Disc Golf Course Design Elements
Table of Contents
SPACE: The first decision is to determine what type of course you would like to develop and whether enough space is available for that type of course. The amount of space available can sometimes depend on whether brush and trees can be removed to create fairways. Ideally, a well-balanced course has a mixture of holes that go completely through the woods, partially through woods and mostly in the open. Fairways in the woods typically range from 15 ft wide pinch points up to 40 feet wide. A few larger trees sometimes need to be removed to create fair flight paths.
Many new courses are being developed with two or more sets of tees to better serve the different skill levels of players in the community, even if all the tees aren’t installed right away due to budget constraints. Some courses install additional sets of baskets as well. Four primary player skill levels (Gold, Blue, White and Red) have been defined with design guidelines for each level. Public courses are usually designed with a combination of Blue & Red or White & Red tees to meet the needs of most players
Well-developed disc golf areas and private facilities can sometimes justify installing a few of the longest, most challenging courses with permanent Gold tees for the highest player level. Even then, it makes sense to also install a set of shorter tees to serve White or Red level players.
A full length Championship course can require several acres per hole depending on foliage density (more trees, less acreage required). However, a small recreational course can sometimes fit 2-3 holes per acre depending on terrain. See the Course Design Acreage Guide for more detailed information.
HOLE COUNT: Most courses are 9 or 18 holes. There are several with 12, 24 or 27 holes. It's better to install a well-designed, dual tee 12-hole course than it is to install a cramped 18-hole course on the same piece of land. It's tradition the number of holes be divisible by 3 but is not required. Keep in mind if you are wanting to use a course for a sanctioned tournament, then 18 holes is the desired number.
LENGTH: Most courses should have at least one configuration for beginners and casual recreational players that rarely averages more than 250 feet per Par 3 hole (75 meters). This works out to a maximum of 4500 ft (1350m) for an 18-hole Par 54 course or 2250 feet (675m) for a 9-hole Par 27 course. The shortest length range is 3600-4300 feet (1080-1290m) for a land constrained 18-hole Par 3 public course. No hole should effectively be shorter than about 100 feet (30m) even on courses for beginners. If land is available, recreational courses can have several par 4 holes and even a par 5 hole for beginner skill levels. This can get a recreational course up to the low 5000s for length.
Alternative longer configurations are achieved by installing another set of tees and/or target position on most holes. Typical 18-hole course setups for amateur White level players range from 4500-6000 feet (1350-1800m). Course setups longer than 6000 feet (1800m) ranging up to 10,000 feet or more are primarily for better players at the Blue or Gold level and for tournament play. These courses should again have several par 4s and par 5s as land is available. There is no maximum length allowed for a hole. The longest holes in the world can get to 1500 feet (458m). See Course Design Guidelines for PDGA Skill Levels & Divisions.
Hole length is measured from front of the tee to the target along the fairway route the designer intended players of that skill level to throw. For doglegs or water carries, the only time the straight line, crow flies, measurement should be used is if the designer intended players of that skill level to be able to throw over the treetops to shorten the dogleg or throw straight completely over the water.
HOLE NOTES: There should be at least one flight path that can be negotiated at the skill level the route is designed for. There should be more than one flight path or type of throw available on several of the holes. If multiple tees are used it is best when possible to have the flight paths substantially different – not just the length. Objects or creative landscaping near the target can add challenge and interest - forcing a player to stretch sideways, throw from a low stance, or through or over the top of the object.
It is a best practice, but not always the case for a player throwing from the shortest (or only) tee on a hole to be "forced" to throw over water that is normally greater than 18" deep (50cm). Include a flight path that allows a player to avoid throwing over deeper water. Any normally dry trenches, some occasionally filled with seasonal water under 18" deep, that are regularly in play should have appropriate paths down and out to be able to take a stance as needed and/or retrieve discs.
TEES: Non earthen surface tee pads of textured cement or artificial turf are preferred. Typical size for pads at the longer tee positions is 6 ft (2m) wide by 13 ft (4m) long. The back end might flare out to 10 feet (3m) wide. Minimum rectangular size is 4 feet (1.2m) wide by 10 feet (3m) long. If you need to conserve materials, make tee pads shorter on short or downhill holes and longer on long holes. For example, a hard surfaced tee pad at the top of a hill on a short hole might only need to be 8 ft long because most players will just stand at the front edge of the tee to make their throws.
If earthen tee areas are used, they should be even and not containing protruding rocks or roots. Tee areas should be level from left to right. They should not slope from front to back. Without a hard surfaced or turf tee pad, the front edge of tee area must be indicated by the front edge of a tee board buried flush in the ground or by the imaginary line between two stakes or flags that mark the front edge.
Each tee area should have at least a two-foot apron around all sides to provide adequate room for follow-thru, so a player doesn't risk twisting an ankle or falling off a ledge. Also, it is best to provide adequate level ground for a run-up behind each tee pad, especially on longer holes.
On courses with alternate tees, the tee surfaces in the shorter positions should always be better or at least equal in quality to those in longer positions. For example, avoid designs where the long tee pads are concrete and short tees are grass or dirt, especially when there are no tee signs.
The designated color for each set of tees used for course layout identification on scorecards should match one of the four recognized player skill levels that set of tees was designed for: Gold, Blue, White or Red. Sometimes there’s no room for two tees on every hole. Just make sure to mark each tee on single tee holes with both colors.
