Home on the Range
This article originally appeared in issue #50 (Summer 1999) of Disc Golf World News
"There are two ways of widening the gap between a good tee shot and a bad one. One is to inflict a severe and immediate punishment upon the bad shot, to place its perpetrator in a bunker or in some other trouble demanding the sacrifice of a stroke in recovering; the other is to reward the good shot by making the second shot simpler in proportion to the excellence of the drive. The reward may be of any nature, but it is more commonly one of three; a better view of the green, an easier angle from which to attack a slope, or an open line of approach past guarding hazards. In this way, upon the long, well-placed drive -- possibly the one that has dared an impressive bunker -- is conferred the greatest benefit, but shots of less excellence are still left with the opportunity to recover by bringing off an exceptionally fine second. A course constructed with these principles in view must be interesting, because it will offer problems a man may attempt, according to his ability. It will never become hopeless for the duffer, nor fail to concern and interest the expert; and it will be found, like old St. Andrews, to become more delightful the more it is studied and played."
--Bobby Jones, BOBBY JONES ON GOLF
In one of the first articles of this series, we mentioned a very basic principle of good course design: good shots should be rewarded, while bad shots should be punished. Simple enough. Early course designers (we're talking ball golf now) would decide where they thought a bad shot would land, and they'd put a bunker or other obstacle there. Hundreds of years later, disc golf course designers -- who normally don't have the money and equipment to build obstacles -- have tried to design holes that are setup so that bad shots land behind a tree or in the woods, etc. Simple enough.
But in the meantime, ball golf architects discovered a new, more elegant principle. They call it "strategic" course design, as opposed to the old "penal" principle. Here's how it works: basically you put an obstacle where a GOOD shot would land. That's right. The hazard goes on or near a spot where players would love to land. Yes.
Now the player has to start thinking, and we love it when that happens. The closer the player lands to obstacle, the better lie he'll have. The farther from the obstacle he lands, the worse the lie. Getting closer to the obstacle is harder, and when you play closer to the obstacle, you risk landing in it or behind it, which is the worst outcome of all. So now there's no longer a black and white, a good and bad, a reward and a punishment. Now there's a whole range of bad/not-so-bad/decent/better/best. The more risk you take, the greater the potential reward. Much more interesting.
Diagram A shows a very simple example of strategic design. There are trees in the middle of the fairway. The closer you can play to them, the better look you'll have at the basket. When you step to the tee, you have to decide how well you're playing and how much risk you're willing to take.
Again, disc golf architects don't generally have much leeway in building or placing obstacles, so they will have to look for ready-made situations that can accommodate this very important principle. Such situations are not easy to find, but a good designer needs to be looking for them.
What's known in ball golf as the "Redan" hole helps to illustrate another key concept. "Redan" is the name of the 15th hole at the West Links course at North Berwick, Scotland. This hole is so well-known that many designers have made their own "modified Redan's." The main feature of this hole is that its green runs diagonally, relative to the tee. The farther end is harder to get to, but it's more desirable, because that's where the pin is. So again there is a spectrum of risk and reward. When you have a creek that runs diagonally across a fairway, the same principle applies. Since I don't think I've ever seen a word that describes this concept, I call it "diagonality." (It doesn't sound too much like Wessonality, does it?) Let's look at an easy disc golf example.
Diagram B shows a pond in the middle of the fairway (if you don't like ponds, you can pretend it's a grove of trees). Longer throwers can try to carry more water on their drives, and if they are successful, they will have easier upshots. Players who opt for safer drives will be looking at tougher upshots. Spectrum. Range of options. Got it? The key is that the far side of the pond runs DIAGONALLY to the drive.
Now let's do something that ball golfers can't really do. Since our discs can have very curved flight paths, we can make a hazard that runs parallel to the fairway, but it's diagonal to the FLIGHT PATH. That's Diagram C. You have to carry the line of trees to get into the fairway, and you have to choose how far down you want to fly over.
Since we're already heading in that direction, let's do something ball golfers would never dream of. Let's use their principles and our unique abilities to make new kinds of golf holes. How about four totally different routes from the tee?
Diagram D shows a hole where, instead of the longer shot getting rewarded, it's the most accurate shot that gets the most reward. Pick your alley, but make sure you pick the right one. This isn't diagonality, and it's not a spectrum -- there are only 4 possibilities, not an infinite range -- but it's essentially the same deal, and it leads to even more possibilities. Diagram E has the same options off the tee, but now the tighter drives are rewarded not with shorter approaches but more open approaches.
Can you see where all this is taking us? We have so many opportunities to mix length, accuracy, and flight paths -- once ball golf designers figure this out, they'll all be jealous. But for now we'll just let it be our secret.