A Fluent Disc Sport How-To

How to Design a Disc Golf Course

 

To be perfectly honest, unless you are a private land owner who only wants to design something for you, your family and maybe some friends, the answer will always be "You shouldn't", and there are some very strong reasons for that.  I hope I haven't lost you to the next search result yet because I'm still going to go over some of the work we do, and how you can build something fun, challenging and enjoyable for yourself further down the page!

 

You Shouldn't

Let's first address the elephant in the room, why shouldn't you design, we all have to start somewhere right?  There are a long list of really important reasons, and I've gone over a handful here... Why use a Professional Disc Golf Course Designer? ... from the perspective of someone considering hiring a designer.  I'm going to come at this differently for your benefit though, and I'm not going to pull punches, this is a serious topic and you deserve to be well informed.  In short, the answer comes down to 5 things...

 

  1. Safety: Until you've done a LOT more research, and I'm not talking about reading "How-to" articles on building disc golf courses, you simply don't know what you don't know. As a designer myself, I spent years reading everything I could find, taking seminars with top designers, reading articles on design concepts, reading books on golf design, listening to designers talk through problems in videos and podcasts, participating in designer forums, etc. The PDGA outlines a number of the things that should NOT be done when designing a course here: Course Design Elements | Layout. Memorize them, it's the first sign of a novice designer when you make a rookie mistake like these.  The days of clubs, avid players, or even untrained municipal staff "designing" courses is over.  The sport has arrived and with it huge safety concerns which lead us to point number 2...
     
  2. Insurance & Liability: There are at least two types of insurance that a disc golf course designer needs (here's where your plan for an inexpensive solution for your community goes up in smoke).  First you need a CGL policy (Commercial General Liability) to cover any work you and anyone else working on installing the course performs. If you happen to damage public property, or you or one of your volunteers injures themselves on the build, you'll thank yourself.  In fact, in most cases, municipalities, NGO's, and any responsible land owner will require proof of this coverage before you're ever allowed to snap a twig, let alone bring power tools on-site.  The other is a special policy that covers your design decisions in perpetuity because as the designer you're on the hook when someone throws somewhere you said was safe and ends up hurting someone or damaging property. You're going to have to answer a lot of questions before you will be quoted, questions like what experience you have, what related work you've done, the value of the contract, etc. Ask your commercial insurance broker and they'll be able to educate you. I can tell you, it's not cheap. Without it, you are basically putting your house, assets, savings, family stability, etc. on the line because you'll be personally liable for as long as that course exists.
     
  3. Designing Courses, Not Holes: We all started out getting super excited every time we walked through the woods and saw this AMAZING line that if not turned into a Disc Golf hole, it would be like Michelangelo never having painted the Sistine Chapel. I get it, I still do it.  But what next, we spend days, sometimes months or years before getting up the nerve before trying to figure out what a course would look like that could house such an awesome hole. You get a few more that you like on paper, but then you're left with a few good holes and have to figure out a contiguous route, then you realize the only way to make it work is to add in a few "tweener" holes that are pretty boring. This isn't how courses are designed. The number of times I've identified some great lines early on and then had to literally throw them in the trash is triple the number of courses I've designed. I go through a dozen layouts and routings before I ever get to a complete course where everything has value, everything is something players will like. As a professional designer, you can't get hung up on one "must-have hole", you have to be willing to sacrifice it to achieve the "must-have course". Too many courses have been designed around one or two holes, to the detriment of all others, please don't be that guy/gal/person.
     
  4. Designing for Everyone: Do you know how far a Red Tee player should be expected to throw in a high-foliage hole from the Tee?  What about a Blue level player from a fairway position on a 3-shot hole?  Is it ok to have a Novice throw over water, what about a white level player, and how far should the carry be? Have you counted how many of your holes have right bias, vs left bias? What about forehand vs. backhand bias?  Do you know the difference in how a forehand hyzer will track vs. a backhand anhyzer?  Do you understand the concept of Risk vs. Reward is and how to put into practice fairly?  What is your opinion on artificial OB? (just kidding on this last one, but do read up on the debate if you want to tear your hair out!).  You are not just designing a course for yourself, you need to think about all of the questions I just asked, and about 50 more on every throw on every hole.  Until you know what those questions are, the course you design is going to have a rough reception. Here's something to get you started: PDGA Par Guidelines and PDGA Player Skill Level Guidelines.
     
