Don't buy discs at random.
March 30, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with 0 comments
One of the challenges you may face as you begin to get more serious about disc golf is “building your bag” – deciding which discs to buy and carry with you. There are a bewildering number of choices – hundreds of combinations of companies, molds, speeds, and plastics: how can you know what to choose? How do you start to build a bag you can trust and will help you play your best? There are a lots of professional disc golfers with “In the Bag” videos, but are they models for beginners? What does a “bag” even look like?
Many of us don’t have the option (or money!) to buy and try out a huge number of discs – how can we best understand what we need and hopefully minimize how many dead ends we have to go down buying discs we can’t really use right now? I want to present a model for a “full bag” – but I want to stress that this is just theoretical – no one (maybe outside of Dave Feldberg) would carry this number of discs. My friend and Westside pro Chris Baker and I have done a lot of thinking about creating a bag and we have come to some broad guidelines.
Disc Categories & Slots
There are four main categories of discs – putters, midranges, fairway drivers, and distance drivers.1 My suggestion is that you imagine a “full bag” as three slots — overstable, stable, and understable — in each of the four categories. That would be twelve discs. They might be all different molds or some of them could be the same mold in different stages of wear (the question of whether you should try to be “minimalist,” carrying as few molds as possible, is a topic for another column.) Plus a putter. And then a few utility discs – discs that are either extremely overstable or understable and useful when you need an extreme shot (or are in extreme conditions, like very high wind.) So, a “full bag” could be up to about 15 different molds.
Again – you don’t need to start with this number of discs, and many people will not carry this many, but this is a way to think of a “full bag.” So, in each category – putter, mid, fairway, and driver – you have one that, thrown flat, will fade left, one that will fly straight, and one that will turn right. You may not need all of these, depending on how good you are at manipulating the flight of a disc and the courses you play. Also, new players won’t need many discs until they have established a solid baseline of play. But thinking of these slots will help when you evaluate what kinds of flights and distances are hard to get from the discs in your bag. This will identify gaps and help you decide what discs (or shots) you need to add to score your best.
Where to Start?
The place to begin building your bag is always your putter. Get one you like and can putt with, and it is even better if you also feel comfortable throwing it. Start throwing your putter early because having a throwing putter you trust is a huge advantage in your game. Learning to throw a putter is also great at teaching you how to throw every disc in your bag. It may be that the mold you putt with is not one that you like throwing. That’s fine: the most important disc in your bag is a putter you trust on the putting green.
The next disc to get is a stable midrange. This will be a disc that will be a tentpole in your bag. It is a disc that has – using the standard flight numbers – a speed of 4 or 5 and a fade of 1 or 2. Think Roc, Compass, Buzzz, Westside Gatekeeper, M3, EMac Truth, or MD. This is a disc that will teach you how to throw. It is a disc that, as your game gets stronger, may stay in your bag for years. If you are a new player and one who has a problem with discs thrown Right Hand Backhand (RHBH) diving left, then start with a disc with a fade of 1 or even 0. As your game gets stronger you may “grow out” of that disc or, more likely, move it to your understable midrange slot. One of the most fun parts of building your bag is watching discs evolve as your game does the same.
It is fine to pause your disc buying here. A stable putter and midrange should allow you to play lots of holes, especially on shorter courses. Throwing these on a course or in a field will teach you how to throw with enough power and control to get a flight that stays straight with a little fade to the left (RHBH) at the end of the flight.
When you are ready to move on, the next disc is a stable fairway. This is a disc with a speed of 7-9 and a fade of 1 or 2. This is the range of a Teebird, Explorer, Maverick, etc. These discs are faster and require you to generate more speed and spin to get them to fly the way they are intended. Follow the same guidelines as for midranges – if you are a stronger or slightly more experienced player, then get one with a fade of 2. If you are newer and having trouble keeping discs from diving left, then go for a 1. If you are not sure, then try the lower fade to reduce frustration and to get a disc that is more useful.
So, now you have the “spine” of a bag. A set of three stable discs that will serve as a pillar for the growth of your game. With these discs, you should be able to play a wide variety of courses and score well. These will allow you to learn how to throw while saving you from the frustration of trying to throw discs that are simply too fast or too difficult to control.
Learn Your Discs Before You Get More
Starting this way should not seem radical – there is a reason that most starter packs feature this kind of selection of discs. But now is the moment to use the secret weapon to getting better at disc golf: honesty. When you throw those three discs, how much difference is there in flight and distance? How often is your midrange longer than your fairway? If they are landing near each other, if they are moving hard left, then you absolutely do not need a distance driver (yet).
The other question to ask yourself: what do you need to get your scoring to the next level? What is holding you back? Is it distance – not just that you would like to throw it further (we all would) but that you are throwing your fairway driver straight with good control and it is still leaving you too far from the hole to make a putt? If so, then it may be time for a distance driver.
This is not the same thing as “my fairway is too short because it is diving to the left.” If your fairway is not getting a full flight – and a “full flight” means straight (or even a bit of turn to the right) for most of the flight and then often moving left at the end – then a faster disc is not the solution.
If your fairway is diving left and going shorter than you need, then there might be a need for another disc, but it is a less stable fairway or midrange, not a high-speed distance driver. If your Explorer or Teebird is flying too stable, then maybe add a Maverick or a Leopard. But be guided to what you need by what your discs are doing. Let the discs (and the course you are playing) determine what you need (and be open to the fact that the answer to that question might be “practice”).
Especially if cost is an important factor, don’t buy discs just to buy them: choose discs that are filling an empty slot in your bag and addressing a problem that’s holding you back from scoring better.
Coming up next week in Building a Bag part two: learning to score.
Some companies will use other terms like “control drivers” or have other categories, but these are the most commonly used names. ↩