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HouckDesign Blog

5-Star Reviews for Disc Golf Courses and What Inspires Them

Updated: Jul 6


Hillcrest Farm, Bonshaw, Prince Edward Island, Canada, #1 Course in Canada


Recently, there was a discussion on how does one go about getting a 5-Star rating or a high rating on course ranking sites. One would think highly-rated courses are well designed, built, and maintained. Not always the case from what I’ve seen. Complex or specific rules or guidelines for rating courses do not exist for the most part, though UDisc.com ratings now ask specific questions when players rate a course. Still, it’s all largely based on preference or experience of the individual player. Players rate the quality of the tee areas, baskets, and the design. However, course ratings can suffer if it’s raining, muddy, and if there is an occasional flood on a fairway. On the other hand, sometimes just hosting a DGPT event/tournament or engaging in a powerful marketing campaign is enough to send the rankings higher.


Courses with poor construction might still get high ratings because there might be a big view — or a big lake for the eyes to feast on. If a fairway is beautified with landscaping or other artistic features -- even poorly designed fairways with unquestionable design flaws might get high ratings. Most recreational players probably don’t really know enough about complex design concepts to rate a course solely on the technicalities of disc golf course design. Even so, many of them appreciate well-designed courses when they play disc golf in tournaments or on a vacation at a destination course. They may not understand the multitude of variables a highly-experienced designer considers. There are simply a lot of things that can go into designing and building a course that may not be noticeable once the course opened for play.


Casual and amateur players (this is the largest number of players who rate courses) are largely rating their own experience. That’s all. The "design" of the fairway is a part of that and so are other things. They consider things like the construction, the maintenance, and the venue itself, or the location, and how the venue is operated. These have all become important.


I think there are many other reasons why players rate some courses higher than others. Primarily, it is personal preference, and it's based on what an individual player values. Sometimes, the ratings can even be based on what type of day the player is having. On a good day, it’s a great experience, and on another day, not so good day, not so great a course.  On top of that, local home courses tend to get higher ratings from the local players due to the emotional attachment they develop and the “ownership” they start to feel. It has less to do with design and more to do with which course they play most often.


Beautification and showcasing natural beauty have become even more important in recent years. Hours open, quality and consistency in operations, ease of parking, hosting other amenities, pro shop inventory, food on site, and friendly staff can all have an impact and can add or take away from the overall experience. So should a poorly designed and built course get high rankings because of all the bells and whistles and “garnishing?” Why not! Happens more often than one can imagine. Probably exists in every industry. While those courses might bedazzle the first time around and be “fun” and “beautiful” for those less familiar with complex design concepts, others who understand design will notice the shortcomings and eventually reveal those to others who will also start to notice them too. The course may not maintain its status for long for that reason, or there could be many other reasons for that to happen. But players should rate their experience. That's what the ratings are all about anyways. Courses designed, built and maintained well, should stand the test of time.


Let's face it that the course ratings are based on the individual player's experience. They are collective experiential ratings. And it is important for the owner to succeed. We all perceive differently. There is simply no good way to ensure results in rankings or ratings except to say the more you consider in the quality of the design, the equipment, the materials for the build, the landscaping, and the whole operation, the better the odds are you will get higher results. The bar is set high now, and it's only going up with each project in the industry and with each project we are designing. Everything must be considered and offered to ensure greater results. I’m not saying every course needs everything or every venue needs camping or lodging, but it needs something special—something unique to that place and in the experience to make it an attraction and an experience not easily duplicatable.


Again, players value different things, and this is why there is such diversity in the types of courses in the top tier. It starts with a great location, a great design, great equipment, great build, great features, great operations, and great everything else plus other amenities for players to enjoy. Then there is still much more on top of all that which needs to be done to bring great success. Don't forget about marketing the course through testimonials, videos, photographs, etc. In disc golf course design, things started shifting about 3-4 years ago by my recollection, and COVID brought bigger, better, more ambitious design and build projects. Everyone wanted the #1 course in the world. But there can only be one #1 as we would say to the clients who came to us with that goal. And becoming #1 today might take a bigger budget than what we had historically as designs get richer and building focuses on greater sustainability.


Designers can't and shouldn't guarantee any type of results except in cases where budgets and top-level experts can collaborate. Even then, everybody has to do their part right, and maybe then, that course might end up in the Top 100 or the Top 20 or rarely in the Top 10 in the world. It's impossible to guarantee results any higher unless there is a tremendous effort and money put into the venue for a superb design, beautification, and development of the course in ways yet to be seen. We see more and more examples of this on the Top 10 now. Beautification by landscaping, the design and build are taking courses to the top -- however, design is still the most important criterion in our mind. Just landscape beautification and build won't be enough after some time. A top-ranked course will need much more to maintain that status. Designers must understand how to use the features of the land fully into the design so that the natural beauty is showcased to its full potential. Not so easy. It can take years to learn, and with each project you get a little better. There are hundreds of things to consider. The basic theory in disc golf course design might look easier to achieve then it is. To design a fairway that's testing player skill fairly, there is a lot of decision making, and everyone has opinions. This is something designers get better at with time and experience. That is the real art and science of courses designed for competition.


In the end, it’s like any other business—great product (design, build and equipment) plus great people who manage, run, and serve the clients, a great brand, and a great business operation will create a better chance for greater success. Even in public parks, it’s more or less the same formula. People give 5 stars to what they like.


Fairway Green, Hoel #8, Live Oak Lake Course, Live Oak, Texas, 2016



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4 Comments


This is a discussion that comes up every once in a while on DGCR. We make fun of the one sentence Reviews from UDisc and much prefer the longer, stand behind your rating reviews of DGCR. And you are correct, I very rarely give out a 5 star review. The course has to be fun, challenging and be in top notch shape. In general, I might review a par 3 course better than a course with par 4's and 5's if the shorter course was more fun/better designed course. I still think it's funny that I stopped at a little 9 hole course in Oklahoma and when I got around to the 3rd or 4th hole, I thought "This…

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Bryan,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your opinion matters as you’ve played the most number of courses in the world and held that record for some time. You’ve been in the industry for decades and have seen the evolution of course design that we have been leading in and furthering design practices. It is amazing to see the quality of design and build rising. This means the sport has reached a point where it’s not just about getting a course in the ground anymore. It’s about offering courses that are safer, smarter and more sustainable — the principles we teach and practice. Design practices continue to evolve and older courses lacked a lot of what we do now. Happy …

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So happy for your abundance of sharing your knowledge and vast experience for all of us who are learning and striving to create “magical “ spaces for future generations to enjoy the great outdoors!

Thank you and looking forward to more of your sharing 👏

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Thanks for the compliment! With each project, we do our best to move design practices to a new level. One of the keys to succeed is to keep an open mind. Many designers just buy-in to what others have already done. We always tell those we teach that learn the foundational knowledge well, and don’t ignore this. The theory of course design is very important. Then innovate from there to create your own designs. Don’t ignore the concepts and theory that are important to know well first. We see this too many times when designers aren’t even reading the design materials on the PDGA page, much less learning them. they are just going straight to design and joining DGCD…


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