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After playing 1,300+ disc golf courses across North America and portions of Europe, you develop a feel, almost a “sixth sense,” for how course designers of varying levels of skill and experience will often approach the position of tees and baskets on a property.  That comes in handy, as many courses out there have no numbers on their baskets.  No tee signs or marked tee areas.  No course map. In those instances, one tries to channel their best inner Robert Redford and know what the horse…I mean COURSE (designer) was thinking while technically enjoying a “safari round.”

Poster from the movie The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas.

It sounds a bit silly, but when I encounter courses such as these while out on the road, one of the first rules of thumb I generally apply to the likely flow of a course is: “What would a right-handed player/designer do?”  For a left-hand backhand player such as myself?  It becomes painfully obvious that if 93% of the planet is right-handed, then approximately 93% of the people designing disc golf courses are right-handed as well.  And since many/most designers like to design holes that they personally like to play?  That best suit their particular strengths as a player? You’ll see 2-3+ fairways that go from right to left, for every one fairway that goes from left to right.  And when it isn’t clear how a course will play, from basket to basket?  One can usually figure out a lot of holes by understanding that many (most?) designers won’t put water, O.B., buildings or other potential hazards, left of a fairway. Most course designers will also choose to begin and end a course near the parking area most players will use.  And combining these two typical characteristics of many/most designs on the planet?  Can help you at least make an educated guess as to how a course will play.

I needed to put these skills to use earlier this morning, traveling to Worthington, Minnesota to play a new nine-hole course at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.  Using UDisc to successfully guide me to the course, I could see nine baskets spread across the Southwest end of the campus.  However, none of the baskets had hole numbers on them.  And there were no tee areas defined (not even simple flags or spray paint to mark the tee locations).  So I thought: “If I were a right-handed player, one who probably has not designed a lot of courses, where would I likely want the tees to be located in order to make nine fun shots off the tee?”

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn’s Travels

The fifth “Safari” hole I played at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

It was actually more difficult to try and figure out than other similar courses I’ve played.  Though I finally decided that the designer must have established a clockwise flow from hole to hole, based upon the fifth, sixth and seventh holes I played. Notice the position of a fenced-in ball field to the left of the likely fairway on the fifth hole I played (above). Most right-handed players I know would not like having a fenced-in ballfield (O.B.) to throw a hyzer over off the tee, if the course played in the opposite direction. There was a remnant of a football goal post right of the fairway too! But that should be far enough away from the tee area where it would be easier for right-hand backhand players to avoid.

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn’s Travels

The sixth “Safari” hole I played at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

Follow that hole with the next logical tee area, with all-sorts of trouble (and private property) left of the tee.  This has “righty hyzer bomb” written all over it…versus coming at the previous basket from my next basket (requiring righties to either throw an anhyzer off the tee or throw over private property, O.B.).  I highly doubt that, unless the course designer was left-handed, they would have 93 percent of players throwing anhyzers or throwing over private property.

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn’s Travels

The seventh “Safari” hole I played at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

The only thing that gave me pause, related to a potential clockwise flow to the course design, was the seventh hole I played (above).  An inflatable building on the left, with water (O.B.) on the right. I hope that inflatable building is temporary (commencement?), as if it is not, I could write a few paragraphs about how concerned I would be about safety on this part of the course.  But that issue aside, I finally decided that a course designer (93% chance they were right-handed) would probably prefer throwing over the water to dry land (right to left), punishing us lefties via throwing over dry land toward water (left to right). Facing South, with the campus experiencing moderate to strong wind from the South or Southwest a majority of the time throughout the year? This presents a scary shot for left-handers, at least with that inflatable building in the way of a hyzer line. [sarcasm] But we’re used to it…sigh. [/sarcasm]

I will be curious to learn how close to the actual flow of the course I got while playing my safari round on campus today. But regardless of that, I was happy to add one more new course to my bag/collection this morning. One of fewer than ten new courses close enough to home to not require a night in a hotel.

