In addition to mapping a 36-acre property this Winter, one of my primary reasons for being up in Northern Wisconsin today is to help “tweak” an eighteen-hole disc golf course design on the property.

The property owner first hired a professional course designer to walk the property and propose an eighteen-hole design. However, said course designer was promptly relieved of his duties before even completing the design of the first hole, since he wanted to remove 4-5 times more trees than the property owner wanted to. The property owner wants a short, HEAVILY-wooded course for guests of his property to enjoy! And opening up lots of wide fairways in the trees is not only NOT what he wanted to develop on the property, but would be FAR more time-consuming and expensive to achieve.

The property owner, who also disc golfs, then set about creating a design of the course with another friend who plays. Coming up with the type of course design that the two of them would enjoy playing! Though they had the nagging thought in the back of their minds that they should probably have someone with more course design experience give their draft design a thorough review. Making sure that the course would not only be fun to play, but would also be:

1. Safe
2. Safe
3. Did I mention safety yet? 🙂
4. Making the most of the ~16 acres available to the course design.

They got my name as a result of ordering DGA baskets (the best baskets in the industry…not that I am biased or anything, ha!), DGA tee signage, and DGA discs to loan out to guests. And DGA gave them my name, as one of their Team members with course design experience who happens to live in the Upper Midwest. For which I was grateful to have the opportunity.

Course Design "Tweaking" - Tonn's Travels
View from the Hole 1 tee at an Unnamed Course in Northern Wisconsin.

The more courses I’ve played, and the more courses I’ve designed (eleven and counting)? The more I’ve realized that what I truly enjoy is taking other people’s designs and making them safer. Better. More fun. NOT starting from a clean slate! Rather, taking what someone else has come up with, and making a “tweak” here and a “nudge” there. Making “good” better. So that the original course designer doesn’t have their ego bruised and feel as though a redheaded disc golfer from southwestern Minnesota has stomped all over their work! Rather, taking their work and “tightening a few screws” which make it just a bit better than before.

In this particular instance? I don’t think the property owner cared as much about me sticking close to their original design! He just wanted someone to see how we could maximize the use of that land to create a fun recreational experience for his guests. That said? I tried to stick somewhat close to the original design.

Course Design "Tweaking" - Tonn's Travels
View from the Hole 4 tee at an Unnamed Course in Northern Wisconsin.

The course itself will be SHORT! Measuring a hair less than 3,000 feet in total length. But there are trees, trees and more trees…creating lots of narrow alleys that players will need to navigate in order to attempt their ace runs or to get their deuces. It is what the property owner wanted, and what I agreed was an excellent use of the available land. Probably the biggest change I made to three of the holes was to eliminate “right angles” that had been designed into the proposed hole designs. i.e. Throw your tee shot 150 feet straight down a fairway, then turn 90 degrees to the left to make it the last 40 feet to the basket. Always to the left…sigh, I’m a left-handed backhanded player in a right-handed backhanded world, ha!

Course Design "Tweaking" - Tonn's Travels
View from the Hole 9 tee at an Unnamed Course in Northern Wisconsin.

Discs don’t fly/turn at a right angle! So I suggested that they alter tee and basket positions slightly, to eliminate “right angles” and give players a chance to run their right-to-left or left-to-right alleys from the tee to the basket. More fair, and more fun! I also ended up suggesting a handful of new tee positions for safety, along with altering three basket positions (one for increased safety, two for increased fun/challenge). “Tweaks!” Not me coming in, tearing up all the good/hard work of two people to create “my” design! Rather, letting the course continue to be THEIR design! Just a bit better than it was before I arrived.

Course Design "Tweaking" - Tonn's Travels
View from the Hole 15 tee at an Unnamed Course in Northern Wisconsin.

The course design also gave me a good chance to “preach” two of the common sermon points I like to share with property owners when walking on to land for the first time, designing holes/courses:

  1. Design with the end in mind. Who is the course intended to serve? What are you trying to achieve as a result of introducing disc golf on to the property? And a related topic:
  2. Talking about Green (Novice), Red (Recreational), White (Intermediate), Blue (Advanced) and Gold (Open/Pro) players and course designs.

What the property owner had come up with for a draft course design, as well as the land they had set aside for disc golf on their property, lends itself to installing a “Green” or short “Red” course! Will it be the type of course that will host PDGA NT/A/B/C tier tournaments, that professional players will flock to when they are done playing at places such as Mont du Lac or Highbridge Hills? Not hardly! But that is entirely okay, since 95+ percent of the guests staying at this property will likely have never played disc golf before. Either that, or they will have only played a handful of times in their life. So design a course that is fun for THEM! Not force them to play on a course that might be fun for players on the Disc Golf Pro Tour!

Course Design "Tweaking" - Tonn's Travels
View from the Hole 17 tee at an Unnamed Course in Northern Wisconsin.

I marked a LOT of trees and branches to trim before the course opens next Spring! A tiny fraction of the clearing that the original designer had proposed, however. So the property owner was much happier in me apparently catching (and sharing) their vision for the course and land. I hope to get back up to the property next Spring, to play it for real! I played it despite having a ton of branches and young trees in the middle of fairways, and managed a 42:

3 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 2 2 3 4 2 2 2 2 2 2

But an Advanced player playing on a “Green” or short “Red” course SHOULD be able to shred that course from the perspective of score! The course wasn’t designed for me. Something FAR too many people forget as they are reviewing courses out there. Reviewing them from the perspective of themselves and their own playing ability, versus the players they were intended to serve.

Magic Number = 101 (1,899 Courses Played)

How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels >>
A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re out “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design. But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have. All of the interesting people I meet. All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play. If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home? Then I will consider this effort a success.

About Derek

Course Design "Tweaking" - Tonn's Travels

Derek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA, the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed’s (the father of disc golf and the modern-day Frisbee) vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.