Disc golf

Disc golf
Disc golf
Disc golfer and basket.jpg
Highest governing body Professional Disc Golf Association
Registered players 52000+ total, 12859 current[1]
Contact No
Team members Single competitors, doubles
Mixed gender Yes, but usually in separate leagues/divisions
Categorization Outdoor
Equipment Flying disc

Disc golf is a disc game in which individual players throw a flying disc into a basket or at a target. According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, "The object of the game is to traverse a course from beginning to end in the fewest number of throws of the disc."[2] Of the more than 3000 established disc golf courses as of 2010, approximately 87% are free.[3] The game is played in about 40 countries around the world.[4]



The early history of disc golf is closely tied to the history of the recreational flying disc (especially as popularized by the trademarked Frisbee) and may have been invented in the early 1900s. Modern disc golf started in the early 1960s, when it seems to have been invented in many places and by many people independently. Students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, for example, held tournaments with trees as targets as early as 1964, and in the early 1960s players in Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Georgia would toss Frisbees in 50-gallon barrel trash cans designated as targets.

Three of the best-known figures in the sport are George Sappenfield, who privately called the game "Basket Frisbee", "Steady Ed" Headrick who introduced the first formal disc golf target with chains and a basket,[5] and Dave Dunipace who invented the modern golf disc. In 1975, Headrick formed the first disc golf association, the PDGA, which now officiates the standard rules of play for the sport. The sport has grown at a rate of 12-15 percent annually for more than the past decade, with nearly 3000 courses in the US and more than 3000 globally. The game is now played in more than 40 countries worldwide, primarily in North America, Central and Western Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

George Sappenfield and early object courses

In 1965, George Sappenfield, from California, was a recreation counselor during summer break from college. While playing golf one afternoon he realized that it might be fun for the kids on his playground if they played "golf" with frisbees. He set up an object course for his kids to play on. Other early courses were also of this type, using anything from lamp poles to fire hydrants as targets. When he finished college in 1968, Sappenfield became the Parks and Recreation Supervisor for Conejo Recreation and Park District in Thousand Oaks, California. George introduced the game to many adults by planning a Disc Golf Tournament as part of a recreation project. He contacted Wham-O Manufacturing and asked them for help with the event. Wham-O supplied frisbees for throwing, and hula hoops for use as targets. However, it would not be until the early 1970s that courses began to crop up in various places in the Midwest and the East Coast (some perhaps through Sappenfield's promotion efforts, others probably independently envisioned). Some of Sappenfield's acquaintances are known to have brought the game to UC Berkeley. It quickly became popular on campus, with a permanent course laid out in 1970.

"Steady Ed" Headrick and the growth of the modern game

"Steady Ed" Headrick began thinking about the sport during his time at Wham-o toys.[6] Headrick, who is now regarded as the "Father of Disc Golf",[7] designed and installed the first standardized target course in what was then known as Oak Grove Park in La Cañada Flintridge, California.[8] (Today the park is known as Hahamongna Watershed Park). The park is immediately south of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which supplied at least a few of the earliest players. Ed worked for the San Gabriel, California-based Wham-O Corporation and is credited for pioneering the modern era of disc sports. While at Wham-O, Headrick redesigned the Pluto Platter reworking the rim height, disc shape, diameter, weight and plastics, creating a controllable disc that could be thrown accurately. Headrick marketed and pushed the professional model Frisbee and "Frisbee" as a sport. Ed Founded "The International Frisbee Association (IFA)" and began establishing standards for various sports using the Frisbee such as Distance, Freestyle and Guts.

Headrick coined and trademarked the term "Disc Golf" when formalizing the sport and patented the Disc Pole Hole,[9] the first disc golf target to incorporate chains and a basket on a pole. He started designing the target because he was tired of arguing over what counted as a scoring disc with his friends. Headrick founded the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), Disc Golf Association (DGA), and Recreational Disc Golf Association (RDGA) as governing bodies for professional, competitive amateur, and family-oriented play, respectively, and worked on standardizing the rules and the equipment for the quickly-growing sport. Headrick abandoned his trademark on the term "Disc Golf", and turned over control and administration of the PDGA to the growing body of disc golf players in order to focus his passion for building and inventing equipment for the sport.[10]