Magic Number = 637 (1,363 courses played)


About Tonn’s Travels

How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels >> A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re our “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design. But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have. All of the interesting people I meet. All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play. If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home? Then I will consider this effort a success.

About Derek

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn’s TravelsDerek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed the father of disc golf and the modern day Frisbee vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow Derek Tonn on his Travels.

The Course (Design) Whisperer: Tonn’s Travels Derek Tonn

DGA | Disc Golf Association DGA | Disc Golf Association – The Founding Company of Disc Golf!

After nearly a month without being able to play disc golf due to a bout with pneumonia and a sinus infection, I finally got back on the road course collecting today, playing 69 holes on six new courses across central Iowa.  It was a chance to try and get my energy and endurance back (today was a tough challenge, particularly with 25-30 MPH sustained wind) …as well as clean-up my map of unplayed courses in areas I had previously completed.  I can now say that I have played literally every course between home and Des Moines, Iowa.

View from the Hole 4 tee at Chautauqua Park DGC in Sac City, Iowa.

I enjoyed the recreational courses in Sac City and Breda (Iowa), and I had a great conversation with volunteers out at Orion 9 South of Coon Rapids.  But Edgewood Park in Madrid was a bit scary.  Throwing at/over playground equipment and areas where families like to picnic.  I had to throw safeties off the tee on three holes just to make sure I didn’t come anywhere close to a dangerous situation.  A few holes definitely need to be re-designed out there, to prevent injuries.  I then finished on a better note by playing two more courses in Huxley and Maxwell.

I am en route to meet John and Dee Houck of Houck Design on Sunday, along with helping Mike Harrington of The Disc Golf Experience celebrate playing his 1,000th disc golf course (an early “welcome to the club,” Mike).  I’ve talked with all three of those great folks on several occasions, but it will be my first time meeting all three in person.  I cannot wait!

Magic Number = 652 (1,348 courses played)


About Tonn’s Travels

How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels >> A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re our “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design. But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have. All of the interesting people I meet. All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play. If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home? Then I will consider this effort a success.

About Derek

On the Road Again in Iowa: Tonn’s TravelsDerek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed the father of disc golf and the modern day Frisbee vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow Derek Tonn on his Travels.

On the Road Again in Iowa: Tonn’s Travels Derek Tonn

DGA | Disc Golf Association DGA | Disc Golf Association – The Founding Company of Disc Golf!

When playing Yucaipa Regional Park in Yucaipa, California for the first time a few days ago, I was feeling conflicted.  The player in me?  I kept thinking to myself: “This is one of the most fun courses I have played in Southern California!  I need to mark this course as one of my favorites.”  But the course designer in me was cringing at several of the hole designs, specific to safety.  So the “adult” in me won out, and I did not mark the course as one of my favorites.

View from the Hole 2 tee at Yucaipa Regional Park in Yucaipa, California.

The course starts by playing along one of the main roads in and out of the park.  Visibility is good, so a careful player will not come anywhere near vehicles.  But a careless/selfish player (or one who might be under the influence of alcohol or ???) could easily hit a vehicle off the tee.  And/or be placed in harm’s way by a careless or inattentive driver.

Course Designer’s Dilemma: Tonn’s Travels

View from the Hole 3 tee at Yucaipa Regional Park in Yucaipa, California.

Hole 3 continues along a main road in and out of the park.  Introducing the same safety hazards as are in play on Hole 2.  In fact I needed to wait over a minute before no cars were present while I was on the tee.  Then quickly throwing and praying there would be no oncoming traffic that I might hit with an errant drive (or driving over any disc that landed in the road).

Course Designer’s Dilemma: Tonn’s Travels

View from the Hole 7 tee at Yucaipa Regional Park in Yucaipa, California.

