Professor Rizbee’s Disc Golf 101: How to be a better tournament player

By Allen Risley — For Rattling Chains

In my 30-plus years of disc golf experience, I have played in hundreds of organized events, including weekly doubles leagues, course monthlies, PDGA-sanctioned events and world championships. And I’ve organized and run a lot of those, too (except for the world championship. I don’t know if my therapist has enough appointments for me to take that on).

As I’ve been playing and organizing, there are certain truths that have become evident – truths about how to conduct oneself as a tournament player for the best possible outcome for all. Now, this is not a list of how to help you win a tournament – there are enough articles and blog posts out there that purport to be able to do that.

Instead, this is a list of ways that you can enhance your own tournament experience as well as that of those around you. Sure, some of these tips might actually lead to you scoring better and maybe even winning, but the real aim here is to make everyone’s tournament experience more pleasurable, because if we’re not working, we might as well be having fun, right?

Sign up as early as possible. Why do that? Why not wait to see if the field is going to be good, or interesting? Well, what if everyone did that? Would anyone ever sign up? By signing up early, you can be the reason that others jump in – a leader, not a sheep.

Pre-registering for a tournament makes it a ton easier on tournament directors. (photo courtesy Allen Risley)

Pre-registering for a tournament makes it a ton easier on tournament directors. (photo courtesy Allen Risley)

Also, signing up and paying early helps out tournament directors by making money available for them to buy the trophies and player pack items, pay for insurance, or pay park fees. Many TDs burn out after a running a few events, and one reason is that they drive themselves crazy worrying about whether they’re going to lose their shirt because no one is signing up for their event. Help out the TD.

Show up on time. Most events list a start time, whether it be for check-in, the player’s meeting, or for the start of play. Know what those times are and be there on time. It’s even a better idea to be a little early. Why? Show up late for check-in and you might lose your spot in the tournament. You also put the TD in the position of worrying about filling your card, shuffling cards and players, etc. – all the things that raise a TD’s blood pressure and lead to burnout.

Also, even if you aren’t bumped, you’ll still incur penalty throws for each hole that you miss when you’re late. This happened to me once, and the penalty kept me from having the hot round of the tournament and cost me second place cash. Yet, I’m still trying to learn my lesson.

Go to (and pay attention during) the player’s meeting. Yeah, I know. You’re too cool to go to the player’s meeting. You already know the rules and the course layout, and the TD is full of hot air. Well, what if there’s a last-minute change in the layout or O.B., or the TD all of a sudden decides he likes the two-meter rule? Do you want to be the doofus who loses strokes because of something they were told in the meeting?

A few years ago at a tournament held on a ball golf course, the TD announced at the players meeting that anyone wading into the water hazards would be disqualified, since the course had installed fragile (and expensive) liners on the bottom of its lakes and ponds for environmental reasons. The pro player who skipped the player’s meeting to practice his putting found out about this rule the hard way, and went home early (with no refund).

Know the rules. If you’re playing in a competitive event, there have to be rules so that everyone is competing on a level playing field. Someone has to know those rules. Actually, everyone has to know those rules if it’s going to be a fair competition. In fact, you should carry a PDGA rulebook in your bag.

There’s nothing more disappointing than playing in a tournament, having someone’s disc lying on the OB line (half in/half out) and having seasoned tournament players shrug their shoulders and say, ”I think it’s in bounds, but I don’t know the rules for sure.” It’s doubly disappointing if none of these knuckleheads have a rulebook in their bags. I know a TD who will soon run the first organized tournament at a new course. Included in the player’s pack: a PDGA rulebook. Brilliant! (By the way, it’s in bounds: Rule 804.04.A.)

Follow the rules. No one likes a cheater. No one. (Well, it’s quite evident that the voters for the baseball Hall of Fame don’t, at least.) I would even go out on a limb and say that even the cheater himself carries some self-loathing. Golf is a gentleman’s game, even when played with a disc, and the gentleman’s code of conduct puts the responsibility on the player to compete fairly and honestly.

You should have enough respect for yourself and confidence in your own abilities to recognize that playing by the rules is the only way to go. Remember this the next time you’re tempted to snap a branch that’s in the way of your backswing, or to sneak your toe out from behind your mini, or to write down an incorrect score.

