The variety of disc types, weights, models, and plastic blends in disc golf can be overwhelming and mystifying for those new to the sport. We want to help clear that up for you. Read on for answers to some questions you may already be asking, along with some advice. For some specific disc recommendations, click here.
Comparison to Frisbee-type Discs
The flying discs used in the game of disc golf differ in several ways from what most people think of as a “Frisbee.” Those discs – used to play a game of catch in the park as well as the competitive sport called Ultimate- are usually (but not always) larger in diameter, and feature a ‘fatter’ profile and a uniform thickness of plastic. They are designed to float in the air as long as possible.
Disc golf discs, on the other hand, are usually noticeably smaller in diameter but feel heavier due to a weighted perimeter (rim) where the plastic is much heavier than the top of the disc (a.k.a. the flight plate.) This design feature enables them to handle more force and a higher spin rate without destabilizing, a feature that is key to achieving maximum distance for long throws and predictability for all throws.
Different types of golf discs
Disc golf discs are categorized and rated using a number of different methods, but the most general classification breaks them down into three groups:
- Putters have rounded edges and are the most similar in appearance to Frisbee-style discs. The rounded edges do a good job “grabbing” the chains of the target (a.k.a. the basket) and falling in the cage rather than slipping through or ricocheting away. Also, the flight characteristics sacrifice speed and distance for greater control and predictability.
- Midrange discs, simply put, are a compromise between putters and drivers. They can be thrown further than putters and are easier to control than drivers.
- Drivers are the most aerodynamic of the three main types of discs, as evidenced by their thinner profiles and sharper edges. Drivers can be thrown the furthest of the three main types, but are the trickiest to control.
The three main types of golf discs are further classified into a number of subcategories. For instance, fairway drivers and control drivers are generally not as fast and won’t fly as far as distance drivers or maximum distance drivers when thrown optimally, but they are easier to control and won’t skip as radically when they hit the ground. Driving putters are shaped liked typical putters but can usually handle more power, making them ideal for driving on shorter holes since putters are the most controllable and slowest disc types
the disc flight rating system
Disc golf discs differ not only in the basic function for which they are designed, as described above (driver, putter, midrange) but also in their flight characteristics. Disc companies have all finally tacitly agreed to use a flight rating system to describe how each model is designed to fly. This system consists of four numbers, often displayed on websites and the discs themselves. These are listed below in the order they appear, from left to right.
- Speed- This number denotes how fast a disc can fly, which translates to how far it can fly, assuming it is thrown by a player who can provide the right amount of power. Putters have the lowest speed rating, typically 2-4, midrange discs range from 3-7, control drivers usually fall between 5 and 10, and distance drivers go from 10 up to 15, currently (although a speed 16 driver is bound to show up eventually). You can generally get a good idea of a disc’s Speed rating by simply examining its profile, or its edge. Fatter, blunter edges mean a lower speed rating, and thinner, sharper, more aerodynamic-looking edges translate to higher speed numbers.
- Glide- Out of the four numbers that comprise the rating system, Glide is the least important when selecting a disc. It refers to a disc’s propensity to stay in the air longer, but in reality, other factors (how it is thrown, wind direction) have a far greater impact than a disc’s Glide rating. Most discs of all types fall into the 4-6 range.
The final two rating factors are the most important to understand. Whereas a disc’s speed is somewhat self-evident and its glide rating somewhat irrelevant, Turn and Fade are important indicators of how it will fly and not at all obvious by the design of the disc. To understand these numbers, it helps to be familiar with the disc flight term called stability, and to understand stability players must first understand a universal characteristic of disc flight.
Discs must be spinning to fly through the air, and when gravitational pull overcomes the disc’s rate of spin it begins to predictably drop to one side, or Fade. Whether it fades left or right depends on whether the disc is spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. (For reference, righthanded players throwing backhand, and lefthanded players throwing forehand create clockwise spin; righthanded players throwing forehand and lefthanded players throwing backhand create counterclockwise spin.) Clockwise spinning discs have a natural tendency to fade left, and counterclockwise discs fade to the right.
Golf discs vary greatly in how strongly and quickly they fade, and the term stability is used to describe this characteristic from disc to disc. A disc with strong fade is described as overstable, and a disc on the opposite end of the spectrum is called understable. Keep in mind that how a disc performs for you is a matter of the disc’s design combined with how it is thrown. Both of the final two flight rating numbers attempt to address the concept of stability.
- Turn- This number indicates how easily a disc can be made to turn in the opposite direction that it naturally wants to fade. Most discs have a Fade rating between zero and -4. The higher the negative number, the easier it is to turn over and the more understable it is deemed to be. It seems like listing this number before the Fade number adds to the confusion, but it is what it is.
- Fade- This number indicates how strongly the disc will fade. Discs with a Fade rating of 4 – the highest stability rated disc currently on Infinite Discs, will fade hard, be difficult if not impossible to turn over, and be considered very overstable.
A few examples may be more useful when selecting your discs than the preceding 1,000 jargon-filled words. Listed below are several disc rating examples followed by a description of the actual disc.
2 | 3 | 0 | 2 This disc is a putter (2) with average glide (3), and a turn-to-fade ratio (0/2) preferred by players who like to putt firm and fast. Not the best putter for beginners.
9 | 5 | -4 | 1 Beginners seeking a good driver to start out with couldn’t do much better than these numbers. The speed (9) indicates it is definitely a driver, but not so fast that it will be too difficult to control. Glide (5) is good as well, and the Turn/Fade ratio (-4/1) indicates that it is easy to throw straight for those who have not yet built up armspeed, yet possesses enough fade that it won’t just “turn and burn.”
13 | 5 | 0 | 4 Everything about these numbers shout “Not for beginners!” The speed number (13) is very high, which makes it tricky to throw regardless of the turn and fade numbers (0/4). This disc is designed for players who can supply a great deal of power and want to trust the disc to not turn over at the end of the flight regardless of spin rate or angle of release.
All disc golf disc companies have their own brand names for their plastic blends. There are far too many to list here, but we can at least examine the qualities that differentiate them. Most offer discs in a ‘base’ plastic, and while these are the most affordable they are also the least durable. These discs are not only more likely to crack; they also will change in flight characteristics over time due to collisions with trees and other hard surfaces. To avoid these issues ,and for other reasons, many avid players prefer what are known as ‘premium’ blends.
At one end of the premium spectrum are plastic blends that result in discs that are very hard and the most durable. Some players love these discs because they also skip off the ground and maintain their speed the best. Other players prefer discs that feel easier to grip but are still much more durable than base plastic discs. Disc companies offer plenty of choices for both groups.
Disc golf disc weight is measured in grams, with 100 grams being close to the lightest and 180 grams close to the heaviest. Generally speaking, lighter weights are better for those with lower armspeeds. While ‘max weight’ discs are better at resisting the effects of wind and wobble, they will fade more quickly than lighter discs of the same model. If you are looking for ways to to get your throws to go further by staying straighter longer, try lighter discs.
As part of our instruction for beginners and disc golfers who are looking to break through to the next level, we recommend discs that fly well for players of all levels. These are discs that don’t require much power to go and stay straight, but they also provide versatility (shot-shaping, rollers) for more seasoned players. The affiliate links take you straight to where you can purchase them at Infinite Discs, and if you contact us and ask we will provide a code for an additional 5 percent off the listed price.