As a child of the 70s, I’ve thrown a frisbee before. When I was 10, every family had two frisbees: one that we used and one that the dog had chewed. On weekends we would all comb our perms, put on out nut-huggers, and go out to a park and throw a frisbee for hours whilst listening to Yacht Rock. This is what we did when there were four TV channels and people had to go to a library to look things up. Oh, also, we all wore aviator sunglasses and everyone, even children, had a mustache.
But a disc golf disc isn’t a frisbee! Or is it?
A few months ago my friend asked me if I wanted to go play disc golf with him and I said maybe and then started looking into it. After a few hours on YouTube, I bought a starter set (Dynamic Discs). When it arrived, I had three discs, with some pretty 70’s style “tie-dye” stripes on them, weird numbers on top, and whacky names like “JUDGE” and “ESCAPE”. I took them out to a field and threw them as hard as I could and.. they went up in the air and fell hard to the ground, the edge of the “fairway driver” cutting into the turf, about 100 ft from where I started. This, I would later learn is called a “tombstone”. And despite being dead, I had no idea what I was doing wrong, and decided I was ready for disc golf.
That was late February. I asked for some help on twitter and a kindly person suggested a video on grip and a video on the mechanics of throwing from a standstill. I did a little bit of field work on that and let’s just say for convenience that I played my first “round” of disc golf on March 1st, 2023. I’m now a little over two months in to playing disc golf and I am an expert so I thought I’d share my expertise (lol). No but seriously. When I first started this blog, I’d only been watching football for a few years and that didn’t stop me from writing daily about my opinions on football. And now 16 years later I’m still buttressing my Arsenal junks with stats. So, why shouldn’t I just say whatever I want about Disc golf? It’s not like anyone’s going to get mad at me on the internet for being wrong…
First thing, I’m a fan of this sport. You get to walk around in the woods and it’s fun when you pick up a disc and throw it straight (or not straight but the way you want) a long way or make a big putt. There are some frustrations which I will no doubt get into one day but for now, we should probably start by talking about the discs.
Every, every, every web site/tutorial I come across and every person I talk to says that beginners need to throw putters and putters only (or midranges) until they get good at them. This is sort of like stick golf. When you first start out at stick golf, they will tell you to hit your 7-iron a lot. Trying to hit driver in your first golf lesson is not recommended. And just like stick golf, literally no one listens to this advice. If they did, there would be almost no disc (club) manufacturers out there. People would go to a pro-shop, feel which putter they like best, buy three or ten of them, and probably never buy another disc.
After two months of playing with various discs (including a 13 speed, lol) I absolutely see the logic of this approach. Throwing a slower disc with good form will actually outperform (if we take overall average distance and accuracy) a driver or fairway driver for the beginner. I know, because I did this! I can huck a driver out to 300 feet (if I do everything “right”) but most of the time it only flies 180-200. But I can consistently toss a 4 speed midrange over 200 feet and most importantly, I can hit the lines I want to hit far more often than I can with the driver. You can buy all the plastic in the world but I do suggest practicing with some slower speed discs (we’ll get to speed in a minute).
I will save you a bunch of money right now. If you’re going to start playing disc golf, you can go out and get a starter set and that will be good and all but if I were to start over I would go to a pro shop and get a feel for which putters/midranges I like best in my hand and talk to the folks at the shop about which discs I should start out with. It took me a few bad purchases before I learned that I tend to favor Discraft, Innova, and MVP but even in those brands there are discs that I hate the feel of (usually if the disc is beaded). These won’t go to waste because I can give them away to friends but at $10-20 each that’s a bit expensive for most people to do. Go to a shop, tell them you’re a noob, ask them which discs to buy and they should help you out.
Ok, now let’s talk about the discs themselves. I’ve mentioned this already, but discs have a “speed”. What are the speeds? What does “Speed 12” mean? Also, what on earth are all these other numbers on the top of the disc???
I’m just enough of a data nerd to see the numbers on top of a disc, to know that there are tons of different manufacturers, to know that there is no standardized industry testing, and to have learned that there’s something called “beating in” a disc which affects the way the disc flies to look at the numbers on top of a disc golf disc and say “yeah, that’s probably just a suggestion based on certain design elements”. And it’s true to some extent.
But irregardless, there are four numbers on most disks: speed, glide, turn, and fade.
