Author Topic: A Checklist For Good Course Design  (Read 885 times)

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Dan Weinert

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A Checklist For Good Course Design
« on: December 09, 2009, 07:20:46 AM »
A Checklist For Good Course Design

This article originally appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of Disc Golf World News

So let's say you've recently designed a disc golf course. Or maybe a year ago. Or maybe you want to evaluate your local course with an eye toward possible redesign. You want to know if you (or the original designer) did the job right. First we need to decide what "doing the job right" means.

Basically, designing a disc golf course involves picking where the tees and greens go. If you're lucky, whoever owns the land might let you plant trees in areas that are too open, or cut trees in areas that are too tight. We generally don't get to build hills and ponds as ball golf architects do; we don't even get to build big tee and green areas, except in rare cases. We just get to decide where the tees go and where the baskets go. Simple, but not necessarily easy.
The course designer's job should be to make not just a good course, but THE BEST POSSIBLE COURSE out of the available land. There are literally hundreds of possible holes on any site. You have to pick the 18 (or 9) that fit together to provide the best golfing experience for the player. To make the best possible course, you need to use the principles of risk/reward/strategy (which we discussed last time), variety/balance (which we'll get to another time), and the intangible quality that I call "character," "personality," or even "flavor."

The right way to do this will take a lot more room then we have here now, but this checklist will help you determine if you've done the best possible job. If your course is a 9-holer, you can cut most of the following numbers in half.

•Did you consider the prevailing winds when you laid it out?
•Did you spend at least 8-10 hours just walking the site, getting familiar with every angle, every tree, every possible fairway, every possible hazard before you started designing the course?
•Did you look at the site after a good rain to see where water collects and what areas stay muddy?
•Did you look at the site during peak use hours to see where people like to picnic and play?
•Are there fairways that aim north, south, east, and west, as well as directions in between?
•Determine the unique topological or vegetative areas of the site. Did you find a good way to incorporate them (or, where necessary, avoid them)?
•Suppose someone asked "Why did you put this tee here instead of twenty feet to the left, right, front, or back?" Would you really have a good answer? How about the baskets?
•Pick the 3-4 most scenic spots on this site. Will a player ever stand on any of these spots during a typical round?
•Can you play the course using the same drive on 6 different holes?
•On any hole, can the worst possible shot land in a street, playground area, picnic area, or ball field? (One of my rules of course design: imagine the worst shot you can, and someone will find a way to throw one that's worse.)
•Are there at least 12 holes that you would consider good or very good holes?
•Are there at least 6 holes that you would consider substantially different from any holes on any course within 300 miles?
•If you have a hole that's more than 500 feet long, did you consider what would happen if you broke it into two shorter holes? Did you consider combining two consecutive short holes into one long hole?
•Did you spend at least 3 times as many hours in the field as you did designing on paper?
•Did you leave room to move the tees or baskets back in 3-4 years, in case disc technology takes another leap forward?

If you answered "Yes" to questions 9-10, or "No" to any of the other questions, you may have a good course, but you probably do not have the best possible course for this particular site.

These questions should help you understand a few of the simpler techniques of laying out a course, but remember that they do not fully address the most important issues a designer must consider. For centuries, great course design has always depended on creativity and inspiration, and it still does with our new version of the game.
For a good time: Lat- 3925'8.92"N, Long- 9433'18.52"W

Schoen-hopper

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Re: A Checklist For Good Course Design
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2009, 10:15:53 PM »
That is a good list.  Certainly some of those things get overlooked. 

What is the land like?  The better the quality of the terrain and foliage, the more potential and experienced designer is likely to draw out.  Looks like you have the lake, some wooded areas, and hills to work with?  How much traffic does the park road get?  If not much, it could be a useful source for OB, otherwise stay farther away.  Can you get close enough to the lake to bring it in play on some holes?  What kind of trees does the park have?  Are the 4-5 dense areas useable to play through, or is it a swamp in there?

Here are some notes in case it ends up helping any.

I'd say the 2 biggest things that make a course design interesting or boring is the use of strategy and the variety.  Here are some other questions you could ask about the course design. 

*Is someone going to get hurt?  Saftey first!

*How friendly is the course to the player?  Huge walks between tees?  Does the course loop back to parking after 9?  Restrooms nearby anywhere?

*Is the course designed for a specific skill level?  Blue, or 950 rated is recommended for most courses.  This gives amateurs many of different skills to develop while still offerering challenge to pros.  Setting a skill base gives a perspective.  You can’t design a course where every hole suits every skill level from the same set of tees.

*Could there be a 2nd set of tees for beginners, such as a red tee, 850 rated skill level layout?  Dual tees are a much better way to adjust the difficulty than moving pins great distances.  Dual tees would give the course something other KC courses lack.  If this park could support this, it would need to be designed this way from the beginning to be the most effective.  If the long tees are exceptionally challenging, a shorter set gives new players a place to start and keeps them encouraged.  These new players are the future of the sport.

