Basket size on the pro tours: What’s the REAL issue? I’ll tell you.

By Jack ‘Tupp’ Trageser

Where do you stand on The Great Debate about basket size on the pro tour? The subject has been debated extensively- on YouTube last year via a DGPT roundtable, more recently in a PDGA magazine article by course design guru John Houck, and in thousands of discussions among elite players and their fans.

So what’s your opinion?

To recap, those in favor of shrinking baskets think top pros are just too good at putting using the current disc entrapment devices. They believe this has two negative effects on disc golf as a spectator sport: scores that are so low to par that outside observers scoff at disc golf as a professional sport, and a lack of drama on the putting green. Putts inside the circle for touring pros almost always end up inside the basket.dischitschains (2)

Some pros are opposed to the change, for an understandably self-interested reason- Putting is not their strong suit and they don’t want that weakness to be further magnified. But others make more practical points. If targets are smaller, they contend, players will lay up from longer distances more often, robbing spectators of those twisting, floating, outside-Circle 2 gems that provide some of disc golf’s best spectacles.

Others question the practicality of retrofitting thousands of existing courses and the wisdom of having pros compete with markedly different equipment than the fans who would have, could have made that shot.

Good points on both sides of the argument, right? So what do YOU think?

I’ll tell you what I think. The issues that the Basket-Shrinkers raise are real, but smaller targets and less made putts won’t ‘solve’ them, if indeed they even require solving.

I wrote a book called The Disc Golf Revolution, and much of it involves comparing and contrasting disc golf and traditional (ball) golf. One of the first chapters, titled The Future of Golf, makes the point that disc golf features nearly all of ball golf’s appeal yet none of its numerous drawbacks. You know that list: Cost, time to play, difficulty, history and culture of elitism, environmental impact . . .

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I bring this up now because at the end of that chapter, per my training as a journalist, I presented the other side of that argument in a ‘devil’s advocate’ section subtitled 7.5 Reasons Why Ball Golf is Better Than Disc Golf. One of those 7.5 reasons is the undeniable fact that disc golf does not – and cannot – replicate the incredible contrast featured in ball golf between the speed and distance of a powerful drive and the delicacy, the breath-holding drama of a long, slow, undulating putt.

A 30-foot putt in ball golf might last for 30 second as it rolls slowly across the green, while a 30-footer in disc golf is over two blinks after it leaves the player’s hand. Unless it ends in a roll-away, that is, which ironically makes for some of disc golf’s most dramatic moments. What do those slow, serpentine, excruciating rollers resemble? That’s right. Ball golf putts.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama because they go in too often, but rather because they go in too quickly.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama in pro events (compared to ball golf) because they go in too often, but rather because they go in – or don’t – too quickly. That is never going to change, no matter how small and challenging baskets are made to be. It is what it is, and really, that’s OK.

disc golf lessons, disc golf blog
Photo by Leah Jenkins.

Another point I make in my book is that disc golf’s greatest value is as something to DO. This is evidenced by the sport’s continued strong growth in new courses, players, and market size. As disc golf participation grows, the segment of the overall disc golfing population who choose to also be spectators and media consumers also grows. They’re watching in large part because they can relate to what they’re seeing. Disc golf may not feature the drawn-out drama of a ball golf putt, but disc golf spectators (nearly all of whom are also avid players) feel the anxiety of a 30-foot putt. As easy as they can appear, we know how easy those putts are to miss. We know the very real potential for anxiety, fatigue, or a momentary lapse of focus.

So now you know what I think. Give it a try if you want, PDGA and DGPT. Use smaller baskets for some top-tier pro events. You’ll get tougher-scoring courses, and putts inside the circle won’t be quite as much of a foregone conclusion. But it won’t change the real issue, which is the unalterable fact that disc golf putting – as something to watch – isn’t and will never be quite as dramatic as ball golf putting.

Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal. Those of us who play know there is plenty of drama and challenge when you’re the one doing the putting, and in my opinion that is what really matters.

What do you think?

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.