Lifetime Fitness

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Disc Golf

There are courses in every state in the U.S., the equipment is cheap and easy to transport, the learning curve is as gentle or as steep as you’re willing to make it, and everyone and their grandmother can play it. There are a lot of good reasons why disc golf is exploding right now, but the best explanation is also the simplest: Disc golf is just a lot of fun. You get to hang out outside, navigate obstacles and challenging terrain, and test your accuracy and precision. You can play with a group or by yourself. It’s more casual than regular golf, but more serious than a simple game of Frisbee.

Better yet, a strong community has formed around disc golf. There are courses all over the country, and at each one you’ll find groups of disc golfers throwing power shots, tossing rollers, hucking hyzer flips (more on that below), and enjoying the great outdoors. It’s a perfect travel sport and a good way to meet friends wherever the road takes you.

According to the 2021 disc golf growth report (compiled by UDisc, an app for disc golf) the sport has grown by 1,700 percent since 2011—and that’s just counting players who use UDisc. In 2020, approximately 50 million rounds of disc golf were played in the U.S.—that’s roughly 100 every minute. That same year, 3.5 new disc golf courses were built in the US every day, and the vast majority of them are free to play. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now.

For those who have never tried it, or who’ve played a few rounds and want to play more, this is your launch pad into the sport. Keep reading for everything you need to know to get started with disc golf.

How to Disc Golf

As the name implies, disc golf is similar to the game of golf—with some notable differences. Instead of golf balls, you’re using discs, and instead of clubs, you’re using your arms. There’s also no dress code, the equipment is relatively cheap, and most courses are free to play. Some people get competitive with disc golf, but by and large, it’s a very casual sport.

Playing is simple. Just like regular golf, a disc golf course consists of individual holes. You’ll start each hole by throwing from a tee box, and the ultimate goal is to get your disc to land in the basket—essentially an elevated wire container with chains suspended above it—in the fewest possible shots. Similar to regular golf, there’s a par score for each hole.

To play, find your course’s map and start at the tee box of the first hole. If other people are already playing, give them time to sink their shots in the basket and move ahead to the next hole (no one wants to play on other people’s heels, and no one wants their heels played on.)

When you’re ready for your first shot, keep your eye on the basket (if you can see it from the tee box) and assume a throwing stance: For a backhand throw, put the same leg as your throwing arm forward and place the other leg back, standing sideways at 90-degree angle relative to your target. Grip the disc with three fingers underneath and your thumb on top. Wind up with your throwing arm by pulling it back across your body.

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Then, without taking your eyes off your target, swing the disc horizontally straight across your body, creating torque with your core, and snap your wrist as you release the disc gently from your fingertips. The flatter you can keep the disc as you throw it, the straighter and more stable its flight will be.

Pro Tip: Make a mental note of where your disc lands, including a nearby landmark like a tree or rock. Many a disc has been lost by golfers who didn’t pay attention to where their throw fell.

Once everyone in your party has thrown, walk to your disc. When it’s your turn again, pick up your disc and throw it again, aiming to get closer to the basket (or land your disc in the basket). Keep score by counting each throw as one stroke and add them all up at the end for your score for the round.

Getting Equipped: Discs and Accessories

Serious disc golfers will often have multiple discs and other disc golf gear, but all you really need to get started is a single disc. If you’re on a shoestring budget and still want to get out and play, check out websites like Lucky Disc Golf or a local outdoor exchange store. There you’ll find used discs of all shapes and weights for prices ranging from $10 to $20.

But if you do want to invest in some new discs and accessories, here’s what to look for.

Discs

Like golf clubs, disc golf discs come in different varieties. There are various weights, shapes, and densities that are meant for different throws covering longer or shorter distances. Generally speaking, there are four types: distance drivers, fairway drivers, midranges, and putters. Most disc companies make at least one model in each of these categories (usually they make several).

Every disc will have a set of four numbers printed on it that rate its speed (1 to 14), glide (1 to 7), turn (+1 to -5), and fade (0 to 5), in that order. Speed rates how fast the disc moves through the air; glide rates how well the disc stays aloft; turn measures the disc’s tendency to tilt and turn one way or another; and fade indicates the slow-speed stability of a disc.

For beginners, the first two ratings are the most important. The second two are more technical but good to understand nevertheless. Here’s how those ratings apply to the different types of discs.

Distance drivers might have a rating of 12/5/-1/3. They will fly very fast and stay afloat for a decent amount of time. They’ll also have a tendency to turn slightly to the right, and as they slow down, they’ll remain fairly stable in the air.

Midrange discs have ratings more in the range of 5/6/-1/0. These aren’t very fast, but they’re very good gliders that will stay aloft for a long time. They have a slight right turn tendency and fair slow-speed stability.

