Disc Golf Course Design: Inscribing Lifestyle into Underutilized Landscapes

Disc Golf Course Design: Inscribing Lifestyle into Underutilized Landscapes

There is no argument that disc golf is increasing at an unprecedented rate. New courses are constantly in development and Steven Dodge even predicts that disc golf will be considered ‘conventional golf’ in the 2020’s. The question then begs, with the quick increase in courses and relatively short existence to study courses and their layout, have we been optimally designing the courses?

Clearly there are amazing success stories such as Flip City in Michigan which I had the pleasure to visit this past summer. Then there are the stories of less than successful courses such as Polliwog Park which was closed for lack of safety. There are, of course, design experts who have created amazing layouts, but what happens when we can’t (reach important stakeholders early in the process? Can we improve even more on the expert designs? And most importantly, how can a course be designed that will encourage disc golfers of all types will want to return to and play over and over again?  Master course designer John Houck talks about the importance of “replayability” over the years and is currently seeking alliances with licensed landscape architects to bolster the legitimacy of projects with land managers.

Michael Plansky has a few ideas. In fact, he wrote an entire Master’s thesis on designing disc golf courses by taking advantage of land that is not used to its full capacity. He published this work into a book called ‘Disc Golf Course Design: Inscribing Lifestyle into Underutilized Landscapes’. He provided us with a copy of the book to read and review and we were amazed by the toughness of the study and the depth of history provided.

Here’s the catch, Michael steps away from only designing through experience and empirical knowledge of what disc golfers like. In true academic fashion, Michael takes a multidisciplinary approach including theory from environmental design, sociology, athletics, and statistics among others. You may ask why this matters. This matters because disc golf is not just a game, disc golf is a way of life, a “lifestyle sport” if you will, and the reasons that we love disc golf transcend boundaries of play into large life themes.

disc golf leisure and playThe book begins with a history of disc golf which allows you to understand the evolution into the game we have today. There are many commonalities between this chapter and The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf, but of course there are many unique pieces. One outstanding ability Michael has is flowing sections of writing together not only so they feel natural, but to add value into the lesson. Chapter 2 delves into the psychology behind play and leisure activities and builds upon the history of disc golf that had been presented earlier. The concepts of leisure, along with with its history, have a large impact on how we respond to a disc golf course. This is built upon by introducing landscape architecture and urban design theory. This is where Michael begins to hint at how we can view course design in a larger scope than disc golf alone.

A crucial aspect of Michael’s study is researching why disc golfers enjoy disc golf. This may seem trivial, but it’s not; every disc golfer loves disc golf for different reasons and those reasons manifest themselves within the courses themselves. Michael spent time at four disc golf courses near Los Angeles, conducted the surveys himself, and analyzed the results. I’ll let you read the book yourself to get the details, but a number of themes emerged and the prominent themes differed between courses.Attraction to disc golf

Michael concludes the book with a chapter that makes specific recommendations on course design. Again, I’m not going to give away his secrets, but the recommendations cover optimal course distributions, landscape characteristics, cultural development, and course features. Combine these recommendations with the course routing categories that he provides at the beginning of the book, and you’ve got a number of seriously powerful ideas that may help your course become a gold standard.

disc golf course routing layoutsThe book is loaded with visuals to help present the ideas in each section. As you have seen above, the visuals range from rough sketches, to tables and comprehensive diagrams. Not only does this give an academic work a nice feel, but it allows you to truly comprehend the information that he describes. And in case you’re the type of person that wants to see every detail, there is a full resource section in the back that contains all the data, surveys, references and more!

This book is a serious disc golf course design book. It holds an enormous amount of knowledge and value for anyone who is excited about course design. Even if you’re not into course design, you stand to gain incredible insight from the concepts that have been presented. I’ve mentioned before, both in this article and in past content, I believe that disc golf needs a higher amount of comprehensive studies and data to flourish and the process and conclusions that Michael Plansky has presented in ‘Disc Golf Course Design: Inscribing Lifestyle into Underutilized Landscapes’ are shining examples.

‘Disc Golf Course Design: Inscribing Lifestyle into Underutilized Landscapes’ is available here on Amazon.

