Mastering the turnover shot: equal parts art and science

Anyone can throw a hyzer.

In fact, even for most beginners throwing a hyzer is as natural and involuntary as breathing. But getting the disc to not hyzer is like trying not to breathe.

Those who are highly skilled at making a golf disc turn in the direction opposite to its natural fade all know the ability is as much art as science. As much feel and touch as proper technique. But solve that puzzle, and you’ve just taken a giant leap in your evolution as a player.

There are two things that separate players who have truly mastered the flight of a golf disc and those who have not: the ability to throw a disc relatively straight for more than 150 feet, and the ability throw what is alternately known as an anhzyser or turnover shot. The two are actually connected as they both require the ability to iron out the muscle memory nearly everyone has that causes us to automatically throw golf discs on a hyzer angle.

Figuring out the latter usually leads to rapid improvement with the former – another reason why understanding and mastering the multiple components of a turnover shot will take your game up several notches. However, as explained below, teaching someone to throw turnover shots is more about explaining these different components and how they relate to one another than a simple ‘Step 1, Step 2, Step 3’ approach.

First let’s discuss the distinction between ‘turning the disc over’ and throwing an anhyzer shot. In a nutshell, to turn the disc over means to get it to curve in the direction opposite of that which in naturally wants to curve (fade). For instance, a right handed backhand shot will naturally fade left (immediately or eventually, depending on the disc), so a player wanting to get the disc to curve right needs to ‘turn it over’. Throwing an anhyzer is simply one of several ways to turn your disc over, all of which we’ll examine in detail.

No less than six primary factors affect to what degree your disc will (or will not) turn over: angle of release, release point, trajectory, the amount of spin on the disc, the wind, and of course the stability of the disc itself. Each of these can be manipulated or in the case of the wind, leveraged to create a desired flight path. More exciting still they can be mixed together to create every conceivable shot.

This photo demonstrates two of the six elements that can be adjusted to craft the exact turnover shot required: release point and disc angle.
This photo demonstrates two of the six elements that can be adjusted to craft the exact turnover shot required: release point and disc angle.

A perfect analogy is the way the three primary colors – red, blue, and yellow – can be combined to create every other color imaginable. Now consider that you’re equipped with six factors that enable you to paint a masterpiece on every throw! It’s one of the reasons disc golf just gets better and better as you improve. Disc flight can also be compared to cooking in much the same way. Great dishes can be created from just a few simple ingredients. Let’s briefly examine each factor, then explore different ways to cook up some tasty, gourmet turnovers.

 Angle of release and release point

The angle of release refers to the angle of the nose of the disc as it’s release. It’s the most obvious of all the factors to someone first trying to learn how to throw a turnover shot since it’s fairly logical that if angling the disc to one side results in a hyzer in one direction, then reversing the angle should help it turn in the other direction. Angle of release is the most important factor in throwing an anhyzer shot, which is reversing the angle to get the disc, from the time it leaves the hand, to turn the opposite direction of a hyzer. Hmmm. . . ANgle opposite of a HYZER. Anhyzer . . . if nothing else that’s a good way to remember the correct definition of the word. And remember that anhyzering (might as well go all the way and turn it into a verb, too) is just one of several techniques for getting a disc to turn over.

Hole 10 at Pinto Lake CDGC has OB along both sides of the fairway. The player pictured intends to release an overstable O-Lace on a sharp anyhyzer line aimed at the right side so it will turn over toward the basket then straighten out as it finishes.
Hole 10 at Pinto Lake CDGC has OB along both sides of the fairway. The player pictured intends to release an overstable O-Lace on a sharp anyhyzer line aimed at the right side so it will turn over toward the basket then straighten out as it finishes. Note the angle of the disc as the player is just about to launch his drive.

Release point is pretty much what it sounds like- the point at which the disc is released. Most anhyzers should be released at a point higher than normal, especially those intended to continue on the anhyzer line for all or most of its flight. This is because a disc that is turning over isn’t gliding through the air. It’s falling as soon as it reaches its apex, therefore it needs to gets launched from a high release point and have a trajectory that takes the disc upward, so when it begins to fall, it has more time before it comes back to earth. Which brings us to trajectory.

Trajectory

While angle of release is determined by the angle of the nose of the disc when it’s released, trajectory is controlled by the line on which the disc is pulled back and released. When a disc is pulled back and throw on a line parallel to the ground, the trajectory should be relatively flat. If the trajectory is angled upward, that is of course the direction the disc will go. Trajectory is especially important when throwing turnover shots – and it almost always needs to be from low-to-high – since turnover shots need time to develop, and adding height is the simplest way to get it.