  5. The Business of Disc Golf: If you've gotten this far and are still convinced, bravo!  I know you want to build the ultimate course on every property you can see disc golf being played on, but what about what the client or land owner wants?  What type of course or characteristics are important to a property owner that wants to make the most money from a busy course?  What about a course where the owner wants to host tournaments, now were talking parking, staging, storage, etc.  How about handling rebuttales from neighbours... I can say with certainty, if the property you are working on has neighbours, even many clicks down the road, you'll be hearing form them when they get wind of what you're planning.  You can't build the course you want, you can only build the course that the client needs, and until you figure out what their needs are and can back it up with data and sound reasoning, you shouldn't design it.  In the end, if their course fails because it was designed for you and your friends rather than the audience that will keep it alive, it looks bad on you, it looks bad on the sport, and it hurts the land owner.

 

That's the cold hard truth.  I'm not saying I knew all of this when I started, but I did know most of it because I put the time and effort in to make sure I understood what I was getting in to. I still had to learn lessons here, like dealing with neighbours, the hard way. But I also had more than two decades of having run my own business in tech, so I had experience dealing with problems, rebuttales, and lost jobs when it all went south, and so it didn't hurt too badly.  Becoming a professional course designer has been the best decision I've ever made and I don't regret it one bit, good and bad. Just don't go into it blind, you can get into a lot of trouble when you think it's just finding lines in the woods.  Be safe, be smart, and do the ground work before jumping in!

Oh, I totally forgot, are you ready to have people judge you for your work in public forums, course discovery and review sites, social media, etc.... that's super fun, let me tell you!!!

 

So You're Building a Course for Yourself?

Awesome, that's how I started too!  I built my first course on a family cottage property, and it's still around and played regularly. It's 9 holes, uses tonal targets (logs with tin sheething wrapped around them for a good *BANG* when you hit them), and the family LOVES it.  It uses every single inch of the property... including around buildings, across roads, over water, crossing fairways, etc.

Yes, you read that right, all of the things I just told you never to do. But I wouldn't change a thing. Here's why... It's our property so if I put a dent in the garage door, it's my garage door.  If a disc goes in the lake, my kids love to dive for them for a $2 reward.  And the easiest reason, we're the only ones playing it, I'm not worried about cards on the other holes unless it's my boys weekend, and then they basically have to sign their lives away to come anyway.

This is where it's still fun, and not a business, when you're doing it for yourself. You can be as flexible as you want, so don't get hung up on things. I've got 4 holes that share two pins, and 2 holes that share tee pads.  Fairways cross each other, and some shots are downright ridiculous with the number of trees in the way.  But it's for us, and it's for fun.  Make sure you something fun for you and your family!  But if your intent is to bring strangers onto the property to play it, have a real designer do it.

Here are a few things I would recommend when building your own course...

 

  1. Scout your own land even if you know it well.  Look for old growth, look for eratics or other cool geological stuff you can integrate, look for views.
     
  2. Do one routing, then do a similar routing but in reverse, then another that's totally different, and do that one in reverse.  Do that 10 times, and be OK with tossing out your favourite hole if you have to.  But go through the time to look at your property in different ways, because once you start cutting, you're in for a pound.
     
  3. Plan on 3 cuts, but flag first, don't just go around with a saw and play it by ear.  After you've flagged you'll see more of what your lines look like.  From there you can adjust left here, right there, just keep in mind how discs actually fly (not just the way you through them, flights are math and geometry) and try to design around that. First cut will be the smallest stuff, you'll want it thinned out anyway, this will help you see the line even better.  Make any adjustments. Do your second cut of the medium stuff, but think about tree health, lifespan, etc. when selecting which ones stay and which ones go. Then you can do your final cut after any last adjustments. 
     
  4. Do a bit of thinning or limbing just off your fairways to make it easier to fetch discs.  Limbing low stuff will also help the trees focus their energy on their growth and their canopy.
     
  5. Do some fun stuff, make custom signage, fashion some tee pads, add some statues of gnomes or gremlins or something crazy, make it yours.
     
  6. Enjoy the fruits of your labour, crack a cold one, and go play. Repeat as necessary.

 

 

I'm always willing to answer questions so if I haven't answered it here, reach out and I'll do what I can!

Kevin.

 
 
Want to give disc golf a try before you decide if it's right for your property?  We'd be more than happy to meet you for a round at a local course, or find you someone from a club in your area to play with!
 
Fluent Disc Sport is headquartered in beautiful Huntsville (Muskoka), Ontario, Canada which is quickly becomming one of the premiere Disc Golf Travel Destinations in the world!  We provide professional disc golf course design, assessment, renovation and related services, as well as disc golf course equipment and supplies throughout North America!  Our project team is ready and able to work with you to help your Disc Golf Course reach its highest potential, Contact Us today and let us walk you through it!
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