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Understanding the 2016 PDGA Tour Standards

There’s been a lot of chatter recently concerning the 2016 PDGA Tour Standards, specifically the Experimental and Non-Standard Rules section. With that chatter often comes confusion and misinformation, understandably. Between the Official Rules of Disc Golf, the Competition Manual for Disc Golf Events, the Tour Standards, and the International Program Guide, there’s much more to disc golf and disc golf events than meets the eye.

What are PDGA Tour Standards?

That’s a simple question, with a complex answer. The Tour Standards and the International Program Guide are documents containing a massive amount of crucially important information for the bold men and women out there taking on the stressful and exhausting role of Tournament Director (TD). As stated in the Tour Standards, the goals of the document are as follows:

  • Provide a set of event standards so that Tournament Directors are familiar with expectations and players can expect consistency at each tier level.
  • Ensure PDGA events are classified into their appropriate tiers.
  • Increase the professionalism and marketability of PDGA sanctioned events.

The Tour Standards and International Program Guide contain information about divisional structures, handling withdraws and refunds, payout requirements, distance requirements between events, target requirements for different tiers, etc. The list goes on and on, and whether you’re a Tournament Director or not, they are both great resources to have.

Experimental and Non-Standard Rules

One of the updates in the 2016 Tour Standards, which will also be updated in the International Program Guide in the very near future, is a section now titled “Experimental or Non-Standard Rules”, after a much needed revision for clarification reasons. Let’s take a closer look and make sure we’re all on the same page, no pun intended.

First and foremost, this section of the Tour Standards should serve as a reminder to Tournament Directors that any rule or tournament procedure which is not specifically allowed by the PDGA Official Rules of Disc Golf, Competition Manual for Disc Golf Events, and/or the 2016 Tour Standards requires prior approval from the PDGA Tour Manager.

Such non-standard rules include, but are not limited to a non-standard payout percentage, mulligans, team formats, and of course, limiting a player’s out of bounds options (e.g. Island Greens, Drop Zone Only, Throw and Distance, a “BUNCR” area, a “HAZARD” area, etc.). The bullet points below, taken directly from the 2016 Tour Standards, are what we are here to help explain.

Non-Standard Rules Specifically Concerning Limiting a Player’s OB Options

We have recently seen a disturbing trend of TDs enacting rules that limit a player’s OB options without first receiving a waiver. In some cases those rules have been so punitive that they have caused excessive scoring which produces skewed ratings.

  • Again, as per the Official Rules of Disc Golf (804.04.D.3), in order for a TD to limit a player’s choice of the three standard OB options – the previous lie, marked one meter from where last inbounds, or within the designated drop zone (if provided) - the Tournament Director MUST request a waiver from the PDGA Tour Manager.
  • Typical examples of limiting a players OB options include, but are not limited to, Island Greens, BUNCR area rules, HAZARD area rules, and other “Throw and Distance” rules.
  • Any rule requiring players to re-throw from their previous lie after landing in a marked area, with or without a penalty (Island Greens, “Throw & Distance”, BUNCR areas, etc.) may potentially be unrateable.
  • When a waiver is requested, the PDGA Tour Manager (or the Game Development Team) will work with the TD to ensure that any such rules will not prevent the event from being rated. This typically can be easily accomplished with the addition of an appropriate drop zone, alternate route to complete the hole, or some other alternative. Note that a waiver for the use of a HAZARD area (Throw penalty only) can usually be rated, however a waiver for the more punitive BUNCR area, where a re-throw from the original lie is required, sometimes CANNOT be rated.
  • Any event that receives a waiver for a rule where it is determined that the rule will make the layout unrateable will only be sanctioned using the X designation added to the Tier level and the TD will need to include the information that the event WON’T be rated within the event information prior to players registering to ensure they are aware.

Why this change? Why now?

One might ask, why the sudden interest in restricting the use of Throw & Distance (T&D) penalty elements during tournament play? Why is T&D, where a player must continue to re-throw from the same lie plus get a penalty throw each time until landing inbounds, an issue at all?

First off, as stated previously, the current version of the PDGA Rulebook (effective as of January 1, 2013), which includes both the Official Rules of Disc Golf and the Competition Manual for Disc Golf Events, already restricts the use of T&D or any other non-standard rule unless first granted a waiver by the PDGA Tour Manager.

