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Why So Many 1100s at Memorial?

The Memorial Championship presented by Discraft has produced half of the highest rated rounds in history.

Nine of the nineteen rounds rated 1100 and higher have been thrown during the Memorial on the Fountain Hills and Vista del Camino courses since 2010. David Feldberg perhaps hinted in 2008 at what was to come with a 1098 on Vista. Josh Anthon was first to break the 1100 barrier at the Memorial with an 1106 in 2010. There were none in 2011. In 2012, Paul McBeth had one and Feldberg had two 1100+ rounds. This year, we saw five 1100+ rounds thrown by Nikko Locastro, Ricky Wysocki, Will Schusterick and Nate Doss along with the new all-time record 1132 by McBeth.

Why now?

The Memorial Championship has been around for a long time playing these two courses. Here are some possibilities why we might be seeing more 1100+ rated rounds:

  1. Better Discs: Is it the newer high speed discs?
  2. New Players: Is it a different group of players?
  3. Playing Better: Or are the same players playing better?
  4. Ratings Inflation: Is there inflation in the ratings system?
  5. Time of Year: Does time of the year play a role?
  6. Course Layouts: Is there something unique about the course layouts?

For those who just want to know the results, here's what we found:

  • There are several more players with ratings near the current ceiling around 1045. So statistically we would expect a few more exceptionally high rated rounds to be thrown each year.
  • The net ratings "lost" by 70 pros located in more northern states helped boost the ratings of the 139 "less northern" pros (including Touring Pros) around 6-7 rating points on average.
  • The current Memorial course layouts appear biased toward Super Gold skill level.

Now, here's the research that led to these conclusions.

Better Discs or New Players?

It's important to look at what's recently different at the Memorial. This allows us to discard some of the possibilities listed above. Pretty much the same group of top players have been playing big time events together with the same high speed discs for several years now without posting more than one or two 1100+ rounds among all of them over a whole year, excluding the Memorial. So that removes possibilities (1) and (2) from consideration.

Playing Better?

There's no question that the best round scores in the past few years are getting progressively lower on essentially the same Memorial course layouts. The course SSA values have stayed in narrow ranges for the past four years. The Vista del Camino SSA has ranged from 57.5-58.5 and the Fountain Hills SSA ranged from 53.3-53.9. This new wave of top players is also lowering records on other courses but without breaking the 1100 rating barrier. So reason (3), players playing better, is only part of our answer leading to more exceptional rounds.

Ratings Inflation?

Is everyone's player rating gradually inflating even if it doesn't seem like you're getting better? The ratings system calculations do not have an inflation variable built-in. The process is self limiting, i.e., the average rating of the players (propagators) starting an event produces the same average for their round ratings earned each round. What seems to be happening is more top players are getting closer to what appears to be a rating ceiling near 1045 that Ken Climo established over 10 years ago in 2002 with the first 1044 rating. David Feldberg, Nate Doss and Will Schusterick each briefly reached 1046 for a few ratings updates and Ricky Wysocki just set the new record at 1047. Note this is only three points higher more than 10 years later. If the ratings system really has a subtle inflation factor built-in, that seemingly stable 1045ish ceiling would have at least moved above 1050 over the past 11 years. So it's unlikely reason (4) has directly contributed to the 1100+ rounds at the Memorial. However, now that there are several more players with ratings near the current ceiling, statistically we would expect a few more exceptionally high rated rounds to be thrown each year just because more players have the capability of throwing them.

Northern Players are Challenged

The Memorial pulls many players out of winter hibernation from northern states for a burst of sun and heat to get their playing year started. Discs fly differently when the temperature is 60-70 degrees colder and water hazards are frozen. Northern players even if active in winter need to adjust the disc mix in their bags and their distance expectations when abruptly coming south to the relatively warmer environment at the Memorial.

Here's what we found. I divided all players in the Pro Pool including women and older players into the following groups:

  • (TP) 23 Touring Pros with ratings over 1114 and under age 40 (except Climo)
  • (NP) 25 Northern Pros with ratings over 969 and (Np) 45 Northern Players with ratings under 970. States included were: CO-IA-ID-IL-IN-MA-MI-MN-MT-ND-NH-NY-OR-UT-WA-WI, Canada & Scandinavia
  • (AP) 9 AZ Pros with ratings over 969 and (Ap) 17 AZ Players with ratings under 970
  • (RP) 41 Remaining Pros with ratings over 969 and (Rp) 49 Remaining Players with ratings under 970. They are all from states not listed above as "northern" states. Did not split California into north/south.

The total pro field was 209 and each pro is only included in one of the seven categories. The following table shows how much each group threw better or worse than their ratings on each course. The Hi/Lo column shows how many players threw higher or lower round ratings than their player rating. Note that in most events, the Net Diff numbers should hover close to zero for all player skill levels.

