About Disc Golf

New to the sport of disc golf? Maybe you’ve been playing so long that your rule book was printed in 1932. Maybe you just want a refresher before stepping out on the course or going to that tourney. Below are some basic rules and refreshers plus some other links to more disc golf info.

Ultimately the most important thing to know about disc golf is that the activity is all about having FUN. First time player or touring professional, we all go out and throw the little plastic discs at the metal baskets because its fun.

Topics

Basic Rules
Equipment
Disc Golf Etiquette
Tournament Basics
Get Involved
Links

Rules? Disc Golf has Rules?

Yes, disc golf has rules. But, they are only there so everyone has fun and the so that play goes smoothly. Below are some of the basics to keep in mind when out on the course. A COMPLETE set of searchable rules is available from the PDGA website and is a great reference.

The Goal of the Game: Just like ball golf, the object of the game is get your disc in the basket in the least number of throws. On each hole the first throw is made from the tee box and 1 stroke is counted for each throw a player makes until the disc lands in and stays in the metal basket. A disc hanging in the chains is considered in the basket, but a disc sitting on top of the upper support which holds the chains is not considered in the basket and must be thrown again.

Throwing That Disc/Where Do I Stand?: The process of getting your disc from the tee box to the basket is as simple as throwing it, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you throw. There are certain places you must be when throwing the disc – in short – you have to be behind a line defined either by the tee box or by the location of your previous throw when throwing the disc. Please note that throughout this section positioning your body is often referred to using your feet as if you were in a standing position. This is the most common throwing position, but ANY part of your body in contact with the ground or a solid object (such as a large rock) on the ground is considered a “point of contact”. Accordingly you can be kneeling, sitting, lying down, etc as long as the following rules are followed.

  1. 1. Foot Placement – Driving: A typical tee has a “front” edge marked by two posts or a line. When making your first throw (often referred to as your tee shot or your drive) you must release the disc with all of your points of contact behind that line. Translated, this means you have to have let go of your disc before stepping over that line. If you are a ‘Stand and Deliver’ thrower – your feet will be planted and this is not something you would need to worry about. Many people step or run into their drive and often their momentum will carry them over that line which is OK as long as the disc has been released.
  2. 2. Foot Placement – Subsequent throws After you throw your drive, the location of your disc determines the spot from which you make your next throw. At the location your disc lies (appropriately called your “lie”) you have two options, you can leave the disc where it is and throw another OR you can use a ‘mini’ or ‘marker disc’ to mark the location of your previous throw. If you use a mini, you can pick up your previously thrown disc and then throw any disc from the spot marked by your mini. In tournament play it is recommended to use a mini. A mini is placed immediately in front of the edge of the previously thrown disc that is closest to the basket. Once you have marked your lie you need to know where you can put your feet. Whether you are using a mini or your original throw as a marker you must have one point of contact within 30cm (11 inches) of the rear edge of the mini or disc. The ‘rear’ edge is the edge furthest from the basket you are approaching. In addition you cannot have any points of contact touching the mini or any point closer to the basket than the rear edge of the marker. For throws made from more than 10 meters (33 feet) from the basket, it is acceptable to let your momentum carry you closer to the basket after you have released the disc. If you are within 10 meters of the basket you must demonstrate full control of balance before approaching the basket whether or not you make the putt. Failure to do this is referred to as a falling put and is a stance violation. We don’t want any Violations do we?

Out of Bounds: On many courses, some areas on or near the course are considered out of bounds (OB). Typically these are marked with posts or a string. Rivers and ponds are also typically considered out of bounds though are not always marked. A disc that is entirely surrounded by the water is considered out of bounds. So what happens if a disc goes out of bounds?