Be a part of your playing group. For most of us, disc golf is a social game. Even when played competitively, there’s room to hold a conversation with your fellow competitors – find out who they are, where they’re from, where they’ve played, etc.

Make sure you chat it up and enjoy your playing group as you'll likely enjoy the round that much more. (photo courtesy Allen Risley)

Make sure you chat it up and enjoy your playing group as you’ll likely enjoy the round that much more. (photo courtesy Allen Risley)

Who knows, they might share their six-pack of Pliny the Elder with you after the round, or have a couch you can crash on for the next out-of-town tournament, or have a cute sister (although this last one comes with plenty of cautions). Put away your Eye of the Tiger. And if you’re the guy who has his earbuds in and can’t hear a word we’re saying – ground control to Major Tom,  it’s your turn to tee off! No one likes being ignored, and when you hide behind “your music,” that’s exactly what you’re doing – ignoring your playing partners.

I heard a great interview with 13-time World Champ Ken Climo during 2011 Worlds, where he talked about how annoying it was to play with guys who removed themselves from the community of the playing group. Kenny’s advice: play with only one earbud in and join the rest of the world.

Act like you’ve been there before. This is a great quote, and one I’ve seen attributed to several Hall of Fame football coaches, including Vince Lombardi, Darrell Royal, Bear Bryant and Paul Brown. Actually, the full quote is: “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.” These guys were all tough, no-nonsense, old-school coaches, who would have undoubtedly hated today’s over-the-top celebrations by players making good plays.

I think the same should be true in disc golf. Sure, that 50-foot putt was great, but does it require a blood-curdling “Yahoo!” and victory dance? How about some courtesy for the guy on the next hole who’s just releasing a putt or mid-way through his tee shot run-up? The next time you make a great shot, channel your inner James Bond and act cool, like it’s something you do all the time and expect to do. (It also gets in the head of your playing partners when you’re relaxed about a great shot.)

Don’t try to get inside your fellow players’ heads. Yeah, I know what I just said a moment ago. But there’s a difference between getting inside their heads purely by the quality of your play and your cool demeanor, as compared to obviously and overtly trying to intimidate others. There are disc golfers out there who will call a (most often bogus) rules infraction on you early in a round, just to get under your skin. Or they’ll question your score, even after you describe every throw for them. Some might invade your personal space on the tee pad, standing right behind or next to the tee.

I mention these three examples because they all happened to me this past July in Charlotte at the PDGA Amateur World Championships, on different days and during different rounds. In all three instances I had other players come up to me after the round and tell me (to paraphrase) “Yeah, (insert jerk’s name here) does that all the time in tournaments back home. Nobody can stand him.” Of course, the language they used was a bit more colorful. Now, did your momma raise you to be that kind of person?

Don’t trunk-slam. I first saw the term trunk-slamming in John Feinstein’s fantastic book about the PGA Tour: A Good Walk Spoiled. Basically, it’s leaving the course ASAP after a poor showing, sometimes slamming your car trunk in disgust at your performance. I know some guys who do this. What a coward’s way out. If you played poorly, own up to it.

Don't be a trunk slammer. Accept what happened during a tournament and stick around anyway. (photo courtesy Allen Risley)

Don’t be a trunk slammer. Accept what happened during a tournament and stick around anyway. (photo courtesy Allen Risley)

Actually, revel in it, roll around in it, grind that bad performance into your skin so you won’t forget about it. Maybe that way you won’t have a repeat performance. Now that doesn’t mean wallow, or look for pity. Just own your actions. After all, they are yours, aren’t they? And one of the worst things about trunk-slamming is that in doing so you are showing disrespect to the players who won or who played well. When you win, don’t you want a big group on hand to applaud as you accept the trophy and check? Don’t you want an audience for your victory speech? Exactly.

If you have a complaint about the event, talk to the TD personally. Don’t gripe online. This one is a biggie for me, and there are a few guys in my area who should know that by now. I am somewhat biased, being a TD, but it really sucks to see whining online about a tournament when you know that the whiner didn’t discuss their complaint with the TD. Whoever said, “The customer is always right” was probably a customer, and not a service-provider. Having worked in restaurants and bars, retail sales, consulting, and teaching university courses I have encountered quite a few “customers” who were not right. Or reasonable.

