What is Disc Golf? A Complete Beginner's Guide
Disc golf is the perfect solution for anyone that wants to teach, share and enjoy a lifetime sport.
It's a healthy, inexpensive, recreational activity that provides upper and lower body conditioning, aerobic exercise and mental stimulation. Concentration skills expand by mastering shots and negotiating obstacles. Players of limited fitness levels can start slowly and gradually increase their level of play.
We’d like to help you get started and your family get out to the course with an introduction to disc golf: what is it, why should you teach or play disc golf, what you will need to start, how to play, and where to find a course near you!
What Is Disc Golf?
Disc golf is played much like golf except, instead of a ball and clubs, players use a flying disc. The sport was formalized in the 1970s and shares with golf the object of completing each hole in the fewest strokes (or, in the case of disc golf, fewest throws).
A disc golf hole begins from a tee area and ends at a target, the most common of which is an elevated metal basket. As a player progresses down the fairway, he or she must make each consecutive throw from the spot where the previous throw landed. In group play, the farthest away player always throws first. Players should not get ahead of the away player. The trees, shrubs, and terrain changes located in and around the fairways provide challenging obstacles for the golfer. When the 'putt' lands in the basket, the hole is complete.
Disc golf shares the same joys and frustrations as golf, whether it's sinking a long putt or hitting a tree halfway down the fairway. Unlike golf, disc golf is usually free to play in public parks and takes about half as long to complete a round. Disc golf is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages, gender identity, and economic status, making it a great lifetime fitness activity.
The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) offers divisions of play from under eight to over eighty at the annual disc golf World Championships. The PDGA annually presents four separate world championship: Professional, Professional Masters, Amateur and Juniors.
It is been estimated that 8 to 12 million Americans have played disc golf and that over half a million play regularly. The majority of these players participate at the amateur and recreational level. The Professional Disc Golf Association is the governing body of disc golf and oversees both amateur events and a professional tour that sustains a growing field of full-time players. The PDGA annually sanctions over 3,500 events and has an active membership base of more than 80,000 competitive disc golfers from 47 nations around the world.
What You Will Need To Get Started
The only thing you need to play disc golf is a disc. That’s it! You don’t even need an established disc golf course – you can take your disc to practically any uncrowded open space and turn it into a disc golf course of your own.
More than likely, however, there is a disc golf course near you. With over 7,000 courses in the United States and over 10,000 worldwide, be sure to pack a disc on your next family travels.
Discs are inexpensive, ranging from about $10 to $25 depending on the quality of the plastic and other features like custom designs and stamps. That means for under $100, a family of four can start a new activity with opportunities to play on over 10,000 courses with most of them free. These points elevate disc golf beyond a frisbee game to a viable lifestyle option. Discs can be purchased from most brick and mortar sporting goods stores as well as a wide selection of online disc golf retailers.
Many disc manufacturers offer a starter pack, which usually consists of one each of the three primary types of disc golf discs: a putter, mid-range, and high-speed driver.
Types of Golf Discs
By the time most people try disc golf, they have had some experience throwing a Frisbee. This is a great place to start when introducing disc golf. A golf disc is like a Frisbee in the principles of flight although its smaller diameter, shallow depth, weight distribution, and edge design allow it to cut through the air more efficiently. When compared to a Frisbee, a golf disc travels faster and farther which may make it more difficult to control.
Choosing the right disc for a child or beginner makes a big difference in their success and their first impression of disc golf. Disc golf has steadily increased in membership popularity by 15 percent over the last seven years. The game of disc golf has a 72 percent course growth rate, and tournament play has increased by 90 percent. These stats translate to an all-time high for disc selection and courses to play. There is a wide variety of disc manufacturers and no one brand stands above the other when it comes to junior specific discs. Manufacturers provide a variety of styles and weights to allow the player to experiment within their own game.
The beauty of disc golf is that it only takes one disc to play. One disc is recommended in the classroom when first introducing disc golf. It makes it easy to teach and for the group or individual to learn. Implementing different discs too soon will work against the group, individual, and instructor. The art of observation and self-exploration are key tools in disc golf teaching and learning. One disc minimizes the factor of “what does this disc do?”. An often-confusing point in disc golf. One disc allows the new player to focus on throwing technique, disc angles, and repetition which accelerates the learning curve. One disc is also easier for kids to keep track of when playing a course or in the classroom. Equipment responsibility is part of the game.
Beginning players are encouraged to start with a lightweight, mid-range disc. Mid-range discs are multi-purpose, meaning a player can sufficiently drive, approach, and putt with it making them an economical first choice. Mid-range discs are great for juniors, beginning players, and the classroom. They are typically thinner rimmed making them easier to control and throw with lots of glide. Mid-range discs are in the middle of a throw chart. Look for a disc with a speed around five, minimum fade (overstable), minimum turn (understable), and with neutral stability when starting out.
