Back to Bloggin’

As George ‘Frolf’ Costanza once famously said, “I’m back baby, I’m back!”

Tell all your content-hungry disc golf pals who (in addition to playing and watching) read about the sport whenever they can that the School of Disc Golf is back to posting a mixture of disc golf content- not just the instructional stuff tied to our core business.

You’ll once again also be seeing current disc golf news from around the world, with a focus on stories about the sport’s growth around the world. Like this story from Bay County, MI. Check out this awesome quote from director of recreation and facilities Cristen Gignac:

“One of the big parts of this grant is we do public input,” she said, adding during the month of September they had a survey that went out to the community. “There was a lot of interest in disc golf, you’ll see that as a priority in a handful of different places.”

Stories like this are popping up everywhere, and I love to share them. Add in occasional commentary provided by yours truly, Jack Tupp (aka Frisbeebrain), and you’ll see a good mix of disc golf content- much of which you won’t get anywhere else. Use the ‘Subscribe’ link at right to make sure the good stuff hits your email inbox before the metaphorical ink is dry.

A little about the history of this blog:

Back in 2008, I decided to launch one of the sport’s first blogs, DeLa Blahg then went on to write (along with PDGA’s Steve Hill) for Rattling Chains, and after that All Things Disc Golf- both also excellent pioneering Disc Golf Blogs. Since then I launched the School of Disc Golf to offer lessons and teambuilding events and published two books. Three Paths to Better Disc Golf offers multiple tips to help you shoot lower scores, while The Disc Golf Revolution aims to help you share the sport – in all its important glory – with the outside world.

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You’ll also see examples of my personal disc golf-themed smartphone captures, like this recent one from Hole 13 at my home course, DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA.

Enough about me, right? Everyone is encouraged to post comments, and send me questions, ideas of topics to cover, and story links. If you want to peruse past posts for ideas, just use the search box. Let’s talk some disc golf!

Finally, a teaser for what’s up next: I’ll be sharing a completely fresh take on whether baskets should be smaller/more challenging on the pro tour. Stay tuned!

“Okay, everybody take a knee!” (and putt)

The DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club is hosting a 145-player C-tier event in December called the Faultline Charity Pro-Am. The tournament director, your truly, wanted to include a nice, unique prize for the person in each division that carded the fewest bogey strokes and opted for a great new disc golf product called a Sew Fly, made by a company of the same name.

Sew, er, I mean, so what is a Sew Fly? It’s a round pillow of sorts that is made of tough, waterproof material on the outside, but filled with plenty of soft padding on the inside. It’s primary purpose is to serve as a knee pad to keep pants clean and knees protected, but the Sew Fly also flies remarkably well and is perfect for a game of catch.

All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are 'Small' Fly's with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.
All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are ‘Small’ Fly’s with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.

Much like the Sew Fly, this post will serve double duty as both a product review and instructional post. I set out to put the Sew Fly through its paces against a very wet and muddy DeLaveaga, and it occurred to me that I’ve never dedicated a post to the benefits of getting in a lower throwing position when the situation calls for it. More on that shortly.

When my Sew Flys arrived in the mail, I naturally tested the flight characteristics. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I tried it out by playing catch with one of my kids in the house. The verdict: these things can really fly! The design provides a decent amount of float and glide, and hyzers and anhyzers can be crafted as with any other flying disc. The larger Sew Fly flies the best, not unlike a golf disc compared to a mini. They’re soft and light enough to not dent, scratch or smash, but they are heavy enough to send knick-knacks scattering or knock over a glass of grape juice. No that didn’t happen to us, but as my wife anxiously pointed out, it could have.

Next up was the test of it’s more utilitarian function of disc golf knee pad.

Once again the Sew Fly performed the job admirably. The padding is more than adequate to absorb whatever it’s sitting on top of, and the bottom is made of an extra tough material that seems like it will hold up for a long time without tearing. Also, there is no way moisture is penetrating the bottom much less reaching the player’s knee. It does everything you’d want a knee pad to do.

I was pretty excited when I heard about the Sew Fly because I throw from one or both knees, my butt, and on rare occasions my back whenever a lower release point can help me execute a shot. I sometimes put a towel down to kneel on, but usually don’t bother- especially when the course is dry. As a result I’ve suffered painful jabs from rocks and sticks many times. I plan to use my Sew Fly all the time now.

Let’s talk about why I feel so strongly about getting down and dirty (and I don’t have to get dirty now!) on the course.

Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.
Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.

The difference in a typical release point when kneeling is about a foot or so compared to a normal stance. Those 12  inches certainly make a big difference when trying to hit a low gap right in front of you, which is the scenario under which most players throw from a knee. But I’ll get down and dirty pretty much any time I’m faced with a low ceiling, because the lower release point allows me to get more air under the shot and therefore throw it harder with a lower risk of hitting the ceiling. By throwing from lower, my angle of attack is much more comfortable. Those 12 inches make a bigger difference the longer the required shot is.

One of the best examples of this advantage is when I’m throwing a low skip shot to get under continuous low foliage (branches and such). If I throw standing up, the disc is flying downward toward the ground, and energy is wasted when it hits from that downward angle. If I throw from a knee, the disc can truly skip and lose hardly any momentum, like a stone skimming and skipping across water.

The same principle applies when throwing an air shot. The lower release point and flat or even upward trajectory in essence buys me more room for the disc to fly. This in turn allows me to get more touch on a shot, preventing those ‘blow-bys’ that result from throwing the disc too hard when trying to clear a low gap.

