How do you rate a disc golf course?

By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

It is true of most things to which the words “subjective” and “opinion” may be applied. And so it is with disc golf courses, as well. When I read user-submitted course reviews on dgcoursereview.com, it’s clear that different people value different features in a disc golf course.

Disc golf courses can be quite unassuming.

Some of the most popular — and most famous — are almost invisible to the uninformed eye when not populated with clusters of people flinging bright colored flying discs. That is because one of the elements of disc golf of which its practitioners and proponents are most proud is its ability to conform to nearly any hikeable environment — with minimal or no alteration. In fact, for a large part of the disc golfing population, the more rugged, the better.

And then there are those — no less ardent in their love of the sport — who highly value open, flat fairways where their discs can soar unimpeded by the “thwack!” of a tree and have no chance of plummeting into a deep, dark brambly chasm.

It’s all a personal preference.

Some players like a remote course that is so removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization (and, they might say, the watchful eyes of Big Brother) that having to hike half a mile on foot just to reach it is a bonus. For others, that would be a deal-killer. They want convenience, safety, and even supervision, and couldn’t care less if the park is shared with other users and bordered by streets with cars constantly zipping by.

For some folks it’s all about the equipment.

If a course doesn’t have some type of permanent teepads and baskets (as opposed to posts or other objects), they have zero interest in playing it. On the other end of the spectrum, I know people who still regularly play courses like Old Sawmill in Pebble Beach, Calif., or Little Africa in Carmichael, Calif., even though neither has regular targets or teepads. They do so because the courses are set in amazing places, convenient to them, and/or consist of great hole designs. But they obviously don’t mind the lack of official equipment.

So what makes a course great in your eyes?

Personally, I break it down into two broad categories: courses that I can play on a regular or semi-regular basis (home courses), and courses I may only get to play once or twice (road courses).

Home Courses

For a home course, I’m looking first and foremost for variety and challenge.

If it has those elements I’ll come back again and again, despite it possibly having some other drawbacks. I want some long holes, and some that are short and technical. It’s fun to be able to throw big, booming shots in wide open space, but if that’s all there is, it gets boring. Give me some where I have to be very accurate in navigating obstacles, as well. If the terrain is varied and allows the course to include uphill, downhill and side-hill holes, that’s also a big plus.

Hole No. 3 at Ryan Ranch in Monterey, Calif., is a good example of a hole with elevation change and a well-graded, well-marked teepad.

I want a great course design that enables me to figure out how to score better over the course of many rounds and many months or even years — like a really tough brainteasing puzzle. To me the mental aspect of golf is the best part of the game, and course management is a big part of that. It’s pretty cool to have an “a-ha!” moment on a hole after already playing it 100 times.

And a little characteristic that few courses have but one that I prize highly is the technical green.

I think it’s great when you’re forced to really think about the ramifications of a missed putt, like whether it’s gonna roll or skip away, or even fly down a drop-off behind the basket. DeLaveaga is famous for it’s tough greens, and it’s a major reason why scoring averages in major events there played by top pros remains among the highest — despite the course being more than 30 years old.

Road Courses

Now let’s use the other category to discuss some other aspects of what makes a disc golf course great or merely good (I’m pretty biased in that, to me, there is no such thing as a bad disc golf course). The factors I listed above are important to me whether home or away, but here are some others that are especially important when I don’t know the course yet.

As far as equipment goes, I’ve become spoiled by Mach III or Mach V baskets and concrete teepads, but I’m flexible — to a point. I want some form of catching device that definitely lets the player know if the hole is complete or not. And as far as teepads, I want a good, flat, hard surface from which to throw my drives. And having uniform tees and baskets isn’t just about performance.

The author putts on one of the more memorable holes at a private course 5,000 feet up Mt. Haleakala on Maui, HI. To him, baskets – whether manufactured or improvised – make a big difference on a disc golf course.

Something I’m especially sensitive to when playing a course for the first time is the importance of having tees and baskets that are uniform and marked to show which hole it is. If the tees and baskets are clearly marked I can almost always find my way through the course. If not, it’s often impossible.