Hole 7 was a fun shot up a hill.  However, after throwing my drive, I heard a loud “BOOM!”  Only to find that my drive had hit a trash container.  A container sitting right next to a seating area for the park I had no idea was there.  Thank goodness there were no people sitting in said seating area, or I would have given them a good scare.

Course Designer’s Dilemma: Tonn’s Travels

View from the Hole 10 tee at Yucaipa Regional Park in Yucaipa, California.

Hole 10 was back to playing along a road and a parking area.  With the basket placed at the tip of the point where the road and parking area meet.  A disc vs. vehicle or pedestrian incident waiting to happen.

Course Designer’s Dilemma: Tonn’s Travels

View from the Hole 13 tee at Yucaipa Regional Park in Yucaipa, California.

Hole 13 shoots back down toward a main road in and out of the property.  My drive actually skipped right and on to the road.  No cars were present.  But I had to quickly jog to my disc, to make sure a car I heard coming from the opposite direction would not drive over it.

As a player?  FUN course, full of fun shots!  But as a course designer, all I could think about was when, and how many times, people or vehicles would be struck by discs.  Wondering if any lawsuits would be filed, or if any holes (or even the entire course) would be at risk of being pulled.

Which brings up an interesting point.  I noticed a “tee box to nowhere” down along some water that a bunch of people were fishing at.  I asked a few local players about it, and they said the course used to have 19 holes, but that the hole along the water had been pulled due to too many problems between disc golfers and other park users.

Players who design courses design fun shots.  And can be very good at it!  But players who design courses often either do not see safety hazards in their designs, or (worse) do not care.  “This is a disc golf course!”  But to thousands of other park users, it is not (only) a disc golf course.  Disc golf is an activity in said park that makes it less safe for them to drive/park/walk.  Less safe to enjoy a picnic or play with their children.  Which gives the sport of disc golf a bad name, a bad reputation, in certain circles.

Course designers design fun shots too!  But a course designer designs as fun of holes as they can, within the three top priorities of course design:

  1. Safety
  2. Safety

  3. Safety

Players design places where tie goes to fun.  But when tie does not go to safety?  People get hurt.  Property gets damaged.  People get sued.  Which is much less fun than missing out on the ability to throw that cool drive up/down a blind hill or corner, or throwing along that road.  Yucaipa was an incredibly fun course to play!  But due to potential safety hazards, I cannot justify listing it as one of my favorite courses.

Magic Number = 680 (1,320 courses played)


About Tonn’s Travels

How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels >> A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re our “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design. But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have. All of the interesting people I meet. All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play. If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home? Then I will consider this effort a success.

About Derek

Course Designer’s Dilemma: Tonn’s TravelsDerek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed the father of disc golf and the modern day Frisbee vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow Derek Tonn on his Travels.

Course Designer’s Dilemma: Tonn’s Travels Derek Tonn

DGA | Disc Golf Association DGA | Disc Golf Association – The Founding Company of Disc Golf!

Now that I am (more) settled in Los Angeles at my aunt and uncle’s place (two of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet and proudly call family), I decided to head up toward Santa Clarita and Palmdale, knocking out a couple new courses played with an additional stop to check out a nine hole course in Green Valley.

After playing a couple holes in Green Valley, I noticed a friendly man walking out toward me, asking if I needed help figuring the course out (since I had unknowingly started playing the course on Hole 3).  It turns out that said man was Kenny Drew, the designer of the course. Then Kenny asked if I wanted him to play and show me around the course.  I happily said yes.

Kenny had a great story to tell!  He started playing back in 1977, and was a part of the early tournament scene in SoCal.  He designed the Green Valley course back in 2001.  In part to help the community give kids in town something to do besides vandalize the local community center.  Disc golf did the trick, as kids quickly adopted the course as their own, scolding others for littering on “their course.”

View from the Hole 6 tee at Green Valley Community DGC in Green Valley, California.

As is the case with just about every course designer I come across, Kenny takes great pride in his work!  He has poured countless hours of blood, sweat and tears into that property, and I was blessed to get to play “the back nine” (long/pro tees) with the man who had the vision for them.

