Let me briefly describe a situation that most of us probably can relate to.
Picture your home course, or the course/courses you do the majority of your playing and practicing at.
I'd be willing to bet that if I spit out a random hole number to you from that course, you could probably give me very specific details about that hole.
The distance, the best line or lines, areas to stay away from, where you want to be on the fairway, and most likely even the very disc I should use if I want to have any chance of scoring a birdie.
You know the course like the back of your hand, and relatively speaking probably throw your hottest rounds there, sometimes even feeling like a 1000 rated player.
Sure you need to execute the shots, but the bottom line is you know how to play the course if you want to play it well, and consistently well at that.
Before you know it however, you find yourself playing on a new course, and suddenly, don't feel like such a hot shot anymore.
You don't get the skips you want, you have less than ideal upshots or scrambles, and your putts seem just a little bit harder than usual on every single hole.
Don't worry, you're not alone in this, and we all think the same thing when it happens:
"What the heck happened?!"
It's as if our 1000 rating fell to 800 overnight, which certainly doesn't help the mental side of our game.
Lucky for you, the problem is not entirely your fault.
The difference is commonly and simply that you just don't know the course as well as you should in order to play it as well as you're capable of.
So, how do you play a new course as good as your rating indicates?
You need to study and learn it!
Unfortunately, this is where most casual players fall short.
But if you clicked on this article and have read this far, chances are you're not just a casual player and are striving to be the best disc golfer you can.
Casual players definitely take the game seriously, but often times when they're playing a new course, whether in tournaments, leagues, or casual rounds, they often just rely on playing the course instinctively.
Meaning their decision making is hole to hole and based on their individual skill set.
They still spend the time breaking down the hole, and analyzing the shots they need to take, but with a reactive approach when they step up to the tee pad.
Players who want to be on top of their game and consistently winning however, need to know each hole before they get to it, being more proactive than reactive.
In other words, they need to have a game plan.
What discs they're going to use, what shot they're going to throw, what side of the fairway they want to be on, where they want to putt from, is there OB, what is the terrain like, etc. etc.
These are all vital pieces of information you should want to know.
There is enough to worry about on any given shot, such as wind and weather, that knowing where you want the disc to go before getting to the tee takes some of the stress out of the shot and replaces it with confidence.
And confidence is deadly.
Bottom line, you want to know the course as well as you do your home course.
Obviously this is nearly impossible because of the amount of time it takes to learn a course completely, but any amount of time you take learning a course is likely more time than the majority of your competitors is taking, which can and will save you valuable strokes come tournament time.
How do you learn a new disc golf course?
Play the course!
Although you may not be able to learn a course like you know your home course, there are several strategies you can implement to learn it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Taking the time and making the trip to the course and playing it ahead of time before your event will by far be the best way to get hands on experience with the course.
Be sure to take your time, and throw the same shots with several different discs.
Figure out things such as what part of the fairway you want to approach the basket from and where the ideal putting zone is. On some holes, you may find that there are subtle changes in terrain or obstacles that make approaching and putting more challenging than they need to be.
In general, you want to get a feel for how the course plays and see if there are any "local" routes to be aware of.
Chat up local players if they're willing while playing and get some insight from them, especially if it is their home course and they play it often. They may even let you join them for a round if you catch them in the parking lot.
Take their advice and implement it into your practice rounds to see if it works into your strengths or not.
For instance, if the local route is a forehand flex shot and you're not a strong forehand player, a different shot may be a better play for you. But at least you know that days or weeks in advance rather than figuring it out mid-round of your official event.
As a final note, figure out what holes you can get more aggressive on and go for birdies, and which holes play a little bit tougher and may force you to settle for par.
Come tournament time, you certainly want to make pushes when you can, so if you know some easier holes are on the horizon and you're playing well, you may be able to make better strategic decisions at better times rather than taking risky shots at times where a birdie is going to be very difficult.
As you play, take notes on your phone or with pen and paper and jot down information you learned about the holes for reference later when prepping for your event.
If there was a hole that you struggled in figuring out or playing, you could simulate that situation at your home course to practice it without going back to the course.
Online tools and phone apps
If you are unable to play the course in person, you will still have some options at your disposal that would definitely be better than nothing.
Use digital tools such as Udisc and Discgolfscene.com to look up pictures and stats/information about each hole. These stats could include hole length, overall shape, hazard/OB's/mando's, par, and possibly even terrain/environmental features.
While not as good as playing it, you can sometimes get a fairly good idea of how a hole could play just with the information named above. Ideally, at least enough that you could still devise some kind of a game plan for when playing the course when it matters.
Scouting out a course even if you plan on pre-playing it before the event is also a great idea so that you can get your mind rolling on how to play certain holes and shots well in advance.
As a third option,.check out social media to see if the course has a local club or following and reach out to members of the group or page and see what advice they're willing to give you.
The disc golf community is generally very positive and I still have faith in humanity and believe that one player would be more than willing to give some tips for each hole and some of the local routes you should consider.
It doesn't beat playing a round with a local player, but it is better than nothing and is also a great way to network within the disc golf community.
Browsing YouTube for previous rounds of high level disc golf at the course you're playing is also a great way to see how you could play a course and specific holes.
If you're lucky, the course has been played recently for a sanctioned event and had some type of media coverage for your viewing pleasure.
The players playing may or may not be rated higher than you, but watching them and seeing how they play each hole can be beneficial to you as you can see what worked and didn't work for them, giving you knowledge you can then use as if you were the fifth player on their card for that particular day.
Walk the Course
If all else fails, and you're unable to do any type of planning or prepping prior to the day of your event, you could at the very least arrive to the course hours early and simply walk it.
Take some mental notes of the course and some key things you want to remember for certain holes, and give those mental notes some thought while going through your usual prep time.
When following any of these tips, remember it's important to take notes and develop some sort of game plan.
If you have an idea of how you want a hole to go in your head, but after 4 or 5 practice tee offs you realize it's just not working out, at least you have time to develop a higher percentage shot or plan so that you don't need to figure out it didn't work the hard way when in competition.
While playing the course ahead of time is the best way to learn a course, keep in mind that there are other methods to try that can be highly effective, so do your due diligence if you're serious about playing to the best of your ability.
As an added bonus, you will get much better at creating game plans, and can use the knowledge you gain from each course on future courses, which ultimately will make you a better disc golfer.
At the end of the day, you will still need to execute the shots that you plan for, but in sports, most things are primarily mental, so if you take care of the mental side enough, the physical side is sure to follow in time.
If after reading all this you feel very overwhelmed and are not even sure what things you should be looking for when breaking down a hole, then I highly suggest THIS ARTICLE where we talk you through the things to look for in a shot and how to choose a disc accordingly.
Disc golf is very enjoyable to play, and even more enjoyable when you're playing to the best of your ability.
Taking the time to learn a course will definitely save you some strokes which could end up being the difference from winning, and barely breaking the top 10.
So get out there, put in the work, and have fun!
Happy Disc Golfing!
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