Basic Rules

A disc resting in the basket
  • In disc golf, it is acceptable for a player to 'fall' in front of their lie after the release. This allowance does not apply to putting.[11] A throw is officially considered a putt in disc golf if the lie is marked within what is known as 'The Circle'. This is a circle with a 10-meter (33 feet) radius, with the pin at its center. Within the circle, after putting, a player must not advance beyond the marked lie toward the pin until establishing balance and control, normally by picking up the marker disc. However, like golfers putting from the fringe, rough or fairway, most disc golfers still use a putting motion on shots that are longer than 10 meters, often called "being out of the circle" or "being outside." The player may follow through on these shots and many players develop a jump putt where the golfer jumps towards the target. This allows a combination of the accuracy that putting provides and more power on the putt.
  • Drives are made from a designated tee pad. These are usually made of concrete and have a dimension of about six by ten feet. Players must release the disc while inside the box, but may step out/off of it after the release. Tournaments may have different guidelines depending on the course and the nature of the event. It is allowed for players to take a running start as long as they are supported by the tee pad at the time of release.[12]
  • Falling putts (when the player follows through [as described above] on a putt 10 meters or shorter) and foot faults (when a player does not release the disc behind their mark or within the required distance of the mark, when a player has a part of their body touching the ground on release past their mark or when their tee shot is released from off the teeing area) are penalized in a unique way. The first offense is not penalized, but the golfer is required to re-throw the shot and then is warned for the offense. Any subsequent fouls, however, are penalized one throw and the golfer must re-throw.
  • Disc golf doesn't have "hazards" as defined in golf. Bodies of water, park roads and areas of concrete are typically defined as out-of-bounds in disc golf, however, sometimes these are not. Most courses define these areas as out of bounds or in bounds on tee signs at each hole, however, there is no universal standard for these. As in golf, any out-of-bounds shot is a one shot penalty, however, the rules for spotting the lie for the next shot are quite different than those in golf. If a throw lands out of bounds, unless defined by the hole, the thrower has the option of playing from the previous lie, or playing from the approximate spot where the disc crossed into the out-of-bound territory. If they choose to play from where the disc crossed out-of-bounds, they may take a one-meter relief from the out-of-bounds area, even if it puts them closer to the pin. The rules do not permit a player to have a supporting point touching out of bounds on release so this is the reason for the relief. If a player lands within a meter of the out of bounds and is in bounds, they are still granted this relief for the same reasoning. This relief is an option, the only rule regarding this is when the disc is released. Most golfers use this rule to their advantage to make putts closer or to improve their lie. Some holes may require a throw from a Drop Zone. If that is the case, the thrower moves to the drop zone to play the next shot. A disc is considered out-of-bounds if it is completely surrounded by out-of-bounds including touching the out-of bounds line. If the disc cannot be found, there must be "reasonable evidence" that the disc went out-of bounds or the lost disc penalty is applied.[13]
  • Another difference is the optional penalty for a disc that lands more than 2 meters above the playing surface. The course designer may specify that on particular trees, holes, or the whole course, a disc landing above 2 meters will receive a one throw penalty. This is known as the 2-Meter Rule. If not specified, there's no penalty for a disc landing any height above the ground. In golf, it's likely a player will need to take an unplayable penalty if their ball lands above the ground. On the other hand, balls are much less likely to remain stuck above ground than discs are as they fly through trees. When the disc is stuck above ground (including on top of baskets and those that land in the wrong basket) are to be marked on the ground directly below the disc. Even if the disc is not retrievable, as long as the player can identify it, they are not penalized (assuming the 2-meter rule is not in effect). A tournament director has the option of enforcing the 2-meter Rule regardless of whether or not the course enforces the rule. Many casual disc golfers often choose whether to play with the 2-meter rule at the beginning of a round.
  • Disc Golf holes may also have what are known as 'mandatories' or what are commonly called "mandos". These are obstacles that a disc must pass in a certain way. For example, a tree may be marked as a 'right mandatory', meaning a disc must pass that tree on the right side. Crossing the mandatory line on the wrong side is a one-shot penalty, and the thrower must play from the designated drop zone or within 5 meters of the mandatory object and one meter behind the line if a drop zone is not designated. Mandos are usually put in place to force a player to play down a fairway instead of down another fairway to help with safety.

It is a generally accepted rule that pedestrians have the right-of-way.

Driving is one of the more dangerous aspects of disc golf as it pertains to pedestrians. It is common to shout "disc" before a drive on holes from which the target cannot be seen from the tee pad. If a player is about to drive and wants to know if there are players in the target area, they may shout "clear on hole 12?", and if players are in the target area they may shout "no" or if they have vacated the area they will shout "clear on hole 12!". Players use these terms to alert other groups when finishing the hole as well as approaching groups to find out if the hole is ready for play. This phrase applies regardless of which hole is being played.