Two thing to remember when throwing from a knee or two knees, or a sitting or kneeling position: Find a way to re-establish your center of gravity so you can maintain your balance; and try to get a good, solid foundation. The two really go hand-in-hand. When throwing from one knee, what you do with the other leg matters quite a bit. If your off-foot is behind your marker there isn’t much to think about, but if you are kneeling directly behind your marker it usually works best to splay your other leg behind you on the same line as your intended throw or kneel with both knees. The advantage of the two-knee approach is a superior, sturdy foundation, but doing so will likely limit power a little. Therefore it works best on shorter shots.

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Sometimes I need to get even lower than on my knees, and I’ll actually sit behind my mini. In most cases I’ll sit indian style as it solves the issue of what to do with my legs and gives me a very solid foundation. The larger Sew Fly is (for me) just big enough to sit on without contacting the ground.

My overall assessment of the Sew Fly is that it works great as both a kneepad and a catch disc. I personally prefer the smaller one for use on the course as it’s easier to store, but the larger one is better for playing catch. The small one flies fine too, but is harder to catch. These make great gifts for the disc golfer that already has everything disc golf-related. Check out all the ways they can be customized at http://www.sewflyoriginals.com/

Playing Disc Golf like a Machine. A well-oiled machine.

If I tell you to play disc golf like a well-oiled machine, and leave it at that, it would be no more useful than saying ‘It’s beneficial to execute all your shots on a consistent basis’. Thanks a bunch, Captain Obvious!

Thankfully, for the purposes of this post I’ve come up with something a little better than that. My goal is to use the term in a different way in hopes that a couple concepts stick in your brain like a spike hyzer landing in soft, wet grass.

(Slight digression- feel free to skim past) Experience has shown me that being an effective disc golf instructor has two distinct components. First of all, of course, the techniques and concepts I communicate need to be valid and hopefully sometimes new and insightful. But equally important is the communication itself.

Excelling at a sport is no guarantee that a person will be any good at teaching that sport to others, even if that person has a good understanding of why he or she excels. If you can’t explain it to others in a way they can understand and internalize, you won’t have much success as a teacher. Part of this is a basic ability to communicate clearly- having a good vocabulary that can be adapted to a variety of different audiences. And then there is the careful selection and use of well-known (or sometimes original) metaphors, similes and sayings that will resonate and penetrate people’s long-term memory. Like a spike hyzer (or the use of the imagery of a spike hyzer, for all you literary buffs). And now on with the actual concepts I want to share- of which there are actually two.

You are a disc golf machine

The title of this post (Playing Disc Golf like a Machine-A well-oiled machine) offers a hint to the fact that the whole ‘well-oiled machine’ phrase can actually be co-opted to convey two distinct disc golf tips. We’ll first just tackle the idea of playing disc golf like a machine.

The idea here is not so much playing like a machine as it is focusing only on the shot you’re about to attempt in an automaton-like way. In other words, once you’ve decided what to do think only about the mechanics of your throw, not what’s at stake, or what might happen if you miss. In ball golf they refer to these thoughts about mechanics as ‘swing thoughts’ – the specific keys to proper form that you’ve found give you good results. For instance, when driving backhand remembering to rotate hips and shoulders, or when throwing sidearm to keep the wrist from turning over.

Ken Climo is the closest thing to a machine the sport of Disc Golf has ever seen. His unparalleled resume is matched only by his ability to focus only on the shot before him.
Ken Climo is the closest thing to a machine the sport of Disc Golf has ever seen. His unparalleled resume is matched only by his ability to focus only on the shot before him.

Another way to explain it is to use the stereotype of the science fiction robot. Superior intelligence untainted by emotions. I know some players think they can elevate their games by getting pumped up, or mad at themselves, but in golf this is rarely the case. For every time that guy runs off a string of good holes after throwing a fit over a missed putt, there are four or five times when his tantrum has the opposite effect.

Now picture a graph with a baseline that is ’emotional zero’. The goal should be what on an EKG machine would be called ‘flat-lining’. Not good at all on an actual EKG, but the ideal state for competing in a game like golf. (Side-note: notice I wrote ‘competing in’ just now rather than ‘playing’. This advice applies to situations where your score is the most important thing. If your only objective for the day is fun, then of course letting the emotions spike upward into the manic happy zone is encouraged.)

However, if you are focusing on score then flat-lining is what you want. Remember that a robot (a machine) is devoid of ALL emotion, not just anger or despair. Elation and excitement distract a player from focusing on good decision-making and mechanics just as much as negative emotions. (For more on this, check out this post from the past on controlling emotions. But finish reading this one first!)

Every machine is designed to perform a particular function, and that function is all it knows. We are not machines, of course, but our best and most consistent performance is realized when we can emulate them as closely as possible. Our thoughts during a round should always be related to performing the functions of a disc golf machine- specifically the next task in the queue: the next shot.

Since we’re not robots but complicated tangles of among other things hopes, fears, anxieties and excitements, we’ve no chance at succeeding at this 100 percent of the time. But being aware of when our thoughts stray outside that little box and shoving them back inside is the next best thing.

Getting back to the robot analogy, it occurs to me that when we talk of machines being able to think for themselves the term used is ‘artificial intelligence’. For the purposes of being a disc golf machine, then, staying locked onto our sole purpose of executing the next shot would show the opposite of that- or real intelligence. Right?

Well-oiled

Now that the ‘play like a machine’ concept is established, let’s examine the ‘well-oiled’ part. No, I’m not talking about the use of sunscreen, although that’s always prudent. And I’m definitely not referring to being ‘lubricated’ by pumping alcohol in the bloodstream.

This bit of common wisdom (which is applicable to all active sports that require fine motor skills) is an important caveat to the discussion above. Yes, by all means, play like a machine. But while focusing on those mechanics, make sure your form isn’t too mechanical. KnowwhatImean?

