The Midwest has areas with beautiful rolling hills, some mountainous regions, and a lot of flat lands. This region of the United States gives us beautiful forests and a lot of farmland. It also gives a home to a large amount of disc golf courses. Some of these courses are technical tracks built through a forest and others are wide open fields where the wind wreaks havoc on your flying plastic. One thing is for sure, a lot of these disc golf courses are located in city and county parks where the terrain is mostly flat.
So if you’re like me, your home course doesn’t have a lot of elevation changes. The hills you deal with usually affect only your drive or approach, and certainly your walk. You’ll rarely see a basket placed on one of those beautiful grassy slopes. Throwing a drive down a toboggan hill is a very fun experience indeed but I know I’ve played a few elevated holes here and there where my putter didn’t do what I expected.
The Putt Heads greatly enjoyed the opportunity to play this course. The slopes were very challenging to walk but putting presented even more challenges:
1. Downhill putt – do you go for it just outside the circle and risk missing by 50 or more feet or do you lay up?
2. Sidehill putt – how does your normal putting stance feel when tilted at 45 degrees? Are you balanced or are you going to fall over during the toss?
3. Uphill putt – Does your normal form have enough power to reach the chains? What if you hit the basket and the disc rolls way down the hill?
My straddle putt setup was uncomfortable at times while throwing downhill. Depending on the severity of the slope, I noticed a tendency to hold back the hit point of my putt in fear of tumbling down the hill after my putt. I switched to a more standard putting stance in these situations and really tried to launch the putt on a vector parallel to the slope. You may want to back down on your power here as gravity will help the disc find the chains.
The sidehill lies were a perfect fit for a straddle stance. I could get the low foot firmly planted in the slope and bend the knee of the higher leg to level out with the horizon. Be aware of the slight bias your body gives to the weight bearing side as you may accidentally hyzer or anhyzer the putt. Choose your level of aggressiveness depending on the slope (right-to-left or left-to-right) by thinking about where a missed putt will land. If it will hit the hill, think about where it might roll. If a miss will find nothing but more air, you may want to try an anhyzer or a flick.
I think putting uphill is very difficult. I quickly realized how drastic the “nose-stall” effect occurs when going uphill. Some of my first uphill putts looked really solid until the disc stalled, moved way left, and ended up way short. If you are having trouble grasping that concept, grab a disc, hold it flat, and raise your arm. You should notice how you are effectively setting the disc up to climb up in the air, which will shift the flight path to the overstable side very early. Combine this problem with the fact that you won’t get your full weight transfer and the putt will never have a chance. I suggest using an understable putter that will naturally fight the effect of the slope and don’t be afraid to add some extra strength.
Wind and Rollaways
A few other factors came into consideration as well, such as how the terrain affected the wind. The wind pushed up many of the slopes I was on causing an unusually strong head or tailwind at times, and I also found a few dead spots near the bottoms of the hills. Don’t forget the landing either, with elevation changes comes the risk of a roll off which can become extra dangerous when the basket is in front of a hazard. Sometimes the best way to minimize risk is to throw a stall shot that will float toward the basket and land softly.
Time to practice
In general, I was very happy that I was comfortable with many different putting setups. You’ll need to bag a few different putters than normal to navigate the slopes. Pick a stance that is comfortable on the given slope and analyze the direction your disc will naturally find. Choose a shot that will give a good chance to make the putt, but also leaves you in an easy location to make the next. You may even be able to use the hill as a backstop.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I learned a lot about putting while we were there. My best advice is to find a hill and set up a practice basket. You’ll learn so much in an hour of practice that will take the anxiety out of elevated putts.