Course managers are encouraged to move toward these color guidelines when the opportunity presents itself for new installations, redesigns or course upgrades when their current color(s) do not match the PDGA guidelines.
TARGETS: Any marked object or post could serve as a target, but the basket/chain style are preferred. Make sure homemade targets do not have sharp edges to injure players or damage discs. Locally fabricated targets for sale or to be installed on public land must not have elements that violate any target manufacturers' patents. Higher tier PDGA sanctioned events are required to use better and more consistent target models. PDGA approved targets at the Basic, Standard and Championship levels are listed in the PDGA Disc Golf Technical Standards.
Manufacturers are required to produce targets so the height of the basket rim above the playing surface is 82 cm +/- 6 cm. Targets should be installed level with the ground, even though course developers may install some targets where the height falls outside the 76-88 cm manufacturing range. The PDGA Course Committee suggests that no more than 6 targets out of 18 be installed outside the manufactured height range with just 2 or 3 being preferred. Targets suspended from above can be fun for recreational play but there should be a way to secure it from swinging freely during sanctioned play.
SIGNS: Install a course rules sign prominently before the first tee or post the rules on an information board (if there is one). Signs or marker arrows on or near each target should indicate the direction to next tee (as needed). Signs should indicate Out-of-Bounds (OB) boundaries and any other areas players should avoid. Ideally, the OB lines bordering non-uniform boundaries like water/grass or gravel/grass should be identified with markers flush with the ground or white tipped stakes if possible.
The primary tee on each hole should have permanent signs indicating the hole number, length(s), teeing direction (if needed) and par for that skill level (see next section). When a hole has more than one target location, it’s helpful if the current location can be identified on the sign. Try to have some sort of sign by or on the alternate tee positions even if it’s just the hole number and length. Tee signs should be located so that a player standing on the tee can read the sign but should be removed enough to insure a safe and unimpeded run up, throw and follow through.
PAR: Par should be set for each tee/basket position combination on a hole based on the player skill level they were designed for. This Par Guidelines document provides a more specific way to determine par based on length and foliage elements of holes for each player skill level. The hole length used to determine par (not for the signs) should be adjusted up or down based on a 3-to-1 factor (i.e. 30 feet adjustment for every 10 feet elevation change) if the hole has a significant upslope or downslope.
So, players know what standard has been used for par, it should be indicated on scorecards and tee signs as Blue Par or Red Par, which hopefully matches the tee color(s) used. When less precise estimates are used to determine par (i.e., not using color skill levels), use the terms Expert or Pro Par for higher skill level tees and Standard or Amateur Par for lower skill level tees. The terms Women's, Senior's or Junior tees should not be used.
LAYOUT: Disc golf courses can be enjoyed safely in many different types of public parks and private areas, whether the space is used exclusively for disc golf or shared with other activities. Here are some basic ideas about the layout to keep in mind when designing a course. Fairways should not cross or be too close to public streets, sidewalks/paths/bike trails, pavilions, playgrounds, private property, or any other multi-use area where non-players congregate. Fairways should not cross one another and should be far enough apart so errant throws aren't regularly in the wrong fairway. Absolutely avoid designs where players might throw into blind areas where non-players could be walking on a well-defined park pathway. Avoid hazardous areas such as swamps and thorny or poisonous foliage. Tees and targets should be far enough from the targets and fairways of other holes.
Mandatory objects that force a player to throw a certain direction around or between something (typically a marked tree) should be avoided. Use of a mandatory may seem attractive if a key tree falls or new construction happens on or near a hole. The preferred solution in such cases is to redesign the hole in question (for instance, a re-situated tee that naturally forces the shot can sometimes solve an issue). Mandatories should generally not be used as design elements as they can lead to confusion and possible controversy during both casual and sanctioned tournament play. However, in certain cases regulated routes or areas (i.e.Mandatory Routes or Out of Bounds) may be applied to make a hole more interesting or challenging. The designer should be aware that many players will not be aware of these rules or will not follow them. Regulated routes or areas cannot prevent discs or players from going where they shouldn't. Designers should not rely on rules that regulate routes or areas to eliminate interference issues. Instead, the hole should be moved or redirected. Read Mandatory Routes and Objects for rules on how to play mandatory objects.
The tee for the first hole should ideally be the closest to the regular parking area. The target for the last hole should not be too far from the parking area and relatively close to the first tee. If possible, try to locate at least one other hole in the middle of course near the parking area. Try to minimize the amount of walking between holes while keeping paths as much out of other fairways as possible.
Americans with Disabilities Act COMPLIANCE: Sections of many disc golf courses are accessible to many people with a disability other than wheelchair bound. Except for some disc golf courses on traditional golf courses, carts are not utilized as a regular part of the disc golf game. The normal challenges presented by the sometimes-rough terrain utilized for courses make it unrealistic to accommodate everyone on every hole. Unlike golf where golf carts along with a 48" wide cart path throughout the course are common, the cost of a similar path on disc golf courses would be an undue cost burden in relation to the typical budget for installing courses and carts would not be around to use it. Efforts can and have been made to provide an opportunity for those with disabilities to play at least some holes, even if not all holes are easily accessible. In some cases, designing a multiple hole loop on part of the course may provide that opportunity.