You can still practice while playing a round.
July 27, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with comments
This is the sixth and final part in a series on disc golf field work.
While you can get a lot of great practice in an open field, there are advantages to taking your practice onto a course. You can imagine hazards and throw to targets in an open field, but it is hard to replace the value of having to hit real gaps and throw to actual baskets.
Course practice is a great way to get the most out of courses that might otherwise be too easy or too familiar. In Bloomington, we have a simple 9-hole course around Sherwood Oaks, a local church. It couldn’t be more basic – almost all the holes are short and open, and there are only a few trees. It is where I started to play and within only a few months it was too easy, even boring. But I love it and have only come to love it more as I have played and practiced there. The openness of it – one of the reasons many players find it dull – is what makes it perfect for practice. The lack of definite hazards makes it a near-blank canvas for making a variety of new holes and courses. When it comes to practice, think of your regular course’s layout as just one option among many.
Course practice is also a great way to practice particular shots, break bad habits, or get re-excited about disc golf if your game is feeling stale. You need fresh challenges to keep you engaged and to ensure that your game keeps growing. Many of us play the same courses regularly, and it can get monotonous continually throwing the same shots on the same holes. Repetitive play can also lead to damaging expectations about your score. If you are used to shooting a certain score at a particular course, then falling short on a couple of holes can produce anger and frustration. Modifying the course, your bag, or the scoring system can remove your expectations and put you into learning mode.
If You Have the Course to Yourself
Sometimes, you’ll have lots of room on the course — maybe it’s raining, maybe you got up bright and early. In those situations, you can get creative with your course practice.
One of the best ways to practice is to make new holes that present the kinds of challenges you need to work on. This is known as a “safari” course, where you design new holes on an already existing layout. The easiest way is to take the current teepads and see if they could be played to different baskets. Or you could tee off from beside a basket to other baskets or play the course backwards. Obviously, some courses, especially ones that are thickly wooded, won’t allow a lot of combinations, but you may be surprised how many other holes are lurking in the existing layout of your home course.
This is also where flat, largely-open park courses can shine. When a group of us were planning on going out to the Glass Blown Open in 2017, there were no local courses that had the kind of 450-foot par threes and 650-foot par 4s we would find in Kansas. So we made them, taking the small 2000-foot Sherwood Oaks course and turning it into a sprawling 8,000-foot track now played as Super Sherwood. We made the course we needed to practice (without, of course, the 35 mph winds that awaited us in Emporia). Since then, Sherwood, a flat lot with seven open holes under 230 feet, has become the site of Super Sherwood, Sherwood Alts, Sherwood Gold, and a variety of other layouts. Making safari courses is a great way to find fresh challenges on your regular courses, and UDisc allows you to save your layouts and share them with other players.
It’s worth repeating – making safari courses is great, but you need to be very careful to not put other players in danger when you are playing them. This is something that can only be done when you have the course to yourself, so look for times when the course is not in use.
Find Your Alleys
Similar to a safari course, look for places on the course that allow you to create particular challenges you need. One common example is finding a row of trees that is not in use as part of a regular hole on the course but is a perfect place to throw tunnel shots. Or an unused corner of the course where you can throw spike hyzers around a high tree to get to a basket. Be open to how you can use the entire property to allow you to throw the shots you need to practice.
One way to lower your scores is being able to scramble, saving par from thick woods or tight spots. It is, however, one of the hardest things to practice in an open field. Sure, you can throw from a knee or work on extreme forehands and rollers, but there is no replacement for reacting to the real environment. On a course, you can practice these shots by purposely tossing your discs into awful spots and then practicing the shots you need to escape. Make sure to throw shots from weird stances, especially lean-out forehands and rollers from a knee.
Confront Your Nemeses
You don’t need to play every hole on a course. If there is a hole, or a series of holes, that are giving you trouble or feature a shot you want to work on, it is fine to just play those holes. Depending on the course layout, you could easily combine field work with practice on holes that are giving you trouble. It is fine to skip holes and play other holes multiple times to make a course of just holes that are holding back your scoring (or, the opposite, just the holes you play great to build confidence.)
Sharing the Course
If there are other players on the course, you will need to fit your practice into the regular flow of play. However, there are still lots of ways to change your bag or scoring system to get good practice while sharing the course.
Limited Bag Rounds
You can learn a lot by taking discs out of your bag. Hopefully, you have built your bag around a few tentpole discs and you can drop your bag back to a single disc from each category – putter, midrange, fairway, and driver. This is not a drastic change, but it will simplify your disc selections and encourage you to shape shots with the workhorse discs you already trust. Getting comfortable with using a reduced bag is also helpful if you want to play while you travel and aren’t able to bring all your discs.