Most turnover shots intended to travel any distance require an upward trajectory, providing the height necessary to let the shot develop.
Most turnover shots intended to travel any distance require an upward trajectory, providing the height necessary to let the shot develop.

Spin

More than any of the other factors, the proper use of controlled spin to help a disc turn over is the mark of an expert. The stability of a disc is partially determined by how much spin it can handle before it’s natural fade is overcome. Throwing a disc hard and fast like you’d try to do when attempting a long drive is one way to generate lots of spin, but not every shot calls for 100 percent power. A really good player can increase the spin on a disc to manipulate its flight path without overdoing the power.

Spin, combined with angle of release, is also the key to achieving a flight where the disc flies straight or even fades for a distance before turning over. Have you heard of the term hyzer flip? It’s basically the shot I’m describing, but thrown full power. The disc is thrown on a hyzer line but at a certain point the spin is too much for the disc, resulting in turnover. With the right combination of angle, spin (and in this case raw power) and trajectory, the resulting flight path can be one where the disc begins on a hyzer line, then turns over for a period, and when the spin reduces again, ends up fading back into the hyzer line. Three turns on one throw- pretty cool.

But not as cool, in my opinion, as a shot that uses spin in a more subtle way to turn a disc over. This requires increasing spin without also cranking up the power, which is a skill that for most takes a while to refine.

Wind

You likely have heard or figured out that throwing into a headwind will turn a disc over/make a disc less stable, while a tailwind does the opposite. Very true. Wind is the one factor the player doesn’t control, but it has a big impact on the flight of a disc. When the wind is extreme, it’s the starting point for selecting a disc and flight strategy. When it’s more gentle, the wind is simply a fact that needs to be accounted for. Or more accurately, adjusted for. Depending on the wind, you might increase or decrease spin, throw with slightly more anhyzer angle, or (especially in the case of a good tailwind) make sure the trajectory is angled more sharply upward.

Factoring wind into you turnover recipe is a good example of how subtle adjustments and combinations of factors need to be to get just the shot you want. All other factors being the same, a shot thrown into a four-mile headwind will fly quite differently than a two mile crosswind. Remember that the next time you cry out to the heavens “That disc always turns over on this hole! Why did it fade out this time?!!” Which brings us to the final factor: the disc.

Disc type and stability

Back when I started playing a couple decades ago, the best advice I heard from the best players was this simple nugget: Pick a good all-purpose disc (back then that meant a Roc) and play with just that disc. Master that disc before throwing anything else. The wisdom there is that by learning with only that one disc, the player has no choice but to coax every shot out of that disc. I think that is still one of the best pieces of advice for new players because otherwise, players assume that pulling off technical shots or getting more distance is just a matter of finding the right disc for the job. Not true!

Think of it this way: In any pursuit imaginable, an expert with remedial equipment will still achieve expert results. A virtuoso violinist will produce incredible music with a beat up rental violin. But give a Stradivarius to a beginner, and it will emit the same hideous squawks as he makes with his inferior instrument.

I digress here for a good reason. Disc type and stability is indeed one of the six factors affecting a disc’s flight, but it has more in common with the wind than it does the other four factors. Once the disc is in your hand, you still need to know how to tune the dials of the other factors (and have the skill to do so) to get the flight you want. Like the wind, the disc, once selected, is an absolute that needs to be figured into the equation.

All that being said, the finest ingredients and the best equipment in the hands of an expert do make a big difference. An understable putter can be used for some amazing touch shots that turn at just the right time, then float to the target as softly as a feather. An overstable driver can be throw with full power on a sharp anhyzer angle and just the right trajectory to produce a dramatic S-turn that passes to the left of one grove of trees then the right of another on the way to a drop-in birdie. But a player is always better off possessing one disc and mastery of flight control than a bag stuffed with any 25 discs you care to name and only vague ideas of how to use them.

Watch for the next post soon in which the specific ingredients and techniques for several basic turnover shots will be discussed. In the meantime, go out to a field (if your weather permits) and experiment with the components that make up every turnover shot. See which ones work best for you. Try them with all your discs and discover the infinite ways one can make a disc fly.

 

 

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!

How to drastically cut down on your short missed putts

Is there anything worse than missing a short putt? The kind that you make 90 or even 99 times out of 100 on the practice basket? Usually when that happens we know even a split second before the disc leaves our hand that we’re in trouble, and that says most of what we need to know about why we occasionally miss ridiculously short putt, and how to make sure it almost never happens.

Let’s touch on the mechanical issues first. Based on personal experience and what I see out on the course, the most common technical flaw that causes missed short putts comes from how some players change the putting stroke to adjust for shorter distances. Quite often players will try to ‘take something off’ their normal putting motion in an attempt to putt softer or simplify their form. That usually results in changes to the finish of the putting motion, and it’s exactly the wrong approach. All too often that approach results in putts missing low, high, left and right. Instead, to accommodate short putts that require less power, reduce movement in the front-end of your normal putting technique.

