top of page

HouckDesign Blog

Which Path to Choose? Decisions in Routing. By John Houck

Hole 13, Harmony Bend, Strawn Park, Columbia, MO. A view of what the fairway would look like backwards. Photo: Matt Boehner

As many of you know, Dee started a major industry design group called 3DISColf: Safer, Smarter, and More Sustainable. (18) 3DISCgolf - safer, smarter, and more sustainable | Facebook It’s made up of designers, club leaders, parks people, manufacturers, players, and more, and it recently passed the 1,100-member mark. She inspires debate on important issues, a recent post about routing got a lot of discussion going.

Routing is the most important step in designing a disc golf course. It IS largely the design. I believe routing in disc golf is better done on-site than on paper -- unless the land doesn't have any existing trees, topography, or other features which can be utilized. When I route, I want to ensure I'm doing all I can to create the best and unique fairways on each hole while encompassing all that the land and the property is offers. On one recent project I went through over 30 iterations because virtually every change to any hole impacts multiple other holes. Making decisions for the final route takes much more time when a designer considers a larger set of variables. I have shared with the designers who took our workshops how much I consider and what that it is I look at on each route. This process is something that could fill a book. The more that a designer considers, the better the ultimate route or design will be.

Someone asked about the routing decisions I made at Harmony Bends in Columbia, Missouri, which is currently the #1-rated course on, as it has been often since 2017. It’s a question that a player had brought to me previously, so I thought it would be helpful to address it. The basic question is whether the routing on Holes #13 and #14 would be simpler and easier if both holes had been designed “backwards,” meaning that after Hole #12, you would play #14 backwards (swap tee and green) and then play #13 backwards (swap tee and green).

My answer, as you’ll see below, is that while, that routing would make sense, it would result in lower-quality holes, which means a lower-quality course, and in this case, I chose hole quality over simpler routing. Course design always involves hundreds of choices and tradeoffs, and sometimes you have to pick which of two competing values matters most. So here is my response, as posted on 3DISCGolf with slight edits:

Thanks so much for sharing your insights into these holes. I wish I could get more people to speak that honestly, as it’s the best way for me to learn (everyone else can feel free to send me e-mail – we don’t need to turn this thread into an encyclopedia of how to re-do every hole I’ve ever designed). You raised some really interesting points, and I’m happy to have the chance to respond.

Your routing is very clean and simple, which is good, and it’s a great example of where I valued hole quality over routing. I’ll explain why.

<<And, to the point about the holes themselves improving, fixing those two issues would bring in the way-more-intimidating throw AT the river on the reversed 14 (where some players might have to worry about overthrowing, unlike now on 13). >>

I suppose that might be a more intimidating shot, depending on where you put the tee. Seems to me you’d be adding another tight tee to a course that has plenty, and that you’d lose what I think was one of the most beautiful tee scenes I’ve ever done: that elevated #13 tee on the bend of the creek is one of my all-time favorites, especially from the Blue tee, and it adds a more open drive that the course otherwise lacks. Obviously good people can disagree on that evaluation. I’m posting a photo of what your tee could look like (thanks to Matt Boehner for the photo from the #13 basket).

<<Players on reversed 13 would also have a choice about how to approach the basket over that big expanse of water.>>

The creek bank has changed more than imaginable since we put in the course, but when the water was in front of the tee it was a short, forced carry from the Blue tee, so would that be a forced carry to your proposed pin, or maybe just a big hyzer to avoid all the trees? In any case, what would now be the guardian trees by the basket were close to the water’s edge, and discs hitting them could easily kick back into the drink. Or maybe not – I don’t know where you’d put the basket, Here’s the most important issue:

<<… it would bring the bridge tree into the range where everyone would throw full power over or through it, instead of just landing near it every time.>>

I see it very differently; I actually think that’s the best case for NOT reversing the hole. That tree doesn’t always come into play, but it does a majority of the time. And it’s always different. Sometimes you’re closer and sometimes farther. Sometimes you’re more right and sometimes more left, and that can make a big difference on how that tree comes into play. And you control how it plays, depending on where you land your drive. That variety in the playing experience is one of the best things about that hole, maybe one of the coolest things about any hole on that course.

<<And, with 13's target at the other end, there might be a need to move 15's tee toward 15s target. Which, instead of a nothing-burger just-throw-far to get to the bottom of the hill, might create the temptation to try to get up the hill a little. Maybe bigger arms try for the top.>>

Interesting take. To me, that hill is too steep for most players to play from, and it’s too steep to hold reliably hold a shot. That’s why it needed stairs.

When a hillside is steep enough that some shots hold and some don’t, you get random results, and that’s a bad thing. Three other reasons I really like that hole:

1. There’s certainly nothing spectacular about that drive, but it is one of the most demanding on the course. You really don’t want to be too far right, and you definitely don’t want to be left. The premium on placement makes it hard for anyone to go all out and try to make the base of the hill, but of course it’s tempting.

2. Not only is the landing area tight, the number of trees that are likely going to be between you and the pin means that you’ll probably have to be creative and that the hole will rarely play the same on two consecutive efforts. To me, that’s a huge advantage.

3. Having that hill there means that even the best drives will still have 150’+ and very uphill to the pin. So, there are virtually no NAGS issues. It’s almost like having a pond there making sure that virtually no drives get gimme approaches.

If you moved the tee up and let people pound into the hill, you’d take away all the tension between accuracy and distance on the drive, and you’d get second shots that were either too steep to have good/safe footing, or were too close to the pin to be challenging, or that

randomly rolled back down the hill. To me all those results would weaken the hole, so I can’t go with you on that shorter tee.

In order to confirm what I hoped the hole was doing, I just watched the first three videos I could find of the DGPT events there this year and last year. Out of 12 attempts, only 5 players put themselves in good position to get up and down, and only 4 succeeded. If the best players are hitting the fairway about 42% and birdie-ing 33% of the time on that hole, I’m happy. Obviously, that’s a very small sample size, but the stats on that hole confirm. I will say that some of the trees on that Hole #15 are getting a bit hairy, and I’d love the chance to limb some of them up (and some trees on many holes there), but none are really creating any problems.

Again, I’m going to pick hole quality over flow on those two holes. Other designers would approach that area differently, and our different perspectives are what makes the world great. I will add one more thing that you didn’t bring up, and that’s playing #14 backwards.

I spend hours and hours on every wooded course I do, trying to find those magical places where multiple alleys line up, or almost line up, to make beautiful and challenging shots. I just love the way #14 plays, with three different lines, all about equally difficult, and I love the trees it used to make that happen. Holes like that are very rare and precious, and it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s a hole anywhere near that good running backwards.

As several people have said, designing involves a lot of hard choices and tradeoffs. In this case, I chose to route these holes in a way that I think gives superior holes. Maybe you’d make a different choice, one that puts more value on flow. Maybe you think you could get better flow and better holes. It’s all opinions with no right or wrong. Even though I believe I’m right here, we’ll just agree to disagree. After all, variety is the spice of life – and more and more people are enjoying more and more spice (latest hot and spicy food and beverage trend).

To unsubscribe please email

400 views0 comments


bottom of page