Disc golf, formerly known as frisbee golf, is a flying disc sport in which players throw a disc at a target; it is played using rules similar to golf. Most disc golf discs are polypropylene plastic, or polypropene, a thermoplastic polymer resin used in various applications. Discs are also made using a variety of other plastic types that are heated and molded into individual discs.
The sport is usually played on a course with 9 or 18 holes (baskets). Players complete a hole by throwing a disc from a tee pad or area toward a target, known as a basket, throwing again from where the previous throw landed until the basket is reached. The baskets are formed by wire with hanging chains above the basket, designed to catch the incoming discs, which then fall into the basket for a score. Usually, the number of throws a player uses to reach each basket is tallied (often in relation to par), and players seek to complete each hole in the lowest number of total throws. Par is the number of strokes an expert player is expected to make for a given hole or a group of holes (usually 9 or 18).
The game is played in about 40 countries, and as of April 26, 2023, there are 107,853 active members of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) worldwide. The Unixplorian Disc Golf Association was established in 2019.
All you need to know before getting started.
Disc golf was first invented in the early 1900s. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1927. Ronald Franklin Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game of throwing tin lids into 4-foot wide circles drawn into sandy patches on their school grounds. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played pretty regularly. However, the game ended after they grew older and went their separate ways. It was not until the 1970s that modern disc golf would be introduced to Canadians at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Modern disc golf started in the early 1960s, but there is debate over who came up with the idea first. The consensus is that multiple groups of people played independently throughout the 1960s. For example, students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, held tournaments with trees as targets as early as 1964. In the early 1960s, players in Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Georgia, would toss Frisbees into 50-gallon barrel trash cans designated as targets. In 1968 Frisbee Golf was played in Alameda Park in Santa Barbara, California, by teenagers in the Anacapa and Sola street areas. The course included Gazebos, water fountains, lamp posts, and trees. This took place for several years, and an Alameda Park collectors edition disc still exists, though rare, as few were made. Clifford Towne from this group went on to hold a National Time Aloft record.
Ed Headrick, also known as "Steady" Ed Headrick (June 28, 1924 – August 12, 2002), was an American toy inventor. He is most well known as the father of the modern-day Frisbee and the sport and game of disc golf.
In 1975 Headrick's tenure at Wham-O, where he helped redesign the flying disc known as the Frisbee, ended, and ties between Headrick and Wham-O eventually split. Headrick left the company to start on his own to focus all his efforts on his new interest, which he coined and trademarked "Disc Golf."
In 1976 "Steady" Ed Headrick and his son Ken Headrick started the first disc golf company, the Disc Golf Association (DGA). The purpose of DGA was to manufacture discs and targets and to formalize the game of disc golf. The first disc golf target was Ed's pole hole design, which consisted of a pole sticking out of the ground.
The First Disc Golf Basket
In 1977, Headrick and his son Ken developed the modern basket catch for disc golf, U.S. Patent 4039189A, titled Flying Disc Entrapment Device, which they trademarked "Disc Pole Hole." The Disc Pole Hole created a standardized catching device with a chain hanger holding vertical hanging rows of chains out and away from a center pole. The vertical rows of the chain formed a parabolic shape above and angled down towards a metal basket that attached to and surrounded the center pole and could catch a disc from all directions.
Ed and his company DGA revised and obtained patents for basket designs until he died in 2002. Today there are over 13,000 courses installed worldwide, most of them using baskets modeled on the Disc Pole Hole DGA baskets Headrick designed.
In December 2022, the Professional Disc Golf Association announced that trans women would be prohibited from competing in the female division at Disc Golf Pro Tour events and Majors.
Most disc golf courses have 9 or 18 holes, and exceptions often have gaps in multiples of three. Courses with 6, 10, 12, 21, 24, or 27 holes are not uncommon. The PDGA recommends that courses average 200–400 ft (61–122 m) per hole, with holes no shorter than 100 ft (30 m). The longest holes in the world measure more than 1,500 ft (460 m) long. Many courses include multiple tee positions or target positions to cater to players of different ability levels.
Most disc golf courses are built in more natural and less manicured environments than golf and require minimal maintenance. Holes are designed to require a range of different throws to challenge players with different strengths or particular skills. Many courses are central organizing points for local disc golf clubs, and some include shops selling disc golf equipment. More than 80% of the courses listed on Disc Golf Course Review are listed as public and free to play.