Ways to do this include using less lower body, not pulling the disc as far back (my favorite), and reducing the amount of armspeed as needed. But whatever you do, keep the form of your finish as consistent as possible- especially your follow-through. The most important part of a good, consistent putting stroke is the finish. Specifically, the follow-through. Good follow-through ensures that a player’s disc goes where it is being aimed (assuming the follow-through ends up pointed at the spot being aimed for). Check out this video tutorial demonstrating a great exercise that helps develop proper follow-through.

A good definition of follow-through in this context, by the way, is ‘continuing the putting motion even after the disc leaves your hand’. Take a look at pictures of top players putting, and you’ll see arm and even fingers fully extended at the target, usually rigidly straight, even when the disc is 10 feet out of the hand. That’s good follow-through.

Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.
Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.

Follow-through also adds a surprising amount of oomph to putts, and with short putts that can make the difference between hitting the front rim and just clearing it. In fact, the idea to write this post occurred yesterday during a crisp -11 at my local course, Black Mouse. I had an 18-foot putt on hole 11 for birdie, and at the very last second  I realized that I wasn’t giving it enough power to go in. I was able to exaggerate the follow through even more than usual, and that made all the difference as it barely cleared the front nubs.

Follow-through also helps eliminate misses to the left and right, and also putts that hit the top of the cage. Going back to the first point made about the problems caused by making changes to the finishing part of a putt, lets look at some specifics. When we do that, we’re really just guessing on a case-by-case basis, and the results are unpredictable. Early releases turn into misses on the weak side of the basket, and holding on to the disc too long causes players to ‘pull’ the disc and miss on the strong side. And everyone at one time or another has launched a short putt at a sharp upward angle and hit the top of the cage. %!#!*^!!!

The cure for all of these- really all mechanical flaws in short putts – is to keep the finish of the putt the same no matter the distance, and follow through the right way (and the same way) every time. This is true of all putts, but especially short putts, and the reason is simple: If you putt firmly and follow through at the center of the basket, the disc won’t have enough time/distance to stray off line. The firmness of the putt (it just needs to be hard enough that it flies on a straight line) is important as well. If you are a finesse putter, you still don’t want the short ones to have any curve or turn. With a firm, accurate line, even if you’re off a little with your aim, good follow-through will ensure that the disc bangs the chains before it has a chance to veer too far.

One final note about follow-through: Balance is a key to the aiming part of follow-through. If you’re not well-balanced and tend to fall or lean to one side or another as you release the disc, good follow-through won’t help much in terms of keeping the disc going in the right direction.

Now let’s examine the short putts that are missed due to mental lapses and neurosis. These are at least as frustrating as those caused by mechanical flaws, and luckily they are also just as preventable.

When I say ‘mental lapses’, I’m referring to those times we take for granted that we’ll make a putt of ‘gimme’ distance (which is different for everyone). Without even making a conscious decision to do so, we switch to autopilot and go through the motions while our brains are occupied with something completely different. Then we miss the putt and become immediately and painfully aware of the 100 percent preventable mistake we just made.

The cure for this kind of lapse is to have a putting routine and go through it on every putt in every round you play, whether practice or tournament, casual or for stakes. Once again I refer to those top pros who depend on the money they on tour to be able to stay on tour. Watch some tourney videos and you’ll see nearly all of them take a little time on even the shortest putts, knowing that each throw counts the same and each throw could directly impact their payout.

The other mental error that causes missed short putts is something I write about often- getting wrapped up in and dwelling on the ‘why’ of the putt rather than the ‘what’. In other words, thinking about why the putt is important, or why you can’t afford to miss it rather than simply what you need to do to properly execute. For one thing, negative thoughts lead to negative results, and even if the ‘why’ isn’t purely negative the fact remains that you can’t think about two things at once. And thinking about the ‘what’ is essential.

Confidence - or the lack thereof - can make all the difference on short 'tester' putts.
Confidence – or the lack thereof – can make all the difference on short ‘tester’ putts.

There is a certain distance putt (and the exact distance differs depending on each player’s skill and mentality) that is longer than a gimme but short enough that it’s a big disappointment if missed. When someone in our group is left with one of these, my friend Alan likes to say “there’s still some meat left on the bone”. Most players refer to these putts as ‘testers’, and they can mess with your head like no others if you let ’em.

Have you ever seen a movie with a dream sequence where a character looks down a hallway, and the end of the hall keeps stretching further and further away? In disc golf, this translates to testers that we really should make at least 80 percent of the time morphing into final exams that we forgot to study for. I have to admit that when my putting is a little off, these can really get to me. The problem is that when this happens my anxiety shifts my focus away from where in needs to be – on the ‘what’ – and at that point I’ll be lucky if the putt even accidentally goes in.

