We’ve all played a course before with a couple long walks between holes. Nothing substantial — but without proper signage, long walks between holes can be confusing and rather frustrating. Now ask yourself, were these long walks between holes a mistake or planned? Depending on the overall site planning of the course — well before you get into flagging tees and baskets — a course’s flow is all dependent on research of significant on-site features, connectivity to the surrounding context, and attention to detail in terms of what the disc golfer may be experiencing throughout their round. While a well placed long walk gives players plenty of time to think, a poorly planned and designed course may have multiple long walks due to limitations of space or lack of overall flow.
One of the most famous quotes in all of traditional golf was by one of the most talented golfers the game had ever seen, Bobby Jones. Mr. Jones was quoted as saying, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course — the space between your ears.”
Growing up a competitive traditional golfer, this quote always resonated with me. I loved to play the game, and I enjoyed quite a bit of success, but being so young, there were many rounds that were lost by simply over thinking. On a 400’ par 4, I’d stripe a drive down the right center of the fairway leaving myself an 8 iron to a back, center pin. I’d hit a small fade into the green where I’d have a 10 footer for birdie — only to miss. The walk to the next hole — while it should be about where I want to put my drive for the best approach shot — was me swearing at myself and thinking about that missed birdie putt only moments ago. When that happens, it’s all over. Now watch as I hook my drive into the left rough and compound my missed birdie on the previous hole with a sloppy bogey on my current hole. Not good, not good at all!
This notion of “one shot at a time” is something that Explore Disc Golf’s course designs tries to exploit in players by strategically placing a handful of long walks between holes. Many disc golfers don’t enjoy long walks between holes as they are used to a condensed space between tees and baskets. While many of the tees in close proximity are situated in such a fashion that safety isn’t a concern, it makes us wonder if the overall connectivity of the design is lacking. Disc golf is a wonderful way to move users throughout the landscape, and a properly designed course won’t just focus on the disc golf course design, but its connections to the larger context as well. Are there schools nearby? What about a trail system or a residential neighborhood? Are there significant on-site features that few, if anyone, know exist on the property? Pull back in scale and look at the larger context; designing holes to connect users to specific locations on the site in addition to providing difficult and varied disc golf holes. The holes can be found and designed over time, but the overall flow and site planning need to be methodically done to provide the infrastructure of top notch disc golf course design.
To provide a good example of long walks between holes, we will take a look at our design of the soon-to-be-implemented disc golf course on the UMass Amherst campus. The course flows in a figure 8 pattern with several of the beginning and later holes located in the Orchard Hill area. The Orchard Hill area is more “beginner friendly” than the technical wooded holes in the Sylvan Forest and University Meadow to the north of the Orchard, yet enjoyable by players of all skill levels nonetheless.
The example we will be using is located between the 6th and 7th holes in the Sylvan Forest. The 6th hole is the shortest on the course — a 153’ slot shot demanding a slow turning anhyzer that sits on a “turtle back” green that runs away on three sides to a stream located 20’ below the grade of the pin. After an uphill, 353’ par 3 that runs along the same stream, the 6th hole is your best bet for birdie! After the hole, players walk down a tree-lined path to a running trail that connects two sides of the Sylvan Forest together. While the 7th hole could be located adjacent to that path, an incredible amount of brush and trees would need to be cleared. Instead of doing that, we imagined what a player would be thinking if they bogey the 5th hole, and either missed a birdie on the 6th hole, or worse yet, took an even bigger number. Insert long walk here.
While many players will birdie the 6th hole, we wanted to provide players that may not have taken advantage of the short birdie opportunity, a 2-3 minute walk to the next tee to think about it. Any skilled player would brush it off and take in the sights, while players that are still developing the “one shot at a time” mentality would have the entire time to think of the mistake they just made. After having a couple minutes to think of their blunder, you now have to execute a well thrown disc on the 7th hole — which demands a laser straight drive, 265’ in length, compensating for the 30’ downhill differential in grade to a basket that is protected by several specimen trees. While it’s not the toughest shot in the book, it’s easier said than done when you’re still thinking about what could have been on the previous hole.
Disc golf, just like traditional golf, is all mental. To really succeed in this sport, you need to know when to take your chances and when to sit back. A “one shot at a time” mentality will greatly benefit any player and shave several strokes off your game as it will enable you to focus on the shot at hand, and not the birdie putt that never was.