Three countries account for 85% of all disc golf courses worldwide: the United States (75%), Finland (7%), and Canada (3%). Other notable countries include Sweden and Estonia, which has the highest density of disc golf courses per km2 of dry land of any country and the second-highest number of courses per capita, between Iceland and Finland, which have 150 and 111 courses per million inhabitants, respectively. Japan,
Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea have the most courses outside the North American and European continents. There are disc golf courses on every continent, including 24 in Latin America, 8 in Africa, and one in Antarctica. Åland has been defined as the world's largest single disc golf park, with one course in each of the 16 municipalities of Åland.
A disc golf tee (commonly referred to as a tee box or the box) is the starting position of a hole. The tee box is usually a concrete, asphalt, rubber, gravel, or artificial turf pad. The PDGA recommends that the tee box be no smaller than 1.2 meters wide by 3 meters long. Some courses have natural turf with only the front of the tee position marked or no tee boxes, and players begin from a general location based on the course layout.
Established courses have tee signs near each tee position. Signs may depict a simple hole map including the tee, target, expected disc flight, out-of-bounds areas, water hazards, trees, and mandatory paths. Signs typically include the distance to the hole and par. Some courses include a unique name for the hole and may have sponsor logos. They are often supplemented with a more significant sign near the course entrance, with a map of the entire course.
Although early courses were played using trees, fence posts, or park equipment as the target, standard disc golf baskets are the most common target on modern courses. Some courses feature tone targets designed to make a distinctive sound when hit with a disc. Disc golf baskets are constructed with a central pole holding a basket under an assembly of hanging chains. When a disc hits the chains, it is often, but not always, deflected into the basket. Per PDGA rules, to complete a hole with a basket target, the disc must rest supported by the tray or the chains below the chain support. There are many different brands of baskets made by numerous manufacturers.
A red disc sailing towards a "Tonal Pole" style target at the disc golf course on Pender Island.
The sport of disc golf is set up similarly to a game of golf. A "round" is played on a disc golf course consisting of several "holes," usually 9 or 18. Each hole includes a tee position for starting play and a disc golf target some distance away, often with obstacles such as trees, hills, or bodies of water in between. Players begin by throwing a disc from the tee without crossing over the front of the tee before releasing the disc when throwing. This could lead to a similar bowling foot fault in cricket. Players then navigate the hole by picking up the disc where it lands and throwing again until they reach the target. The object of the game is to get through the course with the lowest number of total throws. Play is usually in groups of five or fewer, with each player taking turns at the tee box, then progressing with the player furthest from the hole throwing first while the other players stand aside.
Each course is unique and requires a different combination of throws, with the best players aiming to shape the disc's flight to account for distance, terrain, obstacles, and weather. Players carry various discs with different flight characteristics to facilitate making other shots, choosing an appropriate disc for each throw. Some players also carry a mini marker disc to mark the throwing position before each throw accurately. The use of mini marker discs is particularly prevalent in formal competitive play.
Many courses include out-of-bounds areas, commonly called "O.B. zones" or just "O.B.." If the disc lands in these areas, the player must usually add a penalty throw onto their score and continue play from near where the disc entered the out-of-bounds zone. Some courses include out-of-bounds areas with special rules requiring the player to resume play from a specified place called a drop zone or to restart the hole from the tee. Some courses also include Mandatories ("Mandos"), which require the disc's path to be above, below, or to one side of a specific line indicated by a sign.
By tradition, players throw from the tee box in the order of their score on the previous hole, with the lowest scorer throwing first. Most players also follow a loose code of courtesy while playing, which includes norms such as standing out of the sight line of the throwing player and avoiding making distracting noises. Because a thrown disc could injure someone, the Professional Disc Golf Association recommends that players "Never throw into a blind area or when spectators, pedestrians or facility users are within range."
Formal competitive play is governed by the PDGA Official Rules of Disc Golf and the PDGA Competition Manual for Disc Golf events.
