Tuesday Tips: How to Play Disc Golf with Players Better than You

This is not a team sport, so your high number doesn’t hurt anyone.

2020 Memorial Championship at Fountain Hills. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen – DGPT

One of the best ways to improve at disc golf is to play with people better than you. But how can newer players best handle the pressure of playing with more experienced players? What do you need to know to be welcome on a card of players that are going to outclass you?

First, no one should be embarrassed about being new or not being good. Everyone started somewhere, and every player remembers when they were beginning. No one resents you for being a beginner. Every player has a right to be out there. The great thing about disc golf (unlike a game like tennis) is that people of wildly different skill levels can play together and all have fun. Some of my favorite playing partners are much worse (and others much better) than me.

The most important thing to remember: golf is selfish. No one really cares what you score. Really. The other players are not that concerned with what you are doing; they have their own dark struggles to worry about. This is not a team sport, so your high number doesn’t hurt anyone. The key is to not let your game interfere with everyone else on the card. That’s important for players of every level.

Know the Basic Rules of Etiquette

You don’t need to know all the intricacies of the two-meter rule, but know the basics. Play from your lie, be quiet and still when other people are throwing, and throw in order (furthest from the basket throws first.) Also (and this is a bonus) watch out for the sight line. That is, make sure that you are not standing directly in the eye line behind the basket when someone is putting. Even if you are standing still, you can be a distraction if they can see you through the chains. There is a little dance involved on the green to avoid this, and a little forethought of where to stand goes a long way.

Other than that, basic etiquette is understanding you have a duty to be a good cardmate, or at a minimum, not a bad one.

Be Honest & Know Your Rights

When you show up, it is good to let people know you are a new player. Every card has a personality, so try to get a feeling for the card and see whether people like to chat or are more focused. I am a chatterbox, which can be its own struggle, so I am always happy to chat while we play. Some players aren’t. If they are in their own world, it has nothing to do with you. In a casual round, feel free to let people know if you are interested in tips or advice on discs or shots. Most players are happy to give advice, but also be careful what you ask for – some will go full Golf Academy on you if you open the door. So, also feel free to politely decline if someone wants to give unsolicited tips. If you need language, it is always fine to say, “Thanks for the advice, but I am trying not to think of too many things at once.” Lots of players are open to talking about what and how they throw, though technical swing help should probably be done after the round.

The goal, for players at every level of skill and experience, is always to make sure that your round is not a distraction to the other players. It is not a distraction for you to play badly. For you to miss putts. For you to throw OB. Go about your business, follow the rules for lost discs (there is a time limit to search during a competitive round), and be conscious of your playing partners. If you have thrown a disc that can’t be found after a brief search, be open to coming back for it later. The goal for a round like this is to learn and have fun.

But, remember that you also have the right to your time on the tee, to take time on putts, and to focus on playing your best no matter what that final number will be. Don’t play slowly, but also don’t feel rushed because you are fighting to bring in a +9 round while others are way under par. Grinding out a bogey on a hole you normally triple is a legitimate triumph. If you are out there, you are a player, not just a spectator for people who score better than you. Your game matters.

Don’t Be a Jerk

The real landmines of playing with people better than you don’t come from your game, no matter how bad it is. The biggest issue is to not turn your cardmates into your therapists. Competition, even casual competition, is emotionally tough, and failure is hard on the ego. It’s even worse when you are struggling with something everyone is doing better than you. The potential danger is not your bogeys, but how you handle them.

You are new, and you will take bogeys. And doubles. You are not qualifying for the USDGC today, so remember that a missed ten-footer doesn’t cost you the world championship. A lot of players get angry at themselves to let the other players know they are trying and they care, and show they are as frustrated as they imagine their cardmates must be. In a sense they are pointing at themselves and asking the card, “can you believe how much this guy sucks, ugh.” Don’t do this. Remember, no one cares about your score, and it is very unlikely you are the worst player they have ever seen. If you know you are a new player and I know you are a new player, then we all know some ugly stuff might happen out there. We all know you want to do well, but you can’t let your frustration turn into blowups that are going to ruin everyone’s day.

Don’t tell everyone how much better you usually are. You might be embarrassed by that shot, but as little as the card cares about that shot, they care less about hearing how you never do that on your home course. This goes double for apologies. Try not to apologize for your throws. We’ve all been there. You don’t owe anyone an apology. When you apologize, you are bringing the other players into your game, making them tell you it’s okay. This is taking them out of their game. That’s not fair. Don’t make your game the object of everyone’s attention. You don’t need to laugh off double bogeys and skip to the OB line, but you need to handle frustration without becoming a distraction to the card.


It’s hard to not to feel like dead weight when playing with people better than you. It is natural to want to explain you are doing your best, to show the anger you imagine your cardmates must feel, and apologize for everyone having to tromp through the bushes looking for another lost disc. But this is the deal we make on the first hole – we all help each other spotting and searching, and we all agree to follow the rules of etiquette so everyone can play their best. Just play and have as much fun as you can.

Finally, some players are awful. This is true whether people are 800 or 1040 rated. Sometimes people are grouchy, stressed out, or just bad cardmates. This isn’t on you. As a new player, it is hard to accept that someone may be acting like a jerk, but that doesn’t mean you did something wrong. In casual rounds, experienced players have a responsibility to go beyond etiquette to be ambassadors for the game and welcome new players; but sometimes they, like all players, fall short of their best behavior.

Remember, you have every right to be there no matter how new you are or how rough your game might be. I want you there and I want you to love disc golf the way I do. Everyone knows you might be at a tough stage of the game – stuck in the place where you love the game but it seems like it doesn’t love you. Just accept that and join the card. Practice makes perfect.

  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. He is sponsored by Skybreed Discs.


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