A Checklist For
Good Course Design
This article originally appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of Disc Golf World News
So let's say you've recently designed a disc golf course. Or maybe a year ago. Or maybe you want to evaluate your local course with an eye toward possible redesign. You want to know if you (or the original designer) did the job right. First we need to decide what "doing the job right" means.
Basically, designing a disc golf course involves picking where the tees and greens go. If you're lucky, whoever owns the land might let you plant trees in areas that are too open, or cut trees in areas that are too tight. We generally don't get to build hills and ponds as ball golf architects do; we don't even get to build big tee and green areas, except in rare cases. We just get to decide where the tees go and where the baskets go. Simple, but not necessarily easy.
The course designer's job should be to make not just a good course, but THE BEST POSSIBLE COURSE out of the available land. There are literally hundreds of possible holes on any site. You have to pick the 18 (or 9) that fit together to provide the best golfing experience for the player. To make the best possible course, you need to use the principles of risk/reward/strategy (which we discussed last time), variety/balance (which we'll get to another time), and the intangible quality that I call "character," "personality," or even "flavor."
The right way to do this will take a lot more room then we have here now, but this checklist will help you determine if you've done the best possible job. If your course is a 9-holer, you can cut most of the following numbers in half.
- Did you consider the prevailing winds when you laid it out?
- Did you spend at least 8-10 hours just walking the site, getting familiar with every angle, every tree, every possible fairway, every possible hazard before you started designing the course?
- Did you look at the site after a good rain to see where water collects and what areas stay muddy?
- Did you look at the site during peak use hours to see where people like to picnic and play?
- Are there fairways that aim north, south, east, and west, as well as directions in between?
- Determine the unique topological or vegetative areas of the site. Did you find a good way to incorporate them (or, where necessary, avoid them)?
- Suppose someone asked "Why did you put this tee here instead of twenty feet to the left, right, front, or back?" Would you really have a good answer? How about the baskets?
- Pick the 3-4 most scenic spots on this site. Will a player ever stand on any of these spots during a typical round?
- Can you play the course using the same drive on 6 different holes?
- On any hole, can the worst possible shot land in a street, playground area, picnic area, or ball field? (One of my rules of course design: imagine the worst shot you can, and someone will find a way to throw one that's worse.)
- Are there at least 12 holes that you would consider good or very good holes?
- Are there at least 6 holes that you would consider substantially different from any holes on any course within 300 miles?
- If you have a hole that's more than 500 feet long, did you consider what would happen if you broke it into two shorter holes? Did you consider combining two consecutive short holes into one long hole?
- Did you spend at least 3 times as many hours in the field as you did designing on paper?
- Did you leave room to move the tees or baskets back in 3-4 years, in case disc technology takes another leap forward?
If you answered "Yes" to questions 9-10, or "No" to any of the other questions, you may have a good course, but you probably do not have the best possible course for this particular site.
These questions should help you understand a few of the simpler techniques of laying out a course, but remember that they do not fully address the most important issues a designer must consider. For centuries, great course design has always depended on creativity and inspiration, and it still does with our new version of the game.