Did Someone Say More Distance? (Part 1)

Tyrone Biggums wants more disc golf distance
Did someone say more distance???

Tyrone Biggums wants crack.

My 6 year old niece wants candy.

Chicago wants a football team that doesn’t suck.

None of those people want those things more than disc golfers want more distance.  If you took the quest for more disc golf distance off of social media and out of the disc golf forums, the internet might implode due to the gaping vacuum you just left.

I get it.  I really do.  I would love to be able to throw 500 plus feet.  But you know what? That’s probably just not going to happen.  At 44, and playing more than 11 years (I wish I’d found this sport earlier in my life), I’m pretty comfortable with the controlled distance that I’ve achieved.  On flat ground, thrown on golf lines, I’m good with how far I can throw.  And it’s usually not even over 400′.

You know what else I’m good with?  Not spending countless dollars on new discs thinking they will improve my distance (instead I spend countless dollars on disc for other reasons!).  Not spending hour after frustrating hour in a field trying to eek out a few more feet.  Not obsessing over who throws furthest when I play with friends (OK, you outdrove me, you’re the man!  How many throws am I ahead by?).  And most of all, I’m totally good with not obsessing over something that doesn’t actually improve my score.

Field work for more distance in disc golf
I’ve spent countless hours on this field trying to get more distance.

When I look back on my scoring improvements, distance has contributed the least of anything I’ve worked on.  By a lot.  At most, it’s helped me gain 1-2 throws per round over the last 10 years.  That pales in comparison to improvements in approach shots, learning to throw a putter, putting practice, learning a stand still throw, and countless other skills I have and still could work on.

Look, I understand.  You drive a cool car, you own a designer purse, you drive a big truck, your boyfriend has the best job, your girlfriend is in the best shape, you live in a big house, and you can throw the disc further than everyone else on the message board.  This is what humans do.  We try to one up each other in the most flashy, obvious, visual ways we can.  It’s a status thing.

The cruel trick that life plays on us is that a great car, a designer purse, a monster truck, a great mate, and a big a big house don’t actually make us better people.  That same truth applies to disc golf too.  A huge drive without other disc golf skills doesn’t make the score on the score card any lower.  In fact, it doesn’t necessarily make you a better disc golfer at all.

So what’s the deal, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, with disc golf distance?  Why, in a game we play for a score (there’s no spot on any score card for how far you drove), is everyone so consumed with how far they can throw?  That’s a big question, and there are several parts to the answer…

What is Disc Golf Distance?

what's the deal with disc golf distance?
What’s the deal with distance???

First, let’s take a look at what disc golfers are talking about when they use the word distance.  It sounds straight forward, but with a little digging, it turns out it’s not.  We’ll start with how it’s being measured:

What doesn’t count:

  • If you can throw 600 feet, but it’s downhill with a tailwind, that doesn’t count.
  • If you can throw 450 feet and you measured it by pacing it off, that doesn’t count.
  • If you’re going by the tee sign, tee signs are wrong most of the time.  That doesn’t count.
  • If you are using a smart phone app, that app is probably about as accurate as the original Apple maps app.  Sorry, I’ve checked those measurements with a laser and they are wrong about half of the time.  Not wrong by a little, wrong by a lot.  That doesn’t count. (*Udisc does seem to be accurate IF you let it calibrate correctly… Something a lot of people don’t do)
  • If this one time, at band camp, you grip locked a drive and it accidentally went 410 feet, but you haven’t reached a 400 foot basket since, that doesn’t count.
  • If your buddy says, “yeah, you can throw about 400 feet”, that doesn’t count.
This one time, at band camp, I threw it 620 feet and got an ace. Twice. Into the wind. At night.

What does count:

  • Legitimate football and soccer fields.  They are on flat ground and have been measured with actual instruments made for determining distance.
  • Laser measured distances on flat ground.
  • Distance measured with a legit roller wheel on flat ground.