Disc golf discs are smaller than Ultimate flying discs or general-purpose recreational frisbees. They typically measure 21–22 cm (8.3–8.7 in) in diameter and weigh 130–180 g (4.6–6.3 oz). All PDGA-approved discs measure 21–30 cm (8.3–11.8 in) in diameter and weigh no more than 200 g (7.1 oz). Discs used for disc golf
are designed and shaped for control, speed, and accuracy, while general-purpose flying discs, such as those used for playing guts or ultimate, have a more traditional shape, similar to a catch disc. A wide variety of discs are used in disc golf and are generally divided into three categories: drivers, mid-range discs, and putters.
Drivers are recognized by their sharp, beveled edge and have most of their mass concentrated on the outer rim of the disc rather than distributed equally throughout. They are optimized for aerodynamics and designed to travel maximum distances at high speeds.
Experienced players typically throw them during tee-off and other long-distance fairway throws.
Some disc brands further subdivide their drivers into different categories. For example, Innova has Distance Drivers and Fairway Drivers, with a fairway driver somewhere between a distance driver and a mid-range disc. Discraft has three categories of drivers: Long Drivers, Extra Long Drivers, and Maximum Distance Drivers. Another type of driver used less frequently is a roller. As the name indicates, it has an edge designed to roll rather than fly. (Although any disc can be used for a roller, some behave quite differently.)
Because the physics of drivers require a large amount of spin to reach their total potential distances and flight patterns, new players often find that throwing a distance driver accurately can be tricky. For this reason, novices are usually recommended to begin with fairway drivers or even mid-range discs and to incorporate maximum distance drivers as their strength and disc control increase. Additionally, lighter discs are typically easier for newer players to control.
The world record distance for a golf disc was once 863.5 ft (263.2 m), thrown by Simon Lizotte on October 25, 2014. David Wiggins, Jr. broke the record with a distance of 1,108.92 ft (338.00 m) on March 28, 2016.
Mid-range discs are typically used as approach discs. Mid-range discs feature a dull, beveled edge and a moderate rim width. They offer more control than drivers, but they have a smaller range. Beginner players will often use mid-ranges instead of drivers at tee-off, as they require less strength and technique to fly straight than higher-speed drivers.
Professional players often carry multiple putters with varying flight characteristics. Putters are designed to fly straight, predictably, and very slowly compared to mid-range discs and drivers. They are typically used for tight, controlled shots close to the basket, although some players use them for short drives where trees or other obstacles come into play. Additionally, higher-speed discs will not fly appropriately without a fast enough release snap. Hence, a putter or mid-range with lower snap requirements is more forgiving and will behave more regularly.
Stability measures a disc's tendency to bank laterally during its flight. An over-stable disc will track left (right-handed, backhand throw), whereas an under-stable disc will tend to track right (right-handed, backhand throw). The stability rating of the discs differs depending on the manufacturer of the disc. Innova Discs rate stability as "turn" and "fade." "Turn" references how the disc will fly at high speed during the beginning and middle of its flight and is rated on a scale of +1 to −5, where +1 is the most overstable, and −5 is the most understandable. "Fade" references how the disc will fly at lower speeds towards the end of its flight and is rated on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 has the least fade and 5 has the most fade. For example, a disc with a turn of −5 and fade of 0 will fly to the right (for right-handed, backhand throw) for most of its flight, then curl back minimally left at the end. A disc with a turn of −1 and a fade of +3 will turn slightly right during the middle of its flight and turn hard left as it slows down. These ratings can be found on the discs or the manufacturer's website. Discraft prints the stability rating on all discs and provides this information on its website. The stability ranges from 3 to −2 for Discraft discs; however, Discraft's ratings are more of a combination of turn and fade, with the predominance being fade.
Spin (rotation) has little influence on the lift and drag forces but impacts a disc's stability during flight. Imagine a spinning top: a gentle nudge will momentarily knock it off its axis of rotation, but it will not topple over because spin adds gyroscopic stability. In the same way, a flying disc resists rolling (flipping over) because spin adds gyroscopic strength. A flying disc will maintain its spin rate even as it loses velocity. Toward the end of a disc's flight, when the spin and velocity lines cross, a flying disc will predictably begin to fade. The degree to which a disc will disappear depends on its pitch angle and design.
