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Designing Disc Golf Courses

So, You are interested in Designing Disc Golf Courses?

I don’t blame you. It’s like a Rembrandt painting which may be enjoyed for generations, with viewers or players discovering the artist’s hidden nuances.

Disc Golf Course Design 101 – Step 1

All courses share a common goal, enjoyment and challenge!

From Oak Grove Park in La Cañada twenty three years ago to the most recent course at Cal State Monterey Bay some 200+ designs later, they all share a common goal, enjoyment and challenge! Bring your Wham-O Frisbee to Oak Grove if you want a thrill, or a bag full of your favorite discs to Cal State Monterey Bay if you want a good score. Now the discs make the difference; graceful slow flights responding to the hand of a believer are almost a thing of the past. An astounding throw of 712.1 Ft against a throw of 60-70 yards with an old “Pro” model have indeed changed the sport; or have they ? The designer must still require the player to have mastered the potential flight of his or her disc, to control it after it leaves his hand…(or wish)! Don’t you talk to your disc after it leaves your hand?

First Things First

Start with some basics; a parking lot, a bathroom, better yet a country club.

I realize it may sound stupid but first find a beginning and an end of the course! Start with some basics; a parking lot, a bathroom, better yet a country club. Then try your best to find one area that will support nine holes and another area that will support another nine that intersect like a figure 8 with the intersection of the 8 being the starting point. Now walk the area of the front 9 with an eye for that special hole you just have to have. Get into the flow, try not to have a tee more than 50 feet from the preceding hole. Follow the hazards to include your special hole.

Verify / Flow

Good flow is more important than nine ‘signature’ holes without flow.

There are many variations from which to choose, left curves, right curves, long clear fairways, or crowded tight throws. Mix them with continuity. Remember, good flow is more important than nine ‘signature’ holes without flow. Try this test: walk onto your course and count the number of potential fun and challenging holes you can design from #1 tee (6, 8, 10 maybe)! Pick the one that starts the flow! Not the cutest one! Look at it this way. Out of ten potential hole designs probably five or six are at least equally inviting, so pick the one that leads you to tee #2, not in search of a dream!

Compromise

Remember that length alone without requiring control is no fun.

Don’t wander all over the park trying to improve a hole by five or ten percent. Work on left curves, right curves, finesse throws, and one fairly long hole (300-350 ft) to teach the beginner that he/she hasn’t quite mastered the game. Remember that length alone without requiring control is no fun. Play the wind, which is almost always out of the west, join your signature hole (or holes) with good flow, and return to the beginning of the course ending the front 9 where the back 9 starts. This allows a player to start on the back 9 (or go to the restroom) if he or she chooses. Now begin the back 9 with an opposite flow. If the front 9 is counter clockwise, the back 9 should be clockwise). Find and include the hole you just have to have (or two if the flow is preserved). Keep the length down to an average of 250 feet per hole and identify these tees as the “Advanced Player” tees. Recreational tees should average 222 feet, or shorten the advanced tees by 28 feet per hole. Really scrutinize Professional Player tees. Go for an average of 275 feet per hole for Pro tees with a tee that can be anywhere at a wide variety of distances; being sure to end up at the same hole with at least some of the Rec flight path. If you need Championship tees you can place them 25 feet behind the Pro tees. Try to add new hazards if you can find them, but the focus must be on control and not on excessive length. Disc golf is not a distance contest!

Some don’ts: Don’t over-inflate your ego with dangerous holes such as over water, over roads, bridal paths, bike trails, etc. Don’t design a tee when the disc will probably land in someone’s private yard or on the roof top. Stay away from playground areas with swings and slides, athletic fields, picnic areas, and other high use places. Keep in mind that the people who have the “don’t” are not your fellow disc golfers. Use your head and avoid any conflicts. Disc Golf is a game for everyone; not just you. Please do, go out of your way to provide something for everybody, pros, beginners, physically handicapped, all ages, everyone! Help promote the sport. It’s to the advantage of all disc golfers.

Got it?! Don’t compromise flow. Again, don’t show off to your friends with great lengthy versus simply “great” holes. Make them learn to use finesse. It’s better for the spirit.