Table 1
Group Name # ofPlyrs Avg PlyrRating Vista Del Camino Fountain Hills
Avg RR Net Diff Hi / Lo Avg RR Net Diff Hi / Lo
TP Touring Pro 23 1030 1050 20 20 / 3 1048 18 17 / 6
Players with Ratings 970+
NP Northern Pro 25 985 969 -16 9 / 16 967 -18 8 / 17
SP Southern Pro 41 989 985 -4 17 / 24 992 3 27 / 14
AP Arizona Pro 9 983 978 -5 4 / 5 982 -1 5 / 4
Players with Ratings under 970
Np Northern player 45 933 919 -14 13 / 32 924 -9 17 / 28
Sp Southern player 49 938 924 -14 16 / 33 930 -8 19 / 30
Ap Arizona player 17 944 949 5 9 / 8 945 1 8 / 9

The table above shows that the Northern players regardless of their player ratings averaged worse than their ratings on both courses. The 70 Northern players (out of 209 pros) of all age levels earned round ratings on average worse than their average player ratings on both courses. The net ratings lost by Northern Pros as a group helped boost the ratings of the "less northern" pros (includes Touring Pros) around 6-7 rating points on average.

Course Layouts?

The other result that jumps from the numbers in Table 1 is how well the Touring Pros do relative to their ratings. On average, they are shooting rounds averaging 20 points above their ratings at the Memorial. Even though they take the opportunity to get to their tournament sites as much as a week in advance to practice, they still did much better on average compared to their ratings than say the Arizonans who also might be expected to do better relative to their ratings on their home courses.

This ratings differential between Touring Pros and other pros including locals hasn't been noted at other venues (although it's not a regularly researched element.) So we next looked a little closer at the characteristics of the courses played to see if possibility (6), Course Layouts, might be helping produce exceptional rounds.

As noted earlier, the SSA for Fountain between 2010 and 2012 ranged between 53.5 to 53.9 coming in at 53.3 for 2013. For Vista, the SSA for similar low wind conditions ranged from 57.5 to 58.5 from 2010 through 2012 with 57.6 the value for 2013. So the "low wind" course SSA values have been stable for the past four years.

Gold is the highest skill level where the PDGA has published hole design guidelines to produce good scoring spread among pros with ratings in the 975-1025 range. At the Memorial, 17 of the 23 players considered Touring Pros have ratings higher than 1025 in what could be termed the Super Gold range. Typically, holes are only designed for this Super Gold level in temporary Final 9 layouts at Majors.

We analyzed the 36 holes on Vista and Fountain using the Hole Forecaster program used by Disc Golf Course Designer group members for designing holes and later analyzing how well they worked for specific skill levels. Let's look at the Hole Forecaster analyses as if the two courses were set for Gold level players.

Looking at the Vista analysis below, the hole lengths, elevation adjustments and foliage estimates are entered along with estimates for how many OB penalties might be taken per 20 Gold level players. This produces the Est. Score Avg. and Est. Par along with suggestions for adjusting the hole length and whether the hole might have Low Scoring Variation or spread for Gold level players.

Vista Del Camino

Hole # Actual Net Elev +Up -Down Effective Foliage & Object Density Adjust for OB & Probs Est Score Avg. Difficulty Est Par Better Length ? Low Score Var
1 267   267 Scattered   2.5 Easy 3    
2 369   369 Sparse   2.7 Easy 3    
3 375   375 Sparse   2.7 Easy 3    
4 381   381 Scattered   2.9 Average 3   Y
5 340   340 Sparse   2.7 Easy 3    
6 793   793 Stands 2 4.4 Tough 4 143' shorter, 37' longer  
7 618   618 Stands 1 3.8 Easy 4    
8 360 - 10 330 Scattered 2 2.9 Average 3    
9 429 - 10 399 Average 1 3.1 Average 3 24' shorter, 111' longer Y
10 663 + 2 669 Average 1 4.1 Average 4 19' shorter, 161' longer Y
11 669 - 10 639 Scattered 2 3.8 Easy 4    
12 363 + 10 393 Sparse 3 3.0 Average 3 18' shorter, 117' longer  
13 385   385 Sparse 3 3.0 Average 3    
14 624   624 Scattered 1 3.7 Easy 4    
15 510   510 Average 3 3.6 Easy 4    
16 372 + 6 390 Scattered 1 3.0 Average 3 15' shorter, 120' longer Y
17 264 - 10 234 Sparse 1 2.5 Easy 3    
18 375   375 Scattered 3 3.0 Average 3    
Total 8157   8091   Hole based SSA = 57.3 < Est. 60    

For Vista, you can see the Estimated SSA came out to a "no wind" 57.3 compared with the actual value of 57.6 for 2013. Not bad considering these estimates were made before the official ratings were done for the Memorial. The important note from this analysis is that 6 of the holes: 4, 6, 9, 10, 12 & 16 could possibly play better in terms of scoring spread for Gold level players if they were adjusted in some manner. What this might mean for our Super Gold players will be highlighted after next looking at the Fountain analysis. The Fountain forecast came out with a "no wind" Estimated SSA of 53.0. This was also just 0.3 lower than the official SSA of 53.3. The forecast was close again. Half of the holes at Fountain could possibly have better scoring spread for Gold level players with suggested adjustments to holes: 1, 2, 4, 5, 11, 15, 16, 17 & 18.