Terms like ‘smooth’, ‘fluid’, ‘loose’ and even ‘relaxed’ are all used in relation to this concept. Smooth as opposed to hurky-jerky. Loose rather than tight. Relaxed instead of anxious and nervous. And fluid, well, fluid more than the others is directly analogous to the imagery of a well-oiled machine. Picture water flowing downhill and conforming to the terrain, compared to rocks tumbling down that same hill.

Smooth follow-through and good balance are good indicators that you're playing like a well-oiled machine.
Smooth follow-through and good balance are good indicators that you’re playing like a well-oiled machine.

One final example would be the most obvious- the way motor oil keeps the piston in your car’s engine firing smoothly, rather than seizing up and causing you to . . .  shank your drive!

That’s my subtle way to bring the discussion back to disc golf.

So how do you make sure you play like a machine on one hand, but also stay loose, relaxed and fluid on the other? Well, first of all keep in mind that ‘play like a machine’ refers mostly to your mindset and ability to focus only on the things that enable to properly execute the shot, while the ‘well-oiled’ reference is a reminder to stay loose and relaxed at all times. They’re really two separate bits of advice that go together in a yin/yang kind of way.

When your mind gets too cluttered with all the things that go into good shot planning and execution (not to mention all the extraneous stuff a ‘machine’ would never factor in), it can create tension in your body in a very surreptitious kind of way. You might not feel it until it’s too late. Therefore preventative measures are often in order. Maybe you just perform a little last-second checkup to see if you’re feeling tight or loose- or just assume that a certain amount of tightness will always creep in and takes steps to prevent it. Ever see someone take a deep breath before every putt? Sure you have! That’s exactly what they’re doing. Flushing out the tension and letting the natural fluidity flow back in.

So there you have it. Play disc golf like a machine programmed for that singular purpose, eliminating everything else from your thought process. But don’t let that turn you into a Wizard of Oz Tin Man in need of an oil can. Loosen up and have fun!

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.

All things disc golf. Dot com.

This website serves as the home of School of Disc Golf, a disc golf instruction and event organization based in Santa Cruz, CA. To the broader disc golfer community we’d like to think that we’re also a good source of instructional and opinion posts. As stated in our mission statement, School of Disc Golf “strives to provide the  information and resources necessary for organizations and individuals to embrace the sport of disc golf in healthy and meaningful ways. Our ultimate goal is to inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf.”

We seek to reach the largest audience possible, and to that end have in the past also published posts at RattlingChains.com. The partnership has worked well for both sites, but in keeping with our mission statement (‘inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf’), we’ve decided that change is in order. We thank RattlingChains for a great run together and wish them nothing but the best in the future.

Moving forward, School of Disc Golf posts will appear at the rapidly expanding All Things Disc Golf. This site is the undisputed leading disc golf blog in terms of page views and unique visitors, and until now its content has consisted mainly of product reviews and Q&A interviews. The new affiliation of School of Disc Golf is only one facet of All Things Disc Golf’s expansion that will add instructional content, feature stories, increased tournament coverage, and contributions from several talented graphic artists. You can read the detailed announcement here.

We’re excited to be part of a larger effort to reach the masses with the great story that is disc golf, and as always School of Disc Golf will continue to also focus on helping those who already love the sport improve their skills, scores and enjoyment.

Disc golf lingo: many groups even have their own dialect

In a recent round at DeLa, I paused briefly to tell my friend that his last throw had tons of ‘E.V.’, but I held the comment for later when we noticed that a large group of marauders was quickly gaining on us. So naturally we . . . . what’s that? Not exactly following my meaning?

Don’t worry, you’re not behind on the latest disc golf lingo- at least not yet.

Most of those reading this are well acquainted with the fact that while disc golf borrows a great deal of terminology from its stick-and-ball ancestor (par, birdie, drive, putt, etc.), the sport has a lexicon all its own as well. Words like hyzer, anhyzer and thumber, and terms like ‘chain music’ and ‘high tech roller’ mean nothing outside of disc golf (or at least disc sports). And words like ‘chunder’ and ‘shule’ – while they can be found in a standard dictionary – have very different applications in the world where golf meets flying disc.

These words and phrases serve as an instant bond between people who might otherwise have zero in common. Picture, for instance, a 55-year old clean-cut professional type visiting a course he’s never played before during some free time on a business trip. As he arrives at the teepad of a blind hole he encounters a couple long-haired, dreadlocked, hemp-wearing locals. The locals offer to let him play through, and the traveler asks them where the basket is located. One of them replies “If you throw a big anhyzer over those trees on the left and can get it to ‘S’ out at the end, you’ll be putting for birdie.”

Different as they might appear and even be, in respect to the other aspects of their lives, the visitor and the locals understand each other perfectly well on the disc golf course. We’re all members of a subculture that while steadily growing is still far from the mainstream, and our lexicon of unique terminology is one of the true identifying marks about which those not yet part of the clan remain completely ignorant.

But even with subcultures there are smaller micro cultures. For instance, I had played for years before I knew that those in the Midwest (and other regions, for all I know) refer to thick disc golf rough as ‘schule’. Where did that word come from? Who cares?! Shule is cool! (unless you’re stuck in it)

And recognizing that there are regional idiosyncrasies in disc golf is merely the tip of the iceberg. A sport with endless options for creativity and amazement that also happens to still be commercially decentralized is bound to foster new and unique terms in every tiny enclave where it is played. And so it has been- in my circle, anyway (and therefore, I assume, in others). Despite what my mother always tells me, I’m not that special.

