Last week’s best example of grassroots disc golf growth comes from Cape Cod

With apologies to Paul Mcbeth and his impressive ESPN coverage in the past year, local disc golf clubs still get my vote as the MVP (most valuable part) of disc golf’s inexorable expansion. It’s as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. The increased visibility of our pro tours and the increase of disc golf-related businesses (more companies, more disc models, etc.) is due to a strong, steady rise in the number of people who play the sport.
  2. The steady rise in the number of people who play the sport is mostly due to a steady rise in the number of places where disc golf can be played. New courses, in other words.
  3. A large majority of disc golf courses in the world today exist only because a club lobbied for its installation and did/does the heavy lifting/grunt work- for example, the fundraising, maintenance, and community relations.

The chapter of The Disc Golf Revolution titled “Disc Golf’s Organic, Grassroots Growth offers dozens of examples, but this post focuses on one that is unfolding right now.

In Sandwich, which is part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the #CapeCodDiscGolfClub is going above and beyond (which is typical behavior for a disc golf club) to get a new course installed on the Boyden Farm Conservation Lands. According to Tao Woolfe’s excellent reporting, the club submitted a proposal a year ago but pulled its request because the environmental impact report wasn’t completed in time. But when it was finally completed, results backed disc golf in a big way.

“The study ultimately showed that disc golf would not hurt wildlife or forested habitats. Natural Resources Director David J. DeConto said at that time that the environment would actually benefit from the new course.” –Tao Woolfe, The Sandwich Enterprise

Andrew McManus, president of CCDGC, submitted a plan promising the club would “prune the course annually, clean up any storm damage, design and create the course through the trees—keeping and maintaining the existing mature trees and thinning the underbrush.” It went on to say that volunteers (would) also clean up litter, help enforce park rules, and place signage and an information kiosk, and host golf clinics to teach people how to play.” Woolfe’s story added the fact that the club has performed similar volunteer maintenance at Burgess Park in Marstons Mills since 2011.

disc golf club, disc golf book, disc golf lessons, disc golf teambuilding
Disc golf clubs are also all about fun and competition. This is the team representing my home club, DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club, against 15 other clubs at the NorCal Team Invitational Match Play event.

The people who lead disc golf clubs and push to get new courses installed don’t do it for personal gain. To me, that makes their sport’s grassroots growth not only more special and pure, if you will, but also less likely to taper off. They put in the hours and raise the funds because they want more opportunities to do something they love, as evidenced in the photo above. They want it for themselves, to be sure, but they are also eager to share the experience with others.

 

As ball golf courses struggle, disc golf fills the void

Contrasting the rapidly expanding number of disc golf courses in the U.S. with the, uh, relative ‘shrinkage‘ in ball golf is one way to measure the unstoppable ascension of The New Golf.

Both Steve Dodge and I have publicly predicted that the number of disc golf courses in the U.S. will overtake traditional golf venues in the near future. Mr. Dodge wrote about it on the DGPT blog, and I addressed it a couple of times in my book. In both cases we considered the two types of courses as mutually exclusive- in other words, they are either one or the other. A growing trend, however, is changing the math in a BIG way.

If we’re comparing facilities that offer ONLY ball golf to all the parks, open spaces, AND commercial venues where permanent disc golf courses exist, our seemingly aggressive predictions of eight and five years may turn out to be conservative.

And you can guess why, can’t you?

disc golf on golf courses, disc golf lessons, disc golf teambuilding
The basket of Hole 11 of the disc golf layout on DeLaveaga Municipal Golf Golf in Santa Cruz, CA sits perilously close to a sand trap. Traps and greens are typically one-stroke hazards in disc golf.

Public ball golf courses are dropping left and right. More often than not they operate at a loss these days, and those that try to remain open are desperate to attract new patrons. Enter disc golf, a sport headed in a decidedly different direction. This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune offers a perfect example.

San Diego runs multiple public golf courses, but only the famous Torrey Pines complex with two championship 18-hole tracks turns a profit. The rest of them are subsidized by the city. Balboa and Mission Bay, which according to the article lose a combined $2 million each year, felt compelled to attract a new breed of golfer. For a relatively minimal investment they added disc golf and footgolf, and (no surprise), usage at both courses has spiked.

“The spikes in usage at Balboa and Mission Bay have been partly attributed to upgrades, including new foot and disc golf courses added to each and a greater focus on the quality of course conditions.”  -David Garrick, SD Union Tribune

A quick Google search yields plenty of other examples, like this one from Ceres, CA, and another from Tuscon, AZ where the city council recommended more desperate measures- with disc golf still the end goal.

