Category Archives: Tips

Key Rules to know

Yesterday, I posted about how a player new to competitive play should approach participating in their first tournament. One part of the advice was to familiarize oneself with the PDGA Rules of Play. Of course, if you’ve never read the rule book, “familiarizing” can sound an awful lot like “memorizing”, which seems daunting and a bit overboard. Fortunately, that’s not what I’m suggesting at all.

Not every detail of every rule will come into play during a given round.  In fact, there are probably rules in the book that you may only ever need to apply once, if ever at all.  What follows are some commonly used rules that soon become second nature for most competitive players.  It’s these rules that every player wants to be certain of, whether they are a first timer or an old hand at playing tournaments.

802.01 Teeing Off

Why not start at the beginning? This rule is simple to understand.  As with every rule pertaining to a throw, the important point is the moment of release.  So long as any supporting points (that is, parts of your body in contact with the playing surface) are within the defined teeing area, you should be good to go. You are allowed to run up from outside the teeing area before you throw and you are allowed to follow through out of the teeing area once the disc has left your hand.

802.03 Marking the Lie

Once you are off the tee and in the fairway, you have two options as far as how to proceed with marking your lie.  You can either use the thrown disc as your marker by leaving it on the ground exactly where it landed or you can choose to use a mini marker disc.

The important thing to determine in either case is the line of play. The line of play runs from the center of the target through the center of your thrown disc. Imagining your disc as a clock, 12:00 would be where the line of play first contacts the disc as it passes through. To mark with a mini, you would place it in front of your disc, centered on the line of play so that it is touching your disc at 12:00. Once the mini is in place, you can remove the thrown disc from the playing surface.

802.04 Throwing from a Stance

Of any rule in the book, this is easily the most important to know and also the one that requires the most adjustment for players who were unaware of it in their recreational play.

First and foremost, one supporting point must be on the playing surface, touching the line of play within 30 centimeters of the back of the marker disc (think 6:00) at the moment of release.  That area is what is defines the “lie“. Additionally, at the moment of release, no supporting point may be in contact with the playing surface closer to the target than the rear edge of the marker disc.

Where the rule gets a bit more complicated is when you are within 10 meters of the target (802.04 D), commonly considered the putting circle.  On throws attempted within that circle, in addition to following the above rules about standing on the lie and behind the marker, you are not allowed to follow through in any way that puts a supporting point in contact with anything closer to the target than the rear edge of your lie. You are also not allowed to advance toward the target until you have demonstrated “full control of balance” after the throw. A good rule of thumb for demonstrating balance is to simply have both feet on the ground and stand still for a beat or two.

If there’s any rule in the book with which you might want to ask a more experienced player to demonstrate or to watch you throw to ensure you are in compliance, this is probably it.

802.05 Holing Out

This is another rule that is easy to figure out just by reading it, but it is included here to emphasize that in competitive play, gimmes are not allowed.  Every putt must be released and the disc must come to rest within the target for the hole to be considered complete. Unlike in casual recreational play, picking up the five footer or reaching out and tapping the cage or the chains with the disc doesn’t suffice for finishing the hole.  Also, a useful tip that isn’t required but is always considered good etiquette…when you’ve made your putt, go up and clear your disc from the target before the next player putts.

804.04 Out of Bounds

Out of bounds (OB) areas are designated parts of a course from which no one is allowed to throw. Landing in an OB area results in a one-throw penalty added to your score. Out of bounds is easily the most common design addition used by course designers and tournament directors to increase the challenge of a course.

First thing to be aware of is how to determine if your disc is OB.  By rule, the disc must be completely surrounded by the OB area. If any part of the disc is in contact with or hanging over an in-bounds area, it is in-bounds.

If your disc is out of bounds, you typically have options as far as where to throw your next shot (unfortunately, the penalty is required no matter what). The first option, if it is provided, is to proceed to a designated drop zone area. The second option is to re-throw from your previous lie. The third and most popular option is approximating where the disc last crossed from an in-bounds area into the OB area and throwing from there.

When using the third option you must place your mini marker disc within one meter of the last in-bounds point, along a line that is perpendicular to the OB line itself.  The meter of relief is allowed in order for you to take a stance in which you are not standing in the OB area. This meter of relief is also allowed if your throw lands in-bounds but within one meter of an OB area, again to allow you to take your next stance in-bounds.

804.05 Lost Discs

The last rule to be addressed here pertains to discs that prove difficult or impossible to locate after the throw.  When searching for a disc, three minutes is the limit for how long you and the group can look. If three minutes expires before the disc is located, it is considered lost, you are assessed a one-throw penalty, and you must re-throw from your previous lie. This rule is very important for the pace of the tournament. It is in place to keep groups moving at a fair rate through the course.