So those are my major criteria. As you can see, with me it’s almost all about the game itself. Facilities (partly due to being a guy) don’t matter to me. I can pack my water in, and easily find a place in the woods to dispense with the excess. I don’t usually have much need for a place to buy snacks or discs — although I certainly appreciate it when one is available.

But now it’s your turn.

I ask again — how do you rate a disc golf course? We want to know what the most important criteria are to you (like equipment, design, amenities, price and convenience) as well as what you value within those criteria (like challenging courses or must have bathrooms).

I’m hoping to get a big response in the comments section on this one, so even if your response is short, please post something. Ideally, one day nearly every community will have numerous courses, with each catering to a different type of preference. We’re already starting to see that in disc golf hotbeds like Santa Cruz, Calif., Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Players in those areas have their choice of nearly all the differences listed above. But to help the future planners and designers of courses in future disc golf hotbeds, tell us what you want to see in courses.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@rattlingchains.com.

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0 thoughts on “How do you rate a disc golf course?

  1. Pingback: We’re looking to see how you rate courses — At Rattling Chains « TALKdg.com

  2. When I’m rating courses on dgcr, the big factor when rating an away course is how easy it is to get from hole to hole. When I find myself lost or wandering, that’s a big put off for me.

    For home courses, I look at a lot of the same things that you do, Jack – a mix of long/technical holes, good equipment, etc.

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  3. HOME COURSE: Circle C (Austin,Tx) – Great shot variety, slightly hilly and wooded. This course offers a variety for shot and disc selections with baskets finishing left, right and straight on. While there are some Ace op’s, the closest I’ve gotten was 2 strokes. Hole 18, an 822ft par5, can be massive at times depending on the conditions and your ability to avoid trees… Not to mention it finishes HARD left.

    ROAD COURSE: East Metro Park (Manor, Tx) – I would consider this course a big brother to Circle C as it is also moderately hilly, but it’s heavily wooded. Pack a snack, plenty of water and watch out for rattles out here.

    Both courses are kept in great shape with no vandalism, little trash on the course, solid tee pads and obvious baskets.

    NEW FAVORITE: Roy G. Guerrero (Austin, Tx) – Little elevation changes but heavy on trees, this course is for the technical players, the guys who can work a disc like it’s an RC flyer. With that said, I am not that kind of player but love the challenge. I dig this course so much that I’m considering rotating my time here and at Circle C.

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  4. What i enjoy most about a course is ….when i close my eyes and open my ears and i hear nothing but nature, no cars,no planes,no trains only birds and the wind. Now that’s heaven

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  5. What I look at first is the general quality and variety of the holes. The more interesting hole layouts a course has, including variations in distance, elevation, narrowness of fairways, protection of the basket, etc. the more I am likely to enjoy it. Just about everything after that is secondary, but it is the secondary things that separate good from great courses: quality of equipment/signage, cleanliness (don’t want trash everywhere,) general amenities, benches and trash cans at holes, bathrooms available, etc.

    One thing that can be a big deal is, if the course is in a multi-use public park, whether other park users can be a problem. I have played on course where waiting 20min to tee off on a hole because a cross country team is practicing is an occasional problem. As well as park goers crossing the line from being ignorant of the sport, to simply not caring that they are sitting in the middle of a fairway.

    All in all though, if the holes are interesting and varied, I am going to rate it highly and keep coming back.

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  6. When deciding if I like a course or not, I have to consider the group I’m with. Most often that is with my teenage kids and/or my wife. If we are having fun together, then I find things I like. If not, then there is a reason.

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  7. When I review a course for a friend or acquaintance the most important factor is signage. In regards to finding the first tee and direction of the next hole. A poorly marked course leads to poor navigation which is no fun and might make me leave before the end of the round.

    My home course has concrete tees but I can do without.

    On site bathrooms are nice, just in case, but I don’t need them on the course (maybe because I’m a guy).

    My favorite courses have a mix of technical holes with a few that are wide open to “let it rip”.

    I think it’s obvious free is good, but my home course is $2/day.

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  8. I need baskets. I played enough target golf as a kid before I knew what disc golf was (in the 70s). I like a course with natural beauty and interesting challenges (but not plinko trees). I don’t like to throw over water or near poisonous snakes. That’s about it I guess. Good = baskets. Great = a beautiful, challenging course with no ponds or snakes.