The article from San Diego also mentioned some details on how much it costs to operate a traditional golf course. According to Garrick, energy and water costs for all San Diego public courses are expected to rise this year from $2.1 to $2.6 million, with personnel costs rising from $4.3 million to $4.6 million. Their overall budget will approach $20 million!

So is it realistic to think that within a few short years the number of disc golf-only courses in the U.S. combined with the number of ball golf/disc golf hybrid courses will be greater than the number of ball golf-only courses? Sure seems like it.

We’re trending that way already, as budget-strapped cities and municipalities are figuring out that disc golf courses require a tiny fraction of the overhead needed to keep a traditional golf course playable, in addition to requiring far less land.

What do you suppose will happen when it also becomes common knowledge that the average taxpayer these days is more likely to embrace the easier-to-learn, quicker-to-play, less expensive, and less environmentally impactful version of the game?

Get ready for The New Golf. It will eclipse the old, obsolete model, much sooner than you think.

How To Sell Disc Golf to Your Friends

If you’re like me, the desire to ‘sell’ the sport of disc golf to anyone who crosses your path comes as naturally as breathing, blinking, and throwing a hyzer. As decent human beings we want others to enjoy the benefits of the sport we love, right? So the sales pitches just gush forth. But are they as compelling and effective as they can possibly be?

While displaying a sincere belief in and passion for something is a powerful element of effective sales, the message itself is also important. And so is tailoring the message to the audience. But often we don’t have time for anything but a quick summary of the game and it’s best features. Normally this means quickly explaining that disc golf is fun, anyone can play, and anyone can afford it.playdiscgolf, school of disc golf, disc golf lessons, disc golf teambuilding,

My personal elevator pitch, when I have a minute or less to share the virtues of disc golf with people or persons I may not know well, goes something like this:

“Golf really is a great game. You get fresh air and low impact exercise, can play alone or with others, and the strategic and mental challenges ensure that it never gets old. It also builds important life skills like integrity, self-control, patience, and humility. BUT . . . traditional golf is saddled with numerous limitations that make those wonderful traits inaccessible to the majority of people in the world. Either the cost is too high, or it takes too long to play a round, or it’s too difficult, or the environmental impact is troubling. Disc golf, on the other hand, retains everything that is great about golf while eliminating each of the barriers.”

If I have a chance for a more in-depth discussion, I’ll drill down to more details on one or more of disc golf’s high points based on what I know about those listening to me.

When money is obviously an issue I will stress the affordability, pointing out that most courses are free to play and one needs only a few inexpensive discs. Most who know little about the sport are usually surprised that courses are usually free because they are aware that ball golf courses all charge significant fees.

disc golf for all ages, disc golf lessons, disc golf classes
Disc golf is for everyone.

If I’m speaking to someone who feels like they need more exercise, I’ll explain that:

  • Disc golf can provide whatever level of exercise a person wants, from walking only a few holes at first on a flat course to hours of hiking or even running over varied terrain
  • I’ve known numerous people who have lost significant weight and improved their health in other ways by simply playing disc golf on a regular basis
  • The casual, open nature of the sport makes it a great choice for those having a hard time fitting exercise time into a busy schedule

As a former baseball player, I frequently run into old teammates who long for a new competitive outlet. In these and similar situations I go straight to explaining how much more “golf-like” disc golf is than most assume it to be. For instance:

  • The constant risk-reward decisions that are a hallmark of golf are ever-present in disc golf as well
  • The basic throwing techniques, while easy to quickly learn at a functional level, can take years to achieve a semblance of mastery
  • Long throws provide that “Feat of Strength” rush that one gets from baseball, golf, and other sports
  • Lest someone think we’re hurling the same beach Frisbee again and again, I point out that differences in the design and weight of discs provide players with more than enough (sometimes too many!) equipment options

When speaking to someone whose concern for the environment shapes many of the choices they make, I am quick to contrast disc golf with ball golf in that context. Since the state of the playing surface matters little, a disc golf course can exist almost anywhere without any manipulation of the natural setting. Although some courses are installed in groomed park areas, watering, mowing, and landscaping are not necessary. If someone wants to play a sport and experience nature at the same time, you can’t do better than disc golf.

The Disc Golf Revolution, disc golf book,
Go to playdiscgolf.org to learn more about Jack Tupp’s new book, “The Disc Golf Revolution.”

Disc golf is steadily growing, mostly due to word of mouth and sales pitches similar to the ones described above. Because of the game’s supreme accessibility, a large percentage of those who try it become enthusiasts themselves in short order. It is my opinion, however, that should these facts about disc golf become more widely available, the drip-drip-drip of disc golf growth will become a deluge. From dripping point to tipping point.