So what’s the remedy? First, be cognizant of those anxieties creeping into your head. Acknowledge that they’re there, then step back and re-focus. When it happens to me, which is usually, as I said, when my confidence is on vacation, I remind myself to trust the routine and technique. At times like that it’s usually a blind trust as I’m just not feelin’ it at all. But it almost always works, because after all, these testers are putts I should be making without too much trouble. By shifting my focus back to the routine I’m dissipating the doubts and anxiety that would otherwise derail me.

Missed short putts are almost always avoidable, which is why it stings so much when it happens. Hopefully the tips above can spare you some of that angst. And when that short miss eventually does come along (it will, it happens to all of us), instead of just getting disgusted with yourself, consider it a reminder of all the ways to prevent those mistakes in the future.

Lost discs: practical preventative steps to avoid that void in your bag

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Discs ain’t cheap- especially if everything you throw is premium plastic or rubber that runs $15 or more a pop. And we all own some that would fall into the category of ‘it’s not the money’; discs that are worked in just the way we want, discs that are out of production, in high demand, hard to replace, or have sentimental value. Equipment is part (albeit, in my opinion, a minor part) of what enables us to perform our best, and if our most important tool is suddenly gone, our game is likely to suffer.

For all these reasons, it makes sense to have a strategy to reduce the lost disc factor. Below is a collection of observations I’ve made over time and some changes I’ve made based on those observations.

Brand your discs like cattle

There is an unwritten rule in disc golf that a person is less obligated to try to find the owner of a found disc when it is completely devoid of a name, number, or identifying mark. So it naturally follows that unmarked discs get reunited with their owners far less often than those that are marked. But lets dig a little deeper. Everyone approaches labeling their discs a little differently, so what type of markings produce the best results in terms of getting back the lost little lambs?

This collection of discs from the author's bag show the consistency and readability of his 'personal branding'. Look closely, and you notice that some need a fresh coat, and the rare gummy Beast on top has the brand written backwards on the bottom so it shows correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
This collection of discs from the author’s bag show the consistency and readability of his ‘personal branding’. Look closely, and you’ll notice that some need a fresh coat, which they received right after the photo was taken. Photo by Jack Trageser.
  • Name and Contact Info- People who find your disc that are inclined to try to contact you personally can’t do that if you don’t put down some contact info. I used to list my email address in addition to my phone number but no one ever used it, so I just stick with the phone number. That way they can call or text, hopefully right when they find it. Both name and number should be large and clear on the top or bottom of the disc (not the inside rim). Make it big enough so it won’t get erased or obscured through wear-and-tear, it’s easy to read, and also discourages finders from becoming keepers (those who may be temped to erase it or write over it). In this photo of multiple discs, the lighter orange disc was lost, and a friend noticed my faded JACKT on a photo on eBay. The perpetrator had attempted to erase it but wasn’t quite successful (I re-did it, in a more creative manner for fun). Good thing, as I got that disc from Steady Ed himself and it still serves active duty as a finesse roller.
  • Personal Branding- This one has gotten me back numerous discs I would not otherwise have seen again. The key is to make sure the way you brand your discs is very consistent, and fairly large. People I play with even occasionally remember the way I write JACKT on the underside of all my discs, and get them back to me. I’ve had them spot my discs on the course, in Lost-and-Found, and even in the hands of other players! My favorite story along these lines was when someone I don’t know approached a friend of mine (RIP, Slingshot Steve) and asked “What do you think of this disc?” Steve, quickly spotting the JACKT, replied “I THINK it belongs to a friend of mine,” and snatched it out of the guy’s hand. The key is to come up with a way of writing your name that is readable, unique, and simple enough to replicate on each disc.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
  • Practical over Aesthetics- Golf discs in your bag are there to do a job, not look pretty. I know it mars the beauty of a translucent disc to write your name on it in large, bold letters, but you gotta ask yourself what’s more important- Keeping the disc pristine, or keeping the disc . . . period? It’s like not wearing a helmet riding a motorcycle because you don’t want to mess up your hair. And no, I don’t think I’m over dramatizing (much) with that analogy- we’re talking about our discs here!

Natural (Disc) Selection

Whereas the first point dealt with retrieving discs from others who find them, this one concerns being able to find them after an errant throw. The color of a disc significantly impacts the chance of spotting it on the course. You players who frequent wide open courses, or courses where the terrain is all manicured, regularly mowed grass might feel they can ignore this section- but read on. Disc golfers love to travel to new courses, and chances are you’ll at some point play courses like the ones I frequent in Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA. Thick bushes and ground cover, tall grass and dense, gnarly trees abound, and that’s just on the fairways!