  1. Where to Mark the Lie: If a disc comes to rest entirely out of bounds the player must mark their lie at the last point the disc was in bounds. For the purposes of disc golf, out of bounds lines extend vertically toward the sky indefinitely so that a disc that was thrown and never touched ground in bounds is marked at the spot where it crossed over the OB line. The location often has to be estimated and is done by consensus of the group. Once it is determined where the disc went out of bounds, the player can mark theri lie with up to 1 meter of relief from the out of bounds line. The relief must be taken in a direction perpendicular to the out of bounds line, even if this moves a player closer to the basket.
  2. How to Score the OB: A player whose disc comes to rest out of bounds is given a 1 stroke penalty. One way to think of it is that the action of moving your disc back in bounds counts as a throw. On the score card the score is recorded as the total score including the penalty with a circle around the number indicating that there was a penalty. For example, a player makes 4 throws to get the disc in the basket, but one of their throws went OB. The total score for the whole would be 4 + 1 = 5 and the card would be marked as a 5 with a circle around it – referred to as a “circle 5”. If a player were to recieve more than one OB violation on a given hole they would recieve 1 penalty stroke per throw that lands OB. The score card will have the total score with the 1 circle around the number per stroke penalty. 2 OB throws on the previous example would result in a “Double Circle 6”. And though it happens we don’t really want to talk about the “Triple circle 10”.

Dude, where’s my disc? Lost discs are unfortunately a fact of disc golf. Accordingly there are rules concerning what to do in the event of a lost disc, but first let’s review Lost Disc Prevention. The best way to avoid losing your disc in the first place is to WATCH YOUR THROW all the way from release to the point it stops moving – remember, just because it hit the ground doesn’t mean its not going to roll 50 feet, especially on a hill. When playing with a group of people, especially in a tournament, all of the players should watch all of the throws. As much as you might want to hang your head in shame or kick the nearest rock because you were unhappy with your throw, you will want to do that even more when you get a stroke penalty for not being able to find that bad throw.

In the unfortunate event that you can’t locate your disc, the first step is get some help from your group. In tournament play you have three minutes after arriving at the location the disc was last seen or believed to have landed. If the disc cannot be located within three minutes with the entire group helping, it is declared a lost disc and the player will receive a one stroke penalty. If the disc was lost on a throw from the tee, the player will re-tee. Otherwise, the player will re-throw from the previous location as agreed to by the group.

Order of play: Disc Golf doesn’t adhere to many social norms. This generalism applies to the order of play as well. There is no such thing as “Ladies First” or “Age before Beauty” but there is a set of rules to make sure that you all don’t throw at the same time.

  1. Teeing Off: On the first hole of a round the tee order is determined by the order the names are written on the scorecard. If you have no scorecard or haven’t written them down yet, its up the players to come up with a creative way to make this decision. Teeing off from subsequent holes requires a little more analysis. The order is based on how each player scored on the previous hole, with the lowest score shooting first. In the event of a tie, keep referring back to previous holes under the tie is broken.
  2. Subsequent Throws: After teeing off, the order of play is determined by the distance of each players’ disc from the hole. The player whose disc is furthest from the hole is referred to as ‘away’ and this player is the next to throw. In some circumstances this can mean that the same player might make consecutive throws until they are no longer ‘away’.

Equipment

Putters, Drivers and Mid-Ranges – Oh MY! There are a great selection of types of discs with a disc style, weight and color for almost every player and throw. Obviously that is WAY too much info to share here, so here we will address the basics and you can use some of the other links and people you meet on the course as a resource for additional info.

First, let’s review some terminology (no you don’t have to remember all of this – it just might come in handy from time to time):

Fade: All discs thrown by a right handed backhand (RHBH) will tend to fade to the left from the point of view of the thrower as the disc slows down and reaches the end of its flight. This portion of the flight is referred to as Fade and some discs have a greater tendancy to do it than others.

Turn: Some discs when thrown by a RHBH will have a tendancy to turn to the right early on in the throw (during the highest speed portion of the throw). This is called high speed turn (or just turn for short).

Speed: A disc’s ability to cut through the air is its speed. Often this is just referred to as how ‘fast’ the disc is.
Float or Glide: This is a referrence to the amount of lift the disc generates – more float or glide means the disc will naturally have some lift and will stay in the air longer than a disc with less float or glide.

Overstable: An overstable disc typically has a lot of tendacy to Fade and only a little or no tendancy to Turn. It will have a flight path when thrown by a RHBH that will have a constant and often sharp turn to the left.

Understable: An understable disc typically has a lot of tendacy to Turn and little tendacy to Fade. It will have a flight path when thrown by a RHBH that will turn first to the right and then if it is in the air long enough will eventually begin to fade back to the left.