I’ve felt this way for some time, and it led me to write a book called The Disc Golf Revolution. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book should be available by Fall 2017. You can learn more at http://playdiscgolf.org.

Jack Trageser is the owner of School of Disc Golf and author of Three Paths to Better Disc Golf and The Disc Golf Revolution. He resides in Santa Cruz, CA

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!

Out of Production, but still producing: disc value is in the eye of the holder

If you frequent online enclaves such as the the Disc Golf Collector Exchange group on Facebook, or the similar forum pages on the Disc Golf Course Review website, the acronym O-O-P is well known to you. It stands for ‘out of production’ and refers to discs that are no longer being produced by their manufacturer. This of course is significant to collectors because it means a disc that is O-O-P is in limited supply and therefore of potentially higher value.

It means something to me, too, but for a different reason. While collectors get excited about O-O- P, I get nervous.

Having played disc golf for more than 20 years now, I own close to 100 discs not including the stock I have on hand for use in my School of Disc Golf. But I would not consider myself a collector. Possibly a bit of a historian, and more than anything else an accumulator, I’d say. But as collectors are thought of as those who like to build a collection either as a hobby or for profit, I can safely say that isn’t me.

The author collects only discs with personal significance. Among this group are his first ace, most memorable ace, a disc to commemorate the opening of the first course in S.F., a NorCal 'Hotshot' disc awarded for the low round in a tour event, and a prototype DGA Blowfly signed and given to him by Steady Ed Headrick. Blurry photo by Jack Trageser
The author collects only discs with personal significance. Among this group are his first ace, most memorable ace, a disc to commemorate the opening of the first course in S.F., a NorCal ‘Hotshot’ disc awarded for the low round in a tour event, and a prototype DGA Blowfly signed and given to him by Steady Ed Headrick. Blurry photo by Jack Trageser

I have some discs that would go for much more than their original sales price if I ever decided to sell them, but all the discs in my possession that I value the most are dear to me for one of two other reasons: either I have a sentimental attachment to them – like my first ace disc or a prototype signed and given to me by Steady Ed Headrick; or they are out of production and I still use them to play. It’s the second of these that is the main subject of today’s post. Irreplaceable actually retains its literal definition when the object that is difficult or impossible to replace is actually serving a function rather than just gathering dust (in it’s dust-cover, of course). The mere thought of losing a key disc in your bag and not being able to replace it can cause little beads of sweat to form on one’s forehead- am I right?

In my bag right now, along with an Obex, Trak, Lace, Blizzard Ape, Blizzard Destroyer, ESP Nuke, Pig and two Aviars, are no less than four such discs. Every time one of those gems flies out of my sight I feel like a father whose teenage daughter is out on a date. (Okay, as a father with actual daughters I admit that’s an exaggeration, but still!) These are discs that if lost or broken would leave a big hole in my life, er, I mean my bag.

First there is my gummy Champion Beast. It is a pre-Barry Schultz mold that flies very straight and is great for low, flat S-shots. And the material is virtually indestructible ( I have a theory that Innova stopped using it because it’s too durable). I stocked up a bit on these so I’m prepared should it ever get lost, but still. O-O-P.

The author's orange gummy Champion Beast. Purchased on eBay after it was already O-O-P, after he had already fallen in love with it as a 'thrower'. Photo by Jack Trageser
The author’s orange gummy Champion Beast. Purchased on eBay after it was already O-O-P, after he had already fallen in love with it as a ‘thrower’. Photo by Jack Trageser

Next is my Pro-Line Rhyno, very soft and grippy yet firm for throwing. I’m sure I can replace it if I have to, but I’ve checked on eBay where I actually bought this one, after losing its predecessors) and the price is going O-O-P up . . .

The author's well-worn ProLine Rhyno. Flexible, but not floppy. Grippy, and still hold's the (Pro) line. Photo by Jack Trageser
The author’s well-worn ProLine Rhyno. Flexible, but not floppy. Grippy, and still hold’s the (Pro) line. Photo by Jack Trageser

After that is a disc that is a perfect midrange for me as a straight flyer that can also hold a turnover line forever: my yellow Champion Cobra. This disc doesn’t say ‘First Run’ on the stamp, but I think they only made these in this mold for a short time. It’s very different from both the original Cobra and the ones being made now, with a completely flat top and decidedly midrange nose profile. I have one other one (in purple), but it doesn’t fly quite the same. Whenever this disc isn’t exactly where I expect it to be, my heart rate rises steadily until it’s safely in my bag once again.