Really anything done on flat ground with a real, physical, calibrated measuring device will work.  If you throw from outside of one end zone on a football field, and your throw goes through the opposite end zone and lands on the back line, you just threw 360 feet.  That’s a real distance.  That’s also not something most disc golfers can do.  Don’t believe me?  If you haven’t tried it before, the next time you are out playing with your friends, stop by the local football field.

5 Drives over 360'
This is where I usually cap out, 5 drives past the end zone, but not that far past.

Pure Distance vs. Golf Distance

Here’s another thing a lot of people don’t take into account.  If you can figure out how to throw a disc on a very high anny line with the nose down, exposing the belly of the disc to a tail wind, you just figured out how to make a disc go really far.  The problem is that you most likely have no idea where it’s going to come down.  Watch Simon Lizotte break the distance record.  It’s an incredibly impressive feat, but nowhere is there a target he’s trying to hit.  He’s not using that throw on a course during a round.

If you can throw a huge distance line, good on ya!  It’s fun to do and it’s fun to watch.  It’s also almost useless in a round.  There are very few, if any, occasions to use that skill out on the course.  On any good course, you’ll actually need some control.

That’s where golf distance comes in.  That’s the distance you can throw and have some type of idea where the heck the disc is actually going to land.  Throwing 400′ on a pure distance line that’s 80′-100′ in the air is impressive. Throw the disc 400′ on a golf line that’s 20′-30′ off the ground and lands next to the basket and you are what the kids these days call a “baller”.

This is the distance you want.  This is the distance that matters.  This is the distance that takes throws off of the score card.  And again, if you can throw 350′-380′ on lines like this, that’s something most disc golfers simply cannot do.

[tweetthis]Distance without control is useless.[/tweetthis]

To be continued…

This is a huge topic. When I saw that this post had reached over 2200 words, I decided to break it into two parts. The next post will be out on Thursday. There we will address just how far you should be able to throw to play great disc golf. Until then, let us know in the comments what you think. How far can you throw? How long did it take you to get there? Would throwing further get you lower scores or just make you feel better about your game without lowering your score?


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16 thoughts on “Did Someone Say More Distance? (Part 1)”

  1. I can throw it 600 feet all day long: 280 foot drive, a second shot into the woods, a third shot out of the woods, a solid 150 foot approach shot, and a couple of putts all on a 600 foot hole. HAHA The realith is that I can get btween 280 and 300 feet out of my drives which is a huge improvement over the 150 – 180 feet I was getting when I started playing this game at the beginning of the year.

    Last week a friend of mine filmed my throw, and we studied it and compared it to the pros. I am working on some corrections that should increase my power and distance over time. I believe it can certainly help my score by getting me closer to the basket on the longer holes.

    • Ha! That’s hysterical! Great to hear that you are filming your throw, that’s a great way to improve. It’s fun to throw far, but it sounds like you are going about it in the right way. Keep us updated on your progress!

  2. Love this part 1 of a 2 part series! I love the comparison to some of these monster throws in all sorts of crazy conditions compared to a flat throw on a properly measured distance! For me it’s really more about the accuracy of my drive, hitting that sweet upshot and consistent putting! This is what improves my score.

  3. I throw my field work on a baseball field with a center field measurement of 305. I throw from a few feet behind home plate and can regularly drop them just in front of the fence. I’ve only ever “homered” a handful of times.
    My golf lines distance is a controllable 250-275 feet with pretty good accuracy. Usually good enough to put me within an easy upshot range . If only I could master the 50 foot putt I’d shave strokes like mad.

    • Nice! I’ve spent many practice sessions trying to throw over an outfield fence. A 50 foot putt would be awesome, but that’s a tough one. How about your 30 footers? If you can go 275 and be deadly 30 feet and in, you’d be a formidable opponent.

    • 30 footers are coming along. Still not the % I’d like, but when I get dialed in I’m good for a few per round, keeping my scores reasonable. Too bad I’m only dialed in once a month or so 🙂

  4. Great post! I recently played a 9-hole course here in southern Ohio. The course ends near a football field so I decided I would try out my arm… knowing that I don’t have the biggest arm, it didn’t surprise me to find I was throwing around 260-270 feet.