After finishing my round with Kenny, he was kind enough to give me directions to Palmdale (since my cell service was not working in the mountains).  And as I headed toward my first turn, I passed him on his bike, sharing one final, friendly wave.  Thanks Kenny.  I appreciate the hospitality.

Magic Number = 684 (1,316 courses played)

 


About Tonn’s Travels

How it All Got Started: Tonn’s Travels >> A main purpose of this blog will be to share information, helpful tips and tricks (everything from health and fitness to methods for saving money while you’re our “bagging courses” of your own), and ideas for better, safer course design. But I am also hoping to inspire others with my passion for the sport, via the stories I can share about all of the interesting experiences I have. All of the interesting people I meet. All of the amazing courses I am blessed to have the opportunity to play. If I can inspire even a handful of individuals to get off the couch, get “out of their bubble” or “security blanket” and explore more of this big, beautiful planet we all call home? Then I will consider this effort a success.

About Derek

Making Connections II: Tonn’s TravelsDerek Tonn is a member of the DGA’s Ambassador Team. His company, Mapformation, LLC, has been DGA’s partner in the development of disc golf tee signage since 2012. The longer our two companies have worked together, and the more Derek has gotten to know all the great folks at DGA the more he has wanted to formally sing the company’s praises. The more he has realized that “Steady” Ed the father of disc golf and the modern day Frisbee vision for the sport and his company perfectly describes his own interests and priorities related to disc golf, and the more Derek has recently been encouraged to share his story.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow Derek Tonn on his Travels.

Making Connections II: Tonn’s Travels Derek Tonn

DGA | Disc Golf Association DGA | Disc Golf Association – The Founding Company of Disc Golf!

After enjoying four hours at “the Mothership” (DGA headquarters) on March 6, I headed North to try and play at three camps/campgrounds.  Successful on two, politely turned away on the third.  So this morning (March 7), I left Santa Cruz to check out courses down around San Luis Obispo, California for the first time.

I started out at Whale Rock, new DGA plastic in-hand.  Played it well, only one off the amateur course record (or so I was told).  It was a great course.  Well designed, well maintained, well protected.  But if I had to be fussy, I was a bit concerned about safety on Holes 16 and 17.

View from the Hole 16 tee at Whale Rock DGC in Paso Robles, California.

Hole 17’s tee is directly in play on Hole 16, and the Hole 17 tee is not visible from the Hole 16 tee.  I was out on the course alone this morning, so no one was at risk as a result of my tee shot.  But if I were that property owner, I would consider adjusting those two holes ever-so-slightly in order to make things a little safer out there.

After Whale Rock, I played an additional six courses on the day.  And safety at the courses seemed to steadily decline, the more courses I played.  The worst I saw was Sinsheimer Park in San Luis Obispo.

As you will see in the featured image for this post, you have fairways crossing walking trails, crossing bike trails, running parallel to city streets, etc.  In the brief time I was playing the course, I witnessed one drive on Hole 4 land two feet from a man walking a dog (the player didn’t yell “fore” or apologize), a drive from the same player narrowly missed a person coming around a blind corner on the bike path on Hole 5, and two women walking dogs being narrowly missed by another group’s drives on Hole 7 (again, blind, coming around a corner into the fairway). All I could think of was Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach, California.  A course that was pulled from the ground a few years back after a woman walking in the park was struck by a disc golfer’s drive on one hole, permanently losing her sight in one eye.  Sinsheimer Park is dangerous…and I could see a similar injury occurring on that course in the future.

I don’t mean to be critical of Sinsheimer or its designer(s)!  I only want to see the courses we all put in the ground be as safe as they can be.  We don’t want anyone to get hurt out there if at all possible.

Magic Number = 707 (1,293 courses played)

Course Design and Safety: Tonn’s Travels Derek Tonn