The first version of Innova's Cobra made in Champion plastic. Very different from the original Cobra mold, and in the author's viewpoint the perfect flat/turnover midrange disc. Photo by Jack Trageser
The first version of Innova’s Cobra made in Champion plastic. Very different from the original Cobra mold, and in the author’s viewpoint the perfect flat/turnover midrange disc. Photo by Jack Trageser

Finally, there is the great-grandfather of my bag, a 173-gram DGA Disc Golf Disc Distance Driver that was made in 1989. This baby has both practical and sentimental value. It’s my go-to finesse roller  with no conceivable replacement waiting in the wings. And being a virtual antique made when there was no other plastic other than what is now known as ‘DX’ (Innova’s designation for the lowest grade) I cringe whenever it so much as heads for a tree. I originally purchased four of them from Steady Ed himself, at the DGA factory, but the other three have all died the deaths of brave warriors. There is virtually no chance of replacing this disc, and every time I get it to roll perfectly on my second throw on hole 13 at DeLa, it’s like watching one of those vintage World War I planes zoom across the sky. There is a sense of watching history unfold before your eyes, but also a nervousness around the fragility and irreplaceable nature of that disc in particular. Discs are meant to fly (and roll), though, and I’ll keep using it as long as I can.

It says driver, but this one is now most valuable as a super finesse roller. Also, I bought it was purchased from the Father of Disc Golf. That's something, too. Photo by Jack Trageser
It says driver, but this one is now most valuable as a super finesse roller. Also, I bought it was purchased from the Father of Disc Golf. That’s something, too. Note the copyright date on the stamp of 1989. Photo by Jack Trageser

By the way, a quick side-note about this disc: When I bought it in 1998 it was already out of production. Those who knew Steady Ed will appreciate the fact that he charged me $20 for each of them.

So my questions for you are, do you have O-O-P discs in your bag? What are they? Are you a collector who has rare discs that you’d like to throw but don’t want to reduce their value as collectibles? Use the comments section to join the conversation. I’m sure we’re all interested to hear the range of opinions on this one, and I personally love hearing about other antique discs that are still out there producing, even if they are officially Out Of Production.

Gap Analysis: The science and art of navigating trees in disc golf

Many playing companions over the years have heard me mutter “I see holes” out loud at some point in my pre-shot routine during a round of disc golf. It’s a ‘go-to’ phrase of mine, and has been for probably 15 years. Some ask why I say those particular words when getting ready for certain shots, and they get the answer(s) you’re about to read below.

The funny thing about this particular mantra is that I use it for two distinctly different reasons- yet the two reasons often blend together. And the place where the two meet – the axis of risk/reward assessment (a scientific approach) and more nebulous subjects like positive thinking and confidence (closer to an art than a science) – is really the essence of the mental side of golf. As always, this is best explained through the use of specific examples, which we’ll get into, but first a brief explanation of the two reasons for “I see holes!”

The history of this mantra for me was the light bulb-over-the-head realization that even on shots where the trees and other obstacles seem so numerous that throwing a disc cleanly through and past them is impossible, it’s rarely as bleak as that. In fact, when you consider the overall area covering a particular flight path you’re hoping to take, the gaps between the trees usually represent a much larger portion of the total space than the obstructions.

After this fact became apparent to me, I would chant “I see holes” as a way to remind myself to think about and visualize a clean flight rather than dreading the relatively few disc whacking trees it had to pass. In this context it’s really just positive thinking and positive imagery, and the mantra is a way to keep my thoughts focused on the good things that I plan to happen rather than the bad things that might occur. And it really works! That’s how it started out when the phrase first popped into my head. But it was only a matter of time before my analytical side dissected the magical effectiveness of ‘I see holes’.

Ironically, as explained above my little mantra started out as a vague positive-thinking mind trick. And I’m convinced it works. But sometimes I find myself with so many trees between my lie and the basket (or whatever fairway spot I’m aiming for) that even a positive thinker along the magnitude of Stuart Smalley would have a hard time ‘seeing holes’. I’m talking about situations where I know that realistically the chances of getting through clean on the ideal line are less than 50 percent. At times like that I’m forced to choose between (to use a technical term) the least suck-y option.

When it’s time to select from different options on the golf course, the scientific side of me kicks in. Thoughts of percentages and risk/reward kick in. You would think that would preclude the nebulous realm of ‘I see holes’, but the mantra actually has a place here as well. This time, though, the more applicable adjectives are ‘practical,’ ‘sensible’, and the more golf-specific ‘high-percentage’. Depending on the situation, there are a couple different applications for this approach.