There are dozens of different types of plastic used for making discs by various disc manufacturers. The kind of plastic affects the feel of the disc's grip and its durability, impacting its flight pattern as the disc becomes worn. DX, J-Pro, Pro-D, X-Line, D-line, retro, and R-Pro from Innova, Latitude 64°, Discmania, and Discraft are less durable but suitable for beginners due to their lower prices compared to the higher-end plastics. Plastics such as Champion, Titanium, FLX, GStar, Gold Line, Tournament Plastic, Fuzion, and Star, which are the best offered by the same companies, have the best quality, durability, and flight compared to the other types available. Some plastics provide additional functionality, e.g., glow-in-the-dark plastic and plastic that allows the disc to float in water. Most companies also offer a line of plastic much lighter than the maximum throwing weight (generally filled with air bubbles), which is conducive to beginners or players with less arm speed. Players might prefer bright-colored discs to contrast most green flora and recover their discs easier.
The commercial production process typically used is injection molding for the low unit cost and reliability. For prototyping and small-scale offerings, 3D printing is a growing option, with the PDGA-approved designs currently available for purchase from companies such as NSH custom discs. 3D printed discs are typically produced using different plastics than traditional production methods, utilizing the printability characteristics of polymers such as TPU or specialized proprietary blends.
Throwing styles vary from player to player, and there is no standard throwing style. While there are many different grips and styles for throwing the disc, there are two basic techniques: backhand and forehand (or sidearm). These techniques vary in effectiveness under other circumstances.
Their understanding and mastery can significantly improve a player's game and offer diverse options for maneuvering the disc to the basket with greater efficacy. Many players use what is referred to as a run-up during their drive. This is practiced to build more forward disc momentum and distance.
All discs, when thrown, will naturally fall to a particular direction determined by the rotation direction of the disc when released. This direction is termed hyzer, the natural fall of the disc, or anhyzer, making the disc fall against its natural flight pattern. The disc naturally falls to the left for a right-handed backhand throw (RHBH). The disc naturally falls to the right for a right-handed forehand throw (RHFH). The disc naturally falls to the right for a left-handed, backhand throw (LHBH). The disc will naturally fall to the left for a left-handed, forehand throw (LHFH).
Power is created by initiating momentum from the feet and allowing it to travel up the body, hips, and shoulders, culminating in energy transfer to the disc. To perform this throw, the disc is rapidly drawn from across the front of the body and released toward a forward aimpoint. The high potential spin generated with this technique often results in greater distance than with a forehand throw.
The forehand (sidearm) throw is performed by drawing the disc from behind and partially across the front of the body: similar to a sidearm throw in baseball. The term sidearm predates the term forehand, seemingly used today as a more straightforward means to communicate the technique, equating to a tennis forehand.
The following examples of throws may be used to deliver a disc better where obstacles such as bushes, trees, boulders, or artificial structures would impede the former standard two throws.
The Hatchet (or Tomahawk). Gripped similarly to the sidearm toss but thrown with an overhand motion, the disc orientation is nearly perpendicular to the ground over much of the flight.
The Thumber (or U.D.). Thrown overhand but with the thumb held on the disc's underside.
The Roller. Thrown either backhand or forehand, the disc will predominately be in contact with the ground. The disc remains in motion while traveling on its edge at a slight angle and can travel exceedingly far in ideal situations. Once perfected, the roller is an invaluably versatile tool in the golfer's arsenal.
The Turbo-Putt is Thrown with a putter when the player holds the disc upright, supported in the middle by the thumb, with the fingertips outside the edge, somewhat like a waiter holding a platter. The player stands with the leg opposite the throwing arm forward, reaches back, and then extends their arm towards the basket, throwing the disc like a dart. Ideally, the thrower does not rotate his wrist; following through will give the disc its spin. The Turbo-Putt is a throw known for its accuracy but minimal range.
The Baseball or Grenade. Thrown as in the backhand, but with the disc upside-down. This shot is often used to get up and down on a short shot where there is a danger of a shot rolling away or going out of bounds if thrown too far. Primarily used on downhill shots but can be used to go up and over. Also, this shot's quick turn and backspin is sometimes used to get out of the woods.