Seriously, though, playing here has forced me to take ‘spot-ibility’ into consideration when selecting discs. Whenever possible, I choose discs in solid, bright, unnatural colors. That way I can search for the color more than the shape of the disc. Kind of like those old natural selection experiments we read about in textbooks using white and dark moths and white and dark trees- except in reverse. The discs that stand out most are the ones that will survive.

Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Black, dark green, and any discs in earth tones that blend in with the terrain are obvious loss-risks (although manufacturers still make them and people still buy ’em). Another kind of easy-to-lose color is more surprising; even if the colors are bright and unnatural, tie-dye and really any multi-colored discs are hard to spot as well. The variegated patterns help them blend into nearly any background. Tie-dye shirts jump out at you, but not tie-dye discs. Go figure.

Bad Habits

We’ve covered a couple things you can do in preparation of playing to reduce lost discs. Now let’s examine a few habits and activities that tend increase the separation of player and disc.

Sometimes when we throw a really bad shot and know it immediately, it’s hard to watch. I really do think we sometimes turn away or cover out eyes not to be dramatic, but because it’s painful to see a well-planned shot gone bad. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone, and it’s a situation that sometimes leads to a lost disc. If I don’t see exactly where it lands I have less of an idea specifically where to start searching for it.

Where I play, hiding places are numerous and discs can get lost on even the most innocuous of throws. So I try hard to watch my disc closely, no matter how ugly the result. I try to remember to commit where it lands to memory, and if it disappears from sight before it comes to rest, I try to note the trajectory and some type of nearby landmark as a reference point to begin the search. The word ‘try’ was in italics because occasionally I note those things but forget them immediately, making the whole exercise pointless. The trick is to pay attention to where your disc goes and retain that information until it’s time to look for it.

Here’s another one. Ever thrown a drive – maybe just before dark, or warming up for a tournament right before it’s about to start – and get the impulse, because of the unsatisfactory results, to throw one more? A little voice warns ‘Don’t do it!’ but you ignore the warning, launch the disc, and almost immediately regret it. A disc golf version of ‘one too many’, it seems the odds of losing the disc in situations like this for some reason dramatically increase. The only advice here is to listen to that little voice, and remember that as Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, ‘discretion is the better part of valor’. Let that disc live to fly another day.

A variation of this affliction is known as ‘throwing the bag’, in which one is impelled to throw every disc in one’s quiver- usually on a particularly awe-inspiring hole. Two things can go wrong here: Either you throw so many discs that you forget one in the search-and-rescue effort, or you throw so many that the odds that at least one gets lost increases. If you can’t resist throwing multiple discs on an irresistible hole, try to note and remember the location of each disc you throw. The odds that one of your babies gets lost on its own won’t go down, but at least you won’t arrive at the landing zone with that ‘uh-oh’ feeling.

The subject of playing new courses while traveling was mentioned above, but is worth revisiting. If you’re playing a course you’ve never played before – especially if you’re just passing through and likely not to return any time soon, and especially especially if you’re playing solo – consider leaving your most precious discs out of the bag. When you don’t know the course it’s much easier to lose a disc, and when you’re solo the odds of finding it go down. Having a local as a guide helps quite a bit, but if you do lose a disc on that faraway course, odds of having it returned are not great. Instead, bring some ‘stunt doubles’ that won’t hurt as much to lose. Your score may suffer a little, but that sting is temporary compared to the loss of a key disc.

As a side note, it should also go without saying that being in an altered state of mind is often a contributing factor to lost – or forgotten – discs. To each his or her own, but play straight-edge and you’ll be amazed at how many fewer discs you ‘lose’. Disc golf should be enough in and of itself, anyway.

Golfers can easily get attached ( and that’s an understatement) to their equipment. The difference is, ball golfers bond with clubs but it’s the balls that go flying away into the horizon. In disc golf, there is only the disc- and us disc golfers can bond with one mighty quick. If I can prevent just one separation of player and disc, then this post was worth the effort.

Disc golf book excerpt #2: The economic realities of golf vs. disc golf

The previous excerpt of my upcoming book hopefully accurately captured the essence of golf, what makes it such a singular sporting activity, and why both versions of golf share the remarkable qualities.

Next up is a point-by-point discussion of where the two sports are starkly different, and why those differences position disc golf as the golf of the future. Today the discussion focuses on the economics of golf and disc golf.

The Economics of Golf

For all but maybe five percent of the world’s population, cost alone is a nearly insurmountable barrier. Even leaving out of the discussion those hundreds of millions in developing and/or impoverished countries for whom any leisure activity will never be a consideration during their lifetimes, golf simply costs too much.