The expectation when a T&D waiver was granted was that T&D would be used on one, maybe two holes, perhaps in an effort to duplicate the dynamics of the now legendary island holes at the USDGC. However, it's been apparent since 2013 that some Tournament Directors have taken liberties with the use of T&D, many of which may have mistakenly believed that doing so was a normal option for increasing the difficulty of the course.

Second, discovering instances where Tournament Directors forgot to apply for a waiver, used T&D improperly, or used T&D on too many holes is a long and complicated process. The update within the 2016 Tour Standards serves as a reminder that T&D elements can only be used in very restricted circumstances if round ratings are desired. T&D is not a generally acceptable risk/reward design element for the game – disc golf and ball golf alike.

Keep. Moving. Forward.

A fundamental principle in the way ball golf has evolved is to play your next shot from where your previous shot landed, and keep players moving forward. If you can't play from where it landed, you get a penalty to relocate your lie just far enough from the hazard based on the options available in the rules, or to a forward drop zone. Playing your next shot from the previous lie is either a choice made by the player or is required only when the ball is lost, or when the ball completely leaves the course property.

Requiring a disc golfer to re-throw from the tee or from a previous lie is an excessive penalty for a shot that the player has already demonstrated they couldn't make. It simply adds extra throws to a player's score, not proportional to a single throwing error which may have been no more offline than a throw into that same rough before the TD marked it OB with a re-throw required.

Typically a one-throw penalty is more than enough to separate scores. Padding a single penalty with extra unearned throws unfairly reduces the player's rating out of proportion to the player's error on the throw. In addition, this player may inadvertently boost the course’s Scratch Scoring Average (SSA), artificially raising the ratings of players who likely didn't play the course any better than they would have if the penalty elements on the course were standard 1-throw penalties.

It is very important that the PDGA reviews any planned use of a non-standard rule so that we can make sure it is in fact being used appropriately and won’t cause a problem for player ratings. 

Applying for a Waiver

To apply for a waiver, send an email to the PDGA Tour Manager describing the rule you plan to use and include any pertinent specifics.

For example, if you were applying for a waiver to use an Island Green hole, here are some of the details you would want to include in your email.

  • Event name, date, and location
  • Description of the specific rules for the hole
  • Graphic or image of the hole, if possible
  • Dimensions of the Island Green
    • Amount of space in front, behind, right of, and left of the target
  • Distance from the tee to the front edge of the Island Green
    • Is it an open shot from the tee or is it hindered in some way?
  • If there is a designated drop zone
    • Distance from the drop zone to the front of the Island Green
    • Is it an open shot from the drop zone, or is it hindered in some way?
  • Divisions that will be playing the Island Green
    • Are different divisions playing the hole with different rules?

The additions and updates to the 2016 Tour Standards are important elements for the growth and development of our sport. As always, we will continue to work with Tournament Directors in every way possible to make sure their events can be rated, even if enforcing a non-standard or experimental rule is something they wish to do.

If you have any questions at all about something concerning an event you will be running this year, or you need to submit a waiver, please contact the PDGA Tour Manager.


This article focuses on the impact of 'circus golf' on ratings, but not on the more important aspect of making players aware of just how much 'circus golf' is included in the event. I will reluctantly attend events that feature only one island or stroke-and-distance hole, but would certianly like to be warned beforehand if there is more than this, so that I can find a different event to attend that weekend. This is especially important for major events like the Ledgestone Insurance Open which have a long lead time, have a limited window to sign up before a deadline, and which can be quite expensive to attend.

Submitted by FredVocino on

I appreciate the oversight dealing with what my long past league colleague, Eric, calls circus-golf. The use of gimmicks to add interest to a dull course may be the only quick fix for local organizers. More land and more community support will eventually give players better options, where tournaments are on suitable courses and smaller/neighborhood courses remain as a happy part of discgolf's "farm system".

Thank you for your response and calling it circus golf. I don't mind a single island hole on a course, but I find arbitrary OB quite maddening (in fact, Rickie Fowler was on the edge of some water, outside the red line this weekend, and he was allowed to play the shot from there).

The simple fact is that these courses should not be used for tournaments (especially on the pro level). They have become an anachronism to the modern technology, and this has been the case for 20 years. Places like Fountain Hills just should not exist anymore (except, perhaps, as you said as a sort of farm system to teach newbies; even still those courses should be short so they can reach the holes). Any lie that is playable should never be penalized.

We really need a sport that, like ball golf, has natural penalties. Dense woods or the sorts of traps I saw recently at Hidden Lake in MN (they leave chips and brush that has been cleared on the sides of fairways as true bunkers and you must play from your lie). That way, rather than someone getting a stroke for being six inches over a line and ten inches from the disc of another player, players can be allowed to save a stroke by making an amazing shot.

