Tuesday Tips: How to Prepare for a Disc Golf Tournament

Getting ready the right way can make a big difference on game day.

Paige Shue.

You’ve decided to play a disc golf tournament. That’s great! If your goal is to have some fun and throw some discs with little thought to how you finish, you can stop reading – you’ve already won.

However, if you want to to play your best, then I have some suggestions to consider as you approach the tournament. You probably won’t be able to do all of them, but doing any of them will move you closer to optimizing your performance.

Scout the Battlefield

First question: is this is a course you have played before? If not, then I highly recommend getting out to play at least one practice round. When you play it, think first about what shots and discs you are going to throw off the tee. There is a full article to be written about practice rounds, but, for now, just be very clear about what disc you are going to throw and any things that will be important to remember when you play the tournament. Take note out of bounds and which holes might give you trouble. I would advise throwing lots of extra shots and – this can be hard for a lot of players – not keeping score. Or at least not playing a regular round.

Playing a practice round is different. You don’t want to be so distracted trying to score in a practice round that you forget to learn the course. You always want to have the option to throw multiple shots or even replay a hole several times. On many courses, some holes are simple and straightforward – if you know a hole calls for a forehand with a Raptor, then note that and move on. Other holes, though, are treacherous or feature a difficult shape or distance – feel free to spend a lot of your practice round working on just a handful of holes.1

Make sure to look back from every basket towards the tee to get another perspective on the hole. A lot of times, you will see that gaps that look narrow off the tee are much larger than they appear. Also, note whether there are hidden landing areas or hazards like thick bushes or thorns you want to make sure to avoid. I would advise you to write down all your thoughts and options as you play. You want to walk away with notes you can consult and think about later – especially if the tournament is weeks away.

If you can’t get to the course before the tournament, then do some internet stalking. Lots of courses have scorecards or photos online. Reviews of the course from Disc Golf Course Review can help. If it is a well-known course, look for filmed rounds on YouTube. These are almost always available if the course has hosted a significant pro tournament, but lots of amateurs also film casual rounds. You can always go to the course website or the Facebook pages of nearby clubs and ask local players if they have any advice about how to approach the course. It’s not as helpful as playing it, of course, but you can often still put together a solid game plan from what is available online or from others in the disc golf community.

Develop a Game Plan

At this point, it’s time to draw up a plan. What are you throwing off each tee? Are their multiple options that offer different risks and rewards? On longer holes or par fours, what disc do you expect to throw for an upshot? Which holes scare you? What are areas – water, thick rough, OB – that you want to make sure to avoid?

Being able to lay out a solid game plan in your mind will add to your confidence. Of course, you must be ready to abandon the plan if the wind comes up or the weather goes crazy. But it’s good to have a game plan going in. Again, I suggest writing down both the discs and the shots you plan to throw. I know that may seem unnecessary – you probably aren’t going to forget you throw a EMac Truth on a particular hole – but writing things down cements an intention and asserts control.

Write down a plan even if it is your home course. Really examine what you tend to do on the course – are you throwing the same shots every round even though they aren’t getting birdies? Is there a hole that always gives you trouble? As you prepare for the round, treat your home course the same as any other – formulate a plan and see if you have fallen into habits that are holding back your scoring. Use these notes to set up your bag.

If you have the advantage of owning lots of discs, then you can choose which ones you will carry. You want to have every disc you may need, but nothing that you will never use. If the course has lots of water, then think carefully about which discs might be at risk and bring backups. You might need extra approach discs if baskets are near lakes or rivers. You also may not need discs you normally carry. There is a tournament I play regularly that requires basically no midranges because the holes are either very long or very short and technical. Your bag should match the course you are playing. Beyond that, you should have extra discs in an “extras bag” that you can leave in your car. These are backups for discs that might get lost or discs you won’t need unless conditions change. I have always bring overstable discs I can add to my bag if the wind changes from 5 to 25 mph.

Practice, but Don’t Over-Practice

It is tempting to ramp up your practice in the few days before a tournament, either by playing much more than normal or doing lots of field work. Resist this temptation, especially the day before the tournament. If you are accustomed to playing 18 holes once a week, then playing four rounds on Thursday and Friday before you tee on Saturday will probably do more harm than good.

It is tough to strike the balance between going into the tournament with enough practice to make you feel confident, but not so much you are tired or burned out. If you have to choose, err on the side of being fresher on game day. And be careful about thinking that rounds leading up to a tournament matter more than other rounds. If you play the week of the tournament and play badly, it doesn’t mean you will play badly on the weekend any more than shooting great means you will shoot a career round.

You can amp up your practice, but I would do mindful field work, putting, and mental preparation. For field work, you can go to the field and throw the shots you know you will need, in the order you will need them. From the notes, you should know what every tee shot will be. You know, for example, the first tee shot is a long drive with your Wraith, the second is a high hyzer with a Roc3, the third hole is a straight Judge, etc. In the field, in just a few minutes, you can throw all 18 drives that you will have at the tournament.

If you know that a hole gives you trouble – it requires a high turnover, for example – you can throw exact shot a few times with the disc you think you will use in the tournament. In twenty minutes, you can throw all the tee shots you know you will throw without wearing yourself out. That’s smart practice. Also, work on your putting, focusing on making everything inside the circle (and especially within twenty feet). These are the shots know you will need; and practicing them builds confidence without the drain of walking 18 holes. Nothing cures tournament anxiety like putting.

