After playing 1,300+ disc golf courses across North America and portions of Europe, you develop a feel, almost a “sixth sense,” for how course designers of varying levels of skill and experience will often approach the position of tees and baskets on a property.  That comes in handy, as many courses out there have no numbers on their baskets.  No tee signs or marked tee areas.  No course map. In those instances, one tries to channel their best inner Robert Redford and know what the horse…I mean COURSE (designer) was thinking while technically enjoying a “safari round.”

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn's Travels
Poster from the movie The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas.

It sounds a bit silly, but when I encounter courses such as these while out on the road, one of the first rules of thumb I generally apply to the likely flow of a course is: “What would a right-handed player/designer do?”  For a left-hand backhand player such as myself?  It becomes painfully obvious that if 93% of the planet is right-handed, then approximately 93% of the people designing disc golf courses are right-handed as well.  And since many/most designers like to design holes that they personally like to play?  That best suit their particular strengths as a player? You’ll see 2-3+ fairways that go from right to left, for every one fairway that goes from left to right.  And when it isn’t clear how a course will play, from basket to basket?  One can usually figure out a lot of holes by understanding that many (most?) designers won’t put water, O.B., buildings or other potential hazards, left of a fairway. Most course designers will also choose to begin and end a course near the parking area most players will use.  And combining these two typical characteristics of many/most designs on the planet?  Can help you at least make an educated guess as to how a course will play.

I needed to put these skills to use earlier this morning, traveling to Worthington, Minnesota to play a new nine-hole course at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.  Using UDisc to successfully guide me to the course, I could see nine baskets spread across the Southwest end of the campus.  However, none of the baskets had hole numbers on them.  And there were no tee areas defined (not even simple flags or spray paint to mark the tee locations).  So I thought: “If I were a right-handed player, one who probably has not designed a lot of courses, where would I likely want the tees to be located in order to make nine fun shots off the tee?”

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn's Travels
The fifth “Safari” hole I played at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

It was actually more difficult to try and figure out than other similar courses I’ve played.  Though I finally decided that the designer must have established a clockwise flow from hole to hole, based upon the fifth, sixth and seventh holes I played. Notice the position of a fenced-in ball field to the left of the likely fairway on the fifth hole I played (above). Most right-handed players I know would not like having a fenced-in ballfield (O.B.) to throw a hyzer over off the tee, if the course played in the opposite direction. There was a remnant of a football goal post right of the fairway too! But that should be far enough away from the tee area where it would be easier for right-hand backhand players to avoid.

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn's Travels
The sixth “Safari” hole I played at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

Follow that hole with the next logical tee area, with all-sorts of trouble (and private property) left of the tee.  This has “righty hyzer bomb” written all over it…versus coming at the previous basket from my next basket (requiring righties to either throw an anhyzer off the tee or throw over private property, O.B.).  I highly doubt that, unless the course designer was left-handed, they would have 93 percent of players throwing anhyzers or throwing over private property.

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn's Travels
The seventh “Safari” hole I played at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

The only thing that gave me pause, related to a potential clockwise flow to the course design, was the seventh hole I played (above).  An inflatable building on the left, with water (O.B.) on the right. I hope that inflatable building is temporary (commencement?), as if it is not, I could write a few paragraphs about how concerned I would be about safety on this part of the course.  But that issue aside, I finally decided that a course designer (93% chance they were right-handed) would probably prefer throwing over the water to dry land (right to left), punishing us lefties via throwing over dry land toward water (left to right). Facing South, with the campus experiencing moderate to strong wind from the South or Southwest a majority of the time throughout the year? This presents a scary shot for left-handers, at least with that inflatable building in the way of a hyzer line. [sarcasm] But we’re used to it…sigh. [/sarcasm]

I will be curious to learn how close to the actual flow of the course I got while playing my safari round on campus today. But regardless of that, I was happy to add one more new course to my bag/collection this morning. One of fewer than ten new courses close enough to home to not require a night in a hotel.

Magic Number = 637 (1,363 courses played)

About Tonn’s Travels

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 PictureDerek 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.