disc golfers grouped around nate sexton at the sexton shootout in 2019 at sabattus disc golf

Advice For First Time Tournament Players

The gorgeous weather has finally returned up here in the Northeast, and the PDGA has allowed sanctioned events to take place again. Tournaments are starting to pop up and with every new season we get first time competitive players who want to join. In this week’s NewsBite I’m going to focus on what you should bring, how you should prepare, and other things I wish I had known before playing.

Let’s start with things to bring with you on tournament day

  • The discs in your bag. Check the night before, and throw some extras in the trunk in case you throw your favorite driver 20 feet into a lake. It seems silly but you also don’t want to forget and leave your bag behind at the end of the day. With all the commotion during the award ceremony and payouts, it’s an easy thing to do. I’ve forgotten my bag after a tournament and didn’t realize until I had gotten home.
  • Food. If this is a 2 round tournament, I like to bring my lunch and keep it in a cooler. I don’t want to lose my parking spot or try to rush to the store for an overpriced slice of pizza.
  • More than 1 water. It gets hot out there very quickly. You can bring gatorade or whatever else you want, but I suggest you bring a big bottle of water and then another.
  • Extra Clothes. I bring an extra shirt, socks, and underwear with me. If you have an early morning round, it’s often cooler, wet and soggy before getting warm. I like to change at lunch so I’m cooler and refreshed for the second round and not stuck in mucky, sweaty clothes.
  • Cash. There are always raffles, people selling discs, other merch, optional CTP’s, Ace Pots, and Ring of Fire’s to enter. Not everyone accepts paypal and cash is king. I carry about $40 so I can buy something if it catches my eye. Although in these Covid-19 times, it might be wise to also have some money in your Venmo account, too.

Other things you might want to bag include hand sanitizer (which gets sap off discs, and we are in a pandemic after all), Chapstick, Band-Aids, pencils, pain relief (tylenol/ibuprofen), snacks, and 2 towels. I need to give a special shout-out to one of our newest hires here at the Pro Shop, Chandra, for mentally going through her bag with me as we discussed what to bring.

Now onto the preparation part and what to do when you arrive at the tournament.

  • Check in. This helps the Tournament Director, because if you think you’ve got a lot on your mind imagine corralling 50-90 players.
  • Get warmed up before your round. Get some putting in, maybe a couple of soft drives to get the blood flowing. Maybe some warmups with your FlighTowel or even some Disc Golf Strong routines.
  • Relax. I can’t stress this enough! The more tournaments you play, the easier it is to relax. If you have some buddies, go hang out with them. If you don’t know anyone, go putt around until you make a friend.
  • Turn your phone off. Unless you’re keeping score on UDisc, turn it off. It will just be a distraction. Take maybe 1 photo and come back to it later.
  • Take a look at the starting hole board. It’s good to go take a look and see your starting hole. Sometimes it is set up the night before, but usually it’s done during check in which is another good reason to do so when you first arrive.
tournament player board for first time tournament player blog

Next is a list of things I wish I had known before my first tournament.

  • Warm up in your own way. Everyone has a different routine when it comes to warming up. I described in my warmup routine NewsBite that during my first tournament, everyone was practicing longer putts than me and I was frazzled after missing many 40 footers. Do whatever gets YOU ready to play. Whether that’s headphones and music - listen, if it’s eating a fluffernutter sandwich - eat, maybe it’s only practicing 5 footers; that’s fine, too.
  • Be responsible for your own score. The person at the top of the card is supposed to keep score but they’re playing in the same tournament. They’re not necessarily focusing on you, so be sure to check your own score. I like to do this after we’ve played 9 holes, and then again after 18. If you make a mistake, you will get 2 strokes added to your score, so you really should use a calculator to correctly get your total. I’ve made 2 horrible mistakes in tournaments. Once I gave myself 2 strokes more than I should have, so I got penalized 2 strokes from my actual score. While that one didn’t matter too much, the next one I will just have to live with. I wrote down an ace as a 2 for another player. You’d think I would remember an ace, right? I was having a bad round and must have just written down that they had gotten a birdie, so I ultimately cost a guy 2 strokes. Now when I play, I make sure I ask everyone to call out their score when it’s my turn to write it down.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Play the way you practiced. You don’t need to try a crazy new line just because 1 guy on your card did it. If you take a bogey on hole 1 it’s not the end of the world, there’s 35 more holes to play. Who cares if you lost 2 strokes on a hole? Keep going and just think about the next shot.
  • Take your time. This one is hard for me because I like to get up to my disc and throw quickly. But this isn’t a casual round; every stroke matters. The PDGA Rulebook 802.03 on excessive time is pretty clear on giving you lots of time:
“A player has taken excessive time if they are present and have not thrown within 30 seconds after:
  1. The previous player has thrown; and,
  2. They have had a reasonable amount of time to arrive at and determine the lie; and, They are next in the throwing order; and,
  3. The playing area is clear and free of distractions.
  4. A player who takes excessive time receives a warning for the first violation. A player who takes excessive time after having been warned for it during the round receives one penalty throw.”

So you can see that once the other person has thrown and gotten out of your way, you get to look around to determine your lie, after which you have 30 seconds to throw. I’m not saying you take 29 seconds to line up a 4 foot putt, but if you have a tricky upshot or a pitch out, take a few breaths then make your best shot. I’ve never seen this called on someone or have thought about calling it on anyone else. So please take the time you need, don’t feel rushed by others.

  • Every card has its own personality. If everyone is shooting lights out, you’re all going to be focused on each stroke, so it takes a bit of time to develop. When a couple of folks are playing well, the whole group tends to play better. Alternatively, if you’re playing poorly, then someone else may as well, it happens. Then the card sort of transforms into a more supportive group who is focused on having fun. If your card is silent and that tension is thick, I’ve found a pretty solid way to break that ice is by complimenting another player’s shot. If they have a genuinely good drive or putt, let them know; they’re probably anxious just as anxious as you! Being supportive of your competitors in disc golf is unique. You’re both measuring yourselves against the course, the other players having good shots doesn’t affect yours. Spread a little of that positivity and you’ll get some in return as well.

I hope that if you’re a veteran tournament player reading this, you will reach out to newer players and reassure them with some tips of your own. Remember what it was like when we were first starting out. If you’re new to tournament play, just remember we all were new to it at some point. I hope that these tips can help you on your way to playing many tournaments, both local and all over the world. If you folks think I left out any tips, please leave them in the comments below so new players can read them!

May your discs miss all the trees (even if we’re competing in the same division),
Andrew Streeter #70397