That's what ball golf is all about. Recovery. More power to the guy who is on the fairway and parks his second shot. Even more power to the guy who was in a dense shrub 3 feet to his left, had to take an awkward stance, and throw a forehand with his opposite hand in order to park his second shot.

This is what will create drama and illustrate the beauty of the game and take it to the next level of being nationally televised by truly competent announcers and video artists (no offense, but every option in that regard is terrible right now and another big reason our sport gets no respect).

Submitted by FredVocino on

I had adopted the term circus-golf from Eric Vandenberg, as it coincided with my views about taking a silly-easy hole and turning it into a silly-hard hole. Chalk line or rope line OB boundaries are not objectionable in many circumstances and preferable in many other cases. The alternative to circus golf is not wilderness/survivalist golf. That is, I would not prefer losing my blood and discs over just loosing my patience. The aesthetics of the game will likely define our preferences. An improved rating system with uniform criteria will help people choose where they want to play and compete (a la clay, grass, or hard court in tennis). My friends know where they can expect me to compete; give me a 50 year old municipal park with big old trees, rolling hills, some blue sky pathways, and a few bushes and trees standing like sentinels guarding, but not crowding the basket. In Michigan, I have many opportunities to play such venues. Yet more cultivated "disc golf tree gardens" would be nice.

Circus golf is a pejorative and a well needed one.
Wilderness survivalist golf is a bad term and not exactly what I meant. I'm over 50 and recently played Hummel in Omaha. Best course ever. I got cuts and scrapes and fell more than once and it didn't bother me.
I want hills and lots of trees and slope and other things that test skill (those wide open courses are just glorified distance competitions that require no skill, are an athletic ability like dunking).
I like the courses you describe. I've played a lot of them. Those too punish people appropriately and not with arbitrary ropes and lines (which IS also circus or mini golf silly). It's just silly to penalize anyone EVER if they are in a playable area. Eliminate courses that have roads, bike paths, sidewalks and pedestrian areas near them (and which are part of those silly arbitrary penalties).

Trees and woods are the sand traps of disc golf and should be the only (natural) penalties. You either make a shot out of it or you don't, and when you don't, that failed stroke is your penalty (or two if you're that bad at such things). All open courses with few obstacles and multiple uses that could be used as penalty areas should be pulled forever in favor of courses with real obstacles.

It's what disc golf is really all about. Skill.

Submitted by FredVocino on

We are nearly together on the ideal course. Artificial boundaries are inferior to natural ones, but, only if the natural ones are cultivated, where the flight of the disc, not the player, is in jeopardy. Skill being the question- cuts, scrapes and bruises supply no answers. Not all heroism requires the endurance of physical pain.

So, how about mandatories that don't have drop zones, but that require a retee? That would essentially be throw & distance as well. You can alway lay up in front of the mandatory, so there is always the option of playing safe. So it's not completely the same. But almost.

Also, I'm curious about island greens that have marked drop zones all along. Theoretically: tee shot doesn't reach the island, go to first drop zone. Third shot from the drop zone does not land in the island. Proceed to edge of the island for fifth shot. Normally you would take a 6 in this instance.
Next player skips in the island and skips out. He has been in bounds on the island, so he gets to play 1m in bounds from the edge of the island, and has a chance at saving a 3.

Does this situation, this rule set, not require a waiver? It would seem like you always have the option to move forward. Or do all islands in general require a waiver?

Submitted by cgkdisc on

The island hole only needs a waiver if the plan is to require a player to go to the drop zone if they land OB on their drive. However, if the TD uses regular OB rules where the player can mark from last point inbounds OR the drop zone if they land on or over the green but end up OB on their drive, then no waiver is required.

Submitted by FredVocino on

The rule is clear. A player ordinarily has up to 3 choices with an OB throw. Any limit of a player's choice requires a waiver. Whether a disc goes OB before or after hitting an island green is irrelevant to the waiver requirement. It may be relevant to the approval of a requested waiver.

You are right, the rule is clear. But I am not a native speaker, so wanted to be 100% sure.