So, if you want to design a Disc Golf Course then go ahead and you do it. Rembrandt didn’t need a committee and neither do you. Show them your finished work, a game rather than a bunch of disconnected holes. Remember, the committee that designed the camel was trying to design a horse!

Disc Golf Course Layout – Step 2

Now that you have a layout you need to commit it to at least a sketched overview of the entire course.

Now that you have a layout you need to commit it to at least a sketched overview of the entire course. I use ten squares to the inch graph paper and give a value of 10 foot each square to the inch, thus 1 inch = 100 feet. On 8 inch x l0 inch paper this gives you a 800 foot by 1,000 foot drawing area. If one page isn’t large enough, put 9 holes on a second page.

Make the top of the page North and use a compass to orient each hole. Measure the hole and commit location of each tee (Recreational, Advanced, Professional) and each hole (one through 18) with the top of the number aiming at the basket, and the hole number at the proper location. Measure the distance to the first hazard from the professional tee and then to the next hazards until you reach the hole. Then sketch in the preferred flight path avoiding the hazards with a dotted line from each tee.

Use your scale to locate the next tee, etc. to completion. Write in each distance in feet for Recreational, Advanced, and Pro (RAP). Every nine hole course should have three left curves, three right curves, and three straight throws. Pars on the rec tees should be calculated as 3 Par (200 feet or less), 4 par (over 200 feet to 275 feet), and 5 par (275 feet to 325 feet max) for recreational par except for down hill or other special exceptions.

Example – Calculations for a typical 18-hole course

Recreational Advanced Pro Pro Par Course Rating
hole # feet par feet par feet par feet Pro par
1 183 3 210 3 258 3 258 *2
2 210 4 237 3 285 3 285 *2
3 280 5 307 3 355 3 355 3
4 235 4 282 3 310 3 310 3
5 249 4 276 3 324 3 324 3
6 220 4 247 3 295 3 295 *2
7 201 4 228 3 279 3 279 *2
8 236 4 263 3 310 3 310 3
9 196 3 223 3 271 3 271 3
10 183 3 210 3 258 3 258 *2
11 210 4 237 3 285 3 285 *2
12 280 5 307 3 355 3 355 3
13 235 4 262 3 310 3 310 3
14 249 4 276 3 324 3 324 3
15 220 4 247 3 295 3 295 3
16 201 4 228 3 279 3 279 *2
17 236 4 263 3 310 3 310 3
18 196 3 223 3 271 3 271 *2
Total 4,020 70 4,506 54 5,374 54 50
Avg. 222 250 275

* Calculating Pro Par:
Eight of the 18 holes can be deuced by the Pro’s.
Divide the number of possible deuce holes by 2 (=4).
Thus, Pro par would be -4, or 50.

Tournament Play

The purpose of a handicapping system.

If a course pro chooses, he can conduct a tournament with all three classes of players using their own tees. In this case the recreational player will base his score on a par 70, the advanced player on a par 54, and the pro player on a par 50. For example: Rec player shoots 65 (4,020 ft.) 5-under Rec par. Advanced player shoots 50 (4,566 ft.) 4- under Adv par. Pro player shoots 49 (5,374) 5 under, and ties Pro par course rating). All players are almost equal, which is the purpose of a handicapping system.

Courses can be rated according to “Pro Par” rating and the comparison of “Pro Par” between courses will reflect the degree of difficulty to the top ten players. Actual average under tournament conditions using Pro Par are adjusted annually based on a major tournament, PDGA certification, or major changes in the course design.

To repeat, rate “Pro Par” on the course you are designing by your best estimate of the holes that could be deuced by the top ten pros, and divide by 2. Then adjust it to an actual PDGA sanctioned tournament. Assume the top ten players can potentially deuce the whole course with scores of ’18 under par. Divide the 18 under by 2 and the result will be 9 under for “Pro Par.” Conversely, if you estimate they can only deuce six holes, divide by two and Pro par will be minus three. If you don’t believe the pros can deuce any holes; “Pro Par” will then be “Pro Par” 3 or even par (54). In the extreme where the average of the top 10 is, say, 6 over, “Pro Par” will be 6 (and so on).