Fountain Hills

Hole # Actual Net Elev +Up -Down Effective Foliage & Object Density Adjust for OB & Probs Est Score Avg. Difficulty Est Par Better Length ? Low Score Var
1 390 + 3 399 None 4 2.9 Average 3 24' shorter, 111' longer  
2 703 - 2 697 Scattered 2 4.0 Average 4 47' shorter, 133' longer  
3 294 + 2 300 None   2.5 Tough 2    
4 463 - 12 427 Sparse 2 3.0 Average 3 52' shorter, 83' longer Y
5 372 + 6 390 Sparse 3 3.0 Average 3 15' shorter, 120' longer  
6 233 + 10 263 Average 3 2.6 Easy 3    
7 210 - 7 189 Scattered 4 2.5 Easy 3    
8 570 - 10 540 Average 5 3.8 Easy 4    
9 406 - 10 376 Scattered 3 3.0 Average 3    
10 381 - 7 360 Stands 2 3.0 Average 3    
11 390 + 4 402 Sparse 1 2.9 Average 3 27' shorter, 108' longer Y
12 290 - 14 248 Sparse 2 2.6 Easy 3    
13 255 + 8 279 Scattered   2.5 Tough 2    
14 375 - 14 333 Sparse 1 2.8 Easy 3    
15 426 - 6 408 Scattered   3.0 Average 3 33' shorter, 102' longer Y
16 371 + 6 389 Sparse 1 2.9 Average 3   Y
17 468 - 15 423 Sparse 1 3.0 Average 3 48' shorter, 87' longer Y
18 400 - 2 394 Sparse 3 3.0 Average 3 19' shorter, 116' longer  
Total 6997   6817   Hole based SSA = 53.0 < Est. 54    

The Super Gold group of Touring Players with ratings over 1025 will average about 3.5 shots better than a random group of Gold level players who average 1000 rating. That averages out to 0.2 shots better per hole than typical Gold players. If you look at the "Better length?" holes on both courses, they are just a little longer than ideal thus producing a lot of pars specifically for Gold range players and almost no scoring spread for them. However, the Super Gold players average 0.2 per hole better than Gold players. This means they would average birdies on 1 out of 5 (0.2=1/5) of those Gold "push" par 3 or par 4 holes that average almost exactly 3 or 4, respectively on those holes.

It turns out that 15 of the 36 holes were more ideally suited for Super Gold level players than Gold level. These holes provided Super Gold players additional opportunities to separate from the field beyond what might be expected on Gold or Blue level layouts more commonly found in competition. Although other NT courses could be tricked out with lengths more suitable for Super Gold, only certain course conditions will produce higher potential for 1100+ rounds. Besides having some holes with "extra" length for Super Gold, a course with minimal foliage and accuracy requirements - where extensive OB & mandos are in play (versus woods) such that missing a line results in a 1-throw penalty (and possibly distance) versus just losing distance by striking a tree - provides additional scoring separation.

Consider an open fairway with few trees that's 30 feet wide with open OB paralleling both sides versus a fairway that's also 30 feet wide with no OB but either side is defined by a few trees along the way that are big enough and set in such away that players can't go over the top. A player throws wide on the open hole and ends up OB now sitting 2 perhaps halfway down the fairway. A player on the more wooded hole hits halfway and drops where they can reach the pin to save 3. The player who went OB is already looking at a 4 short of a fairway throw-in. This extra penalty for similar lack of accuracy on open holes with OB provides additional scoring separation for players who not only throw more accurately but also can throw over or around OB using their most accurate throwing style and discs.


What did we learn from this research?

  • The recent crop of top players is really good and getting better.
  • Northern players should come to the Memorial primarily to warm up and have fun even though their rating may suffer (unless they get there a week in advance to practice.)
  • The current Memorial course layouts are biased toward Super Gold skill level and we should expect more 1100+ rounds there in the future.

Here's a Golden Question for the NT Committee: "Should NT courses ideally be set to specifically challenge Super Gold players or set for Gold players not only in Open but the other pro divisions?" There's no right or wrong answer here. It's simply a philosophical choice that can be recommended by the NT Committee where possible along with other parameters they establish for NT events. Only some courses on the NT circuit can be adjusted to suit the Gold or Super Gold skill level. And even when courses can be adjusted, setting them for Super Gold will not necessarily result in the scoring separation between Super Gold and Gold players we've seen at the Memorial unless they also have similar mostly open, flatter terrain and punitive OB characteristics.