I’m hoping that the rest of this post will generate lots of comments as readers write in sharing disc golf terminology unique to their regular group or at least their local course. Here are a few that have become commonplace between myself and a few guys with whom I regularly play.

E.V. stands for Entertainment Value, and we use the acronym to describe a shot that was highly entertaining to watch- whether it was successful or not. A technical spike hyzer from 100 feet out that passes surgically between crowded trees exactly as planned before slamming to the ground right past the basket would have EV value, even if it rolled away afterward.

Marauders are not hoards or barbarians bent on ripping out baskets and melting them down for weapons. Nothing as dramatic as that. They don’t even necessarily appear in large groups, although that is most often the case. Rather, marauders on a disc golf course are those who seemingly have no concept of the written nor unwritten rules of golf. It’s not that they’re rude. They just don’t know the rules or don’t care to play the game that way. They don’t both to take a legal stance (anywhere within five feet seems to be okay- especially if there is a tree or bush in the way), and they don’t take turns to throw. Instead there is a general continuous advancement with discs flying simultaneously and close calls galore. To players who are ahead of them, taking the game more seriously, marauders seem like a swarm of locusts swiftly approaching. Hmmm, locusts. Maybe that’s a good synonym for marauders!

When you’re stuck behind a bush, consider yourself foliated (as in, blocked by foliage). When you’re stuck deep inside a bush, with more bushes and trees all around you, consider yourself extremely foliated. It’s an easy, one-word way to explain to your buddy why you weren’t able to get more than 30 feet out of the rough. “Dude, I was completely foliated.” Note: This term only applies when the foliage is close enough to your lie to make it difficult to even get your throw off cleanly. You can’t claim ‘foliation’ just because there are hundreds of trees and or bushes blocking your line.

As I go through my list here and type out definitions for these words and phrases, it occurs to me that more than one of them are novel terms for classic golf excuses. A good example is fickle factor, or for those who prefer saltier language, fickle f#% factor. My favorite application is when a player has a shot that is wide open and uncomplicated except for a lone twig that appears to be as light and thin as a pipecleaner- and somehow that twig stops his disc dead in its tracks. A more objective view might be that he should have seen that twig and avoided it, but instead he assigns the blame to the ‘fickle factor’.

We also have other ‘factors’, my favorite of which is alternatively referred to as Chutzpah Factor or Scrotal Factor. It is usually referenced in regards to a shot taken that was difficult and might easily have had disastrous results. A more common way of expressing this sentiment would be to say that the shot took ‘big cajones’. Scrotal factor is the scale that determines exact how much cajones the shot required.

Having to reach through several limbs and branches to execute his shot, this player has a legitimate claim to being 'foliated'. Since the green behind slopes sharply downhill, if he goes for the basket the shot will have a high 'scrotal factor'. Photo by Asaf.
Having to reach through several limbs and branches to execute his shot, this player has a legitimate claim to being ‘foliated’. Since the green behind slopes sharply downhill, if he goes for the basket the shot will have a high ‘scrotal factor’. Photo by Asaf.

Another category not to be overlooked relates to good-natured gamesmanship between frequent competitors. For instance, my friend Alan often likes to put extra pressure on me before putts (and I occasionally return the favor). He uses reverse psychology at select times by asserting that putts inside the 10-meter circle are in the ‘Jack Zone’, meaning they are automatic for me. I assure you, they are not.

My similar weapon is not reverse psychology but the sadistic reminder of his lifelong struggle with short putts. He deals with this struggle by using a flip putt when close to the basket, but there is always a gray area when he has trouble deciding whether a putt is too long to flip. I sometimes refer to that gray area – usually for him between 15 and 20 feet out, depending on wind direction – as the Alan Belt. If I’m playing doubles against him, I might say to my partner (loud enough for Alan to overhear), “Oooh. That one is right in the Alan Zone.”

A flip putt is attempted from the edge of the Alan Belt. Photo by Jack Trageser
A flip putt is attempted from the edge of the Alan Belt. Photo by Jack Trageser

Another one to mention quickly is Allenfreude. I won’t go into detail on it here, but it is related to the famous German word schadenfreude. Follow the link to a previous blog post for a description. I’m sure others can relate.

As a reminder, this is the kind of teasing that is appropriate among friends only- and we have an understanding that these types of mind games are only to be used when defeat appears imminent. Don’t try this with the thick-necked guy on your course with a temper and a short fuse.

So my question to you, the reader, is which of these terms do you identify with the most? Better yet, share some of your own, with a description of how and when they are used. Language is a big part of any shared experienced, and few subcultures have a richer lexicon than the disc golf community. Let’s add to it!

Part 2: Two univeral truths and 7.5 tips to help you improve your putting game

If you haven’t already read the first 3.5 tips (and two universal truths) presented in this two-part post on improving disc golf putting from the neck up, click here now and read Part One before you read this one. Then click the link at the bottom of that post to come back here!

4. Follow Through. Really, really follow through! Think about all the pictures you’ve seen of pro players having just released a putt. I guarantee that most of them will show a player with his or her arm extended almost perfect straight, and with all fingers and even thumb rigid and reaching out toward the target.

Team DGA captain Jon Baldwin demonstrates perfect follow-through. Note how his arm and even fingers all point straight toward the target. Photo by Mark Stiles.

Follow-through is an important aspect of mechanics is many different sports, especially those that include throwing a disc or ball. The benefit is two-fold: the best way to ensure consistent aim is to extend toward your target in an exaggerated fashion, and doing so will add a smoothness and extra bit of momentum that increases power and speed just enough to make a difference. I’ve had too many putts to count barely go in where I noticed as I brought the disc forward that my grip was a little off or I wasn’t providing enough speed, and compensated by following through as strongly as I could.