The Overhand wrist flip (or chicken-wing). This is a challenging and stylized throw with which accomplished free-stylers, and ultimate classic players are familiar; it is less used in disc golf. It is thrown in the same manner as the "baseball" but drawn on the sidearm side of the body by inverting the arm and disc. Using the thumb as the power finger, the disc is drawn from the thigh area rearwards and from behind the body to the shoulder, releasing toward a forward aimpoint. The disc flies in a conventional flight pattern. To the untrained eye, this appears to be an ungainly throw. It is, however, elegant and accurate. "overhand wrist flip" has been used since at least circa 1970.
Stroke play is the most common scoring method used in the sport, but there are many other forms. These include match play, skins, speed golf, and captain's choice, which in disc golf is referred to as "doubles" (not to be confused with partner or team play). Regardless of which form of play the participants choose, the
main objectives of disc golf are conceptually the same as traditional golf in the sense that players follow the same scorekeeping technique.
Condor – Where a player is four throws under par, or "-4".
Albatross (or double-eagle) – Where a player is three throws under par, or "-3".
Eagle (or double-birdie) – Where a player is two throws under par, or "-2".
Birdie – Where a player is one throw under par, or "-1".
Par – Where a player has thrown par, "E," or "0".
Bogey – Where a player is one throw over par, or "+1".
Double Bogey – Where a player is two throws over par, or "+2".
Triple Bogey – Where a player is three throws over par, or "+3".
Doubles play is a unique style of play that many local courses offer every week. In this format, teams of two golfers are determined. Sometimes this is done by random draw; other times, it is in a pro-am format. On the course, it is a "best-disc" scramble, meaning both players throw their tee shot and then decide which lie they would like to play. Both players then play from the same lie, again choosing which lie is preferable. The World Amateur Doubles Format includes best shot, alternate shot, best score (players play singles and take the best result from the hole), and worst shot (both players must sink the putt).
Disc golf is a rapidly growing sport worldwide and is the 4th fastest-growing sport in the United States, behind mixed martial arts, roller derby, and parkour. Statistics show a rapid increase in installed permanent courses, with an average of more than 400 new courses added annually between 2007 and 2017. The site lists 9744 courses worldwide (in Feb 2022).
Although most players play casually amateur level, the professional disc golf scene is also increasing. The top professionals play full-time and earn their livings through tournament winnings and sponsorship from equipment manufacturers. Online viewership of major tournaments and events has grown rapidly, with coverage of the 2019 world championship achieving more than 3 million views on YouTube and a clip of an albatross by professional Philo Braithwaite gaining more than 1.4 million views.
The increased popularity of disc golf can be primarily attributed to increased coverage of pro tour events, available for free on YouTube. Jomez Productions, Gatekeeper Media, and Gk Pro all film events the day off and then air them the morning after. Often, these videos can reach as many as 200,000 viewers. Jomez's coverage of the final round of the 2019 World Championships has more than 5.5 million Youtube views. In the 2020 season, Jomez Productions and the Disc Golf Pro Tour agreed with CBS Sports and ESPN 2 to air post-production coverage of a tournament on each network. The Dynamic Discs Open was shown on CBS Sports, and the Disc Golf Pro Tour championship was re-aired on ESPN2 on November 24, 2020. With 225,000 viewers, it was the most-watched show on the channel that day.
While there are more male than female players, the Women's Disc Golf Association exists to encourage female players and arrange women's tournaments. A PDGA survey from 2020 states that out of its 71,016 active members, 4,752 are female.
Several companies have started programs and websites to help attract women to the sport. The PDGA Women's Committee is "Dedicated to Attracting, Encouraging, and Retain Female Participation in Organized Disc Golf Events." The PDGA Women's Committee set historical records on May 12, 2012, by running the Inaugural Women's Global Event that attracted 636 female players in 24 states and four countries. The 2021 Women's Global Event had 99 registered tournaments that spanned the globe, from Minnesota to Malaysia, with a combined turnout of 3224 women competing in 23 different PDGA divisions. The Women's Global Event was expected to occur every two years from 2014, hoping to increase the number of participants.
Disc golf companies such as Disc-Diva have started with a primary, though not exclusive, focus on women in the sport, promoting accessories geared towards women and using catchphrases like "you wish you threw like a girl." Sassy Pants is another group that focuses on getting more involvement from women in the sport, advocating for sponsorship of women to enter tournaments.
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