Jussi Meresmaa: Courses are too easy

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There is little doubt Discmania CEO Jussi Meresmaa wants to see the sport of disc golf grow. He is leading multiple disc golf companies including previously mentioned Discmania, DiscGolfPark, and more. While Meresmaa has plenty of actions to back up his goal of growing the sport, he has a way to get discussion going as well.

Monday morning Meresmaa tweeted the thought that disc golf courses are too easy and they need to develop as well.

Meresmaa has designed hundreds of courses in his native Finland and around the world. He had a hand in helping design the Aussie Open course and is the lead designer for the upcoming St. Jude Charity Disc Golf Invitational.

Personally, I feel a change in course design would start to take the sport from what many believe is a recreational activity to a more professional level. Look at the Memorial, for example. Many joke (and some seriously) say it is a 400 foot hyzer fest. A battle of who can throw a hyzer closer to the basket than the other guy. Is that growing the sport?

Let’s peer over to our ball golf cousins for a moment. In many tournaments you see the winner finish with a score of 15 to 20 under par. Then, you go to the PGA Championships or the Masters and you see winners finish at 2 or 3 under par if not above par. Courses get harder. Mistakes cost you more, but rewards have more value.

Many courses today are made up of primarily holes you would call a par three. You’ll likely find a few longer holes, but most fall into the par three range. If a hole is “an easy two” for most amateurs, just imagine how a top pro feels on that same hole.

Paul McBeth shared on Facebook that he shot a 36 on 18 holes. Drive, putt. Drive, putt. That same routine 18 times. Yes, he’s likely the best in the sport at the moment, but sooner or later others will be playing consistently at his level.

McBeth also recently turned heads at the 2014 PDGA World Championships when it only took him three shots to complete a 950 foot hole. Hole 17 at Blue Lake Disc Golf Course never looked easier.

When compared to someone like Meresmaa, my disc golf course design knowledge is slim. The one suggestion I’d give is this. You don’t have to make a course harder by just adding distance. The shape of fairways, doglegs, low ceilings, and other elements can add to the difficulty of a hole.

On the distance front, keep in mind that many courses were initially designed when a midrange was the fastest disc available. Then came the Eagle and other fairways. The Destroyer, Cannons, and Nukes of the world weren’t even on the radar of course designers. Throwing 400 feet was the rarity. Now it’s the norm.

For many who are just getting into disc golf, the challenge of getting a birdie-2 on a 300 foot hole is difficult when you are first starting. You need to balance the line between getting new people into the sport and making the sport still difficult for the top competitors.

While we aren’t as educated to offer exact ideas, we can say a change needs to be made.

How do you feel about Meresmaa’s statement? Do courses need to be harder? What would you change? Let’s keep this DISCussion going. 

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36 Comments

    • Scott Black on

      The more ambition towards ” ball golfing ” disc golf the more I want to move on to a different hobby. ” Growth ” is NOT synonymous with better. It’s generally better for those selling discs and equipment, but is never ” better ” for the recreational player. To the overzealous MINORITY looking to cash in financially on disc golf, I say this – You discovered disc golf in probably much the same manor as everyone else. And attracted to it for nearly the very same reasons. However, not everyone decided to attempt making a living at disc golf. That was YOUR decision, not ours. If fate smiles on you and you are able to make a decent living on the sport, more power to you, I’ll be happy with and for you. But you’re now on the fringe of forcing your ambitions down my throat. I don’t like it..

    • I like to look at courses such as Warwick in New York and Iron Hill in Delaware. These are courses with a long and short tee pad as well as a long and short basket. That gives 4 layout to play, lending to fun for all skills levels. The long/long layout at these courses are 1000 rated par layouts. The short/short are 900 rated par layouts. This, to me, is a wonderful way to keep everyone happy if the land allows for the creation of long positions on each hole. Granted, it does double the basket and pad/concrete budget, but in the end, it will challenge great players and provide good clean fun for recreational players.

  1. I think the best way to achieve this would be by holes having consistent, designated teepads. The location of pads I see very often only add another 150 or so ft, but do not add many of the additional challenges mentioned in this article. Great read.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Course design is only the beginning though. Our targets are too easy as well. If all targers only had the inner chains. That would make our greens more like ball golf greens and the longer putts would have to be the perfect speed and accuracy. In ball golf, a put too fast or slightly off line doesn’t go in.

    Just my 2 cents for what they are worth.

    Jack aka “Rhyno”

    • I happen to live in the Mecca of DiscGolf – Santa Cruz, CA The courses we routinely play are all difficult when the baskets/pads are in long position. The Oaks (CSUMB), Pinto Lake, DeLaveaga. Adjustments are made for different skill levels – seems to work here…….