This might be tough to do right away as it requires developing muscles in a different way. But this short video tutorial demonstrates an exercise that will help you understand the concept as well as develop the form.

5. The formula for balancing commitment and confidence with intelligent game management. A big part of good putting is making a decision, then committing fully to that decision. But that doesn’t have to be a black-or-white, all or nothing equation. Think of it more like a sliding scale- or rather two sliding scales. On the first one you’ve got the difficulty of the putt itself: how long is it? What’s the wind doing? What obstacles do you have to navigate past? The second one measures the possible negative outcomes that may result if you miss the putt. Roll-aways are one of the most common of these, along with OB near the basket, and obstacles that might impede your comeback putt.

Players who simply decide to go for it or not lose strokes by not adjusting their approach in a more granular fashion. If you assess your odds of making an 80-foot putt at only 40 percent, but it’s a pretty flat, grassy field, you should be able to make some kind of run at the basket provided you throw the disc on an arc so it’s falling downward and sideways as it approaches the target. On the other hand, if you think you think your odds of hitting a 35-footer with a lake five feet from the basket are 60 percent, you’re taking a pretty big risk going for it rather than laying up.

I’m not a math person (far, far from it) but I’m certain that there are some advanced calculations going on behind the curtain in my head as I assess shots. I imagine they’d look something like this written out:

Where X is the probability of making and putt, and Y represents the odds of a miss resulting in taking an extra stroke or more, then X + Y = a ratio that tells me how much weight will be given to trying to make the putt versus making sure I can hit the comeback putt. For purposes of illustration, this ratio will be a scale between 0-100, with 100 being the most aggressive, go for it putt and zero being a complete layup.

If I have a downhill 40 foot putt on a windy day with hole 7 at DeLa in the long position, my equation would be something like .50X + .60Y = a go for it/play safe ratio of zero on the 1-100 scale. In other words, in that case I deemed the odds of something bad happening to high to go for a putt that I only had a 50/50 chance of making.

(remember I said I’m not a math guy, so don’t go telling me that .50 + .60 = 1.1. This isn’t real math.)

Another example: I’m at hole 6 at DeLa, 25 feet from the basket, which is in the long pin position right next to an OB road. I estimate my X value to be .85, and the Y value is .70 since missed putts here seem to end up in the road more often than not. What this results in is a putt where I go for it (since I’m very confident that I can make it), but with lots of touch and loft so if I don’t get it in it’ll have a good chance of staying safe. A go-for-it/play safe ratio of 76.

6. Use – but don’t abuse – those chains. Assuming you’re playing on a course with baskets, there is a specific firmness of a throw or putt that will give your disc the best chance of ending up in the basket. And just like the Three Bears’ beds to Goldilocks, it’s not too hard, or too soft, but just right.

Steady Ed Headrick designed the original Pole Hole to absorb the momentum of a flying disc. However, throws that are too weak or too hard have less chance of letting the chains do their job.

Steady Ed designed the chains in his Pole Hole to ‘catch’ the disc- in essence to arrest the momentum of the disc then drop it into the cage. There is a specific optimal firmness or speed of a putt where the chains perform this function the best. It’s hard to describe this exact optimal firmness, but when thinking about it now I think one of the best ways is through the sound the chains make when a perfect putt hits them and falls in. It’s full and musical, with a slightly delayed a smaller sound as the disc drops down into the cage. Putts that are too hard sound more violent, like loud cymbals, and putts that are too soft remind me of a bowling ball hitting only three pins.

The other reason to develop a putt with ‘just right’ firmness lends itself to a more visual description. The chain assembly of a basket is designed for the thrower to aim at the pole in the middle. If you’re thinking more about ‘tossing the disc into the basket cage you’re ignoring this design intention and also likely throwing a disc that approaches the basket falling away at a bad angle. Putts like this – even decently aimed ones – can tend to glance off outer chains and slide out to the weak side.

Conversely, putts that are too hard can penalize the thrower in a couple different ways. As the chains are only designed to reliably catch discs thrown up to a certain speed, harder putts tend to ricochet more violently and have a great chance to either bounce right out or blast right through before they can be ensnared. This can even happen to hard putts that are perfectly aimed. And of course a hard, line drive putt that completely misses the basket with end up further away.

7. Learn your range. This tip is more of a game management tip for those playing in a format where score is important. Also, it could be considered 5.5 as it really is a building block for employing Tip 5.

You are hopefully getting a little better the more you play and practice, but at any given moment in time you have a very specific range- or as described in Tip 5 the probability of making a putt. The key here is to be in tune with your range and base shot decisions on that range rather than your desire, or what you wish your range was. It’s situations just like this for which the term ‘wishful thinking’ was coined.

Humans, being emotional creatures, can easily let emotions and ego factor into decisions that really should be made in a completely Dr. Spock-like, logic-based manner. Knowing your range is all about boiling down putting decisions to nothing but a cold, detached assessment of your own capabilities. Not as easy done as said, I know.

And to make it even harder, our range is subject to wide variances from round-to-round or even hole-to-hole. Sometimes I’ll realize a few holes into a round that for whatever reason my putting game is just not there yet. Or maybe I realize that my back is a little stiff and it’s affecting my form. So on a putt I may usually go for aggressively, I’ll take also take these temporary factors into consideration and just lay it up.

Knowing your range means being realistic about where your general putting game is and making decisions accordingly, but it’s also about being in tune with the minor variables that pop up in the moment and adjusting to those accordingly as well.