Finally, mental practice. The most powerful thing you can do is getting yourself in a good mind space. One of the strongest tools is visualization, relaxing and imagining successfully throwing every shot in the tournament. Beyond this, use positive self-talk and set your intentions for the tournament. Try to set goals that are centered on process and not outcome. Focus on your experience rather than winning or shooting a particular score. For example, decide that you will stay positive when you get a bad lie, or that you will commit to every putt, or that you will make sure to go through your routine before every shot. Everyone wants to win and shoot low, and setting goals based on wins is okay when you are making your season-long goals. But as you go into a particular tournament, focusing on process, which you can control — rather than results, which you largely can’t — will set you up for a great tournament.

Wars are Won With Logistics

Before the tournament, make sure you know where the course is, how you are getting there, and when you need to leave to arrive on time. I know this seems so obvious it is not worth thinking about – but the number of golfers who sprint into registration when they should be on the tee tells me it’s not. You need to give yourself cushion to get to the course with the time you need to register, warm-up, and be ready to play. You need to know the weather you may face – not only for the tournament but the drive. If it is going to be snowing or raining, you may need to leave earlier. If you are carpooling or caravanning, set up a plan that gives you the time you need to do that — and expect delays! This may mean being selective about who you are riding with. If you need an hour to warm-up and Bob is a late sleeper who doesn’t care if he gets there on time, then maybe Bob is not the best tournament partner for you. Sorry Bob. I understand you can’t always control rides and transportation, but if you can, it is best to drive alone or travel with people who have the same approach to tournament play.

The night before the tournament, set out everything you will need to take with you. Go over your plan for the next day, stop two beers before you think you need to, and get some sleep.

Tools for the Job

By the time you get up, you should already have a plan for how you will attack the course and a good idea of when you need to leave to get there in plenty of time to warm up. All your gear should be ready to be loaded into the car. But what should you be taking for the tournament?

Your discs. Duh. Make sure the night before that you have set aside what you know will be in the bag and whatever backups you might need. All of the discs you use in the tournament need to be marked in some way to make them PDGA tournament legal – do that the night before. If you are not sure about whether you might need a disc, then put it in an extras bag and you can decide later. Six AM in the dark is not time to start searching for that Firebird you just remembered you should probably take “just in case.”

Beyond this, you want to make sure you have everything you need to make sure you stay warm, dry, and fed. If you are in an area that is cold, that means gloves, hats, handwarmers, and extra handwarmers. Wherever you are, bring towels stored in plastic freezer bags. If you are going to warm up early in the morning, you need towels to dry dew off those discs. You don’t want your only towel wet before the day begins, so bring extras. Do you have the rain fly for your bag? If there is a chance of rain, bring your rain gear. Bring an umbrella – you may not carry it on the course but always have one in the car. Tournaments are won and lost over who took three seconds to grab a towel or an umbrella. Always be that person.

You need to have a plan for breakfast, coffee, or whatever else makes your morning. If you are not driving yourself, make sure that you have talked to the driver about if and where you will stop. Food at tournaments is even trickier. Many tournaments are two rounds in a single day, with an hour lunch break in the middle. Rounds can stretch hours long, and courses can be in the middle of nowhere. You do not want to try to find a restaurant that six people can agree to and then getting there ordering, eating, and getting back for round two – with maybe the entire field of 100 players crowding into the only Subway within five miles. This is especially true if you need to warm up again before play resumes. Decide where you will get lunch before the tournament starts. If you are with a group, it may mean sharing food orders before the morning round so the person who finishes first can do the food run. This seems like it has nothing to do with playing the tournament, but you don’t want to be the player sitting on a one stroke lead 25 minutes from the course and 20 minutes from your tee time because Bob really wanted to get Wendy’s. C’mon Bob.

Always bring snacks like nuts, granola bars, or apples to eat through the round, and I recommend packing a lunch. I rarely plan to eat it, but I always bring enough food that if I want to stay at the course to do field work or practice some holes, I can skip trying to find lunch and just eat what I brought. Knowing that getting lunch is an option rather than a requirement gives you the freedom to change plans if you need to focus on the tournament.

Water is even more important. Always have some, and drink frequently. The effects of dehydration can affect your game quickly and show up before you ever feel thirsty. Especially in hot weather, hydration is crucial. Also, in the age of COVID, many parks have turned off their water fountains. Make sure to bring plenty of water with you.

Bring a folding stool or some way to get off your feet. They seem silly, but rounds are long. If the course does not have lots of benches you may be standing for seven or eight hours over the course of the day. Maybe longer. If you are not used to that, then there is no doubt you are going to lose distance and focus towards the end of the day (when you need it the most!). Popular tournaments often have large fields of players and often have frequent slowdowns during a round. Getting off your feet when you can, especially when you are facing a long wait on a tee box, will be crucial in helping you play your best.

Beyond that, it’s good to have pencils, a sharpie, minis, sunscreen, band-aids, and a PDGA rulebook. You may not need all of these things, but you want to have them on hand.

***

A tournament isn’t just managing your game: it requires focusing on the intensely individual challenge of playing golf while navigating a complex web of social interactions. If your main goal is to have fun and hang out with friends (and that is one of the best parts of a tournament!), then you can be more relaxed about all of this advice. But if you want to score your best, the key is to have a plan that reduces outside stressors and allows you to relax and have fun. Managing your game, the course, the weather, and your competitors is stressful already; the goal is to try and use a little forethought to allow you to focus on what counts.


  1. This may not be possible on crowded courses – you must not slow down play – but it is always okay to let a group play through if you haven’t quite solved a particular hole. 

  1. Steve Andrews
    Steve Andrews

    Steve Andrews is a college professor and disc golfer in Bloomington, Indiana. He came to disc golf from traditional golf and, even though he is 50 and playing on bad knees, managed to reach 950 rated through course management and playing smart.

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