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  9. A bunch of great comments! I especially agree with those that point out how important it is to be able to find your way around a course you haven’t yet played, and with TimJ’s point about water (and poisonous snakes, I guess, although that’s not an issue in Santa Cruz). A disc golf disc is like your club and your ball, and losing it in a lake or river really, really sucks.

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  10. I totally agree with Joe, very well said!!

    The Equipment, Challenging Layout, Proper Flow and Defined Fairways are always the most important when rating a Disc Golf Course. There’s very few courses in the World that incorporate all four of those qualities, but it all depends how someone prioritizes the details that incorporates into the overall quality of the course.

    -The Disc Golf Course Critic

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  11. I like all of the comments above and I would add the attitude of the people on the course. It is alot more fun for me if everyone playing around me is cool.

    On the other hand, playing behind a large, slow moving group that will not let us through is no fun.

    If we are out in the woods, I personally don’t like shouting or loud music. Even if it is music that I like. I don’t mean to say that people can’t make any noise at all. I just prefer a quieter experience.

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  12. Pingback: How do you rate a disc golf course? | Golf Course Directory

  13. I think you hit it right on the head. The one thing I would add is good signage – distances, pin placements, where the next tee is. A challenging course with a variety of shots in a beautiful location with good signs makes for a great course.

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  14. For me baskets and some sort of defined teepad (even if it’s dirt) are the ante to get into the game. From there it’s all about hole design and variety. A good flow is a bonus but if the holes are designed well and have good variety, I’ll figure out the flow and don’t mind long or awkward walks to the next hole. I could care less about other amenities like bathrooms, snack shop, disc store, etc. A bench every now and again and a few trashcans are nice, but again, something I will more than do without if I end up throwing over half the discs in my bag (out of pure necessity) and by the end of the round have had to throw long and short varieties of both backhands and forehands as well as some turn-over shots, hammers, thumbers, skip shots…I want to have to think and get creative. One last thought….my “ideal” is a course that can accommodate all types of players. My personal preference is tougher, more challenging courses, but that hasn’t always been the case. And I try to introduce new players to the sport as often as I can, so a course that maybe has back teepads for a challenge and another set or two to give newer players a shorter/easier option is fantastic! Some courses are way too intimidating and tough for beginners and it turns them off to the sport, where as some are way to easy for experienced players. Both of these types of courses have their place and may be born out of necessity or some other good reason, but I’m just throwing that in there as a best possible scenario.

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  15. We are lucky enough to have three totally different courses in Ottumwa, Iowa which means I get to change out about six to eight discs of my sixteen I carry to fit the different shots needed for each course. I have a course to share with people of all levels and not be bored myself. I hate courses where I spend as much time searching through tall weeds and grass as I do throwing. I really like t-signs that have a little arrow next to the basket showing the direction to the next pad. I like courses with a map showing the general layout when you start playing. I dislike poison ivy & multifloral rose & black locust trees.

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  16. Safety and ease of use (ie green to next tee) are most important. The divot at the end of many teepads (ankle breakers) make me concerned that I’ll be able to finish the round. If I have to worry about limping to the next pin in the wrong direction on that freshly broken ankle it really puts me off my game.

    I can handle the rest, as long as that isn’t a problem.

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  17. It seems to me that a lot of people prefer what they are usef to. For example I play Joralemon Park a lot. It has 28 holes and over 12 ways to easily play just 18. I like that. No one else has liked that, probably because most courses do not have that option.
    I like object courses only if the targets are “aceable”. That means there must be indiputable proof that your disc made the target. So hitting things is not aceable because a tangential hit can be hard to verify. Landing on things, flying or rolling through things, touching something when at rest, etc. are the best object targets.
    As a frequent ball golfer I am used to well stocked pro shops and like the few disc golf courses that have them.
    I agree with a lot of other posters: ease of navigation, multiple tees, & varied layout are important. As is newbee friendliness.
    Good use of natural world is another plus.
    If there are water holes, alternate fairways that allow people that cannot throw far a way to the target are a must.
    Bathrooms are important to me, but more so to my wife.

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  18. Wow, just about all the comments have been spot-on, and completely valid. VenVardin raises seven different specific points, and I agree with all of them! Thanks for taking time to share your opinion.

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