  3. I think something McBeth mentioned in an interview “decreasing the width of the chains” would be another addition to NTs to increase the difficulty level. I also wish they would make Out of Bounds stroke and distance across the board (as it is played in ball golf) instead of playing more like a single stroke penalty lateral hazard.

    I think one major MAJOR aspect missing from sanctioned PDGA events is a disc limit. If a maximum of say 6 discs was enforced this would give you the ability to have a few drivers, mid ranges and putters, forcing players to make a decision about what sort of abilities they want out of the discs in their bag. It seems like something that has been missing and no one ever really talks about it.

    • Phil Johnson on

      Having a disc limit makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think we’ll see it happen. The only money in this sport is from the disc manufacturers, and they want people to believe that you need to haul around (and, of course, buy, buy, buy) a ton of discs. And the companies selling those large capacity bags wouldn’t be too happy with it either.

    • Decreasing the chains just for the NT is a terrible idea. It will make the sport that the rec player plays the kiddie version.

  4. 1. Make the baskets smaller so that drives or approaches have to land closer to be in good putting range.
    2. Introduce a fixed rod on the outside of the basket that can block most putts from that direction, so it’s not enough to land within 8m for a simple putt, you have to land on the correct side to have an unimpeded putt.
    3. Go back to single chains, so that baskets don’t catch quite so well, and are cheaper. I know people will whine about this, but in ball golf if you hit your putt hard or a little off centre and it doesn’t go in, you accept that you hit it too hard. Disc golfers seem to think that anything that hits the target has to go in. Let’s bring back a bit more finesse to putting.

    • Phil Johnson on

      Making putting more challenging would be the cheapest, easiest and, I think, best solution. More finesse is what’s needed, not longer holes. Longer holes will drive people away from the game.

    • Changing the putting circle would be a big mistake. Our sport doesnt need the tedium of ball golf when putting. Spectators and players alike, enjoy hitting long putts. Changes to the basket only shrink the circle. Make drives and approaches more difficult.

  5. I’d say that he Jussi said nothing about the way, how to achieve to have the courses harder in the first place. ;o)
    However you are absolutely right that simple adding distance is way to hell.

    Smartly used obstacles (mandos, islands…) would be imho the way. While ofc the power throwers must have a chance to benefit from longer drives, but not on all holes.

    I am personally very curios about Jussi’s “adjustments” on Konopiste course (http://konopiste.prodiscgolf.cz/), as I played it twice in the past, before he has changed it.

    • I totally agree with you! Big arms and no precision is not what the sport is all about!
      It’s about intellegence, precision, calculating, technique, personal ability and passion
      is what I think it takes to make it all come together.
      -Renita DGI
      discgolf.it

  6. Lucas Coombs on

    I agree with this whole article, the only issue I have is the last statement: “For many who are just getting into disc golf, the challenge of getting a birdie-2 on a 300 foot hole is difficult when you are first starting.”

    Because this article compares disc golf to ball golf, thats why this bothers me a bit. I don’t know many ball golf players who expect to card a birdie in the first few years of playing. Its something you need to work hard to achieve. It should be similar for disc golf. The courses should be harder and more challenging for those birds. Its a mindset. I don’t think making a course hard is going to get people to leave or dislike the sport. If anything, it will drive them to play more and put effort into getting better.

    In my opinion easy course lead to bad technique and don’t grow the game.

    PS Courses should also not just be made hard for the sake of making it hard. Don’t just stick the tee pad right behind a 100 year old oak tree to make it harder. You need to design the course with disc golf shots in mind. Risk and reward, like mentioned above.

  7. Essentially he’s referring to the concept of “Tiger proofing” the courses the way ball golf did when Tiger Woods came on the scene and was crushing the hardest holes in golf. In doing that, we’d see more courses with a similar design that ball golf courses have, where there are multiple tees, and possibly multiple pin locations playable from all tees. When you can have multiple configurations of the same course, then that would make each course harder right from the start.

    Since I’ve only been playing for a little over a year, I can’t really comment on the basket design other than to say that limiting the number of chains on a target would make it standard across the country and the sport as a whole. Limit it to 24 or 28 chains, with a maximum of 18 or 20 on the outer ring, with vertical hanging chains the only type allowed.

    Since the topic is on easy courses, i’ll stop there since there are so many things that can be done to improve of tweak the game. But, look at it like this also, there’s not much out there limiting the courses that are played in what tweaks a tournament can make to create a more challenging event.