You can also drop back even further to throw one-disc rounds. The most common, and perhaps the most beneficial, version is to throw putter-only rounds. Gaining the nose and angle control required to throw a neutral putter for all the shots you will need will develop skills that will help you throw every disc in the bag. While putter rounds are the most common, you can throw complete round with any disc in your bag. Taking out a new disc on a one-disc round is a great way to get comfortable with it and discover its versatility.
Single Shot Rounds
You can also limit your shot shape or type of throw during a round. The most common example is a forehand-only round. Nothing will force you to learn how to shape shots and trust your forehand than a round where that is the only shot you can throw. You can do the same by limiting yourself to only anhyzers, which will force you to throw both flex shots and turnovers to score. You can do this with any shot, though my shoulder aches at the mere thought of a thumber-only round.
Alternative Bag Rounds
Sometimes you just need a break from your bag, a rest from constantly throwing the same plastic. If you have been playing for a while, you probably have molds that have cycled out of your bag. Given my disc addiction, I have so many that it has become a running joke in my club. In fact, Westside pro Chris Baker and I played full “What’s Not In My Bag” rounds this past winter using only disc molds we had once loved and no longer made the bag. If you have changed your bag frequently, think of going back to visit some old friends. You may find that, as your game has evolved, discs that weren’t working for you months ago might now have a place in your bag.
If you mainly throw Innova, borrow some Discraft or Prodigy discs from a friend and play some rounds. You may find new discs that might be worth adding to your bag. Or, as I often do, you may get a new appreciation for your regular plastic. It is actually gratifying to watch a disc fly in the wrong direction and think “my Buzzz would have made that work.” Either way, you can reinvigorate your game with a temporary lineup change.
It is also good to throw off the tyranny of par. It’s easy to get trapped into evaluating your game only by how low you can go under par in total throws. And, if you are the kind of player whose mood or enjoyment of the game is determined by whether you can shoot a certain number, it can be valuable to recover an essential part of the game: play. You can change the entire feeling of a round by changing how you keep score. You could just go out and throw without keeping score at all, but I get more out of being able to track how I am doing while playing something other than standard stroke play.
There are lots of alternative scoring systems, but one of the best is to play a solo scramble. Throw two shots off the tee, go to the best one, and throw two shots from there, always picking the best shot (you are essentially playing solo doubles). This helps to smooth out bad luck, will give you a good sense of the kind of score you are capable of throwing, and is great for building confidence. It also can give you opportunities to throw more aggressive lines knowing that you have a shot in a safe position — or put pressure on you to throw safely if the first shot goes wrong. For greater challenge, you can play a solo worst-shot scramble, in which you throw two drives, take the worst, and then throw two shots from there, always taking the worst of the two throws (including having to make a putt twice for it to count!). A good score in worst shot is really something to be proud of and will test the consistency of your game. Best shot reveals your ceiling and worst shot shows your floor. But be careful, while a best-shot scramble usually moves more quickly than a standard round, worst shot can take more time. Don’t try it if you will slow down the pace of play for other groups.
Another way to change your playing style is to use a scoring system that incentivizes birdies but reduces the penalties of bogeys. Like a solo scramble, this can help cautious players try out more aggressive lines. One of the best is Stableford scoring, in which you don’t track total throws but earn points on each hole. In the Modified Stableford scoring sometimes used on the PGA Tour, for example, you get 5 points for an eagle, 2 points for a birdie, 0 points for a par, lose one point for a bogey, and lose 3 for a double bogey or worse. Since birdies are worth more points than bogeys cost and disaster holes are less punitive, this system encourages aggressive play. While Stableford works best on courses with par 4s or 5s, it can be modified for any course or level of play. Because of this, it can be a great alternative scoring system for new players by shifting the point values to give 5 points for birdies, 2 points for pars, zero out bogeys, and start the penalties at double bogeys (or drop point losses completely.)
The course can be a great place to practice and can give you opportunities to work on your game in ways that are hard to replicate in an open field. It can also break you out of the pattern of throwing the same shots every round. Course practice can offer new challenges through limiting your bag, your shots, or changing the scoring system to encourage you to take risks you wouldn’t try if you were only concerned about your score. You will find that even a course that you can play in your sleep will demand your full attention when you can only throw a putter or a forehand. Field work is important, but it doesn’t always have to happen in a field.