I was thinking a lot on my recent trip to/from Tennessee about course design. Specifically, how much I have learned about course design while playing over 1,500 unique disc golf course designs (nearly 20,000 unique hole designs) over the past several years.

When you are on the road, trying to play as many courses as you can, as quickly as you can, you don’t take a lot of chances on the tee. Water? Tall rough? THICK brush? You lay up. Divide a hole in half. Live to fight another day. But in doing so, you remove a lot of the challenge that a course designer has built into a particular hole design. Making the the hole impossible to deuce! But making the hole easy to par…so long as you have your trusty DGA Squall in your bag, ready to perform surgery in your approach game.

Minnesota’s own Chuck Kennedy, a legend around Southern Minnesota and an integral part of the PDGA, taught me almost everything that I knew about course design in my early days. And one of my favorite “Chuckisms” is the concept of designing courses with “trap holes.” Making a hole just-possible-enough to ace or deuce! But in doing so, players who do not possess the skillset and/or make any mistakes on the tee will pay a heavy price. Will be lucky to come out of said hole with a bogey-four…when laying up and dividing holes in half would have made for a relatively easy three.

Disc golfers’ egos are often their downfall. Thinking that if they just make the PERFECT tee shot? They’ll have a story to brag about to all their buddies and kids…and/or make the shot of some tournament that every other player will ooh and aah over. But in those types of settings? It is generally the player who makes the least mistakes who comes out on top…or at least on the lead card.

One Thing I Have Learned About Course Design While Course Collecting - Tonn's Travels
Fictitious “Trap Hole” Design.

Take, for example, the fictitious “trap hole” design shown above. A player like me, a LHBH player who can MAYBE get it out there around 340-350 off the tee under perfect conditions, walks up to the tee and thinks: “If I can execute this shot to the best of my ability, I will have a chance to make a pretty amazing deuce!” Only one problem: My name isn’t Paul McBeth. 🙂 My chances of throwing my tee shot with the perfect X-Step with the perfect rip across my chest, at the perfect angle and speed, are somewhere on-par with me winning the lottery tonight! So what is far more likely to happen is that I will let the disc go at the wrong angle/speed, due to some type of deficiency in my X-step or rip across my chest, and I will either:

1. Have one fewer DGA Undertow in my bag, thanks to that lake/pond, or…
2. I will miss well right of the fairway, leaving myself with zero chance at that rare deuce, and likely needing to scramble a bit to save par (three).

But the older I get, and the (thousands) more holes I have played around North America? The more I realize that this fictitious hole above is EASY to par! Throw my Squall out there about 250 feet, throw my Squall again to within 15-20 feet, and make my putt for three. It’ll put everyone else watching me play to sleep…watching me take few to zero chances on a course! But it will also keep me from going home with a lighter bag (lost discs), as well as 4s, 5s, even worse on my card.

Course designers, at least experienced course designers, realize this. They want to find the “sweet spot” between designing courses that folks can yawn their way to a score in the low 40s over eighteen holes, and courses that are too difficult for 90+ percent of players to enjoy. So you introduce lots of “trap holes” into your design. Rewarding players for taking a bit of risk and executing well off the tee! While also punishing players for their taking chances and failing to execute properly in their form/release.

When I am out on the course collecting trail? Risk isn’t part of the equation, as I want to play fast…and adding a +1 to my course collection is FAR more important than impressing anyone with my score or some amazing shot (that no one is around to appreciate, besides me). So I just get it out there, far enough down the fairway to trust that my Squall will do its job from ~150-200 feet on shot #2 and mail-in the Par 3. Then when I am presented with holes that are under 300-325 feet with a lot less risk or punishment for a failure to execute properly on the tee? I attack. It is the same way I would approach tournament play…if I still played in a lot of tournaments.

The fewest mistakes often wins. Though playing that way often makes life a LOT more difficult on us course designers. Needing to come up with more creative, sneaky “traps” to have players like me throw caution to the wind. Insert devil emoticon here… 🙂

Magic Number = 411 (1,589 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

Derek Tonn Profile Picture

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 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.