Now using these terms lets talk about some typical types of discs:

Driver: Drivers are the fastest set of discs. They can vary from very overstable to very understable and are typically designed to be thrown with most of or all of your power. Typically they are used for tee shots or other long range throws. Visually they usually have a sleek profile with a sharp edge.

Mid-Range: Mid Ranges are the middle of the road discs. They also can vary from overstable to understable but are typically designed to be thrown with a variety of power. The Mid-Range is often one of the most versatile discs in the sport – used for a full variety of shots and situations.

Putter: Putters are the slowest set of discs. They are typically slightly overstable and are usually designed primarily to hit the chains and stay in the basket. Because of this, putters typically have a large or tall rim.

So What Do I Need? Disc Golfers carry anywhere from 1 to 20+ discs depending on a great number of factors including, the course and weather conditions, the competition level and how many ponds and rivers they are likely to lose their discs in. A typical beginner really only needs 2 or 3 discs and as you play more you will find what you like. You will also find that as you progress in the sport, you will notice the subtle differences between discs that you did not notice before – as this happens you will acquire more and more discs and eventually you will have to get yourself a caddy.

As a basic recommendation you should have 1 putter, 1 mid-range and 1 driver. Even if you end up throwing one of these discs more than the others, you will have the opportunity to get used to the differences. In tournament play, you should also have a ‘mini’ (marker disc). If you don’t have one and you are headed to a tournament, don’t worry – often times you will receive one as part of the players package or can borrow one as many experienced players have a bunch.

Picking Your Discs: Picking the right discs for you can seem daunting since there are such a large selection with absolutely bizarre names and different types of plastic. The Marshall Street on-line Pro Shop has a wonderful Interactive Flight Guide. This guide shows discs from a variety of manufacturers in a grid. The horizontal axis shows the range from overstable on the left to understable on the right. The vertical axis shows discs from slow speed on the bottom to high speed on the top.

In addition to the flight characteristics there are discs of different weights and different kinds of plastics. Let’s review the basic disc characteristics that determine how it flies:

Weight: Discs typcially Range from 150g up to 175g. Weight has two basic effects. First and most important is that the heavier a disc is, the harder it is to throw at its optimum speed range. A disc that is thrown below its optimum speed range will not have the advertised flight characteristics and generally will behave more Overstable. A disc that is light can be thrown too hard and will ALSO not have its advertised flight characteristics, typically behaving more Understable. The second aspect of weight is that a lighter disc is more affected by windy conditions.

Plastic: All golf discs are some type of plastic, but currently you can find three or four different ‘grades’ of plastic out there. Each brand has their own trademarked names, though the plastics are similar. I will refer to Innova’s plastic types as these are fairly common discs.

DX plastic is the basic plastic. It is easy to grip both when wet and when dry and it is the cheapest plastic. Its drawback is that it is not very durable in the long term. This only really becomes an issue as your arm strength grows and you start throwing the disc harder. Throwing DX plastic hard into a tree or a rock will deform the disc enough to alter its flight characteristics.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Champion line of plastic. This plastic is often translucent. It has very good durability – discs can last for years of heavy use without changing too much in flight pattern. The down sides to Champion plastic are that it is expensive and more diffisult to grip in wet weather.

In between are the Proline plastic and the new Star plastic. Proline has more grip than champion, but its more durable than DX. Star is slightly more durable than Proline and also has more grip than Champion.

Beginning players typically start with DX grade plastic and are not losing any performance by paying for the higher end plastic.

So putting this all together might still seem a little overwhelming. The basic things to keep in mind are that if you are new to the sport, its best to get used to the discs with lighter weights and discs which have a stability that is middle of the road or more understable. Generally it takes a while to get used to throwing discs at the extremes. Stay away from the very fastest, the very heavy, the very overstable and the very expensive. So going back to the Marshall Street Flight Guide, take a look at the chart and select some discs in the middle to the right and from the upper middle to the bottom and you should be good to go. And remember personal recommendations are often the best source of info – so ask some people you see out on the course. Most disc golfers don’t bite and the ALL love to talk about the sport so you will probably get all the info you can handle and then some.