The first number is speed and like Obi Bogey says in the 2nd line, the standard take on speed is that it’s about how hard you have to throw a disc to make it do the other numbers on top of the disc sort of reliably*. Speed is rated from 1-14 and while you are probably thinking “cool! I’ll just get a 14 and throw farther,” you’d just be thinking WRONG (ish). For example, the venerable Discraft XL has a 7 speed and it held the world distance record at 693 feet for a long time. You can throw a “slow” disc a huge distance if you’re Scott Stokely and you get “DISC GOLF” tattooed on you knuckles (for the record, I like Scott’s videos and he seems like a fairly nice guy) or if you have really good form and are strong as a horse.
But the point here is that speed is sort of a recommendation.
The big problem with speed is that if you don’t throw the disc fast enough, you won’t get any turn on a flat release and the disc will just fly up and then tombstone. If you’ve already bought a bunch of discs (ahem, who would do that???) there’s a great article on how to tell which discs fit your arm speed. I strongly recommend reading it and testing out how fast you can reliably throw. My max arm speed is apparently 9.
You will often get experienced players who will almost sneer at you if you carry discs that are “too fast for your arm”. They will even sometimes exclaim that they don’t carry such discs because they can’t throw that fast. However, there’s a video where a guy from Dynamic Discs throws a bunch of disks at what I would call moderate speed (> 50mph) and gets them to turn. He believes that the discs are turning at slower speeds but it looks more to me like he achieves this by actually releasing most of his disks on anhyzer (aka, Annie) which many folks point out in the comments.
Sidebar, which I won’t get into too much here but there are three angles on which to throw a disc (I’m assuming right hand back hand for all of this): hyzer (which is edge down and will almost always go straight to left), flat (which will go straight-ish, lol), and anhyzer (which is edge up and will go from left to right). We often call Anhyzer, Annie for short and whenever I throw on Anhyzer I sing “Spare Ass Annie” by William S. Burroughs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
This may sound ridiculous but I actually learned this weird thing about tricking an understable (I guess we can have a crack at explaining this too? In a minute) fast disc into turning on my own. I bought a 13 speed MVP Catalyst (13, 5.5, -2, 2) which I LOVED the feel of in my hand but which at first I just tombstoned every shot. Then I watched a video on a “flex shot” and I have no idea why I thought I could pull it off but I applied it to that disc (again, why? I don’t know, I’m weird, I like experimenting with stuff) and now I can (unreliably) throw it 300+ feet with slow arm speed. I didn’t understand this at the time but I basically achieve this by releasing the disc on Annie with the nose down. I can’t throw any of my other discs as far as I can that Catalyst, so the design of the 13 speed is helping me gain distance. I also doubt I would ever be able to throw that 13 speed disc “at the speed that I should” but I’m reluctant to remove it from my bag because I love the way it feels and because it’s my farthest throwing disc (right now, I just threw a 7 speed 300 feet last night, so I might be taking it out of the bag soon!). I think this illustrates why the numbers on top of the disc are more like suggestions than actual hard and fast stats.
What are the other numbers on the disc?
Well, there’s glide. And like Gordon Gekko once said “glide is good.” Except, just like vulture capitalism, glide is also bad. Glide is about the disc’s ability to stay aloft, after you’ve thrown it the right speed and after it’s turned. You’d be tempted to think “ok give me 10 glide!” but AKSHUALLY you need LESS glide on a windy day (you apparently also need less turn, no wait, more turn, sigh…). I mean, sort of. There’s a whole bunch of physics about throwing discs on windy and calm days. In essence, from what I understand, you want a more stable disc when trying to beat through the wind.
Turn! Now there’s one that the new disc golfer will pick up on REAL quick. Almost all discs will fade a little at the end of a throw (there are exceptions). That’s the last number on the number guide (which I should probably just call the numberwang at this point). But before we get to the fade, the TURN is how much a disk will turn from left to right during the initial, or high speed, portion of the throw. This is usually expressed between 1 and -5. I’m not sure what a 1 turn does – go left? But I DO know what the negative numbers do: they force the disc to go right. So, for example, I have a Discraft Sol (4,5,-3,0) and if I throw that disc with just a little bit of hyzer (we’ll talk about this in a sec), it will “flip up” and fly straight. If I throw it straight, it flies on a very consistent curve to the right. This disc is incredibly consistent and feels good in my hand. I can throw this 200+ feet and mostly reliably in the fairway. I like this disc so much that I got one for me and one for Clyde. I should probably buy multiples of this disc just so that I can have a bunch of them to practice various shots without having to walk and retrieve my disc every time after.