  8. Steve West on

    The problem of “too far under par” can be fixed by setting par according to the actual definition (errorless play by an expert), which would result in an even-par round being rated around 1025.

  9. kingpins on

    I agree limit the number of disc a player can have in his bag such as ball golfers . tighter greens more mental distraction such as water or mandos. Up the prize money and dress to impress all Collar shirts… Caddie need name vest also

  10. Brian Hogg on

    Wow Mcbeth got a 3 on a 900 ft hole, I thought he also got a 7 on a 270 ft hole. I would like to see more O.B. used for greater risk reward shots since we don’t have sandtraps that penalize bad shots.

  11. Come play Oxbow Falls in central New York. If that’s too easy then play Osceola North course. You won’t be disappointed.

  12. Best course I ever played was the indoor course at Cedar Rock park in North Carolina – it was set in a hilly area, so there were lots of dog legs, left and right, and the elevation made it fun. They also created fairways, so if you did the right thing, you got in a good drive – that made it interesting. They had some holes that had longer drives too, more like outdoor holes – it was a really well balanced course.

  13. The baskets are to easy. The Bullseye by gateway is the best basket on the market. The cost is way cheaper and the basket does not allow any spitouts. When I make one I know it’s going in. It’s dead center or slightly strong side. We can never make our courses as difficult as they can in ball golf. One of the most common techniques is to make the greens ultrafast ( we cannot) and to make the rough really deep. Even in tall grass, it doesn’t effect a throw that much. I do love hard courses as long as they are fair. I think they are great for the game. Bottom line this sport is going to need major sponsors to grow. Having more players play is what will bring in those sponsors, players supporting their sponsors and adding more children to the game to build the culture.

  14. I consider this problem is touching only a handful of pro players. The courses for beginners and recreational players should be easy enough so that we can get constantly new players. If we start to build 700 feet long extremely difficult holes there will not be a lot of new players coming to the sport. The strength of the game is that you will get feelings of success even in the first round you play disc golf. If you take a beginner to play a pro course and the score of one hole is over ten I am pretty sure you lose your count and also the interest in the sport.

    Pro players are important but I think the real base of the sport relies in the regular players. They are the ones we have to keep happy. You can always build a special course for the tournaments and pro players.

    One solution would be designing more alternative tees. That way one course could serve players with different skill levels.

  15. I couldn’t disagree more. Pro’s and am1’s need to remember the majority of disc golfers. Fact- over 50% of discers cannot throw 200″. Fact- discers want to have fun above all else. I cant imagine any fun for myself on playing a 950′ hole let alone a 13 year old just playing for his or her first time. They’d probably never play again, I know, I’ve seen it many times on 500 and 600′ holes. Its no fun for most discers. We need to have fun and grow the sport. An am3 will have a much better time winning a tournament at -8 rather than +8. The pro’s and am1’s need to keep it real and remember the power and skill that they have is by far in the very low minority. 950′ might be cool for Paul Mcbeth, but its beyond miserable for the rest of us. I’ll never understand why short technical fun courses have went so far out of favor lately. A few long and hard courses ( and I mean a few ) are needed for major events, but almost all courses can and should remain user friendly to all.

  16. Yes and definitely no…

    Harder is a great way to kill the sport. Keep in mind this sport highlights the Open players but as with any sport it is the AM and REC players that carry the sport and are key to growth.

    Next most important is visibility of the top players. I like where they are going with McBeast in increasing his mainstream visibility.

    I’d suggest that we need to have more mainstream visibility before we make it harder for the pros. Show them being ridiculous. Jut killing courses, Sort of like, if an AM wants attention from sponsors, they need to crush the competition to really stand out. (Keep in mind its a small percentage of Open players who are getting ridiculous scores) I think a significant barrier for mainstream visibility is the stereotypes of disc golf.

    It’s hard for the world to take DG seriously when the primary stereotype is that DG is for potheads.

    The fastest way to make DG legit is the same for every budding sport… major sponsors. Like Ledgestone and their 65k. That turns some heads.

    Once we have some prime time visibility, we should make harder/ adjust courses to really challenge the touring pros. But that should be a relatively small initiative. Focus on 100 Championship level courses max for touring pros.

    Definitely do not make the game any harder for rec/Am players. Just ask ball golf industry experts. The barriers to play are killing that sport. They are making their game easier to save ball golf. Learn from their mistakes and keep the sport fun and accessible.

