Main Menu

PDGA Course Selection Guidelines

PDGA Course Selection Guidelines

Last updated: Thursday, October 8, 2020 - 10:35

Purpose: The purpose of this document is to provide a list of topics and variables that should be considered when a Club or Tournament Director is planning to select a Disc Golf course that will serve as the host site for events of magnitude / importance.  

Introduction / Background:  Perhaps the primary goal of most tournaments is to determine who is the best player at that particular event.  It could be argued that the best player is the player that finished first.  The “best” player may not play the best that day or at that event and not win.  However, if the playing field is not level due to the course not being fair or appropriate for that particular event, then it could also be argued that the player with the best score wasn’t necessarily the best player.  There are many factors and variables that can exist that can “tilt the playing field”.  This document will serve as a guideline to help minimize those factors and variables. 

The greater the importance or magnitude of a particular tournament the more critical it is that course integrity is contemplated in advance of selecting a course for that event.   An example could be that there should be a greater expectation with regard to course quality for the World Championships than for a club’s annual prime event. 

The concept of trying to insure course quality or design integrity should also be exercised when selecting a course that will be used as a Qualifying tournament.  For example, if a tournament or competition is serving as a local, regional, or national qualifying event where a certain number of players are advancing to the next level of play in the series, competitive fairness should be maximized in order to improve the probability that the best player(s) advance. 

For many or most National Tour events and PDGA Majors either a bid process or course vetting is part of the process for selecting a tournament venue.  Numerous considerations factor into why a particular club or site is selected for these top-level events.  Course integrity / design fairness should be a major priority.

Once a course is selected, there are various PDGA documents and checklists, both official and unofficial, that serve as a guideline for course set-up.  Topics such as signage, Out-of-Bounds lines and marking, spectator control, speed-of-play, and mandatories are part of that review and are generally not in the “pur-view” of this document.  Some overlap is appropriate, e.g. with regard to Safety.

Course Selection Considerations: These guidelines are separated into two sections.  Section 1 references variables that directly affect fairness, balance, and course design considerations.  Section 2 addresses other miscellaneous considerations relative to the tournament experience.  Following these 2 sections is a spreadsheet that lists all section 1 and section 2 considerations.  An “Importance Weight” of between 1 (Low) and 3 (High) has been assigned to each consideration.  When considering a course for an event, each consideration should receive a score between 1 (Low) and 5 (High), with points then calculated for each consideration by multiplying the score by the weight.  The maximum score any course can receive is 220 points.  Courses that score less than 150 points should be avoided if at all possible.  

Section 1:  Fairness, Balance, Design Variables:

  1. Location – Is the course conveniently / fairly located relative to the participant base, especially if the event participants had to qualify for this tournament / competition?  If event participants had to qualify for this event, in a best-case scenario the selected site wouldn’t be the home course of one or more of the qualified participants.  In other words, a neutral site would be the best-case scenario.  (Weight = 2).
  2. Safety – Safety considerations specific to individual hole designs are typically addressed AFTER a course has already been selected as part of the site review as an event gets closer to commencing.  However, for the sake of this document, selecting a course that has safety issues such as inherently dangerous holes (e.g. steep cliffs or fast-running water bodies), too many holes close to roads or pedestrian walkways or other park activities, or other more “global” safety issues should be avoided if at all possible.  (Weight = 3).
  3. Quality of Disc-catching Targets – Are the baskets of an age and quality such that they maximize catchability?  Do too many good putts get arbitrarily rejected?  Are they visible in most cases?  (Weight = 3).
  4. Quality of Teepads – Are the teepads safe?  Do they provide good footing?  Are they clean?  Are they consistent in type, size, and shape? Are the teepads “non-earthen”? (Weight = 3).
  5. Skillset Suitability – Are the course and the selected tournament layout(s) appropriate for the skill level of the average participant?  Is the course too difficult or too easy or too difficult to navigate? (Weight = 3).
  6. Balance of Flight Shapes – How well is the course balanced in terms of straight, right-to-left, and left-to-right tee shots and approach shots?  (Weight = 3).
  7. Balance between Wooded vs. Open Holes – Is there a good balance between holes that are tight, thickly wooded holes with narrow flight paths and lots of flight obstacles and holes that are very open and where shots that aren’t overly punitive?  (Weight = 3).
  8. Balance between Holes where Accuracy is more important than Power and Holes where Power is more important than Accuracy – The selected course should offer a mix of holes so that accuracy and pure power are equally rewarded as much as possible.  (Weight = 3).
  9. Slope Balance – If the course is rolling or hilly, is there a balance between downhill, uphill, and cross-hill hole designs and shots? (Weight = 2).
  10. Shot Selection Variety – Overall, is the design such that the player that can throw a variety of shots (backhand, forehand, rollers, other shots) has a competitive advantage over the player that relies more on just one type of throw?  Does the design give the impression that too many holes play the same way?  On a given hole are there multiple flight paths to choose from? (Weight = 3). 
  11. “Quirky” or “Gimmicky” Holes – Are there too many holes or shots where there is a very fine line between a great shot or outcome and a poor shot or outcome?  Is randomness of success too common?  Are there too many “gimmicky” basket locations?  Are there too many raised baskets or fast greens (baskets located very close to Out-of-Bounds areas or steep inclines)? Are Out-of-Bounds areas and mandatories judiciously utilized (i.e. are there too many Out-of-Bounds areas?  Is landing in them too random?  Are they overly punitive? ).  (Weight = 3).
  12. How Manicured is the Course? – This consideration could be addressed in both Section 1 and Section 2. Section 1 considerations: Is the course so poorly manicured that it is very easy to lose a disc, thereby incurring a stroke-and-distance penalty even when the throw wasn’t that poor?  Do you often require a spotter to help with locating a shot?   Section 2 consideration:  Is the course visually appealing?  (Weight = 2).

Section 2:  The Experience:

  1. Amenities – Does the site have restrooms?  Are there amenities such as benches and garbage cans at every tee?  Is there a pro shop on site?  Is parking adequate and convenient?  Is the course easy to find?  (Weight = 2).
  2. Balance between Challenge and Fun Factor – Does the course / layout offer a good balance between being challenging and being fun?  Is there too much challenge and no fun?  Is it a lot of fun but not at all challenging?  Is there a lot of variety?  Are there lots of memorable holes and shots?  (Weight = 1).
  3. Course Reviews – What do reviews from players on various websites and social media outlets say about the course?  Are there way more “Pros” than “Cons”?  (Weight = 1).
  4. Scoring Separation – This could conceivably be a Section 1 consideration.  Scoring separation is a concept whereby the design is such that over the course of an 18-hole round there will be lots of variability in terms of possible scores on given holes, without this being accomplished via gimmicky or quirky hole designs.  Some tournament directors chart scoring and keep scoring statistics.  Having lots of scoring separation makes for very exciting rounds because one is never too far ahead or behind the competition.  (Weight = 1).
  5. Risk vs. Reward – Are there a lot of holes / shots whereby there are multiple shot options?  Are there various degrees of risk and reward associated with these options?  The more risk vs reward options there are the more there is a premium on rational thought and having a strategic mindset. (Weight = 2).
  6. Hole Spacing - Are the holes a proper distance apart?  Are they too close together?  Is there too far of a walk between one hole’s basket and the next hole’s tee too often?  Do shots from a previous hole frequently land near the tee or basket areas of an adjacent hole? (Weight = 1).
  7. Spectator Suitability – If the event will attract spectators, is the course spectator-friendly?  Can spectators get close enough to most of the fairways to see the action without being TOO close to the players such that they impact play or become a distraction?  Can the spectators be controlled?  (Weight = 2).
  8. Distractions – Is the design such that distractions are minimal from players in other groups or spectators or other park activities?  (Weight = 1).   

Don’t hesitate to incorporate other considerations that might be relevant to your local situation.   

When reviewing a course using these guidelines, the extent to which a reviewer can score the variables without considering the reviewer’s likes and dislikes, the more valuable these guidelines will be.  

By utilizing these guidelines and the Criteria Scoresheet, theoretically the most appropriate course(s) can be selected for important events, thereby improving fairness and competitive integrity.