That sums it up.  These aren’t the only rules you should be aware of when playing a tournament round, but they are among the most frequently used rules in any competitive round.  Knowing and following these closely will give you a good foundation as a rules-abiding player for as long as you want to play.

First tourney advice

As a player and a tournament director, I am often asked what a person needs to know in order to play in and enjoy their first tournament. The short and simple answer is to sign up, keep expectations low (score/finish-wise, that is), and have fun.  But if you feel like you need to know more than that to prepare yourself for that first dip into the competitive waters of disc golf, there is certainly more that you can do.

Talk to the tournament organizer

Every tournament has a person to contact for all questions about the event, either by phone, email, or in-person. The Tournament Director (TD) is going to be able to answer all sorts of questions, from when should you sign up to when should you arrive at the course on tournament day to what division should you play in.

When in doubt, go to the source.  Way better to get the scoop from the person in charge than to make assumptions or take the word of someone not involved who is likely making assumptions themselves. The TD’s goal is to make sure everyone has a good time and wants to come back and play his/her next tournament too. They won’t steer you wrong.

Familiarize yourself with the rule book

The Professional Disc Golf Association Rules of Play are the standard set of rules most tournaments, whether sanctioned by the PDGA or not, use to govern fair play. They are available for free at the above link, including in a printer-friendly PDF format. Printed books sized for easy storage in a golf bag are available for purchase for about $3 from most disc golf retailers (including

By no means do you have to memorize the book, but it can’t hurt to skim through it in order to get an idea of some of the more basic rules. The book is set up in such a way that it flows from the basic, used on every throw/hole rules (section 802 in particular) to the specialized rules needed only for certain situations (sections 803 and 804).

If any rule has you confused or unclear, never hesitate to ask for a clarification from a more experienced player (the TD being a great resource again). For a lot of rules, all it takes is a quick demonstration to see how the rule is supposed to work.  Much of the time, a demo is enough to make you realize you’ve always been following a rule correctly.

Along the same lines, when you introduce yourself to your group mates at the start of your round, let them know it’s your first tournament.  Everyone’s been in that same position once, and your group mates will be more than happy to help you out, point out what you need to know, and make sure your first round is a fun one.

Get to know the course(s)

Chances are that for your first tournament experience, you are going to choose an event on a familiar course, either your home course or one nearby that you’ve have played a few times before. But just because it is a course you’ve played time and again, that doesn’t mean you have the whole picture.

The important thing you want to know about the course(s) being played is if there is anything about any of the holes with which you might be unfamiliar when tournament day comes.  Even if you’ve played the course many times, there may be existing features or changes made to the course of which you would be unaware without playing a tournament.

One common example would be out-of-bounds areas.  Usually they are marked on the tee sign or on a sign near the area itself, but sometimes they are only marked clearly on tournament day.  If you have never played by out-of-bounds rules before (check into 804.04 if that’s the case) or just weren’t aware of the OB area, you don’t want to be caught off-guard when the time comes to play the hole in the tournament.

Another example might be alternate teeing areas. This could be using short or long tee pads on holes where there is a choice, or it could be creating temporary teeing areas used just for the tournament.  In either case, the result might be that you are starting a hole you know from a tee area that you might have never played before.  Knowing when and where these alternates might be used will give you the chance to practice them or at least have time to think about how you might go about playing the unfamiliar tee.

The important thing is familiarity with the course will breed confidence.  And confidence will result in (hopefully) better throws and a more fun experience all around.

Give yourself the day

The biggest thing that tends to catch new people off guard at their first tournament is the pace of the day. The pace of the rounds themselves are generally going to be a bit more deliberate than the average recreational round. As a result, once round 1 begins, the rest of the day’s schedule has to be a bit more fluid.

The TD (or his/her tournament flyer) should be able to give you a good ballpark estimate as far as when the lunch break between rounds will be and when the last round will end and the awards ceremony will occur, but there are always elements that can affect the timing of the day.

My advice, at least for your first time, is to give your whole day to the tournament. It’s a lot easier to plan to be at the course all day and have things wrap up early than to expect to be out at a certain time and have things run later than that expectation.  Nothing will increase the stress and anxiety of a delay in play like the thought that it means you might not make your dinner reservation in time.

Keep it all in perspective

Your first time playing in a tournament probably won’t result in you playing the best rounds of your life. Whether you play well or play poorly, though, it’s important to keep an open mind throughout the day and absorb as much of the experience as you can.

The result of your experience might be that you decide tournaments aren’t for you.  Nothing wrong with that.  But more often than not one’s first tournament experience leads to a desire to play another, and another.  And every tournament played is more experience that will help make the next one that much more fun and enjoyable.

All journeys start with a single step, so sign up…and have fun.