Under the periodic guidance of long-time disc golf course designers such as Chuck Kennedy and Steve West, I was able to learn that designing effective holes, effective courses, requires what Steve would refer to as “scoring spread.” In other words, how players of differing abilities will commonly post different scores after playing the same holes. While throwing from the same tees.

That goal can be a bit of a conundrum for course designers. How to make sure that “Derek Tonn” will generally take a “4” or “5” on a hole/tee where “Paul McBeth” will generally get his three. One of my favorite approaches to achieving this goal of scoring spread is to introduce what Chuck has always referred to as “trap holes.” Holes where if a player simply played within their abilities? They might have no problem shooting at least par or bogey. But by making circle-1 or the basket “just reachable enough” off the tee or from certain spots on a longer hole’s fairway? Players will be tempted to try and execute shots that they will generally fail to have a successful outcome. Meaning that a relatively easy 3/4 will turn into a 4/5/6+ on the scorecard. Thereby making sure that players with superior skills, who can much more easily have successful outcomes off the tee from certain spots on a longer hole’s fairway, will place a lower score on the scorecard.

Not surprisingly, it seems as though males in their teens, twenties and thirties have a much more difficult time avoiding falling into those traps. To use a baseball analogy, “swinging for the fences” when simply getting on base would lead to scoring more runs (and winning more games). I’d be lying if I said the younger version of me didn’t also have a lot of strikeouts, fly outs and ground outs when trying to make those SportsCenter Top 10 types of shots! But as I got into my forties? Maybe part of it was a bit of a decline in my maximum distance off the tee, or maybe it was finally realizing how many dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars in lost plastic I had left behind in ponds, rivers, tall grass and thick rough. However, I finally started to realize that I could throw it shorter, take fewer chances from the tee and in the fairway, and put lower scores on my scorecard.

Scoring Spread in Course Design (and how to Defeat it) - Tonn's Travels
Decision-Making Flowchart.

The above decision-making flowchart is what I essentially (now unconsciously) use on every tee I step on to. What I use every time I am in the fairway, or have a dangerous putt to attempt. And after playing probably 15,000+ holes of disc golf since I came to this realization? I have gone from shooting estimated rounds in the 920s to shooting estimated rounds in the 950s. Dropping at least 2-3 shots per round off my scorecards.

I won’t lie! It makes for a LOT fewer “highlight reel” shots that one will be bragging up to friends and/or have other players saying “ooh” and “aah.” 🙂 But approaching disc golf this way, which disc golf legend Gregg Hosfeld affectionately refers to as “boring disc golf,” makes players MUCH more difficult to beat! Since most players out there, particularly players with 2-3 extra helpings of testosterone, are often competing against two opponents:

1. Other players at the event they are playing against.
2. Themselves.

But if you can successfully master playing “boring disc golf?” You’ve cut one of your most formidable opponents out of the equation.

Right about now you might be asking yourself: “What does all of this have to do with course design?!” To which I might respond by reminding you how one of the primary weapons course designers have in their arsenal of tools is “trap holes.” And the less often players spring that trap and are punished as a result of their foolish gambling? The lower their scores on the scorecard will be. The less “spread” one might expect to see between Open and Advanced, or Advanced and Intermediate, or Intermediate and Recreational play.

Scoring Spread in Course Design (and how to Defeat it) - Tonn's Travels
View of the Course Map and Welcome Sign at Rock Ridge Park in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

The best recent example of this which comes to mind for me was playing Rock Ridge Park in Pittsboro, North Carolina. One of John Houck‘s fantastic designs, this 6,938-foot monster (off the Blue tees) dares you to attempt to hit narrow gaps in effort to get your 2/3/4. I approached every hole, every shot, from the standpoint of: “Am I good enough to put this shot in the basket, or to put my shot close enough to the basket to have a great chance of making my next shot?” If my answer to that question was no? I got out my ProLine Squall and laid WAY up. 50-75+ feet shorter than I might have been able to throw a Squall or ProLine Undertow if I were going for my maximum distance. To make sure I landed my disc in a spot that would make my next shot much easier to execute.

What was really interesting to note was that after 2-3 holes on that course, I noticed that the ONLY disc I had thrown was my Squall. Squall on the tee, Squall in the fairway, Squall in the fairway again (if it was a long hole), and Squall close enough to drop it into the basket (didn’t need a putter). And the more holes I played? The same was true. And by the end of eighteen holes? I had played the entire round with only a Squall. Finishing with a -3 (62) and an estimated round rating of 991.

John Houck is one of the world’s top disc golf course designers! And a sub-par Advanced (or rock-solid Intermediate) player had just hung an estimated pro-rated round off the Blue tees on his course. It’s not because I suddenly channeled my inner Matt Bell! 🙂 Rather, it was because I had uncovered the secret to beating that course design. And it had nothing to do with being longer off the tee, or being able to stick all of my putts from Circle-1 and Circle-2! All I needed to do to beat that design was to not take chances from the tees and fairways.

If you’re a ho-hum player like me? That should put a smile on your face and give you hope for a brighter future on the scorecard! But if you are a course designer (also like me)? That should put the Fear of God in you. As if players can all but completely dismantle one of your primary weapons for achieving scoring spread in your designs? That means you’ll need to work a LOT harder to find ways to make sure the “Derek Tonns” are taking their 4s/5s, while “Paul McBeth” is getting his three.

Magic Number = 130 (1,870 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

Scoring Spread in Course Design (and how to Defeat it) - 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.