hander those outer chains push away discs trying to come in from the right, but provide an extended line of snaring chain for discs veering left.

So as you’re practicing your putting before your round tomorrow, watch closely and see if I’m not mistaken. The Mach X on the whole isn’t better or worse. But it is a game-changer.

Finally, on an aesthetic note, the Mach X is sadly lacking the ‘chain music’ that is so distinctive to a Mach III. I think it might be due to the fact that the Mach III has two rings at the bottom holding two different chains assemblies, while the Mach X only has one. But whatever the reason, a perfect putt no longer has that melodic sound. And also, I personally prefer the symmetric appearance of a Mach III over the tangled look of a Mach X, but that is a trifling compared to how it actually works.

I plan to ask as many Masters Cup competitors as possible for their opinions and write a follow up post, but if you’ve putt on the new Mach X, please post your thoughts in the comment section below.

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.

Round 1 in the books

DeLaveaga solidifies its position as the toughest course in the world per square foot with the first round results of the 2010 Masters Cup in Santa Cruz, CA. Even though the course is set at 26 holes, only nine players out of 84 finished under par. Defending champ Greh-GORY Barsby leads with a 1058-rated six under, followed by Matt Orum at -5 and Nate “Bobby” Doss at -3.

The Master Cup has by far the shortest average hole distance on the PDGA National Tour, but makes up for it with strategic tree placement, elevation change, and rock-hard, root-strewn greens placed close to all kinds of disaster. DeLaveaga may not have water hazards, but the two meter tree OB rule is in effect and there is all kinds of trouble waiting for discs that stray even slightly from their intended paths. A strong but intermittent wind only made things tougher to predict.

A few random observations:

  • another sign of the course playing tough for everyone- The Champ, Ken Climo, is at even par, and he has as good a chance to win at this point as ever
  • Sixteen 1000-rated players shot over par in the first round
  • Dave Feldberg shot -1 in the first round, but it was good enough for a tie for ninth place, his best position ever after the first round in the Master Cup
  • Only one Grandmaster is under par, leader Scott Riley, and I gave him a ride from the outer parking area this morning. Who will I pick up tomorrow?

DeLa in all its finery

Another of those times to celebrate the differences between ball golf and disc golf.

The PDGA National Tour rolls into town this week for the Masters Cup, an event hosted by the DeLa Disc Golf Club for the past 25 years. Even though the course will be set at 26 holes for the event – holes 20-22 will be skipped – all the holes (and I mean ALL the holes) are in play right now. Hole 17 is in play, as are 8a and 26a, making 29 total.

Multitudes of volunteers and workers paid by the city have been busy mowing and weed-whacking the fairways and greens, and the course looks . . . . marvelous. It looks, even to the untrained eye, like a golf course. I even saw a rather larger bobcat stalking prey in the suddenly exposed short grass after the mowing.

What’s more, each hole is in the longest, most difficult position possible. 23 has a new, longer blind location. 25 is in its new super-uphill position, and 26a is from the new long tee to the old long basket position, a par four posing as a par three.

By my own personal gauge (at this point more what the average joe can do, not a touring pro), only eight of the 29 present a legitimate chance for birdie (can you guess which eight?).

So if you love being challenged to make par hole after hole, the course is like an epic set of waves right now, 15 feet over head. Here’s where disc golf transcends it’s ancestor: since disc golf is still flying under the radar for the most part, anyone can drive there, pay a couple bucks to park in the lot (or park for free and walk 10 minutes to the first hole) and start playing on pretty much whatever hole he, she or they want.

Try doing that on any ball golf course- much less one where a PGA event is coming up!

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!

Masters Cup 2009: after 56 holes

First of all, we’re down to the last 28 holes. One more round, and so far no aspect of the tourney has been a disappointment. The weather continues to warm (if anything it’s been too warm), with wind a non-factor today. The course – despite the gorgeous conditions – isn’t giving up outrageously low scores (less than 20 percent of the Open division is under par). And the final round features a top group of Greg Barsby, Nate Doss, Nikko Locastro, and Ken Climo, all either -12 or -11. Within striking distance are Josh Anton, Kyle Crabtree, Stevie Rico, John Child, and Dave Feldberg.

I’t be great to see Nate Finally win on the course where he grew up, but more than anything I’m looking forward to a close finish no matter who wins. Now on to what really matters. Me! : )
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I’m at +6, tied for 8th in the Masters division (35 players), 12 strokes outta the lead.

I can play better, but with only three birdies and nine single bogeys I’m at least sticking to the gameplan and not giving strokes away. Not too many, anyway. What’s hurt me more than anything else is not birdying the three shorts holes on the course (8a, 17, and 21) except for one on 21. But all in all, considering the game I’ve showed up with Friday and Today, +6 ain’t too bad. I’ve hit every putt inside 30 feet except one, so now all I have to do is get a few of those looks for birdie rather than par! Now it’s time for a hot tub, another beer, sleep . . . then 28 more holes.

Masters Cup 2009:

The pro Masters Cup starts tomorrow, and I feel like I have two persona’s this year. While I’ve played in the event for many, many years, this is the first year I’ve been involved in running it in a major way. After all this time, and finally seeing what’s involved in pulling off a major tournament like the Masters Cup, I felt guilty.

For those that don’t know, some serious volunteer hours get put in to pull off an event that spans two 3-day weekends and includes more than 300 players. Unlike other courses, we get no assistance from the city or county when it comes to course maintenance, so all those lumpy hillsides that get mowed and weed-whacked are mowed and weed-whacked by volunteer disc golfers! Add to that the coordination with sponsors and the PDGA, communication to players, assembly of the players packs . . . . . I could go on and on, but you get the picture. People like Daviar, Stan Pratt, Marty Hapner, Katie Beckett, the guys at DGA . . . they deserve tons of credit.

Anyway, it makes this year feel different than years past. But it’s Thursday night, and my volunteer work should be done now. From now until my last putt on Sunday, I’m just another competitor. And like all the past years, I have a strategy to get my best game to show up for three straight 4.5 hour rounds on three straight days. Here it is, in a nutshell:

  1. As always, focus on nothing but what it takes to execute the next shot. All the other stuff – the score, the magintude of the event, what the other guys are doing – only detracts from the shot at hand.
  2. Stick to my gameplan of settling for par on most holes, picking up birdies where they present themselves. No matter how things start, or what unforseen disasters occur, I’ll stick to the plan. Last year I was cold for three straight rounds, and by sticking to the plan I still cashed.
  3. Treat my old bones with care. Ice the arm right after the round, soak in the hot tub Friday and Saturday nights, limit the alcohol, and get enough sleep.

We’ll see how it goes, but the key is #1 above. I play my best when I’m totally absorbed in the moment, in the shot. I need to play disc golf in a vaccuum.