Women’s disc golf clinics attract wide range participants, create young fans

If I had known it would be the subject of an article, I’d have approached this event much differently. We think and act much differently when we’re wearing our journalist hats (you know, the fedoras with ‘Press’ taped on the side). But I was just really excited that my wife and daughters had not only agreed to but were even looking forward to a disc golf clinic. At least – being in Dad Mode – I was quick to snap lots of pictures.

The event was a women’s disc golf clinic put on by Prodigy Disc team members Sarah Hokom and Paige Pierce in Santa Cruz, three days before the Masters Cup National Tour Event. The excitement came from the fact that I’ve waited for a long time for them to show interest in my favorite sport/activity/hobby/obsession. My wife used to play with me many years ago, before the kids came along, but it was always more about wanting to share something I loved. The kids have played a few times, but hadn’t gotten hooked into disc golf as of yet.

The clinic was scheduled for 5 PM, and as it happened it was particularly windy (and cold) for Santa Cruz in April. As a disc golf instructor, I can assure you that these are not ideal conditions for teaching or learning the basics of flying disc sports. We arrived a little before 5 PM, and aside from one lady were the first on the scene. Slipping into my journalist mode (it happens subconsciously- or maybe I’m just curious/chatty) I asked her about what brought her there. She told me she was from San Francisco (a 1-2 hour drive, depending on traffic) and had played a week earlier in the Amateur Masters Cup event. The clinic was promoted during that week and during the Daisy Chains Women’s tourney in Santa Cruz County the week between the Am and Pro Masters Cup weekends. Clearly this clinic had been well-planned.

I caught up with Sarah Hokom when she was already in Georgia for the Hall of Fame Classic on the PDGA HQ grounds, and asked her a few questions. She was understandably busy during the clinic, and as I mentioned already, I was more focused on watching my wife and kids. According to Hokom, the clinic was the fourth she and Pierce had conducted that year, with “at least a dozen” more planned to take place. She said that so far she has seen 10-15 participants at each event, and the number correlated to the level of local promotion. I didn’t count, but I thought I saw somewhere between 15 and 20.

Pierce and Hokom set up a table with some Prodigy discs and shirts, and asked each participant to fill out a short form with contact info and a short questionnaire. Hokom  – a former high school teacher – said she’s working on a survey for more formal feedback, “but so far, many of the attendees have reached out to me with positive responses.” And as to who typically shows up for the clinics:

“I get all types of players,” said Hokom. “There have been new players at each one, seasoned players and all types in between.

After waiting for 10 minutes past the listed start time to allow for those operating on ‘Santa Cruz Time’ to show up, they began by having the participants pair up to play catch and warm up. Good idea- especially on a chilly day. My younger daughter paired up with Pierce and took the assignment very seriously. After they warmed up, they broke into two groups, with Pierce teaching the basics of backhand throws and Hokom sharing the secrets of her deadly sidearm technique.

Sarah Hokom demonstrating proper sidearm technique. Photo by Jack Trageser
Sarah Hokom demonstrating proper sidearm technique. Photo by Jack Trageser

As a fellow disc golf instructor I was impressed with the lesson in a couple of different ways. First of all, it was clear to me pretty quickly that some women are for whatever reason more receptive to instruction by other women. My wife and girls, for instance. They made some advances that afternoon that were really encouraging. And I don’t attribute it to just the ‘female connection’ thing- although that is significant. Hokom and Pierce made some great points that stuck with my older girl in particular, like Paige telling her to snap her backhand at the point of release. It’s not something I teach, but really helped my daughter throw with more armspeed.

Paige Pierce of Prodigy Disc explains the basics of proper technique for backhand throws in disc golf. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Paige Pierce of Prodigy Disc explains the basics of proper technique for backhand throws in disc golf. Photo by Jack Trageser.

We had to leave early as the girls got cold, and it was a school night. But the lesson had inspired my oldest, and she insisted we go out on the weekend to watch the women’s lead card of Pierce, Hokom, Innova Disc Golf team member Valarie Jenkins and eventual winner Catrina Ulibarri. I had figured on watching about an hour or so of the action. But my daughter – who at first rooted for Pierce after the lesson but then switched allegiance to Jenkins once she realized that Val and I were in Discmasters together, insisted on sticking there for the full 4.5 hour round. She was wearing a thin cotton tank-top and obviously cold (blame that one on Dad), but she was hooked on the action. And she got the full experience. All the women in the group signed a disc for her, she got to hold the leaderboard for short intervals, and Val in particular was gracious enough to acknowledge her repeated compliments and commiserations.

A young fan holds the leaderboard and watches Masters Cup winner and Prodigy Disc team member drive on hole 7 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course. Photo by Jack Trageser.

The clinic encouraged my wife and both my daughters because they all experienced noticeable progress in throwing straighter and farther than in the past. My older daughter had stars in her eyes after getting to see Pierce, Hokom, Ulibarri and Jenkins in action up close. I’m not sure which (participating in clinics or seeing top pros competing at National Tour event) has more potential to increase female participation in disc golf, but both seemed to be well-received by the women and girls that showed up. The trick is getting them there. Will disc golf ever be as popular among women as it is among men?

“The nature of sports and the nature of women conflict more often than for men, so no” said Hokom. “Its not that women don’t enjoy it, its just that less women enjoy it than men.”

Valarie Jenkins poses for a picture with a young fan at the end of her round on the 2nd day of Masters Cup action at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Valarie Jenkins poses for a picture with a young fan at the end of her round on the 2nd day of Masters Cup action at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Hokom said she is promoting the formation of ladies leagues because “I think they are helping the growth of women in the sport and provide a supportive and fun environment for more women to play.” Based on what I witnessed in April, and what the local female disc golfing population tell me, I’d say she’s right. Hopefully the trend toward women’s clinics, leagues and tournaments continues. I know at least one young girl who plans to show up.