Label Those Discs! So your shipment of shiney new discs finally came in the mail? What’s the first thing you do? LABEL THEM! There are a couple of reasons for doing this. First, the worst feeling in disc golf is losing that brand new disc the first time you take it out to the course. No joke – its happened to me 3 times. One of the best feelings in disc golf though, is when a fellow local disc golfer finds your disc and gives you a call. All three of those lost discs were returned to me within 2 weeks. Put your name and phone number or email on the disc. Second reason to label them is that it’s required to have all of your discs labelled in PDGA tournament play.

Etiquette

Below are some basic things to keep in mind on the course. Many of these are common sense, but are worth reiterating.

Playing Through: Sometimes you head out to the course with a large group of people and you all want to play together. No problem! Just keep in mind that a large group plays much slower than a 2-some or an individual just going out for a quick round. Since there is no Grounds Keeper in that red golf cart keeping a watchful, its up to you to let faster groups play through. If your group is playing more slowly than the group behind you, take the extra 2 minutes and wait at that next tee box, take a drink, relax and let them pass by. They will appreciate it and you won’t feel like they are breathing down your necks. The only time this does not apply is during tournament play. During tournament play, everyone understands there is a varienty of skill levels and that the course is typically full with people playing on every hole. Bottle necks happen and Patience must prevail.

Carry in Carry Out More: Many disc golf courses are on public land and it is your responsibility at a minimum to carry out any trash that you carry onto the course. It is even better if you can bring back more than you brought in. One of the beauties of disc golf is the beauty of the courses themselves and keeping them free from trash is an important part of that.

@#$%! Disc!: Sometimes disc golf can be frustrating. Its OK to express that frustration, but please try to keep the anger and the abuse of your disc golf bag to a minimum. There are often other people within earshot, even private land near courses and the disc golf community does not want to get a bad name from one or two loud individuals. Be aware of your surroundings and your fellow players when you are on the course.

Dogs: Most people love dogs and many dogs love frisbees, but the biggest Dog Loving Disc Golfer will become madder than the Incredible Hulk if your dog goes after their disc. As gentle as a dog may be, slight teeth marks can seriously change a disc and many discs are virtually irreplacable. If your dog is under control and if you want to bring them out for a casual round of disc golf – no problem, just keep in mind that you will have to keep an eye on them out on the course. During tournament play, dogs are not allowed on the course. Sorry Fido.

Talking: What? There are rules about talking?!? This is just a friendly reminder. A lot of disc golfers like their concentration while throwing, please respect that and don’t talk while they are making their throw. Talk all you want the rest of the time, just hold off from babbling away when someone is trying to sink that birdie putt. Along the same lines – make sure that when you are making noise its not something that will distract players on other holes. Don’t get me wrong – if I ace Hole #1, i’m gonna yell with the best of them, but in general and especially during tournament play keep your voices at a reasonable level so its keep within your own group.

Tournament Basics

So if you have actually read through the rest of this page you will have noticed that there a few situations where tournaments are treated slightly different than your average day at the disc golf course. There are some pretty simple reasons for this. Most importantly, tournaments often have something at stake, which can be as little as a high 5 and rights to the last beer in the cooler, but can be as big as $1000s of dollars in cash. Accordingly, tournaments are much more structured and the rules and the etiquette are looked at a little more closely. Below is a basic day in the life of a 1 day disc golf tournament. Specifics will change from Tourney to Tourney, but its a general look at what can be expected for those who have never played in one before. Please keep in mind that tournaments are a ton of fun and typically run smoothly, but that there is a lot of work by the Tournament Directors and their helpers that goes into making that happen.

Check In: There is usually a time at least 30 minutes before the actual tournament starts (often more like 1 hour) by which all registered players must have signed in. At this point everyone will make sure they have paid their entry fee, and any optional $ for things like the Ace Pot (money that is won if someone gets a hole in one) will be collect. At this point Amateur players will receive their players package. This varies from tourney to tourney but typically includes things like a disc or shirt or hat, and maybe some stickers, a mini, etc.