Searching Far and Wide

When your direct path to the target is blocked, look for gaps to the left and right that offer the best alternatives. Sometimes, as in Example 1 (click on the image to get a better view), you can hit the gap with a shot that will curve toward the target after it passes through. Other times the layout won’t allow for anything but a straight shot. Either way, though, it’s better to get most of the way there than aim for a tiny slot and hit something right in front of you.

Sometimes the best gap to aim for does not present a direct route to the target. But in tight spots the thing to look for is the best chance to get past the obstacle. Photo by Jack Trageser.
EXAMPLE 1: Sometimes the best gap to aim for does not present a direct route to the target. But in tight spots the thing to look for is the best chance to get past the obstacle. In this case the player needed to throw a shot that curved left after clearing that gap. Photo by Jack Trageser.

The ‘General Area’ Gap

This approach usually applies to instances where the obstacles in question are not right in front of you but further away, and evenly distributed, so that there is no single gap that is the clear choice.

In situations where I see what appears to be a wall of trees blocking my route that is far enough away that aiming for one particular small gap isn’t feasible I try to identify the least-dense section of that wall. Kind of like an attacking army would look for the weak spot that is most vulnerable. To be clear, I’m not talking about finding a single gap between two trees. In the situation I’m describing, the objective is to identify, aim for and hit a general area that offers the least resistance to a disc that wants to pass through relatively unmolested.

In a sense, I’m trying to find the one realistically hittable zone where there are more open spaces than trees (‘I see holes!’). A key point is that in situations like these I have shifted my goal away from selecting the shot that can get me all the way to the target – because there is either no realistic option for doing so or the chances that I’ll succeed are extremely low –  to selecting the shot that has the best chance to advance the disc as far as possible.

Example 2 (again, click on the image to get the necessary larger view) shows two gaps- one on the left of the photo, and one on the right. The gap on the right is the more direct route to the basket (hidden behind the trees on the right), and it is also a ‘true’ gap in the sense that a perfectly accurate throw will definitely get through. However, I chose to aim for the general area circled on the left for the following reasons: 1- even though a couple skinny tree trunks cut through the area, the overall area is much larger than the single gap on the right, and my odds of getting through are better; 2- the gap on the left provides a better worst-case scenario as there are no early trees to hit on the way to the gap (notice the early trees on the right side on the route to the gap on the right); and 3- as a left-hander throwing a backhand shot, if I get through the gap on the left with the throw I want, it will skip-hyzer right, in the direction of the basket. The right gap would require me to throw a shot that stays perfectly straight for 200-plus feet- a difficult feat to say the least.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, hopefully filling a few ‘gaps’ (couldn’t resist) in your strategic and mental game. Here is a quick list of the important take-aways:

  • Most of the time, even when it seems like there are lots of obstacles in the way, it’s mostly open space (holes, you see). Focusing on the space rather than the other stuff will enable you to hit those gaps more often. In other words . . . visualize success!
  • When you find yourself hemmed into a particularly tight spot, take a wide view of all your possibly escape routes. If all the more direct paths to your target require hitting tiny openings with an unlikely perfect throw, settle for a higher-percentage throw that at least allows you to make some progress.
  • When your obstacles are further away and no single gap stands out as the obvious route to take, look for a general zone that is the most open. Then target that large zone and revert to the first bullet point: think positive!

You Make the Call

In the last photo – Example 3 – there are three routes circled. If you open the full image you can see that the basket is shown in the middle of the center gap. The question I have for you, the reader, is ‘Which gap would you choose (the right rough on hole 10 at DeLaveaga, by the way), and why’? Please use the Comments link at the end of this post to provide your answer. I’ll wait a few days for the answers to come in, then I’ll post a comment with the route that I took, and why.

In this photo the basket is to the right, behind the wall of trees. The gap on the right- despite the fact that several small tree trunks criss-cross the opening - is still the best option for the left-handed thrower. Photo by Jack Trageser.
EXAMPLE 2- In this photo the basket is to the right, behind the wall of trees. The gap on the right- despite the fact that several small tree trunks criss-cross the opening – is still the best option for the left-handed thrower. Photo by Jack Trageser.
On this one you get to make the call. Would you go for: A-the gap on the left; B- the gap in the middle; or C- the gap on the right? And most importantly, why? Vote in the comments section below. Photo by Jack Trageser.
EXAMPLE 3- On this one you get to make the call. Would you go for: A-the gap on the left; B- the gap in the middle (note, the basket is in the middle of this gap); or C- the gap on the right? And most importantly, why? Vote in the comments section below. Photo by Jack Trageser.

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