Tournament Directors should be one of our cherished resources – they spend their time, money and effort to put together the best events they can. And there are very few of them making any money off of it – just ask my accountant. TDs are generally doing their best to create a great event, but they are human. And humans make mistakes, right? And doesn’t someone who works for months so you can have a fun day or two deserve some gratitude and respect? At least enough to complain to them face-to-face instead of whining behind their back? I think they do, and I’ll let you know just that if I see you unfairly Facebook-flaming a TD that I know.

Besides, if you want to see mistakes corrected, going right to the TD shows that you’re serious and interested in being constructive in your criticism. Most of us dismiss the online whiners and their complaints.

Have fun! OK, I was aiming to have ten of these tips, but the last one was such a downer to think about that I needed another tip so I could end on a positive note. When I think about why I play disc golf, the reason I come up with is always this: to have fun! Sure, I want to win, but I want to win because it’s fun. I want to get exercise and get in good shape, because it’s more fun to be healthy.

Whatever reason I come up with (getting discs and swag, seeing old friends, meeting new friends, traveling to interesting places, etc.) it always boils down to having fun. And really, all of the tips I listed above are advice to help you have more fun when you play in tournaments. I guess that’s just my mission in life. Go have fun!

Allen Risley lives in San Marcos, CA, and serves on the board of the Southern California Disc Golf Association and the San Diego Aces Disc Golf Club. E-mail him at


10 thoughts on “Professor Rizbee’s Disc Golf 101: How to be a better tournament player

  1. Thank you for your article! All of your points are valid. And your last is the most important (have fun). I am unsure that our sport has matured to the point where there are very many professionals (where disc golf tournament play is their whole paycheck). I would guess that 99% of the players (or more) have a “day job” and do not view the sport as work, but as play. (sorry, I didn’t mean to rant).

    I would add another to your list: Respect the course. It is alright to state how it could be better and even to complain about poorly thought out holes/features/restrictions. But, I have seen players being destructive to courses (kicking tee signs, breaking branches, graffiti, ignoring “keep out” areas set aside for reclamation, etc.), and I can’t imagine what they are thinking.

    I would put littering in this category as well. Leaving water bottles, snack wrappers, and cigarette buds on the course makes work for others and makes the course that much less appealing to other players. Most courses I have played have trash cans every 3-5 holes. Its not that far to walk. And if you carried it in, you can carry it out. Again, this is starting to rant (sorry), so I will stop.

    One last thing, I _do_ want to thank the 95%+ of players that _do_ help to make tournaments (and casual play) enjoyable for those around them.


  2. I also think it’s important to “Thank” the tournament director and/or Staff for all their hard work, Maybe even writing a “Thank you” letter to the park department if you really had a good time:) A sincere “Thank you” goes a long way—- – +


  3. Great post. Of course, the people who need to learn this aren’t spending a ton of time on social media reading up on their disc golf tournament etiquette. They’re probably too busy: smoking during a round; littering their cigarette butts all over the course during a round; drinking beer, smoking pot during a round; chit-chatting during one’s backswing; blasting Houses Of The Holy on their jury-rigged, distortion-plagued $13 sound system stitched into their ratty bag; improving their lies; playing out of turn; trying to cheat one out of strokes; giving unsolicited advice on one’s’ game; bragging about how little they care about competing in the tournament they paid to play in.

    TD’s, on the other hand, are universally awesome folks. Massive respect to all of them.


  4. Players from my area could use a HUGE dose of this article! I got booted from the GRDGC website for honesty…..Telling it like it is.It must be the younger generation with the “Chip on their Shoulders”. Excellent article……Keep up the positive vibes…….Dave Thomas,Rochester,NY


  5. On the subject of letting the TD know about problems, complaints, general feedback, etc., please be polite. If you see a problem, try to offer a solution when you speak with the TD. They might be more receptive to your opinion if you deliver it in a positive manner.

    Also, consider writing your problem and solution down on a piece of paper to turn in when you speak with the TD. TD’s are generally very busy during the whole day of a tournament. This simple step can help them to remember your feedback to consider later. You can even leave your name and contact information. It’s possible the TD might follow up with you at a later date.


  6. Having fun and removing the earbuds to join the group are the most important points during the round.
    Also, if you do attend the players meeting SHUT UP and LISTEN!


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