Ok, the last number, fade! Fade is right to left movement on a disc and in my experience, this is the one number on the top of the disc that is incredibly reliable. If you buy a 5 fade disc and throw it flat, it is going to fade left on you, hard! There are 0 fade discs and they are actually pretty reliable.
At this point we can segue into Overstable and Understable. A disk is considered understable if it has a tendency to fly left to right (for Right Hand Back Hand when thrown at proper speed and flat; and a disc is overstable if it has a tendency to fly right to left (all the same caveats). You might notice that that means discs with negative turn should almost all be understable and if they have no turn (or positive turn, which I’ve never thrown) they are either stable or overstable. Ok, here’s where shit gets super nutty though and we are basically doing alchemy at this point. With a few exceptions (like the Discraft Archer or Sol) a lot of discs which have a big negative turn aren’t necessarily understable, lol. You’re just going to have to go to the manufacturer’s web site for each disc (there are some good places to buy discs online which will also do this) or talk to the salesperson at your local pro shop and look at the flight chart and the description. They will usually tell you if a disc is over or understable.
According to pretty much everyone on earth, beginners should stay away from overstable discs. Overstable discs will apparently hide flaws in a beginner’s throw because they are OVERSTABLE! That said, overstable discs are incredibly reliable in the wind and throwing into a headwind. AND they are amazing for big hyzer shots. So, I actually bag 1-2 for when I’m playing. I just don’t use them for practicing my form. For that (and for the course), I have a lot of understable discs in various speeds. Understable discs tend to be easiest for amateurs to play with but will flip over in a headwind. Just as an FYI, the frisbee you played with as a kid was understable.
To recap this part, speed goes from 1-14, glide from 1-6, turn from +1 to -5, and fade from 0-5. If you told me this one fact about disc golf I would very quickly ascertain that disc golf was invented by someone smoking A LOT of pot.
Before I go, I want to give you a list of discs that I absolutely love throwing already. Some of these discs are STUPID to buy and you shouldn’t. I will mark them that way. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like throwing them or bag them anyway.
- MVP Catalyst (13, 5.5, -2, 2) – stupid! But I love the feel. I think I’m addicted to this disc because its the first one I threw 300 feet and that dopamine hit was strong. I ordered a couple more understable, lower speed drivers from MVP to see if I can find one that fits my arm speed better.
- Discraft Heat (9, 6, -3, 1) – all around amazing disc. I have 5 of them in various plastics and with different weights. I didn’t talk about weight yet because I don’t know jack about weight!
- Innova Firebird (9, 3, 0, 3) – Overstable and incredibly reliable. I shouldn’t have this disc if I’m honest because it doesn’t fly far. But it’s just so accurate. There’s a hole out here that’s 170 feet but you have to throw around a tree and I’ve nearly hole-in-one’d that hole about 10 times with this disk. I have a handful of slower discs that I need to test out and see which ones I like to replace this for wind and placement shots.
- Innova IT (7, 6, -2, 1) – threw this disc 300 feet last night. Wasn’t even a particularly good throw. I need to throw it more and see if it’s consistent at this distance but I’m hopeful!
- Innova Mako 3 (5, 5, 0, 0) – hands down the best disc to understand and practice my form. If I throw this at all hyzer it goes hyzer; if I throw it Annie, it goes Annie. Also my most reliable disc for shots between 150-200 ft. I also have the Discraft Buzzz (5, 5, -1, 1) which is basically the same disc.
- Discraft SOL (4, 5, -3, 0) – utterly reliable disc, always goes right! Also really great for slower arm speeds to learn Hyzer flip.
