Note: This is part 17 in a series of posts which make up the chapters of a tongue-in-cheek look at the game of disc golf and why we love it so much. It is not actually intended to improve your game…unless it does…in which case we’re happy to take the credit.
Chapter 17 – Loving the Hazards
Do you remember when you were a bored little kid, stuck in the house for too long, and trying to find a way to have fun? Do you remember playing the game where the furniture was all “safe” but the floor was an imaginary pool of boiling lava, or shark infested waters, or quicksand? Or maybe you had certain rooms in the house where terrible, man-eating monsters lived, so you had to be careful where you walked? I fondly remember jumping from the sofa, to a chair, onto a table, and generally making my mother mad while trying to avoid the hot lava. I also remember being with my brothers and sisters on my folk’s bed, trying to avoid falling off onto the floor where we’d be devoured, and somehow we kept managing to hang over the precipice while screaming in feigned horror as our siblings tried to save us.
The point is, hazards are fun. Without hazards, the game gets very old very fast. Can you imagine being with some friends as a kid and proposing, “Hey guys, let’s play a game where all the furniture and all the floors and all the rooms are safe! We can just walk around!” No. Because that would flat out stink. It’s the same with disc golf. You simply must have hazards, and as frustrating as they may feel during your round, you need to realize that without them, the game would get boring.
What are hazards in the game of disc golf? When we talk about hazards, we’re not talking about people walking through the park who might get hit, or a dog that might playfully steal your disc. We’re talking about things like ponds, rivers, trees, thick brush, patches of poison ivy, thorny rose gardens (fire the course designer in that case), and generally anything that can make your disc hard to retrieve, count as out-of-bounds, or make your lie hard to play on the next throw. Those situations force you to throw well or pay the price by scrambling or taking a stroke. Plus, it provides that primal element of danger that simply makes things more exciting. If you could lose your disc on the throw, then there’s an added thrill.
There is a fine balance between having an appropriate number of hazards to quicken your heart rate, and having so many that nobody wants to play anymore. Sometimes the weather conditions make the hazards too hazardous for even the most exuberant thrill seekers. The most discs I’ve lost to hazards in an 18-hole round of disc golf was four, all in ponds. But those were my mistakes where I threw where I shouldn’t have thrown– I could have avoided the ponds, but took the risk and paid the price. But if you take a course full of water hazards, then add high winds, the hazards are no longer remotely entertaining and become an abject mockery of your attempt to play. My son once played in a three round tournament where the winds never died down, and he lost eighteen discs that weekend. I jokingly told him that he should have just thrown his entire backpack full of discs into the lake on the first hole and walked away, rather than wasting his time, and his entire collection of discs, while suffering through 54 holes.
I have played with friends who initially fear the hazards, but it seems that they eventually come around and the tough holes become their favorites.
“OK, on this hole, you need to throw through the little clearing in the trees across the creek.”
“But that hole is only three feet wide. If I miss, my disc will go into the creek.”
“That’s right. Just don’t miss.”
Of course, the first throw almost always misses and ends up in the hazard. It’s that age-old, disc golf law of physics which states: Whatever you tell yourself not to do at the moment of releasing a disc, you’ll do exactly that.
Haven’t you noticed that before? You tell yourself, while releasing your putter, “don’t bounce off the top of the basket this time.” So, you bounce off the top of the basket. Or you tell yourself, “don’t go too wide on this throw, or you’ll end up out-of-bounds,” so you release it even wider than originally feared. Or you think, “I won’t hit that person on the walking path because I wouldn’t ever throw that far off course,” then you shamefully send a disc whizzing over their head, nearly decapitating them.
There is an addendum to that law which states: This law does not apply if the last thought going through your head is related to your disc going into the basket.
Inevitably, whenever you fear the hazards, you’ll fall prey to them. It’s like my parents’ bed back in my childhood days, where we could just lay there on the bed peacefully and never even remotely risk falling off into the lava, or shark infested waters, but for some reason we were always screaming in terror as we intentionally fell off the bed. The very existence of the hazard beckons your disc to the danger. If you think your disc will end up in the prickly trees of doom, then that is where you’ll end up. If you think that the murky pond will swallow your disc after you skip off the open fairway, then that is what will happen. You’ll curse the hazard, then you’ll immediately want to throw again, just to prove that you can avoid it this time. That is the fun part. It’s that mix of anger with your innate sense of pride that makes you want to try again. Eventually, you’ll learn that you indeed can avoid the hazard, but only when you stop worrying about it and just throw. Maybe you become desensitized and no longer care what happens, so the hazard no longer feels like a threat. That’s when you start wishing there were more hazards.
However, I feel like I must address one approach to hazards which I feel is insulting rather than enticing. Whenever I play an event where the tournament director decides to paint lines all over the place in order to make the hole more difficult, thus creating fake hazards, I find myself extremely irritated. After all, a painted line on the grass isn’t a hazard! If my disc crosses the line, you’re going to give me a penalty stroke? But my disc is still sitting right there! In the open! Totally fine! Are there crocodiles on the other side of the line? Will hidden machine gun turrets start firing if I reach over the line to grab my disc?
Sometimes they paint a line or put a little rope around a stand of thick trees and say that beyond the line is out-of-bounds. Why is that necessary? There are already trees there! It is already a hazard! If I throw into the trees, then I’ll already pay the price by having to find a way to get out of them. Why would you need to paint a line and say…”Oh, you went into the trees, so you get a penalty.” The penalty is that I went into the trees, line or no line! Also, fake island holes are dumb. If you paint a line around a hole and say that I must hit the island, then at least break some glass and spread it around the outside of your line! OK. Maybe not that. All I’m trying to say is that it is much more fun when hazards are at least a little bit hazardous to your disc. A little cold water is fine. Some trees or tar pits are totally fine. I can choose to retrieve my disc, or not. Just don’t give me fake hazards.
I played a tournament once on a ball golf course where they said that the existing sand traps were hazards. If your disc landed in a sand trap, then you could throw from where it landed, but had to take a penalty stroke. I had mixed feelings about that. For some reason, the sand didn’t seem particularly hazardous. On one hole I threw a great drive and landed about 25 feet from the basket where I could attempt a birdie putt. There was a small sand trap between me and the basket, and that basket was perched on a little hill. I putted, hit the bottom of the basket cage, and my disc rolled down the little hill into the trap. I picked it up in frustration and putted again. The last thing that went through my mind was probably, “don’t do that again” because I did the exact same thing again, hit the cage, and rolled back into the sand trap. I made the next putt attempt, but I went from possible birdie to taking a seven on that hole, because of that stupid little sand trap (let’s not talk about my lack of putting skills).
I remember walking away from that should-have-been-easy hole and thinking, “Next time, there better be sharks in that sand trap.”
Chapter 1 – Why Do We Play?
Chapter 2 – Be the Basket / Be the Disc
Chapter 3 – It’s Always the Disc’s Fault
Chapter 4 – Achieving True Disc Lust
Chapter 5 – The Need for Companionship
Chapter 6 – Rules of Communication
Chapter 7 – Keeping Score
Chapter 8 – Disc Golf and Sports Injuries
Chapter 9 – Disc Prejudice and Brand Elitism
Chapter 10 – Golf with Frisbees
Chapter 11 – Properly Marking Your Disc
Chapter 12 – Crash Course Course Design
Chapter 13– Maintaining Relationships Outside of Disc Golf
Chapter 14 – How to Carry Your Plastic
Chapter 15 – Are You Ready for Tournament Play?
Chapter 16 – Pros are People Too