What do I really need to know about the rules?
Nearly every disc golf player who is on the verge of entering his or her first competition has the same question: what do I need to know about tournament rules so I don’t make a fool of myself? It’s an understandable concern. There is a very simple way to approach it and that is to get your hands on an official PDGA rule book. They are available for purchase online and in many retail locations, but they are also available 100% free of charge at PDGA.com, including in a printable format.
So now you have the rule book in hand, are you supposed to memorize it? No, of course not. But it can’t hurt to give it the once over just to familiarize yourself with how it is organized and to see what jumps out at you on the first pass. There are certainly key areas of the book that will come up more than others, and we’ll highlight those as we go along with a simple exercise designed at putting the rules into action and learning by doing.
After you’ve skimmed through the book once or twice, a good thing to do is to put yourself to the test with the rule book out on the course. If you can, head out to the course where your tournament is going to be played. If that’s not practical, no problem as any course will do.
When you get there, don’t anticipate playing a speedy or competitive round. You are there to teach yourself something about the rules of play rather than squeezing in some practice. For at least the first hole or two, you’re going to want to take your time and concentrate on the rules aspects of your play.
Start at tee one with rule 802.01 Teeing Off. Throw a drive or two and make sure that what you normally do on the tee box complies with the rules of play. In general, there isn’t a lot that you can mess up on a tee, so this should be a fairly quick test. The key point is to keep all of your supporting points within the teeing area until you’ve released the disc. Once the disc is out of your hands, you are allowed to follow through past the front of the tee or off the side of the tee.
Now you’re off the tee, it’s time to go find your disc and move on to the next rule, 802.03 Marking the Lie. Upon reaching your lie, provided it is in-bounds, you have two options: mark the lie with a mini marker disc or leave the thrown disc where it is and use it as your marker. Key thing to remember here is what is called the Line of Play. The Line of Play is an imaginary line of no thickness that runs from the target through the center of your thrown disc. If you are placing your marker disc, it must be placed on the playing surface in front of the thrown disc, touching the thrown disc, and be centered on the Line of Play.
Once you’ve marked the lie, or chosen to leave the thrown disc where it is, it’s time to make your next throw. And that next throw, and any other you make when not on the tee, falls under rule 802.04 Throwing from a Stance. Key points to remember as far as stance goes here is that when you let go of the disc, you must a) have at least one supporting point within 30 cm behind the marker and on the Line of Play, b) have no supporting points in contact with the playing surface closer to the target than the rear edge of the marker, and c) have all supporting points in-bounds.
Here is where it gets a bit tricky. If you are in the fairway, you are allowed to run up into your shot and you are allowed to follow through past your marker after you release the disc, no different than when you are on the tee except for your required foot placement behind the marker. But, if you are within 10 meters (~33 feet) of the target, in what is considered the putting circle, the rules are a bit different with regard to following through. After the disc is released, you are not allowed to contact the playing surface in front of your mark nor advance toward the target until you have established balance. The general accepted method of establishing balance is to make sure both feet are solidly on the ground behind the mark before making any moves forward toward the target.
Now that you’ve made it to the target, the next rule of note is 802.05 Holing Out. Seems straight-forward enough, but there are a couple elements that are must-know if you are playing in a tournament. The first of which is that in order to hole out, the disc must be released and it must come to rest within the target. There are no “gimmes” and there is no tapping or slapping of the chains. You must throw the disc into the target (or you may place it and release it) and it must come to rest. After it has been at rest, you may retrieve it from the target and move on (and removing it before the next player putts is always good etiquette). The second element of the rule is that for a putt to count as “holed out”, it must enter the target above the rim of the basket and below the chain assembly. If the disc comes to rest on top of the target, if it falls through the top of the target, or if it wedges itself into the side of the target, it is not holed out and you must mark underneath the disc and drop the disc into the target properly.
Now you’ve gone from tee to basket and covered the basics, so the next step is to familiarize yourself with a few rules regarding specific situations you may encounter on the course. There are three that are most common, and all involve potentially re-locating your lie from a place other than where the disc came to rest: Obstacles and Relief, Lost Discs, and Out-of-Bounds.
For rule 803.01 Obstacles and Relief, it is important to understand the difference between obstacles and “casual” obstacles. In general, you must play your disc exactly as it lies, so if it comes to rest behind or underneath an obstacle like a tree or bush or park bench, you have to take a stance that causes the least amount of disturbance to the obstacle. You are not allowed to move, bend or hold back any object or move your lie/mark to avoid it unless it is specifically allowed as a “casual obstacle” by rule (a list of which is found within the text of the rule). But even with casual obstacles, the amount of relief you are allowed is very specific. To take more relief than is allowed is subject to a penalty. Key thing to remember is that the rules afford you the right to a legal stance, but not necessarily to a comfortable or preferable stance.
There are occasions where a thrown disc proves difficult to find. This is where rule 804.05 Lost Disc comes into play. All players in the group are obligated to help search for any disc that can not be easily located. When all players are looking for a disc, they have three minutes to locate the disc before it is declared lost and a penalty is assessed. Once the three minutes expires and a disc is declared lost, the player must go back to their previous lie to throw again. You should take care to watch all throws in your group (especially your own) in order to avoid a lost disc situation.
On many courses, there are areas from which throwing is not allowed. These areas are known as out-of-bounds areas and are covered by rule 804.04 Out-of-Bounds. In cases where you have thrown a shot into an out-of-bounds area, you must take a one-stroke penalty and are given up to three options from which to throw your next shot. These options are the last point at which the disc crossed into the out-of-bounds area, the previous lie, or, if provided, a drop zone. The most frequently used of those options is the last point in-bounds. When using this option, you must mark the lie with a mini marker and you are allowed up to one meter of relief directly away from and perpendicular to the out-of-bounds line in which to mark your lie. This relief is allowed even if it takes you closer to the target, and it is also allowed if your disc is in-bounds, but rests within one meter of the out-of-bounds line. This is the case because the meter of relief is to allow you to take a legal stance in which all of your supporting points are in-bounds. Whether you are in-bounds or out-of-bounds, you are always entitled to a legal stance for your next shot.
That should just about cover the barest of basics in anticipation of your first tournament. If you feel pretty good about your grasp of these rules, you should do all right and you certainly won’t embarrass yourself on the course. There’s plenty more to learn, but there’s no harm in picking much of it up as you go. For many rules, their application on the course won’t really sink in until you have encountered a situation where the rule comes into play. That is why it is always a good idea to have the rule book in hand to reference in those situations. Better to not be sure and look up the rule than to guess and guess wrong.
Now that you are armed and ready to go, get out on the course and have fun. After all, formal rules or not, the real name of the game is to have fun.