In a 2008 report written for Yahoo! Sports titled “The cost of public golf,” Sam Weinman wrote “The average cost of greens fees for a course built before 1970, according to the National Golf Foundation, is $42.70. The average, however, for one that was constructed between 1970 and 1990 is $48.33, and $60.55 for those after 1990.”

In the same article, former USGA president Sandy Tatum is quoted as saying “The question is do you have affordable access to golf, and on too many fronts, the answer is no.”

Even in the most prosperous countries, $50 for an afternoon of recreation is too expensive for an average member of the population. In countries like Thailand, where total average annual income in U.S. dollars is less than $5,000, it’s not even an option for anyone but the richest of the rich.

 

Golf equipment is an additional, but no less insurmountable, part of the economic roadblock for those who may wish to play. A new set of clubs today runs from $150 on the low end to thousands of dollars for a top name brand set, and possibly tens of thousands for a set that is custom-fitted to the player. Then there is the ongoing cost of balls, which averages about $20-$25 per dozen. Even the most skilled players need to replenish their stock over time, and for the majority of players (whose frequent errant shots are often never found or end up in water) balls are a big part of the ongoing price tag of golf.

And then there are the little extras. Things that are not absolutely necessary to play the game but which most players end up purchasing at some point. Golf shoes, which many would say are necessary, cost anywhere from $40 to $250. Gloves are another $10-$40 each.

The list could go on, with rangefinders costing $200, and pricey golf attire so a player can”look the part” and fit in playing a sport with opportunities to demonstrate one’s financial status are numerous. But right now, we’re talking about what a person needs to pay out to take up and play the game.

For some perspective, consider a question asked and answered on the Yahoo! Answers website.

The question was: “What’s the cost for clubs, membership, clothes etc? Just mid-range gear, but not second hand. And how much would it cost to continue to play fairly often (twice a week)?”

The best answer, as chosen by voters on the site:

I started in July 2007, between games and equipment, I spent $1300 plus. I play on public courses, I bought what is called a Trail Pass in our area which gives a reduced rate at different courses. I bought a starter set of clubs which were the last set at a small golf store. I got them for half price. If there is an Academy in your area, you can get 75 reload golf balls for less than $20. You will (lose) a lot of balls in the (beginning) so don’t pay a lot for them.

You can save on lessons if you get a friend to take them with you. The pros usually have a group rate. As for clothes, wear collared shirts and non-denim shorts you may already have.

Last year, I upgraded my clubs, bought another trail pass and a promotion offer at another course, played about 60 times and spent around $2550.

Another answer, with a little less editorializing:

Mid-range clubs: about $700. Mid-range golf balls: $25 per box. Greens fees $60 per round, $15 for cart if you want one. Clothing, $60-80 for collared shirt and pants/shorts.

Memberships to private clubs cost a lot, it could be (more than) $10,000 just to join ,plus monthly fees, but public courses are charged per round.

While these totals don’t completely price everyone out of the option to play golf — especially in the United States — they are high enough to be prohibitive for a large majority and at least a major consideration for nearly all of us.

The Economics of Disc Golf

When it comes to the monetary cost of playing a sport, traditional golf is at the high end of the spectrum and disc golf is at the opposite end. In fact, disc golf is not only inexpensive in comparison to ball golf, but in comparison to nearly all other sports as well. Pretty much anyone that wants to play disc golf can find a way to cover the minimal cost.

One of the big reasons is the majority of disc golf courses around the world are free to play. No charge whatsoever. According to online course directory Disc Golf Course Review, as of August 2012, 3,420 of the 3,951 courses listed have no fees. That’s 87 percent.

Of the courses that do have a fee associated with access, many (usually in city, county, or state park land) simply charge a vehicle parking fee of $2-$5. Courses that do charge a per-player fee (known as pay-to-play courses in disc golf because they are the exception and not the rule) usually charge somewhere between $3-$10 to play an entire day — as many rounds as the player feels like playing. The most expensive disc golf courses, naturally, are those that were installed on existing ball golf courses. In these cases the course usually charges disc golfers the same green fees as the ball golfers. (As a side note, the growing number of instances where golf courses open their venues to disc golf speaks volumes about the opposite trends of the respective sports, and the ball golf course owners’ recognition of those trends.)

The comparison between the cost to play the average disc golf course and the typical golf course is obviously no comparison. But how does disc golf rank with other popular recreational sports?

It’s hard to beat free.

Public tennis courts are usually free but limited. Team sports normally require seasonal fees to cover the costs of field maintenance, officiating, and administration. Pick-up basketball is a notable exception — but like tennis — supply can be quite limited. Ever hear the term “I got next?” Downhill skiing is right up there with ball golf in terms of both the cost to use the facility and the equipment cost — and it requires a snow-covered mountain.