*Does the course offer variety?  There are a lot of different ways to measure it. 
-Distance.  A good course should have everything from 200’ wooded short holes to 600+ par 4’s. 
-Scoring.  An even better way to gauge difficulty variety is looking at scoring data or at least estimating it with design tools.  A great course would have holes (for a certain skill level) producing scores averaging 2.5, 2,8, 3.0, (stay away from 3.1 to 3.4) 3.5, 3.7, 4.0, 4.5+.  On the 3.1-3.4 note: scores that average just under a whole number are better than those averaging just over, because they separate the better players.  More fun, less frustration.
-Par.  If the course produces these different scoring averages, it should break away from the “all par 3” thinking and actually pursue the course in terms of both par 3 and par 4 holes, and even consider par 5.  The higher the par, often the greater the variety.
-Shot selection.  Good lefty vs. righty mix?  Very few courses really have this.  How about low routes and high routes?  Most courses have one or the other.  How about the actual shot used?  A good course should encourage a variety of shots off the tee.  Overstable drivers, understable, straight drivers, mid ranges, even putters, tomahawks, rollers, etc.
-Use of foliage.  Does the course have mostly open holes, wooded holes, partially wooded holes (holes playing into, out of, or though a section of dense vegetation)?
-Fairway shape.  Does the course offer have fairways with obstacles through the middle with dual routes to the sides, as well as tunnel shot holes?
-Elevation.  Uphill, downhill, sidehill, diagonal up or down, flat.  A hole that does 2 or more of these?  Combining elevation and distance and foliage variables to get 18 unique holes makes for much more interesting golf than a typical flat course.

*Does the course encourage the use of strategic play?  This is a very subtle, but key element to the enjoyment of a course.  Does the course give opportunities to the player who plays smart?  Or is it always about the player who executes the most aggressive shot?   Does the player have to think to score well?
-Risk vs. Reward.  This could be anything from a shortcut tunnel though the woods to a hole that plays diagonally over a part of the lake.  It’s tough to balance the risk vs. reward on a hole with several different routes, but it’s a beautiful thing when it happens. 
-Correct Length.  It’s tempting for many people designing courses to put baskets where it takes a perfect (long) throw for a player to have a putt.  In reality, these holes get birdied less than 5% of the time, while if it is an open hole, they are too short to bogey.  No use of strategy on this type of hole.
-Scoring Spread.  A good hole will produce a good scoring spread.  If it is a fair hole with a reasonable fairway, this means a better chance the hole can be played strategically.  On an open hole, a hole averaging 3.5 (in-be-“tweener” hole) may not be terrible, because it at least gets 2 numbers instead of mainly just 1 (automatic par hole).  But a hole that produces 3 or more numbers regularly is even better.  Here are some ways to produce good scoring spread.
==Use of trees.  Trees near the tee and trees near the pin are especially effective.
==Use of OB.  Great tool, but can make a hole unfair if safe routes aren’t available.
==Wind.  What is the windiest location on the course?  It can be used in the design.
==Downhill bombs.  Things can get squirrelly when the wind has the potential to carry shots far off target as is much more the case on downhill throws.
==Difficulty of approach.  Great fairways often get tighter the closer you get to the green.  Targets should be far enough away from trees that catch discs so that the trees aren’t used to an advantage.
==Difficulty of green.  This is a huge one.  A green with a sidehill or downhill approach makes upshots & putting so much more critical.  Even a simple elevated mound can make a boring pin interesting.  Some trees close to the basket can make things much more complicated.  Many designers will say to start with finding the best pin locations and connect the course from there.

*Does the course utilize Par 4+ style holes?  This ties in both variety and strategy.  The shame is that many courses only have 1 par 4, if that, and it is a wide open 800’ hole where 3 or 5 isn’t very likely.   While it’s often difficult to find terrain that utilizes their potential, par 4’s can be much more interesting than par 3’s.  Holes can have many more routes to the pin.  Dogleg holes are rare gems that are highly strategic.  Risk vs. Reward abounds if created properly.  Par 4’s do not have to be long, but can reward shots that reach landing areas that set up a 2nd shot.  It’s hard to find the good par 4’s as different thinking is needed.  As Houck says, a good way to visualize it is to think of combining 2 separate holes into 1.

Dan Weinert

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Re: A Checklist For Good Course Design
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2010, 02:17:31 PM »
Quote
Can you get close enough to the lake to bring it in play on some holes?

I can't spill the beans just yet but both designers have you down on the water...on all three courses.

You got a "scary/ballsy" water shot, followed up with a "glad it's not a water" shot only to have yet another "scarier/ballsier" water shot on the next hole. So on and so forth!

Promise you're gonna love the emotional tug!

Dan  :o ::) :o
For a good time: Lat- 3925'8.92"N, Long- 9433'18.52"W

Timko

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Re: A Checklist For Good Course Design
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2010, 02:41:17 PM »
Do the water holes have an alternate way to play them such that the harder shot would be the 2nd shot?

Dan Weinert

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Re: A Checklist For Good Course Design
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2010, 02:57:39 PM »
Do the water holes have an alternate way to play them such that the harder shot would be the 2nd shot?

Would not have it any other way sir!

Remember when you walked it with me...we discussed alot of things that day Chris and I made sure all designers knew what we saw and discussed.

A piece of that meeting will be evident in this course/complex...and I want/expect you to be one of the course shake-down cruise participants!

Thanks Chris for all the help...I appreciate that very much!

Dan  8)
« Last Edit: February 16, 2010, 08:41:23 AM by Lefty »
For a good time: Lat- 3925'8.92"N, Long- 9433'18.52"W