Just one thing. In reality though, if you keep the 'play from where last in bounds' rule (which would not require a waiver) but the hole offers no fairway beyond the tee but the island, the island is pretty far away, and you do not reach the island on your drive, you still have no choice but to retee. Which is essentially stroke & distance.
So here's a practical suggestion: always add fairway beyond the tee. You will see many island holes that don't have this option, it's just the tee and the island and nothing in between. Providing some fairway to work with gives the player all the options that the 3 OB-options are supposed to give you, and the option to play safe.
If you really want to adhere to the spirit of the rules, I think it's best to have at least some fairway beyond the tee, then the OB-area, then the island. So if you fall short on your drive you can still move forward on the fairway, and go for the island on your second shot. If you lay up and fall short on your second throw, then it's more or less your own fault, because the hole is supposed to be reachable from the tee and you already made progress on the fairway. So then I guess you deserve to throw from the same spot.

Submitted by FredVocino on

Pelle, My earlier reply was to deal with the confusing answer you first received. Your thoughts are expressed well...they range far into the considerations given in the waiver approval process, and reach some of the deeper issues involving course design and PDGA sanctions. What appears as an early question of OB rule waivers may in essence be a question of unacceptable course design. We are fortunate to be active at a time when the sport is about to make new distinctions in what defines a top level course. There will be a struggle among the differing views about what is a sporting test of ability. Let's watch in the next few years.

I thought this all referred to 'island' holes that are not really islands, but are the arbitrary OBs similar to drawing lines in the grass. We have 'island' greens on one hole each on two of my local courses. They are simply 200' holes that have a ring of rocks around the green (though one also has 20' high logs 10 feet inside the stones as an obstacle). You re-tee taking your 3rd shot from a second short pad from 150'. Supposedly you must do thin until you get one inside the ring. There IS fairway all the way to the hole. My feeling is that the intent here is that if the shot from the second tee does not go into the circle, that the player may then putt from the lie just outside it (shooting then for a 4). The worst a player could then score on such a hole would be a 5, not the 6s that are so common.

Submitted by FredVocino on

The description given by Spike regarding a hole on one of the local courses indicates that a player who first fails to land within the artificial boundary surrounding the basket is not given the option to throw next from the point where a disc has crossed the plane defined by that circular OB line. Rather the short tee is required, which is equivalent to a distant drop Zone requirement. Any tournament played on that hole would need a waiver, right? Without a waiver, a hole where the only inbounds area off the tee is the circle containing the basket, a throw that fails to land in the circle is out of bounds. Then the player would choose to re-tee, throw from any drop-zone, or, if the first throw had crossed the plan defined by the circle, the player (lying 2) could putt inside the circle and take up to one meter in the direction of the basket.

Submitted by Chad Moore on

I'm really happy to see this clarification. I've seen some well-meaning TDs go down the wrong path with island holes. At a tournament in Colorado in February, an island hole with no other option other than a re-tee went very wrong. With a low ceiling due to trees, snow, and a 25 mph headwind, hardly any amateurs had throws that came to rest in the island. Many of them emptied their entire bag and failed to hole-out. There was some compromise limiting the score on that 260' hole to a maximum number, but the whole round was thrown in disarray, and there were some very upset players. So what starts out as an attempt to make a tournament a little harder ended up being primarily a luck factor (and how few discs you happen to carry). This island hole craze has gotten out of hand, but help is on the way - thanks PDGA.

Submitted by HCRistad on

I like the part about "keep moving forward", but why not use the same principle for a mando? I've seen a player get 26 strokes on a par 3 island-hole, so I agree with the principle that you want a player to keep moving forward. However, wouldn't one want the same with a mando? I often play a course that has a triple-mando at the start of one hole. Miss it, and you have to re-tee. The Mando is probably 50ft after the tee. There are som trees on the right side just before the mando, and in line with the right side of the mando. Now, if I just barely hit them, I might get a bounce that takes me outside the left side of the mando. If my line is about 2 inches to the left, I may be right at the basket for a tap-in. So just 2 inches off, puts me back at the tee for my 3rd shot. If the argument is keep moving forward, shouldn't the rules demand a drop-zone or simply a drop 3ft out from the mando? Wouldn't that be just as important to well, keep the play moving forward?

Submitted by A Ray on

HCR, the difference with a mando is that there is a bailout, or layup area. TDs can't make a player use the bailout. I'd have no problem with all these "island" holes, if there was an easy-to-get-to layup area that was inbounds -- but for most I've seen until this year, there's not. It was "hit the island or re-tee" for a long time; nothing in between. For mandos the player can always layup to just short of the mando -- this isn't like those island holes where you're FORCED to throw for the island and there's no safe area in between.