 

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A Story of Disc Golf Strategy

A Story of Disc Golf Strategy

If you’ve read any of our articles up to now then you probably know that we preach strategy. Many of our strategy articles are theoretical so that you can apply the strategy to many different situations. To change it up, I thought I’d provide a concrete example of how strategy plays out on our local course.

Rodney and I made it to the course last week to take advantage of the warm February weather. After playing conservatively over the past couple months due to wind and cold weather, we did two things slightly differently to get our arms ready for the season.

The first was match play, which is a game type where the player who wins the hole gets one point regardless of how many throws he or she wins the hole by. Match play encourages riskier play when you end up in trouble since total throws isn’t considered in the score. We wouldn’t normally take extra risks in a scoring round, but the goal was to push ourselves into practicing shots we wouldn’t normally throw. The second was the decision to drive aggressively on each hole, just for practice.

We played Burchfield Park’s Devil’s Den short tees to long baskets. Hole 11 starts with a slightly downhill fairway for about 350 feet followed by a steeper drop. After about 500 feet the fairway takes a slow rise back up to the basket (pictured in the featured image above) for a total of about 740 feet. This a great hole to unleash a bomb of a drive… but this comes with a serious risk. Here’s a rough layout of the fairway, see if you can identify the risks.

Devil's Den discgolf hole 11 diagram

The large pine on the right encourages you to throw left unless you have a 500 foot hyzerbomb (and I do not). However, the fairway immediately tightens after the downhill.

I threw a beautiful s-curve with my Ballista and dropped it halfway down the hill to the left side of the fairway. Rodney threw a clean drive just short of the top of the hill in the center of the fairway. Our instincts told us that I had the clear advantage with the longer drive, but the hole played out differently.

burchfield park devil's den disc golf
Chris throwing from the rough on hole 11

I was halfway down the hill so my long approach would be entirely uphill through a tight fairway. Rodney had a longer shot ahead but he also had a 15 foot elevation advantage and could hyzer around the low hanging tree branches.

We couldn’t see my obstacles from Rodney’s lie so it looked like I had the advantage. Since we were in match play, Rodney chose a risky second throw trying for extra distance but clipped a branch resulting in an early drop to the left in the rough about 50 feet ahead of me. I wasn’t able to hit the small window in front of me and after hitting a large branch I ended up about even with Rodney. From there we threw the hole evenly.

The lack of strategy should be clear here.

  • First, if you can drive 500 feet consistently then you’ll have a large advantage going for the bomb, otherwise laying up will likely give you an advantage due to the elevation. I gained no advantage with a drive that was 50-75 longer here.
  • Second, knowing your opponent’s lie will better allow you to decide if you should go all-out or play conservative. Had Rodney known my lie was poor, he probably would have won the hole by throwing a safe shot.
  • Third, know your playing field. We both should have played that hole differently knowing that a drive down the hill results in a difficult second shot.

There shouldn’t be any amazing epiphanies in this story. It simply comes down to deciding on the best place from which to take your next throw and if you have the skill to get there. I’m not encouraging conservative play with this story, but I am encouraging you to know your disc golf capabilities. Pushing yourself in practice will help you understand your own capabilities so that you can make a more informed decision during your next tournament.

Now get out there and throw!

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The 5 Most Important Putting Components

The 5 Most Important Putting Components

Watch a round of disc golf at the local course or a professional tournament, and you’ll notice something very quickly: there are a lot of different putting styles! Spin, turbo, push, spush, walking, and list could go on.  Each of those basic putting styles has seemingly unlimited possibilities and personalizations.  Zoom out a little and you’ll notice that successful putters have a few basic similarities regardless of individual technique.

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Mind Your Misses

Mind Your Misses

January in Michigan brings cold weather and snow.  Today I played several rounds after a winter storm layered ice on top of an inch of snow.  The ground was firm enough in most places that it didn’t even collapse under my feet.  As a result, every putt posed an interesting question: do I go for the make or just lay up?  What is the proper strategy in the Approach Zone?

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Play the hole backwards

Play the hole backwards

No, I’m not saying for you to tee off at the basket and try to land your putt on the cement tee pad.  I’m talking about a strategy that legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus employed.  Nicklaus often talked about starting his thoughts at the perfect location on the green to hole a putt.  From there, he would determine what spot in the fairway gives an opportunity to easily find the selected location on the green.  His strategy moves backwards all the way to the tee.  This is a simple concept, but how does it apply to disc golf?

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