It’s hard to think of any sport that is more affordable than disc golf in terms of course costs. And unlike ball golf, certainly, and most other sports as well, even the equipment is within practically everyone’s budget.

Aside from the course, the only specialized equipment one needs is a few discs. Disc golf discs — quite different from the Frisbee-style flying discs used for playing catch — cost between $8 and $20 new, but used discs can be purchased for even less than that.

As far as the money it takes to play disc golf, that’s all that’s required. Certainly the rise in popularity for disc golf has spawned specialized disc golf bags, apparel, and various accessories, but none are required to be able to play the game. You can wear whatever you want on any course you play, use whichever pair of shoes suit the terrain best, and use whatever carrying case is handy to hold your discs.

Coming soon: Time requirements, level of difficulty and environmental impact.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional editor at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

Book Excerpt: Why golf is a great game, and why in the 21st century disc golf is even better

It is my firm belief that the sport of disc golf – which already has enjoyed strong, steady growth for more than two decades – will experience an explosion in popularity when two things happen:

  1. The general public is properly educated about the true nature and accessibility of disc golf, and all the nuances that make it so much more like traditional golf than most people assume to be the case (the variety of discs and throws, the effects of wind and terrain, etc.)
  2. Disc golf reaches a ‘tipping point’ in terms of popular opinion, triggered by either a critical mass of popular culture/media recognition or a handful of random watershed moments. For instance, if a super-famous person suddenly lists disc golf as their favorite activity, or a TV show, website, or publication with millions of fans features it prominently.

Now, it is altogether possible that a famous person will stumble across disc golf at any time, fall in love with the sport, and by sharing his/her passion for the sport do more to promote it in one day than all other players combined have done up to that point. But unless there is some exhaustive source of correct, detailed, and compelling information available that explains the many different reasons why people that have played it love it so much, chances of that watershed moment resulting in anything but a temporary fad are minimal. Those seeking the truth about the sport will find nothing substantial- or worse, the misinformation and oversimplifications that currently exist. My goal is to fill that void and have answers to the inevitable questions ready and waiting in a book, for the day the dam breaks. I’m writing a book that aims to make the two events numbered above much likelier to occur, as well as making the inevitable explosion of disc golf a mere launching point for something with staying power. The book will include chapters that discuss the history, finer points, unique grassroots growth, and formats of the sport, among others. But the unifying theme is a very specific sales pitch for disc golf, and it’s established in the first chapter and repeated throughout:

  • Golf is a great game – perhaps the best game ever  invented – and here is why
  • But golf has a number of barriers that prevent most people from ever getting to experience its greatness
  • Disc golf, by retaining the essence of traditional golf while eliminating ALL the barriers, enables everyone to experience the greatness of golf.
  • In many ways, disc golf even improves on many of golf’s strongest points

Beginning here, I’m going to post excerpts of the current draft of the first chapter, in hopes of soliciting your feedback. Let me know what you think. Challenge my ideas and facts. Suggest points I may have missed. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good we share a common goal: Letting the rest of the world in on a secret we’re all too happy to share.

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EXCERPT ONE

Arnold Palmer said “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated, it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening — and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind have ever invented.” Palmer – one of the most famous players and promoters in the history of the game – was right, to a point.

Golf is a great game- and would be the greatest game ever invented ‘without a doubt,’ as he said . . . except for the issue of accessibility. It can be played with others or in solitude. Played for the sake of competition, or comeraderie, or both. When playing golf in a tournament or even a friendly match, intelligent players realize they are actually competing against the course, the elements, and their own psyche. Another great quote comes from golf legend Bobby Jones, an early 20th century player who possessed incredible skills but didn’t realize his full potential until finding a way to master his emotions. He famously said that “competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”

Anyone who has played competitive golf knows that to be – figuratively, at least – all too true. Golf has a rulebook thicker than a Porterhouse steak, yet requires no referee, umpire or judge. Players are expected to officiate their own matches. Unlike baseball, about which many players have said ‘If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’,’ golf is linked to a sense of personal honesty and integrity. In the business world it’s often said ‘If you want to get to know what someone is really like, take ’em golfing.’ The implication being, of course, that if a person observes the rules and maintains his composure while playing as difficult and often maddening a sport as golf, he’ll do likewise elsewhere.

In the literal sense, golf is played on an expansive course that traverses miles of terrain- another factor that makes it a special and unique sport. Consider the fact that alone among the major popular spectator sports a golf competition cannot be viewed in it’s entirety by sitting or standing in one place. This is important because also unlike other major sports, it’s growth and eventual place among the world’s most recognized sports is due more to its popularity as a sport to be played rather than a sport to be watched.