The two hardest things for a new player are generating spin and speed when releasing the disc. Spin and speed equal distance; it takes some time to master the timing and technique needed to achieve this. A junior or beginning player that starts with a lightweight, mid-range disc will have a faster learning curve than a player that starts with a heavy, high-speed driver. Suitable beginning weight ranges are 140 grams or less for under 12, 13 years and above can move into 150 grams in weight. Avoid introducing drivers and weight ranges above 165 grams to beginning players. As interest and skill level increases the putter and driver should be introduced into the game. The ultimate beginner set-up is a three-disc set that includes a driver, mid-range, and putter.
- These discs are the most similar to a traditional Frisbee in both shape and flight. They typically have a round edge and are dome shaped. They fly at slower speeds, have a controllable straight flight, and are ideal for putting and accuracy shots around the green. They can be used for both throwing and putting.
- These have a slightly sharper edge than putters and are used for controlled shots that require more speed and distance than can be achieved with a putter. Mid-range disc offers the most versatility when teaching a class or just starting out with one disc.
These are the fastest-flying, sharpest-edged discs in the disc golfer’s bag and require the most advanced technique to throw properly. Beginners are generally advised to avoid these discs until they have become proficient at throwing putters and mid-ranges.
How to Play
There are innumerable ways to throw a golf disc – and, indeed, the creative possibilities presented with each shot are a big part of the sport’s charm. The most popular throwing technique in disc golf is the backhand throw. The backhand is what most people think of when they think of throwing a Frisbee.
There are many excellent tutorials for beginning throwers on YouTube. Here are a few of our favorites:
Nate Sexton, 2016 United States Disc Golf Champion- Beginner Tutorial
Merle Witvoet, PDGA/EDGE awardee for Excellence in Disc Golf Education- Shot Terminology
Paul McBeth, 5x World Champion- 5 Approach Tips
Jay 'Yeti' Reading, Hall of Fame member- Principles of Driving
Paige Pierce, 5x World Champion- Distance Tips for Beginners
Rules and Etiquette
The PDGA Rules Committee publishes a comprehensive guide to rules of play, but beginning players need not concern themselves with the all of the official rules just yet. Following a few basics will help keep your rounds fair and fun. Keep instructions simple, introduce the game, equipment, safety, and the concepts of play.
Start with safety. Establish cues to lead the class. “Discs up” is a good one. Instruct students when you say “discs up” they are to raise the disc above their head. You now have a focused group to address. To reinforce safety, when the discs are up for the first time instruct students to bend their elbows and lightly tapped their head with the disc. You can say, “Doesn’t feel so good. Golf discs are pieces of sporting equipment and not toys. Let’s make sure and be mindful of each other when throwing”. This small move teaches students to be aware of the flying disc.
Next, introduce order of play: start at a designated tee area, throw each shot from just behind where the previous shot landed (when possible), the player who is farthest away from the basket is “out” and throws first, never get ahead of the furthest away player, discs are pieces of sporting equipment- they do hurt. If a disc gets lost, everyone in the group should help look for it.
Where to Play
With more than 7,000 disc golf courses in the United States and over 10,000 worldwide – most of which are free to play – there is almost certainly a course near you. The PDGA course directory can help you find a course that is right for you and your family.
For beginning players, especially those playing with families and young children, we recommend filtering courses by length so that you can begin playing on a short course that is beginner-friendly Look for courses under 2,500 feet or under 5,000 feet. Easy courses will have an average hole length of 250 feet or less. When calculating the average hole length, make sure to check the number of holes on the course, as not all courses have 18 holes.
We’d also suggest downloading course maps when available and checking to make sure that the course has amenities like bathrooms, course signage, ADA accessibility, or anything else that you need to have an enjoyable time.
How to Get More Involved
If you try disc golf and love it (and we expect that you will!), we hope that you will get more involved with the sport by joining a local disc golf club. Search "your town + disc golf" on Facebook or check the PDGA’s extensive Affiliate Club program for a club near you. Clubs want to see disc golf grow, reach out to the local club to see about junior or beginner play in the area. Clubs have a diversified talent pool waiting to share their disc golf knowledge. Clubs are great resources for teachers and youth leaders. They can provide insight on technique, instruction, class management, course design and builds.
Contact the parks department to see about summer or youth programs offered at the course.
Consider subscribing to disc golf media providers on YouTube such as Jomez Pro, SmashBoxxTV, The Disc Golf Network and joining the PDGA to participate in one of the thousands of professional and amateur events held each year.
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