Between Check In and the Players Meeting: After you have checked in you usually have some time to go warm up. You can go out on the course and play a couple of holes, you can putt at the practice baskets that are typically set up or you can stretch or take a nap. Whatever you need to do to get ready. The only thing you CAN’T do is be late for the player’s meeting.

Players’ Meeting: The players meeting is usually 15 – 30 minutes before tee time for the first round. The Tournament Directors (TDs) will make some announcements, discuss any special rules or special competitions during the tournament, like Out of Bounds details and Closest to the Pin competitions. They will typically also take any questions from the players at this point.

Pick up your Group Scorecard: Immediately after the Player’s Meeting breaks up, the players will head out to their holes. There will be a large board set up with all of the players formed into groups and assigned a starting hole. For time’s sake, tournaments are Shot Gun starts with every group starting at the same time, all groups starting from different holes. The player on the top of the list for a given group on the board is responsible for picking up the group score card. This scorecard is used to keep track of individual player scores during the round and is then handed in after the round for recording by the TDs. Along with the card there should also be a pencil. Please keep in mind that during a shotgun start, your first score should go under the hole you started on which will most likely not be hole #1.

2-minute Warning: The players typically are scheduled 5 – 10 minutes to get to their holes. Once at your hole you can practice your putts on a nearby basket if one if availble or you can just sit around, but once the 2 minute warning is called, all throws must stop. The 2 minute warning will be called from the signin point and as it is heard by players closer to the start it should be ‘yelled along’ so that the players at the far holes get the word as well.

Ready, Set, GO: The next call after the two minute warning will be to start. Each group begins play and play follows the basic rules as highlighted above. Every group plays their 18 holes in order and each person in the group should take a turn keeping track of the scores. While writing down scores it is recommended that everyone say their score out loud including the current score keeper so that any disputes can be addressed immediately. If any situation arises during play where none of the players in the group know how to score or what to do AND there is no Official around to ask, make your best judgement and continue play. Keep score and notes on what took place and ask an the TD at the end of the round before handing in your card.

End of the Round: Upon completion of the 18 holes, each player should check that the math on the score card is correct, at least for their own score. If the TD finds that a score was added incorrectly, the individual will be charged a 2 stroke penalty, regardless of who wrote down the score. Once the scores are checked and everyone is satisfied the card is correct, promptly hand it in to the TD or scoring official. They have a lot of math to do between rounds and if you stick it in your pocket and disappear, it will be very difficult for the TDs to keep things running smoothly. You can also be penalized for not turning int he card on time.

Lunch: While the TDs are hard at work planning for Round 2, lunch is often provided, or at the very least, time to go get lunch is provided. In addition to lunch, there are often other disc activities for additional prizes. These are often fundraisers for the local disc golf club or for a local charity if it is a charity tournament. With this in mind, bring a few extra dollars along to the tourney. No obligations, but its just a lot of fun to support good causes.

Round 2: Round 2 will start just like round 1, though there will usually be a short players meeting if there are any different rules during the second round. The board will be reset – you will most likely be playing with different people on a different starting hole so check that board. 2 minute warning and start are the same as Round 1.

End of the Round 2: Same things apply as they did during Round 1. Add that card, Check that card and get that card in to the TD.

Awards Ceremony: At this point the TDs need a little time to check scores and confirm the final orders, so relax for a few minutes until the awards ceremony. Typcially there are prizes for each division so unless you absolutely need to head out – stay around and cheer on the winners.

That’s it! No problem, right? Tournaments are a lot of fun and a great way to meet new disc golfers and see who is new and what is new in the sport.

Get Involved

Disc golf is sport that is truly ‘owned’ by the people who play the sport. Getting involved in your local disc golf community is a great way to learn more, improve your game, meet great people and also to give back to the sport. This is the main reason that here in Vermont some local disc golfers have formed the Green Mountain Disc Golf Club. If you are interested in getting more involved in disc golf in Vermont, consider joining the GMDGC. More info on the GMDGC, membership benefits and the club’s mission is available on the About GMDGC page.

Other Links…

PDGA Rules
Marshall Sreet Flight Guide
Introduction to Disc Golf Techniques at Disc Golf Review.com
Disc Golf in the New England Area at NEFA