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When is Long Too Long?

This article originally appeared in issue #46 (Summer 1998) of Disc Golf World News

“We regard the present tendency to stretch golf courses out to greater lengths than ever before, as an unfortunate and mistaken policy.”

“... [the new technology appeared] allowing the average player another 20 to 40 yards with each shot. Immediately almost all of the well-known early courses, those most praised by good players for their challenge, became pushovers...”

“If little attempt is made to build an interesting course for beginners, how will they ever learn to appreciate the game?”

These quotations sound like they were pulled from the current debate over how long disc golf holes, and disc golf courses, should be. Surprisingly, they come from the world of ball golf, and the first one -- from an essay by the revered course designer A. W. Tillinghast -- was published in Golf Illustrated in 1935! (The other two come from Tom Doak‘s book The Anatomy of a Golf Course.)


Length has certainly been the most controversial element of course design in the disc golf world during the last decade. Three major developments have fueled the debate: the Innova’s introduction of low profile bevel-edged drivers; the implementation of 600-1,000 foot holes for major championships; and the edict from the DGA that every new course must have a set of tees that averages no more than 222 feet per hole. (I think the DGA/RDGA may have removed this requirement by now.)

The biggest question in the length debate is this: if you make courses long enough to make top-level players happy, will the courses be so long that beginners won’t enjoy them? Some very important disc golf people think that when a course is too tough for beginners, they will become discouraged and never take up the sport at all. I think we can all agree that at this stage in the game, we do not need to be turning players away.

Here are some other facts on which we should be able to agree:

  • Tens of millions of people play ball golf, and most of them would die happy if they could -- just once -- shoot 18-over par.
  • One of the most fun things you can do on a disc golf course is to throw the disc as far as you can. Even if the stupid thing doesn’t go where you want it, it’s fun to try. And it’s fun just looking forward to your next chance.
  • Holes that are long just for the sake of being long are dumb. Good long holes are awesome.
  • One of the great things about disc golf (especially compared to ball golf) is the incredible number of ways you can get to your target.
  • If you have a hole with a pro tee 325’ from the hole (par 3), and a beginner tee 250’ from the hole (par 4), some beginners will shoot a four from the short tee and say, “Wow, I got a par -- I’m awesome.” Other beginners will shoot a four from the short tee and say, “I’ve seen guys who can get a two on this hole every time from the long tee -- I must suck. I want to get better!”

So what’s the answer? Should we make 600’ holes to challenge the good players, even though it’s going to take a beginner 6 shots just to get there?


Or should we keep all the holes short, so that we can boost beginners’ self- esteem and keep them coming back? There is only one reasonable solution, and it’s a very easy one: multiple tees. If you want long holes, make long
tees. But make short tees, too.

Why should we waste our time discussing whether long holes build character, or whether short holes turn strong players into wimps, or whether high self- esteem on the golf course makes better community leaders? The truth is that some people want golf to be challenging, while other people want it to be easy, so let’s just make tees for everybody. Make tees that are short, medium, long, open, tight, easy, hard, -- then each player can choose the tees that best fit his or her skill/experience/temperament/mood/horoscope, and everybody gets more variety. Put ten tees on every hole! Then we can get on to the real questions: how long is long, and how many long holes should a course have?

These last two questions are very important, and we’ll get back to them
soon.
For now, let me leave you with these five ideas:

  • When you play any standard ball golf course, you will only be able to reach
    4 holes with your drive. There are excellent reasons why this is so.
  • Courses that don’t reward a player for the ability to throw far are incomplete.
  • Courses that give too much reward for the ability to throw far are unfair.
  • Courses that don’t put a premium on accuracy are missing the point.
  • Great long holes almost always require distance AND accuracy... at the same time.

  Circular Productions - Disc Golf Course Design, Disc Golf Equipment, Disc Golf Tournaments, Disc Golf Tee Signs, and other Disc Golf Services
Circular Productions - Disc Golf Course Design, Disc Golf Equipment, Disc Golf Tournaments, Disc Golf Tee Signs, and other Disc Golf Services

Circular Productions - Disc Golf Course Design, Disc Golf Equipment, Disc Golf Tournaments, Disc Golf Tee Signs, and other Disc Golf Services