By Steve Hill — Rattling Chains Staff
Since the sport’s inception, disc golf has been constantly evolving. Lids and blunt-edged discs have given way to the modern, physics-pushing sharp-nosed drivers of today. Courses are growing in size and number. Even bags have pushed the limits of technology, with human hands now being eschewed in favor of military-grade backpack material hoisted over one’s shoulders.
But one area that has not kept pace with the current rate of change is the basket.
Yes, companies have added more chains to their devices, or worked to make them more visible, but current chain-device design still allows for a good deal of spit-outs and pass-throughs. Casual and professional players alike can tell you about their experiences with the “one that got away,” so to speak, more than likely with a scowl and a couple expletives to accompany their stories.
Arroyo Disc Sports is hoping to rewrite the ending to these tales with their new basket, the Vortex.
With the Vortex, the Pasadena, California-based company has completely redesigned the chain structure, giving it a net-like appearance and function. The aim is better catching, happier players, and, in the end, evolution of the game.
“The idea for a new basket sprouted from our experiences as tournament players,” said Arroyo co-founder Logan Turner. “We felt that there was a need for an upgrade to basket technology for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being the functional shortcomings of most baskets we play on today.”
Turner pointed to the aforementioned spit-outs and the havoc they can wreak on a player’s mental game and, in the case of professionals, their wallets.
“All players have experienced spit outs and pass-throughs on putts at some point in their career, and at all levels that can be mentally frustrating,” he said. “Not to mention it can cost top pros hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each time it occurs.”
With these difficulties in mind, Turner — along with his Arroyo cohort Kevin Huver and a silent partner — embarked on an 18-month process to redesign baskets from the ground up.
The end result is The Vortex, an aluminum basket weighing in at a mere 55 pounds, the lightest championship level basket on the market, according to Turner. With a total of 30 chains, it also comes in higher than Innova’s most recent DISCatcher update, which sports 28.
But the Vortex doesn’t simply rely on volume to help catch discs better. Instead, it is the unique, argyle-patterned inner-chain set that distinguishes it from the competition.
“The idea came up that if the inner set of chains was interconnected, the energy of a disc would be spread through the whole linkage, as opposed to just the few strands it hits now, and therefore the likelihood of more momentum being absorbed was very high,” Turner said.
Taking this concept from idea to reality, though, proved daunting.
“This was by far the most difficult part of the chain design to hone in and took a lot of trial and error,” Turner said, “prying chain links apart, trying patterns and cutting up of other baskets.”
Once they settled on a functioning pattern, though, the minds at Arroyo patented the design so they could be the only ones to capitalize on their spoils.
“The inner set of chains on the Vortex fills in all the gaps you can see on other baskets,” Turner said. “So discs will not pass through, while still hanging in a similar fashion, and it acts like a cushion to gently drop your putter into the cage.”
They did not stop at the chain design, though. In fact, changes from the conventional basket that may seem simply cosmetic to some were intended to be functionally superior, Turner said.
For example, aluminum was not just chosen because it was light, but also because of its increased visibility and environmental friendliness. The removal of sharp edges from most points of the basket was not aimed at making the Vortex look like a futuristic, aerodynamic machine, but rather to lower the risk of discs chunking upon impact.
“As players we all have reliable putters that we love, and so we tried to take disc longevity into account,” Turner said.
All of this effort combines to make a basket that, according to Turner, allows for good shots to be rewarded and removes chance from putting and approaching.
“If you perform correctly, like shooting a basketball, or batting in baseball, you deserve to be rewarded for doing so,” Turner said.
Even when you add in high-velocity putts or long-distance runs at the basket, Turner expects the Vortex to perform as it should.
“The catching ability of the Vortex also gives players the opportunity for more aggressive shot shaping,” he said. “For example, if the only out to the basket you have as a player is a 150-foot forehand anhyzer with a mid-range, and you have the skill set to hit the 15(-inch) by 15(-inch) target area, the equipment you’re playing on should give you the confidence to attempt that shot, not add another element to consider.”
Still, Turner cautions that the player has to do his or her job for the Vortex to hold up its end of the bargain.
“The Vortex is not a catch-all,” he said. “Just a step up from old design.”
So far, though, this step up is gaining popularity. Tj Cruz, the president of San Diego-based Kinetic Disc Golf, called the Vortex a “game changer.”
“Hands down, these are the best-catching baskets on the market,” Cruz said. “I think as a product this basket could evolve the sport. Spit-outs and cut-throughs are a problem that’s not only frustrating, but discouraging to new players, and the Vortex nearly eliminates all of those.”
Cruz would like to see one change to the basket, though.
“I would love to see them offer this design in a permanent install model using galvanized steel,” he said. “Aluminum is light, but weak, and wouldn’t last a month in a public park.”
And although Arroyo employs the same grade of aluminum that is used to make yacht hulls and scuba tank, it seems that the material has been a common point of contention from the marketplace.
Turner and his partners, though, are listening.
“We’re in the process of developing a steel version of the Vortex to compensate for that,” Turner said. “For all intents and purposes it will be the same basket, just in steel. People liked the concept behind what we were trying to do, but through time it seems like everybody trusts steel more.”
And once that trust with Vortex baskets is built, Turner and his partners at Arroyo hope it will help push the sport of disc golf to the next level, bringing more excitement to spectators and players alike.
“Rules in sports where there are live officials are usually written to favor the offense to make game play more exciting for spectators. Scoring is exciting,” Turner said. “In golf, we don’t have an element like that, so the level of excitement comes from watching players attempt tricky or uncommon lines, and succeed or come close on those throws.
“That level of excitement is greatly reduced when spectators know that the likelihood of making one of those shots is slim,” he continued, “and we hope that the Vortex will up the level of competition for both players and spectators.”
Aside from just trying to make an impact from a game play standpoint, Arroyo Disc Golf also sees itself as a progressive company that is attempting to push the game in different ways than their competitors. Turner mentioned that Arroyo is in the planning stages of nonprofits and youth leagues that can help more people understand and enjoy the sport. The company is also a member of the 1% For the Planet Campaign, which finds companies donating one percent of total yearly sales to environmental causes.
“We want to be a trend-setting company that others have to emulate to stay in the game, and that means being dynamic and forward-thinking,” Turner said. “We see disc golf as a lifestyle and we want both the players and general public to experience that, while at the same time expanding the market for everyone to become more successful.”
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Steve Hill covers all angles of the game for Rattling Chains, even if he can’t hit those angles himself. Contact him at steve [at] rattlingchains.com and follow him on Twitter @OneMileMore.