Casual golf’s competitive summit: the epic, friendly grudge match

I rarely dedicate an entire post to a first-person account of a disc golf round, because I know from reading others’ how quickly that can get old. But on rare occasions I feel it’ll make for good enough reading that I break my own rule- and today is just such an instance. If you aren’t familiar with DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA, follow the provided links to hole descriptions to better visualize the situations described.

First a tiny bit of background. My friend Alan and I have played together since the late 90’s. Back then we used to gamble small wagers, and in the early days he was an established pro (he in fact won the Faultline Classic/California State Championship at DeLaveaga in 1994) and I was playing Am1 and just learning the craft. He hustled me more often than not, but I payed attention, and eventually my improving game and injuries on his part swung the balance in my favor. I’d say that I’ve had the advantage for the past eight years or so. But in the past few months Alan has really cranked up his game, and we’re pretty even right now. I’m sure the readers will agree that it’s much more fun if you’re evenly matched with your playing partner. Which brings us to today.

We try hard to play when the courses are not too crowded, but this weekend a Saturday 2 PM round at DeLa was the only time that would work for both of us. We’re just not used to being on the course at such a peak time. It was like a party spread over 80 acres! That, for us, is not a good thing on a golf course. Discs flying every which way, voices continually cascading up and down the ravines .  .  . it was wild, man. Crazy wild. And the wind was frenetic too. It was pretty gusty, but the really challenging aspect was the fact that it kept changing direction. You’d factor the headwind into a certain shot and just like that, tailwind.

Hole 1 was not indicative of how the rest of the round would go. Alan essentially missed the very generous double-mando and took a bogey, something he would not do much the rest of the round. After that, we both kind of dug in our heels for the next six holes with matching pars. Granted we missed opportunities on some birdie holes like 3 and 5, but considering the rowdy groups we had to play through at least we played relatively mistake-free. I had to save par after my drive on #6 crossed an OB line by one foot just right of the basket, but otherwise not much drama. Even though I’ve been landing across that OB line often lately, Alan correctly pointed out that “it makes sense to go for it when the putt to save par is less than 20 feet.”

On hole 8 things started to get interesting. We played through a group of four that was courteous enough to let us through, but out of ignorance (not malice) moved and talked during our drives. I went first, still holding the tee after hole 1, and my drive ticked something on the left side of the fairway then shot across it into the rough on the right, well short. Alan laced his Z-Glide on a nice hyzer line that would result in a birdie that got him back to par and tied the score. My compliment for how well he dealt with all the commotion in getting the good drive off could have been taken as being of the backhanded variety, due to his well-known preference for absolute silence and stillness. But he took the high road and thanked me without a hint of sarcasm. My difficult second shot saved par and prevented the dreaded two-stroke swing.

Alan picked up a second birdie in a row on the short but technical hole 8A, grabbing the lead by one. He just hasn’t been missing any make-able putts lately, and his 25-footers on both 8 and 8A were dead-center perfect. We enjoy playing subtle mind games, but I refrained making this comment out loud just yet. At this point it was still me and him against the crowds.

We both collected pars on 9, which was quite good considering the slurring slackers among the group we played through. One guy in yellow-framed pimp shades mumbled a prediction that we’d hit the trees guarding the narrow gap like his pals all did- even though he didn’t wish that fate upon us. Something along those lines, anyway. But we didn’t, and he and his friend were left in our wake (for the time being).

Hole 10 at DeLaveaga from the tee. The author's lefty drive was a technical; S turn that passed all the tree in the fairway to the left before cutting back right to the hole. Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 10 at DeLaveaga from the tee. The author’s lefty drive was a technical; S turn that passed all the tree in the fairway to the left before cutting back right to the hole. Photo by John Hernlund.

On hole 10 I impressed the next group we passed with a high flex hyzer with a Blizzard Ape that, as planned, soared left of the trees before fading back to the right (I’m a lefty, remember) to within 28 feet. My putt found the chains for a birdie and the tie. After 11 holes we were both at -1, Alan with two birdies and one bogey, and me with that one birdie and the rest pars. Nice, clean golf.

On hole 11 with the basket in the long-left position even good drives require accurate upshots to earn par. Mine was too aggressive on the left side, and after another ricochet I ended up barely inbounds on the right with probably 50 large trees between me and the cage. I scratched out a bogey- the best I could do – and Alan turned a great second shot into a par, putting him back in the lead by one. He increased it to two with a nice drive for easy birdie on #12 in the ‘island green’ position.

After we both carded a pretty standard four on the 580-foot wooded #13, a.k.a. I-5, Alan hit a 40-foot par putt on 14 that had me wondering if he was ever going to miss a putt again. This time I couldn’t help stating as much out loud, and I sincerely meant it as a compliment rather than a sinister bit of psychological warfare.

After routine pars on 15, Alan picked up another stroke when I bogeyed 16 with a drive so horribly right that I had no option but to pitch out sideways to the fairway. “The wind!” I cried. Then his birdie on 18 (where we once again encountered the rambling, drooling fools from back on hole 9) gave him his largest lead at 4 strokes, -2 to +2.

On the next hole, 19, I received a faint glimmer of hope when we both threw near perfect drives straight up the middle. Each of us skipped into the fallen log that crosses the fairway about 20 feet in front of the short pin, but his must have rolled backward a bit because he ended up with a 35-footer. He wisely chose to lay up rather than risk the steep ravine just behind the basket, and my knee-knocker with the same backdrop went in for a birdie and the tee for the first time since hole 10. I admitted to him afterward that I’ve never been so happy to see him lay up, being certain that he’d make any putt he attempted.