  17. More than too easy . . . there are too mant hazardous disc golf courses designed without consideration of public and those not participating in the course activities. I think we need to concentrate more on safety measures along with courses that are challenging at the same time. Also I think that maybe even a mandatory certified First Aid techinician at each PDGA event. I remember seeing a disc golfer save the life of a person from the general public during the Worlds 2012 in Charlotte N.C.! It was hot and the guy had a heart attack. If it wasn’t for the disc golfer who was educated in first aid assistance, the man would have died. A disc golfer saved his life!
    So . . . what I’m saying here is to not only concentrate on difficulty in course design, but also on safety requirements for courses all around the world.

  18. I think the most important point made in this article is that we have to balance making courses more challenging for advanced players with keeping them from being too difficult for beginners and rec players. I believe the best way to do that is by having multiple tee pads on all (most) holes. Almost every ball golf course always has a red, white, and blue tee box. Disc golf courses should do the same. That way rec players, intermediate players, and advanced players could all play and enjoy the course. You could always choose the challenge level you want. I hope course designers consider this and start making this the norm for all courses!

  19. Is that statement applied to all skill levels or just pro and advanced players?
    It is only my opinion that it may entail multiple courses with different levels of difficulties threw out the courses.
    I think Mr. Meresmaa’s “tweet” raises more important questions of long term sustainability of disc golf.
    One of many questions that should be talked about is where should these more challenging, difficult and maybe longer courses be built?
    As the sport grows, current community parks and college campuses may not be viable for many more years.
    It’s only a matter a time before a lawsuit happens from a person being struck by a flying disc in public park or campus. This will quickly cause many current parks to revisit liability concerns. Who is liable – the person throwing the disc, disc manufacture, or the park?
    Today’s disc products fly farther and faster than ever. That begs the question: Have disc manufacturers and the PDGA considered the implications of not being more proactive with course development on none public property?
    As stated in the article, Mr. Meresmaa has a way to get discussion going.

  20. Is that statement applied to all skill levels or just pro and advanced players?
    It is only my opinion that it may entail multiple courses with different levels of difficulties threw out the courses.
    I think Mr. Meresmaa’s “tweet” raises more important questions of long term sustainability of disc golf.
    One of many questions that should be talked about is where should these more challenging, difficult and maybe longer courses be built?
    As the sport grows, current community parks and college campuses may not be viable for many more years.
    It’s only a matter a time before a lawsuit happens from a person being struck by a flying disc in public park or campus. This will quickly cause many current parks to revisit liability concerns. Who is liable – the person throwing the disc, disc manufacture, or the park?
    Today’s disc products fly farther and faster than ever. That begs the question: Have disc manufacturers and the PDGA considered the implications of not being more proactive with course development on none public property?
    As stated in the article, Mr. Meresmaa has a way to get discussion going.

  21. This is the truth. I began playing as a scout with trees as targets in the late 80s/early 90s, then life got in the way. I picked up my first “beast” after college and really began the pursuit of disc golf 5 years ago. Trees at the courses in Spokane/Coeur d’Alene caused me to think about my shot and try to force the disk to work for me.
    Now, in UT the courses are another challenge but I still hear of the “big Hyzer” as the main shot. I have come to appreciate the first hole at “Roots” since the whole right side of the fairway is positioned next to OB (risk reward). it forces you to choose to take a forehand over the fence, a big hyzer all the way over OB or lay up and take your 3 (as long as your up shot doesn’t hit the guardian trees). They have also placed OB markers (for those who want to really improve by following the lines of the course) and it makes it a challenge for me (again, only 5 years in and still trying to throw it straight)
    I think the USDGC at Winthrop University’s has it right in making OB lines that force the correct placement of shots instead of relying on the BDH (big dumb hyzers). Making more mandos, tighter fairways, and going with the McBeth shot and re-tee for OB, not getting to step back out for a meter relief would go a long way to raising the scores from -20s to single digits.

    Last, the comparison to ball golf is the only real option we have since there isn’t anything in sports that really compares easily. Legend has it the ball golf was started by drunk Irishmen looking for a way to use the holes the gophers were digging in their fields (citation needed), and look where it is now. Every sport has had its growing pains but DG seems to be held back by the “hippy” stigma, or the “420” stigma, or the “lazy buttheads that don’t want to get a job and just go walking in the forest” stigma. getting sponsors will make the sport more commercial, but getting younger players (grade school age) to want to play and be good is what produces longevity. The other problem is (as my dad put it when I told him I wanted to do Massage Therapy) “can you even make a living doing that?” people do what they love and make a living at it but will your “hobby” support your life? that is what I believe creates longevity in a sport.