A player getting out of the rough on Goolagong, hole #3, Whitcombe Disc Golf Course, Beaminster, Dorset, UK


The golf discs used today are much smaller and heavier than traditional flying discs, typically about 8 or 9 inches in diameter and weighing between 150 and 180 grams. The PDGA prohibits any disc to be heavier than 200 grams. 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. There is a wide variety of discs used in disc golf and they are generally divided into three categories: putters, all-purpose mid-range discs, and drivers.


Putters are similar to the discs used in simple games of catch, such as the Wham-o brand Frisbee. They are designed to fly straight, predictably, and very slowly compared to mid-range discs and drivers. They are typically used for tight, controlled shots that are close to the basket, although some players use them for short drives where trees or other obstacles come into play. Usually a pro carries 1-7 putters depending on their flight characteristics.


Mid-range discs have slightly sharper edges that enable them to cut through the air better. These discs are usually more stable than a driver and have a more stable and predictable flight path. They are faster and have a longer range than a putter. Some players will use mid-ranges as drivers, and there are tournaments that require players to use only mid-range discs. They are good all-around discs and are suitable for a first time player.


Drivers are usually recognized by their sharp, bevelled edge and have most of their mass concentrated on the outer rim of the disc rather than distributed equally throughout. Drivers are often divided into different categories. For example, Innova discs divides their discs into Distance Drivers and Fairway Drivers, with a fairway driver being somewhere between a distance driver and a mid-range disc. Discraft divides their drivers into 3 categories: Long Drivers, Extra Long Drivers, and Maximum Distance Drivers. Because the physics of a disc require "snap" or "flick", which means putting spin on the disc, new players generally find that throwing a distance driver accurately can be somewhat difficult and will require experience with disc golf disc response. This is why it is better for players to begin with fairway drivers, long drivers, or even mid-ranges, and incorporate maximum distance drivers as their strength and disc control increases.

Nature of the discs

All discs when thrown will naturally fall to a certain direction; this direction is defined as Hyzer, the natural fall of the disc, or Anhyzer, making the disc fall against its natural flight pattern. The following explains the natural fall of the disc when thrown in each hand and in each position:

  • For a right-handed, back-hand thrower (RHBH), the disc will naturally fall to the left.
  • For a right-handed fore-hand thrower (RHFH), the disc will naturally fall to the right.
  • For a left-handed, back-hand thrower (LHBH), the disc will naturally fall to the right.
  • For a left-handed, fore-hand thrower (LHFH), the disc will naturally fall to the left.

Overstable: A disc that is overstable will increase the natural angle of the disc; discs that are more overstable are not usually recommended for beginning players.

Understable: A disc that is understable will push against the natural angle of the disc; discs that are more understable are usually recommended for beginning players.

The stability rating of the discs differs depending on the manufacturer of the disc. Innova discs rate stability as "turn" on a scale of +1 to −4, where +1 is the most overstable and −4 is the most understable. These ratings can be found on the Innova web site or marked on some of the more recently printed discs. Discraft prints the stability rating on all discs and also provides this information on their web site. The stability ranges from 3 to −2 for Discraft discs.

Throwing styles

While there are many different grips and styles to throwing the disc, there are two basic throwing techniques, backhand and forehand (or sidearm). These two techniques are very much a player's preference, and it is recommended that players learn both throws because each is highly effective in different circumstances. Understanding and mastering both styles can greatly improve a player's game and give them more options for reaching the basket sooner.

Many players use what is referred to as a run up during their drive, this is used to build more forward momentum to increase distance. Throwing styles vary from player to player and there is no standard way to throw.


This throw is performed by pulling the disc from back to front with either the right or left hand. Because of the potential snap one can put on a disc throwing backhand, this will generally produce more distance than throwing forehand. The secret to this technique is kinetic chaining. Kinetic chaining is used by boxers to give their blows much more force. The momentum starts in the feet and travels up the body and all the energy transfers to the disc, making it fly further. This makes form and follow-through extremely important.


This throw is performed by pushing the disc along the side of the body much like a sidearm throw in baseball. Forehand throws usually generate more speed from the start as the disc is pushed forward instead of being pulled forward for a backhand.