On hole 20 (in the right position) I threw a tall, climbing shot with my Ape that started with a steep anhyzer angle to the left, over high tree tops, fading for the second half of the flight to the right and landing within 15 feet. Another birdie, and the lead was down to two strokes. Alan joked that it was getting warm “right around here” (pointing behind his head) and guys on the next tee overheard and yelled “He’s breathing down your neck, eh?!” Everyone had a good laugh. (It’s worth mentioning here that Alan and I haven’t always been able to jointly enjoy the moment of close competition like this. We’ve come a long way. In fact, we stopped wagering even small amounts years ago because things were just too intense. Click here to get a flavor for our competitiveness)

After pars on the next couple holes, we came to #23, a prime birdie opportunity that we both got to within 30 feet of with our drives. I went first, and nailed my tricky downhill low-ceiling putt. Alan came as close as a person can possibly come to a perfect putt himself, but missed by a fraction of an inch (Alan called it a ‘micrometer’) to the right and spit out. He also had to putt a bit firmer than normal due to the wind, or it likely would have stayed in anyway.

Down to a one-stroke lead, -2 to -1. The drama has been on a slow simmer until now, and the heat was about to get cranked up quickly for the last four holes.

Hole 25 is uphill with another slope running left-to-right, and an OB road all along the right side. The basket sits behind a wide oak tree. I stepped up and threw a perfect drive, starting it left and letting it fade right just enough to land it underneath the basket without skipping toward the road. Alan needed to match my birdie to hold his one-stroke lead, and to do that he had to start his drive over the road on the right, trusting it stay right long enough to clear the oak then hyzer back in bounds at the end. Mission accomplished. Both birdie putts were complete gimmies, making the score -3 to -2 with three to play. Before marching up the hill to the next tee, we shared a square-on high five (you know how sometimes they awkwardly miss) and a couple warm smiles. I think we both had an inkling how the round might end.

Hole 26 is also uphill – even more so – with a dramatic, steep, left-to-right slope as well. I collected a par, but Alan’s upshot just caught a lip to the right of the basket and rolled away, resulting in a bogey. Tied with two to play. He had given away so little during the round, and now an ill-timed bad break brought us even. Alan lamented how close the disc came to doing exactly what he planned, but kept his emotions in check admirably well.

Hole 26a at DeLaveaga, photo by John Hernlund
Hole 26a at DeLaveaga, photo by John Hernlund

26A at DeLa is flat, on a mountaintop of sorts, with sharp drop-offs left and right. Drives need to clear a ceiling early and they must start straight to avoid early trees and finish straight to keep from dropping off either side. Alan’s drive was perfect, giving him a routine par. Mine, on the other hand, ground into the fairway early and left me an almost impossible upshot into the teeth of the wind. I thought I had pulled it off, but the wind carried it right over the basket and just over the edge of the slope on the right. Bogey. Arggh! All that work coming back from 4 strokes back, only to bogey the second to last hole! I don’t remember how well I controlled my frustration at that point, but it was definitely fighting to get out.

Stepping up to the finishing hole at DeLa at that point, on this clear, windy day, it was obvious why it’s called Top of the World. We could see everything from several holes spread out in front of us to the glimmering Pacific Ocean, and a forest of trees in between.

Alan threw first, and his drive seemed absolutely perfect out of his hand. But near the end of the flight when it should have begun fading back to the left and the basket, the wind kept it right and straight where it finally came to rest about 80 feet right and 30 or so short.

As I stepped onto the teepad, knowing his par was assured and a birdie would be necessary to tie, a couple mountain bikers approached us from being just as a couple other golfer hiked up to us from below (playing the holes out-of-order, which in disc golf is of course no big deal). Alan and I looked at eachother and both laughed because Alan had remarked earlier that people kept approaching when it was his turn to throw. Now it was my turn.

Hole 27 at DeLa, with the city of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean in the background. Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 27 at DeLa, with the city of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean in the background. Photo by John Hernlund.

After spouting some kind of bravado like “I feed off this” (the extra viewers) I launched my Obex hard and well left of the basket, counting on the overstable disc to hyzer back at just the right time. For those that don’t know, the long downhill hole requires throws with a downward trajectory to get all the way there, and as the disc headed for the tops of a grove of large oaks I yelled “Get up!” four or five times in rapid succession. It just cleared the trees as it began to fade right, then disappeared for a second behind those same trees. When we all saw it again, it was sweeping toward the basket, then landing 18 feet away. The guys watching were duly impressed, and after a little cheer myself I realized that if I didn’t hit the putt it meant nothing.

Due to the wind Alan chose to lay up and settle for no worse than a tie. I hit the putt, and that’s how we finished: knotted up at -2. I was glad that no one had to lose such an epic back-and-forth struggle. Alan might have felt differently, but he didn’t show it. I’ll try to get him to post something in the comments section. We’ll see if his version of any of this differs from mine.

We recorded the scores on this card after the fact, and had to use an old card from a past Masters Cup where holes 23 and 24 were not played.
We recorded the scores on this card after the fact, and had to use an old card from a past Masters Cup where holes 23 and 24 were not played.

Afterward we stuck around a bit and sung a few songs in the middle of the parking lot while he played his Ukelele. We’d never done that before  (at least not there) and I think we just wanted to bask a little longer in the glow of camaraderie of casual golf’s competitive summit: the epic, friendly grudge match.

The author and his playing partner relax after a tense match.
The author and his playing partner (with ukelele) relax after a tense match. Photo by Jack Trageser

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.