    In almost any sport I have ever played, whether it be rec basketball, volleyball, or football, I always find myself playing a defensive-minded game. That’s just how I am programmed. I definitely find that mind-set in my disc golf game as well. I focus my game on controlled drives that will give me a solid look for my second shot. While I think it would be cool to throw a 500ft bomb, it is way more useful for me to be able to find a 250-300 ft line and hit it.

    • Thanks for the comment Steve!

      There’s a lot to be said for playing defensively. It allows you to pick the moments when it’s smart to take a chance and go for it. If you are hitting 250-300 accurately, you are way ahead of the game. That combined with solid putting should let you put up some quality scores!

  5. Great article. I top out at 350 on a golf line, with most good throws going around 300-325. While there are a few holes on each course where throwing 450 could lower my score, I’m not even worried about throwing longer. Putting, upshots, my weak forehand, rollers, and get out of trouble shots are all areas where getting better would improve my score much more. Also, a 5%-10% improvement on distance still would not be enough to put me in putting range on many more holes. So there’s almost no point to it.

    To be fair, at 45, all of this is easy for me to comprehend. If I were 25 and there was still legit hope that one day I could throw 450, I would probably still be feeding the distance habit like a disc golf Tyrone Biggums. Tyrone, Crank >Crack!

    • Thanks for the comment, Alan!

      I make a case in part two of the article for 350 being an ideal distance to be happy with. You outline a lot of the other stuff that people could work on instead of distance once they at or around that mark.

      You also gave me a great idea for another post or two… How do I approach disc golf in my mid forties and how is that different than if I had played when I was younger. I love it! And you are right, thoughtful approaches to things didn’t exist in my world when I was 20!

  6. How about approaching disc golf in your late 50s?
    I was 58 when I started.
    Joined the PDGA my first full year to get a feel for that and, naturally, was at the bottom of most tourneys. I have a lot to work on. Getting another 50 to 75 feet per drive would be pretty good for me as I average 190 – 220 on a football field at present. Did i say I still have a lot to work on?

  7. I have seen Simon and others throw or attempt to throw the 360° monster drive, that seems to have limited success, that being said if this shot is practiced and perfected it could prove to be the next must have shot in your arsenal. Not that I have tried it more than a half dozen times, but I have used a following wind to propel my Disc like a sail on purpose. I was likely lucky to get the correct angle of release and tilt to make it work because I don’t usually practice this shot, but it is worthy of some consideration.. When I explained the extra distance to my much more experienced friend he didn’t believe it was on purpose, which made the attempt and success wholly satisfying.

    • I see a lot of people trying for 360 or other huge distance shots. The problem I see is that these same people could usually benefit from putting and approach practice a lot more. While I agree that for pros this huge distance shot might be important (although if you watch many tournaments there is seldom a call for it), on the list of important disc golf skills to master, it’s relatively low on the list.

      That said, it is super fun to throw the distance shot you describe. Getting the disc high and nose down and surfing that tail wind is really fun to do and really fun to watch. If you list disc golf skills in order of fun, not scoring potential, it’s probably top 3!

  8. A 400+ foot drive is a result of fieldwork and practice. A deadly 60 foot putt is a result of putting practice. An accurate 100+ foot approach is a result of exercising that skill specifically as well. It is a fact that a proficiency in putting will lower your score the most, but it is of no use when you are standing on a tee box. If you can’t help but hit the first tree off of every tee, well then you can only hope for a bogey most of the time no matter how great your putting is. The lesson here seems to be don’t spend all of your time practicing one skill. You are only going to be as good as the skill you are worst at no matter how far you can drive or how accurate your putt is. Focus on being a better golfer and not a better thrower and you will be fine.

    • All great points! Although I would note that the better you are at approaches, the less 60 foot putts you’ll have to make. Improving approach skills by default makes your putt % go up. Improving putting doesn’t do anything for your other disc golf skills.

      I love your distinction between being a “golfer” and a “thrower”. Would be a great topic for a post.

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