Book Review: The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf

Every week, thousands of people experience disc golf for the first time. (I have no reference for this, but it sounds about right, doesn’t it?) Whatever the actual figure, it’s growing quickly because a good number of those people fall in love with the sport. They continue to play, share their passion with others, and acquire a sudden desire to learn all they can about this wonderful thing that until recently didn’t exist for them.

Until recently, those seeking to quench this thirst in the literary world were let down in a big way, or worse, terribly misinformed. The handful of disc golf titles on the market claiming to provide ‘all you need to know’ about disc golf fell far short of the promise and likely reinforced the opinions of some that disc golf is not yet to be taken seriously.

The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf
The photo on the cover of The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf shows Paul McBeth demonstrating textbook sidearm form, which is explained in the third section of this textbook-like book.

The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf is indeed what it claims to be. The information it offers up is accurate, relevant to new players, and presented in the articulate language of a college textbook. The fact that the authors’ advanced degrees are listed along with their names (Justin Menickelli, Ph.D. and Ryan ‘Slim’ Pickens, M.A.) on the cover provide a good indication that this is the exact impression they wish to convey. In fact, I can see their book being used as the primary text for the growing number of disc golf courses on college campuses. The PDGA logo is also prominently displayed on the cover, but I could not divine the exact reason why.

The book is divided into three main parts, the first of which is titled ‘The Nature of the Game.’ It includes a section on choosing the best equipment, shoes, and clothing. Makes sense. But the rest of the chapter is mostly devoted to tournament play and PDGA membership, which I at first found odd considering a very large majority of all regular disc golfers never delve into formal competition. Then I realized that those who enjoy disc golf but consider it a fun, affordable thing to do once a week, and leave it at that, likely won’t be the ones reading this book. If you, like me, love disc golf enough to acquire The Definitive Guide, there is a good chance you will want to at least dabble in tournament play as well.

Other subjects covered in the Part I include the history of the game, course design, and an excellent treatment of rules and basic etiquette. Information that is useful for the here and now is blended well with interesting facts that will add depth to a new disc golfer’s appreciation for the game.

Part II is called The Science of the Game, and it ranges from 10 lessons on mental training to disc golf-specific exercises to a college level examination of the physics of disc golf flight. I mentioned that disc golf classes would use this book as a text, but it’s not a stretch to think that a creative physics professor might use it as well. Menickelli’s Ph.D. in Kinesiology is on display in this detailed discussion of vectors, form drag, surface drag, and dynamic fluid force. Those who can follow the explanation will end up with an excellent understanding and appreciation of the many factors affecting disc flight.

With diagrams such as these, this book will serve equally well as a text for college courses and physics.
With diagrams such as these, this book will serve equally well as a text for college courses and physics.

Part III is devoted to providing instructions on every type of grip, throw, putt, and shot known in the disc golf universe. As the owner of School of Disc Golf, I teach beginners and also coach tournament players, and I didn’t come across anything with which I disagreed or thought inaccurate. Superb photos and illustrations are used liberally, and there is so much information crammed into the short treatment allotted to each technique they act like the water competitive eaters gulp down with each bite, enabling the reader to digest beefy concepts.

In the preface, the authors state a goal of writing a book that would be ‘read cover to cover, and to provide readers with a helpful resource that warrants keeping a copy close by to reference.’ The wide range of material covered guarantees they’ll accomplish the second part of that goal, if not the first. I can confidently say that anyone who plays disc golf on a regular basis, or plans to, would do well to get themselves a copy of The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf. It’ll end up looking as used as the rule book in the side pocket of your bag. If only it would fit!

Wocket Golf Pants

Golfers need towels, sometimes almost constantly. And we usually need pants as well- or at least shorts. So it should come as no surprise that someone decided to save us all the small hassles of remembering the towel, and retrieving the towel, and stowing the towel, by combining them into one. If you also have trouble remembering your pants, you’ve got bigger issues.