It is believed that this method of rating pro par will be an excellent method of rating courses. Thus course ‘A’ will be rated at 9 under and course ‘B’ at 2 under, etc. A glance can tell you the degree of difficulty. Scores from beginners and advanced players will be Rec, and advanced at 54. Obviously Rec. and advanced pars can be adjusted by actual scores using the same system. Top 10 Rec players average 4 under par. Lower par by two throws and the same on advanced; i.e. average top 10 is 6 under (see chart) by actual scores. Advanced player par changes to minus 3 par or 51. Rate the course only after several rounds at tournament play to a real Rec par, Advanced par, and Pro par. The handicapping system is complete only if they play from their own tees on regular hole placement.

Multiple Pin Placements – Step 3

Multiple pin placement should be used to eliminate a course problem such as erosion, not to make the course longer.

Multiple pin placement should be used to eliminate a course problem such as erosion, not to make the course longer. The problems caused by using this method to lengthen the course are numerous:

  • Who has the keys?
  • Who says they are in the “long” position?
  • How long do they stay in this position?
  • Who is going to move fifty-pound disc pole holes around?
  • What happens to Recreational and Advanced player tees?

It is much easier, not to mention less expensive, to use multiple tees. If you want championship holes, put in a championship tee for each hole by using two stakes in the ground. In this manner would be champions can practice whenever they want, and all the problems caused by using multiple tees would disappear. Using multiple pin placement, the only time a championship player could practice was if the holes were set in the long position.

A three hundred foot average distance per hole is fine, but length doesn’t really apply to championship performance. Some tees may be longer if necessary, but for championship tees remember that a big part of being a champion is possessing the skills and ability to control the flight of the disc. Maintain some short tough left and right holes to keep these players honest, too.

Putting Greens – Step 4

Hazards on the putting green are a must!

As in the other sport, the one with balls, the green is the equalizer. If the longest driver in the world can’t read the complex surfacing, the grain of the grass, or the exact distance to the hole he won’t win. Hazards on the putting green are a must! When we first started the sport and on the vast majority of the courses we have designed since, we have sought out shrubs and bushes, even large trees that require putting skills other than jamming a brick.

I hear rumors that some players want a thirty foot ring around the hole that is free from hazards! These players have obviously learned the slam dunk style of putting but don’t know how to control a curved flight putt. In fact they probably don’t carry a disc that can be controlled in slow-curving flights to both the left and the right. Billiards is the game they want to copy…not golf.

As in ball golf, this ability should be the same equalizer in the game of disc golf, at least for a few holes. I am particularly fond of a V-shaped tree or substantial bush, even large trees, where you can throw through the ‘V’ or around it if you prefer. Perhaps a ten-foot diameter ring with no hazards will solve some of the problems, but a tree blocking one side of the hole is much like a quick rise in the green close to the hole in ball golf. It makes the game more exciting.

Installation – Step 5

The last step before enjoying your new course!

Pros seem to have a problem with cement tees, particularly with grass courses. The type of shoes required for cement are substantially different than what they would need on an all-grass surface. The pros I’ve talked to over the years prefer no cement at all. Decomposed granite is a good substitute for cement around muddy holes. On a short Rec course tees may be as small as 4 ft x 8 ft on, smaller courses to 6 ft x 10 ft, on larger courses. Be sure that the front of the tee has a stop like a 4×4 or is absolutely flush with the grade. All cement tees should specify a screed finish. Screed is the use of a long 2×4 and a 2×4 form to contain the cement. Fill almost to the top with cement and overfill one end. Put the long 2×4 on the rear form and saw it back and forth while keeping pressure towards the front of the tee, scraping up the surplus cement from in front of the 2×4. Absolutely do not do anything else to the cement. No brooms, no rakes, nothing! This will give you the only non-skid tee under any conditions.

screed method for setting concrete forms

screed method for setting concrete forms

Keep the signs at least four feet away from the edge of the tee slab and in line with the front edge of the tee, with the line of the signs pointing toward the hole.

Take the rest of the day off and enjoy your new course.