Alternative throws

These are used typically to get up and over an obstacle such as bushes or trees, or to perform a roller, which is when the disc is rolled on its edge to gain distance. Some players have mastered the overhand throw and use it as their main driving throw.

  • The Tomahawk which is thrown overhand like a baseball, the tomahawk's grip is with the fingers on the inside lip of the disc.
  • The Thumber thrown like a tomahawk but with the thumb on the inside lip of the disc.

Course components

A disc golf course in Yyteri beach, Finland
A red disc sailing towards a "Tonal Pole" style target at the disc golf course on Pender Island

While the roots of the game are very casual and laid back the newer generations of players are taking course design as well as the other elements of the game to a new level. Though early on targets were trees or fence posts in the woods, now courses are being cut out and under utilized parts of parks, schools, and private land are being used to make some of the most challenging and strategic courses around. All courses share the same basic elements; targets, tee pads, signage, topography, and most importantly safety.


The first incarnation of targets were known as tonal poles because of the sound they made when hit. These consisted of a metal pipe placed on a smaller pipe that when struck with the disc made a gong type sound, while these were much more accurate than a tree, arguments and disagreements led to the invention of the Disc Pole Hole by Ed Headrick in 1975. The basket as it is now known in most circles is the standard for Disc Golf courses.

Tee pads

The tee pad is where a player begins the hole. A solid base is a must for any successful course, and where early courses had plain dirt pads, modern courses use concrete, or more cost effective materials such as mulch, decomposed granite, or other natural materials. In recent years recycled rubber mats have been developed and are starting to catch on. While many alternatives have been created, concrete is the standard.


Signage is critical to any good course. Knowing distances, par count, out-of-bounds, and layout for each hole will give a player the information they need to make a great shot. Many courses have a main layout sign at the beginning of the course to show details of the course as a whole, as well as any needed information about the course. Hole signs give specific details about the hole the player is on, such as mandatory paths, out-of-bounds, and length. Not only are hole information signs critical, but way-finding signs and informational signs can make a good course great, and the absence of these can make a good course bad.


What makes Disc Golf unique is the utilization of natural elements, using trees and shrubs as obstacles and elevation changes to make the course challenging. Keeping the raw and environmentally conscience elements gives each course its own personality and strategy.


Safety is one of the most important design elements on a course because most courses are in public parks many non-players use the same spaces that the course inhabits. So when planning a course watching for all possible points of interaction with non-players is key to a great course.

Because of all of these elements and the importance of each one to the success of the course seeking out a qualified experienced course designer will insure that all of these are kept at the forefront.


Medal play is the most common scoring method but there are many others, including 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).

In every form of play, the goal is to play as few throws per round as possible. Scores for each hole can be described as follows:

Term on a
Specific term Definition
-3 Albatross (or double-eagle) three throws under par
-2 Eagle (or double-birdie) two throws under par
-1 Birdie one throw under par
0 Par throws equal to par
+1 Bogey one throw more than par
+2 Double bogey two throws over par
+3 Triple bogey three throws over par

Doubles play is a unique style of play that many local courses offer on a weekly basis. In this format, teams of two golfers are determined. Sometime this is done by random draw, and other times it is 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 include 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).


Ken Climo teeing off at hole 5 of the 2008 USDGC

Disc golf tournaments are popular around the world. As with traditional golf, there are many championship tournaments. One of the largest is the United States Disc Golf Championship.

Every year, the largest teams tournament in the world is held in Austin, Texas by John Houck.[1]

To prove the year-round sustainability of the sport, annual winter tournaments known as Ice Bowls are held at courses around the world. Using the motto, "No Wimps, No Whiners," Ice Bowls collectively are designed to create sport awareness, and are considered charity events that typically benefit a food bank local to a given tournament location. The official Web site reports that the 2010 Ice Bowls raised over $250,000 and donated over 67,000 pounds of food in the 222 tournaments for the year. [2]


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 states that out of its 11,302 members in 2006, 8% are female, or about 900. In PDGA competition, women have the option to play in gender-protected divisions.

Several companies have started programs to help attract women to the sport. There are also Disc golf companies such as Disc-Diva, that have started up with a primary, though not exclusive, focus on women in the sport, promoting accessories geared towards women and using catch phrases like, "You wish you threw like a girl."[14] Sassy Pants is another group that focuses on getting more involvement from women in the sport, advocating for sponsorship of women to enter tournaments.[15]


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.