Paul Dorn, the inventor of the Wocket(TM) golf pants, launched a Kickstarter campaign to promote his creation and fund early production runs. Support the campaign and you can be one of the first to get your hands on this most functional piece of golf apparel.Feature Image

When someone at Wocket Apparel contacted me asking me to help spread the word to disc golfers, the first thing that came to mind was the well-established fact that disc golfers like gadgets and paraphernalia related to their sport just as much as ball golfers. And towels are possibly more important to us than our stick-wielding progenitors. But I wondered how this golf-focused company arrived at the decision to reach out to disc golfers. So I sent the following three questions to Paul:

  1. How did you discover the growing disc golf market as a possible market for your product? As a kid, I used to play disc golf at Chastain Park, here in Atlanta.  I played ultimate frisbee in college.  And I’ve watched a group of guys grow old together while playing their self-made course through the park and woods in my neighborhood.  And my love for throwing discs is the same as it was when I was a kid.  So, you would think that making the connection between disc golf and Wocket™ would be a natural, but it wasn’t.  I discovered it using some Google Adwords tools.  It was like I needed to be hit in the head with a 200g disc.  When I saw “disc golf” in the search terms recommendations, I got really excited, because I understand the sport, have always enjoyed it and appreciate how much skill it requires.  So, it was kinda like running into an old friend.  I also had the realization that our pants, as they are now, would work really well for disc golf players.
  2. With golf slowly declining as a recreational sport and disc golf seeing strong growth, where do you see the two sports in 20 years? Well, I would hope that they would both continue to grow.  But, I don’t see golf growing much, unless they deal with the pace of play problem and make it more accessible to young people.  Golf has lost 5 million players in the last six years, while the pace of the average round has increased by one hour.  It’s just too long and unreasonable to play often.  Disc Golf, an equally challenging sport, is more affordable and accessible and doesn’t require a course, if you use your imagination.  So, I see disc golf growing steadily over the next 20 years.  At the moment, they are trending in opposite directions and I would expect that to continue, unless golf addresses its issues.
  3. Have you considered designing products with disc golf specifically in mind, in terms of fashion, utility, or both? Yes, after participating in a few disc golf discussion groups, we are looking into designing pants for the market.  Our current pants, shorts and skorts will work great, as is, and truly help disc golfers, but the cultures and styles are obviously different.  I am an avid golfer and am very passionate about the game, but culturally, I would probably fit in better with the disc community.  So, it would be fun and exciting to really tap into the mindset and specific needs of disc golfers’ play and experience.  We’d love to make disc golf specific pants and will continue to explore the opportunity and look to the community for insights and guidance, as we do so.  It’s a great sport.  And if the market is viable, we will make apparel to meet it.  In the meantime, we have launched and will continue through the summer and fall with very universal/casual-styled pants with performance fabrics and utility that will serve both types of avid shot shapers!

I believe the idea behind Wocket is a great one, and plan to review a pair when they become available. After checking out the site and looking at the various models or shorts, skorts, and pants, I think they look great as well. There are plenty of disc golfers who would proudly wear them. That being said, I really liked Paul’s answer to the last question and believe that a model or pants and shorts designed specifically for disc golfers would be a huge hit. Style-wise these might be a bit more casual. Function-wise, what would you like to see in addition to the towel? I’m sure Paul and co. would love to hear your ideas.

In the meantime, you can help them have a successful launch by supporting the Kickstarter campaign here:

 

UDisc now connects to The Cloud, takes the disc golf app to a whole new level

Before I heard about UDisc, I snickered whenever I saw people using their smartphones to score rounds of disc golf. I could not imagine taking time to enter scores on a phone after every hole. Fast forward a couple years, and I can’t imagine a world without UDisc- easily the top disc golf app, period. With (a good deal) more users than the PDGA has active members, UDisc leads the pack and as far as I know there is no close 2nd.