That’s all I have the energy for today. How many more thousands of words can I write about this sport? Easily tens. Will I? Probably. Will I be wrong about stuff? Absolutely! Will you correct me? Hopefully! Is this conceit of asking myself questions and then answering them annoying? ABSOLUTELY. Will Arsenal win the league? Unlikely. Will you stop reading this blog if it’s mostly about things that aren’t Arsenal?
i grew up next to a big, gorgeous disc golf course (the country disc golf club says it’s “championship level” and a lot of my friends played. i’m more of an ultimate guy myself (fitting in with my love of sports like futbol and basketball) but i used to run the course while throwing an ultimate disc as an exercise measure.
i can still remember the first time i threw a disc golf disc. i was in high school and already pretty good with an ultimate disc, but some of my friends were getting into frolf so i threw the frolf disc, it went way off to the side and thudded into the ground, and i was like “what the %#$& is the point of this nonsense, i can already throw a normal disc fine” and refused to ever throw one again. if i still lived there, i’m sure i would have taken it back up as i got older and wiser.
in any event, props for picking up something new, i hope you derive great joy out of it and i’ll look forward to hearing more about your adventures.
HAHAHAHA! The weird thing is that a lot of Ultimate folks say something similar but some of the most famous disc golfers are former college ultimate players. Look at Brodie Smith, he converted and I actually use his videos explaining Ultimate throwing and techniques to help build my throw.
Disc golf sounds so very complicated that I am almost tempted to pick up stick golf instead. Or go back to university to study fluid dynamics.
lol. I haven’t even STARTED on how complicated this sport is. There are, I think, six different basic throws (annie, hyzer, and straight for forehand and backhand), plus two types of rollers, two different putting throws (at least, lol), and then some specialty weird throws like turbo putt, thumber, tomahawk, and scoober. I think this is what attracts me to the sport to be honest.
I play with my granddaughter, who is 9yo. I drive 250 – 300 feet, she drives 100 – 125 feet. I was beating her by 30+ throws when we started. My average win now is about 11 ahead. That’s in less than 6 months. It may be complicated to get good at this sport, but it’s one of the easiest to enjoy yourself & improve at. Also, way cheaper than ball golf to play & maintain.
Never played disc golf but I have thrown lots of frisbees. Remember when companies would give away frisbees as promotional merch?
We had lots of them from drug companies, car dealerships, etc. They weren’t great. The best was the original Wham-O frisbee. We’d play with promo frisbees most of the time, saving the Wham-O for “serious” fun.
Those promo frisbees were totally bunk! The ones that had the grooves on top were the best, which was the wham-o.
The best part of disc golf is the price of entry. Whatever you have just go play. Buy whatever discs you think will make you better but play when you want to free of charge. The only competition you have is yourself and you can be laid-back as you want.
Yes, this! Every round of disc golf is essentially free – the only costs are the discs and as a former stick golfer I have no problem dropping $20 on a disc every round we play because it used to cost me $150+ to play stick golf.
Just as new as you are, bought a bunch of MVP and Innova, along with a bag and a practice basket. Wife and I love our Innova Stingray and our MVP Ohm putters. Please, keep sharing your journey and insights. Really appreciate it!
The stingray is a nice disc. I just bought one for my son, Clyde.
Much thanks for your comments!
Your practical real world notes made more sense than slot of other reads.
I was particularly helped by the speed comments and how your view out a whole different view on it. I am a newbie and apparently wrong thinking, “ oh a 13 will go really fast snd far”!!! Dang! I’ll be emphasizing the slower understables. Can’t believe I can actually use those words and know what they mean! LOL
Thanks again for your posting!
A big help
It’s amazing how, when something catches genuine interest, it’s so easy to geek out on it: from the field (whether disc golf course, or cricket pitch or ice rink) to endless possibilities and discussions over the associated equipment, techniques, etc.
I have a friend who could write a (very) long blog about nothing but taping hockey stick blades.
And don’t get me started on guitars!
Another Man City match today, another opponent put to the sword.
That could have been us, and them chasing us in vain, instead of the other way around.
I’m not expecting anything from Newcastle tomorrow but I hope we at least show up.
Love having your picking up the sport and how effortless it is to fall in love with something as simple as plastic circles flying through the air. I’m gonna share this with my squad and looking forward to following your story. Also, look for some local clubs, they usually have a weekly event for $5 and get to meet new people. Find out who the better players are and see if they can help you with basic form and such. They should be more than willing to help and it’s free. Plus if correcting mistakes early, it’s soooo much better than trying to fix them later.
It might be easier to think about disc speed like bowling ball weight. A heavier bowling ball is harder to get moving, it might hit the pins with more force at the end but that’s the only difference (as I understand it).
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