Putt and approach discs will often have scores like 1/1/0/2 or 3/3/0/1. They’re very slow and meant for short-distance shots.

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Brands like Discraft and Innova have been making disc golf discs since the beginning of the sport, and they’ve pioneered new designs over the years. Other brands, like Prodigy and Latitude 64, only started making discs in the last decade, but they’re just as technical and are pushing the science and engineering of DG discs into new territory as well.

It’s a good idea to shop for discs in person: Holding one in your hand is the best way to tell whether it’ll work for you or not. Every player grips the disc slightly differently, and some are better suited for certain hands and grip styles than others. Maybe you like your discs to feel a little gummy and flexy, or maybe you like them tackier and stiffer. It all comes down to player preference, but if you’re ordering your discs online, those can be challenging specs to nail down.

Pro Tip: Write your name and phone number on the inside of your discs. If you ever lose one and someone finds it, the unwritten disc golfer code of ethics compels them to try and return it to you.

Bags

After you’ve bought a set of discs, you’re confronted with a question: How are you going to carry all of them?

You could use a grocery bag or a backpack. Or, you could get yourself a disc golf-specific disc carrier. It’ll make you look more legit on the course, sure, but it’s about more than aesthetics: These bags are designed to organize your discs and keep them safely stored and out of the elements. Disc bags also train your brain to think of your game differently. If you get one, you can organize your discs based on type and weight, and when you play, you’ll take a moment to consider every shot and which disc would be perfect for it. It’s just like a golf bag, except it’s lighter, cheaper, and less of a pain to store.

The Slinger by Infinite Discs is a great starter option. It holds up to 10 discs (plus two more in the putter pocket on the outside). When you’re ready for an upgrade, the Athletico Powershot Disc Golf Bag should be at the top of your list. It holds up to 20 discs, scorecards and pens, and two water bottles (or beer cans), and it even includes a cooler pocket to keep your snacks or lunch chilled.

Finding Disc Golf Courses

Disc golf is a sport you can take with you on trips anywhere in the country, and even around the world. There are thousands of courses out there. So how do you find them?

There are a multitude of different course databases, sites, and apps that can help you find a place to play. The Disc Golf Course Review is a good place to start; it has an interactive map featuring over 6,000 courses. The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) also features a searchable interactive map that makes it easy to find a DG course close to your location (as long as you have cell reception).

In addition, apps like UDisc and Disc Golf GPS Course Directory are great to use while you play. They feature satellite maps of each hole (for the courses in their databases), so you can get an idea of where to throw, and they’ll track scoring for your games and calculate your performance, too.

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Disc Golf Terms to Know

If you’re a beginner showing up on the course, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of disc golf lingo. Here are a few terms and definitions that’ll give you a solid foundation for your first game.

  • Stable: the tendency of a disc to fly straight and remain stable.
  • Understable: the tendency of a disc to bank to the right during flight.
  • Overstable: the tendency of a disc to bank left.
  • Backhand: gripping the disc with your thumb on top and fingers curled under the bottom edge. Winding up across your body, you throw the disc with the back of your hand moving towards the target.
  • Sidearm grip: holding the disc with your thumb on top and fingers curled under, you throw the disc from the outside (if throwing with your right hand, from the right side of your body) with your palm facing the target.
  • Hyzer: an angle of release where the left edge of the disc is tilted downward (when throwing backhanded with your right hand).
  • Escape shot: when your disc lands behind a tricky obstacle and you have to throw it between or through objects to “escape” the situation.
  • Finesse shot: a gentle floating shot focused on accuracy.
  • Power shot: a shot with a lot of oomph behind it, usually for covering as much distance as possible.
  • Lay-up shot: an approach throw meant to get your disc close to the basket and set up your next shot.
  • Fairway shot: a short drive or a long finesse shot—something in between.
  • Roller: a throw where most of the distance is covered from the disc hitting the ground and rolling (which is totally fair game) instead of flying through the air.
  • Tomahawk shot: an overhead shot where the throwing motion looks like throwing a tomahawk. Because of the way the disc rotates as it leaves your hand and floats upside down, it can sometimes be used for escape shots where a horizontally thrown disc isn’t going to make it past the obstacle. It also looks rad and will impress your friends.
  • Putt: any shot from within 10 yards of the basket.
  • Holing out: a putt that lands your disc successfully and satisfyingly in the chains of the basket.
  • Spit out: when your disc hits the chains of the basket and then bounces right back out.
  • Blow through: when your disc cuts straight through the chains and flies out the other side without landing in the basket.
  • Sweet spot: the very center of the chain, where the disc will strike with a satisfying chink before falling straight into the basket. Like hitting the backboard of a basketball basket squarely in the middle, it’s almost guaranteed to go in.


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