Many others besides me have realized that using a disc golf app while playing does not have to be as intrusive as it would seem. I love to collect data about my performance that I can pore over later in search of ways to get better, which is what UDisc lets me do. And now, with the latest release, UDisc has taken the principle of enhancing the game without intruding on it to new heights. The cloud capabilities let users get access to their data on all their devices, back it up in the cloud, and use that same cloud to share their data (and therefore their experiences) with others. I love the direction they’re headed, and see it as a tool to get more fun out of disc golf (who thought that was even possible?) It also makes the game more appealing to the growing number of people who actually like their web-enabled devices to be involved in everything they do.

You can view a video detailing the new UDisc (for iOS; the cloud version for Android will be out this Summer) at https://vimeo.com/121863731

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.

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 Golf Unchained video game coming soon- and you can help

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Someone announces the development of a breakthrough disc golf video game and claims it will be far better than the paltry offerings available today. Maybe they even forge a partnership with a major disc golf entity. Then either the excitement fades away as quickly as it sprouted up, or the game does get released but falls short of all the hype.

We’re hearing this once again, and this time I have a hunch it’ll turn out differently. And I can point to a few specific reasons why I feel this way.

Local Route Labs in the enclave of Madison, Wisconsin has announced its plans to release a disc golf video game for the Android and iOS platforms mid-year 2014. The company – which at this point consists of two avid disc golfers with full-time jobs outside of this project – launched a Kickstarter campaign that provides plenty of evidence of the work they’ve done thus far. It also leaves one with the impression that their game, Disc Golf Unchained, is definitely gonna happen.

For one thing, developing the game for Android and iOS first is a great decision. Far more people have access to devices on these platforms than the various consoles. And those who are not normally ‘gamers’ can easily make an exception by downloading the game to their phone or tablets in minutes.

When I asked co-founder Tyler Krucas why he and business partner Adam Heier decided to invest thousands of hours and a not insignificant amount of personal funds in a disc golf video game, he said it had to do with the “lack of disc golf video game options on the market,” adding that “the options that are currently out there also seem to leave something to be desired.”

Frankly, that is a familiar refrain from would-be developers and frustrated gamers alike. But then he began to expand on that answer, and the more I heard the more I became convinced that assuming it makes it to the market and is stable this will truly be a breakthrough game.

It wasn’t just the detailed shortcomings of previous disc golf games that Krucas recounted and pledged to address: taking the shortcut of building the flight engine on that of a ball golf game, producing flight not realistic for a flying disc; throwing disc golf as an add-on to a game that includes a collection of sports, more as a novelty than anything else.

Others have made similar claims before along the same general lines. But I hadn’t heard details like I do from Local Route Labs, and more importantly, seen proof of how they are addressing those details.

It became obvious pretty quickly that these guys are familiar with the nuances of disc golf. They understand the desire of advanced players to have a large selection of discs from which to choose that perform as they should. Disc golfers want to be able to throw backhand, forehand, and tomahawks, and they agree. They’re even trying to figure out how to add rollers! When you throw a big anhyzer with a stable disc the right way, they want you to be rewarded with a sweet S-turn.

As far as courses go, the plan is to have some real, familiar ones built in, and also some created just for the game located on terrain disc golfers dream of tackling. From the screenshots and video clips on the Kickstarter page both the foliage and the undulations of the playing surface look pretty good. And one feature they are particularly excited about is a built-in course engine and editor. “We think the inclusion of real world courses will be a big draw,”explains Krucas. “and allowing players to create their own based off their favorites will add another level of engagement. We definitely look forward to seeing what our users create with the Course Editor and hope to eventually make them available for everyone.”

If you’re someone who is into both video games and disc golf, are eager to see ‘real’ disc golf take another step in its inexorable climb to relevance as a sport of the future, or both, I encourage you to do two things:

  1. Check out their Kickstarter campaign. The funding period ends December 3rd and they provide participation options as low as $1 and opportunities for cool things like being able to sponsor a hole on a permanent course in the game- complete with signage.
  2. Spread the word through social media, and encourage your disc golf friends to do likewise. In particular, post on Facebook pages for disc golf clubs where the highest concentration of disc golfers will see it.

I’ll post on this game again with a full review when I’m able to test it out. If I had to bet, I’d say this game is gonna happen next year, and it’s gonna be good.

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.