  22. IMHO I think that many existing courses can be made consistently harder with the addition of multiple tee pads. I really enjoy courses that have red, white and, blue tees. This, multiple basket locations along with narrower baskets would make things quite a bit more difficult, even for th pros. Pro baskets (narrower) could be swapped out at most courses and could be provided by the PDGA for tournaments. It’s time for the PDGA to take s hard look at pro tournaments and make changes for the good of the game. I also agree that there should be a disc limit for PDGA sanctioned tournaments. I don’t know that I agree with six, but somewhere between 8 and 12 could work.

  23. Alan Kansas on

    I agree with Jussi. For the game to reach its potential as a competitive spectator sport, we need to challenge the pros with better courses. Fewer hyzer bomb to putt holes and more par 4’s and 5’s where they need to string together 3 good shots if they want to putt. I don’t plan to be or play like a pro, but I love watching the sport too and I want to see the best players challenged.

    I completely disagree with the smaller/harder basket idea. If you do that, you take away most of those beautiful 80 to 120 foot throw ins – like Feldberg made last year to tie a big tourney on the last throw. Even minimizing the chance of something like that happening dulls the sport. Plus, you encourage a bunch of boring layups. This is not fan friendly or fun for the players.

    Finally, I agree that we need to make sure the sport remains inviting and accessible to new and recreational players. In New Orleans, at City Park, we used to have a not terribly challenging course that played over and along some nice lagoons. We had to move the course to a different place in the park to make room for a paying attraction, and now there are no real water hazards. While I think most bag tag / weekend league / tournament players would rather have the water shots, I have noticed that novice/recreational player traffic on the course has about doubled in the few months since the move. And I see a lot more women playing. This is great. A certain number of these new players will eventually join the club, play leagues and tourneys, watch Pro tournament videos on YouTube, and maybe join PDGA. So nurturing the novice disc golf experience also pays off for those who are interested in the business of disc golf and the folks who long for more Nate Doss on ESPN. At City Park, the club designed a course that is fairly short and simple for recreational players (McBeast would rarely take more than 36 shots on this 4000 foot peach) with pro-tees that total 6000 feet and satisfy most of the real pros.

    Also, as the sport continues to grow in popularity, we will not need to have as many “one size fits all” courses, as there will be enough money and interested players to support both recreational and expert level courses. But Jussi is right in that right now, we need to make sure the big pro events take place at the big pro courses.

  24. In my opinion the big question isn’t that courses are too easy, it’s that a lot of courses are poorly designed.

    The PDGA needs to set some rules and guidelines for what makes a a good competition course. I’ve been wanting a PDGA sanctioning of courses for years. I want a list of criteria to be meet in courses that are played in all PDGA sanctioned events, with perhaps a highest standard for A-tiers (NTs and Championships), slightly less for B-tiers and so forth. As it is today you could pretty much freak out as much as you like with hanging or raised baskets and busted or even no teepads at a PDGA tournament. If we want to be taken seriously as a sport we must stop placing baskets inside trees or having holes that plays over busy streets and other dangerous as well as ridiculous ideas. And start to make the courses well designed with holes that requires all the different shoots, curves and lengths which makes up a good balanced course.

    Far more important then simply making it harder – is to make it better.

    Regarding the idea about restricting the number of disc. I don’t see that as a alternative and you can’t compare with ball golf in this case, they don’t risk loosing their clubs during a round.

    Smaller baskets perhaps, but ask yourself what would be better for the sport. Seeing McBeth and Koling making those looooong puts at hole 18 at the Memorial or having them both miss?

    English isn’t my native language so I hope there isn’t too many grammatical errors. :)

  25. A very popular local course got a serious makeover in my area. A new layout and extra tees were added. The new Am tees are likely more difficult than the old layout. The course also gained an onsite proshop and became pay-to-play. Overall use has dropped way off since most rec players don’t like the challenge or fee, but the course now offers a venue unlike any other in the area.

    Most new courses in WI fall into two categories; pitch and putt 9-hole at a public school or park, and pro-level pay-to-play par 60 goliath. Both have something to contribute to “growing the sport.”

  26. I agree in that the Pro’s need harder courses with more OB or penalty that require them to be more precise and have more risk/reward. Keep the easier courses for growing the sport so that new players feel like it’s something they can get into and have fun doing! We just need more top pro level courses around the country so that the PDGA tour takes the top pros everywhere!

  27. It is possible to design a course, which is suitable for both beginners and pros. Fairways can be quite wide, but they need to turn more and have obstacles. Then it is easy for beginners with less accuracy to throw short shots successfully but also make it as hard as needed for pros to throw long shots needing all kinds of shot shaping options etc. to make a birdie or even a par.

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