Golf became a spectator sport due to the number of people that played the game, whereas with most other sports it is the other way around. But golf has some serious drawbacks and limitations. Traditional golf is in a steady, slow decline, as even it’s most ardent supporters acknowledge. In a story that ran in the Palm Beach Post on May 15, 2012, Jack Nicklaus, a contemporary of Palmer’s and winner of the most major championships in history, put it bluntly: “What are the three main things we’re dealing with? The game takes too long, the game is too hard, and it’s too expensive.”

In an effort to stem the tide, Nicklaus has advocated and even experimented with events that have less holes, strict time limits, and even holes in the ground that are twice the normal width. An examination of the facts make it obvious why so many are concerned for the future of the game, but perhaps the solution is a version of golf that retains all that is great about the game while addressing it’s shortcomings in a more drastic, fundamental way.

That’s just a little taste. The next posted excerpt will appear soon, and it’ll begin to discuss the drawbacks/barriers of traditional golf and counter them with corresponding strengths of disc golf.

If you’re interested in helping to promote the book when it comes out, email me directly at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com. To those around the world that have already contacted me, thanks! I’m trying to come up with some novel ideas for getting it noticed by the non-disc golfing public, and any suggestions are very welcome.

A plan to finally get disc golf past the tipping point

The day disc golf finally goes viral is . . . not here yet.

Hasn’t happened.

But like a geologist who observes trends and predicts a major earthquake will occur in an area with no seismic history, I believe it will.

Many share my belief, but few agree with my vision of how it will happen and what disc golf’s future potential can be. Those on the inner circle of professional disc golf — and their small but intensely loyal pack of fans — seem to think a major sponsor will come along and bankroll the professional tour, making televised tournaments a reality, thus creating legions of new players and courses.

This is a romanticized vision based more on hopes and dreams than any historical sports precedent, and I feel it is completely backwards.

Corporations are about two things — making money and, if public, increasing share price. They just don’t sink major sponsorship money into anything until they can see that it will draw a measurably significant audience and therefore improve their bottom line. By this yardstick disc golf is no where close.

My posts also appear on the premier disc golf golf blog, Rattling Chains, and I asked founder P.J. Harmer to run last week’s poll question, ‘How did you get introduced to the game’ for this precise reason. The results were just as I predicted — 67 percent said they learned of the sport through a friend, and exactly zero responded that they learned of it through some form of media.

Disc golf has grown steadily over four decades almost entirely through grassroots efforts — in my mind a testament to its very substantial and enduring attractions — but also a reality check in terms of where we’re at in the overall public consciousness. Grass grows slowly but steadily. Inexorably. Viral growth is something that builds swiftly, like wildfire, and is just as impossible to ignore.

After more than 20 years of observing and participating in all aspects of the game, I feel disc golf must reach a critical mass as a recreational participant sport before it can even dream of attaining any significance as a spectator sport. And, frankly, that’s the main thing I personally care about anyway. I want as many people as possible to become aware of this nearly perfect sporting activity.

I feel a moral obligation to share the message of disc golf — how it provides all that is great about the game of traditional golf while removing that sport’s many barriers (cost, time, difficulty, environmental impact, exclusivity) — with people around the world.

Further, it is my sincere belief that if someone knows all the nuances of and details of the above statement, there is a good chance they’ll give the game a try. And if they try it, we all know a majority will like it and some will love it. Most people who have a vague idea of disc golf have a simplified notion of the sport, and that has to change.

If you agree with my position, or if you simply want disc golf to go viral and don’t care how it happens, I have a proposition for you.

I’m working on a book that will hopefully lay out the message I just described as a compelling, detailed argument on multiple fronts. It’s already more than halfway complete. The intended audience are the millions of people out there that would fall in love with our sport if they could understand why we love it. They need to know that there is a complex, yet simple activity that provides so much entertainment, and competition, and exercise, and fellowship — at practically no cost.

Writing the book is only a small part of the plan, and that’s where you come in.

My hope is the book will be the spark that helps disc golf go viral. And for that to happen, I’m going to need help. I want an army of DISCiples to use the book as a tool for the greater purpose. How exactly that can happen — besides the obvious social media and old school word-of-mouth methods — I’m not yet sure. But I’m open to suggestions, and have begun to build a database of people who feel as strongly as I do about disc golf and want to be part of it all. Please contact me directly at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com with any and all input.

And since I realize rational thinking individuals would want to know more about the contents of the book before seriously considering to help promote it, I’m going to begin posting excerpts here and at schoolofdiscgolf.com. Look for the first to appear in the very near future.

No one knows when or how disc golf will go viral, but wouldn’t it be fun to part of it?