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  • Writer's pictureChris Davies. Edited by Martin Galley

The Single Easiest Way To Improve Your Game. Guaranteed!

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Many people spend countless hours practicing, putting, going out to the field, working on form, trying for distance, testing discs... all in order to get better. But when’s the last time you studied the PDGA rules? This week Vortica takes a look at the rules, and how knowing them will make you a better player.

Guys who know the rules: Manaboom, Jacko, Big Jerm, Avery, Kazuo & Yeti at NZ Nats 2017
Guys who know the rules: Manaboom, Jacko, Big Jerm...

But first a story. I was pretty much accused of cheating in an NT event at one stage – the first year the PDGA introduced the Optional Rethrow rule, 803.02B.

It was in Paradise. I’d made a drive over a gully which yielded an extreme death putt, and I went for it aggressively, and paid the price, tipping off the outer chains. My putter somehow flew and rolled 80 metres down the gully, and was not visible from the top of the very steep embankment the basket sat on the very edge of.

I assessed the likelihood of being able to put myself into a putting position from the bottom of the gully as so low, I would be crazy to play from there, and I declared I would take an optional rethrow, and a penalty stroke. I then sank the same putt I’d just missed, taking a bogie 4. But potentially I could have thrown 5 or 6 or even more, if I’d played from the hellish slippery gully, up a 45 degree slope, covered in trees and bush.

This caused great consternation on my card, with two of the players being totally unaware of the rule; they wanted me to play out both versions of the hole because they were convinced I was breaking the rules. The other player knew of the rule, but insisted that, “it goes against the spirit of the game”, by invoking it!

I told him that was a pile of rubbish, and that the rule was specifically intended to allow players to minimise damage and take a penalty stroke, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with using the rule.

I almost died trying to retrieve the disc, and if a single tiny tree had pulled out of the bank when I grabbed it after slipping badly, I’d have taken a very serious fall. As to playing from the lie? Hilarious!

As it turned out, I did win the Masters that year, and only by a single throw, so it was a very good idea to use the rule – and if I hadn’t been aware of it, it would have cost me a division win, and tour points.

The point of this story is to demonstrate in no uncertain terms, that the people who know the rules the best are usually the ones collecting the silverware at the prize giving. And in some situations interpreting the rules correctly can result in a big upset. Does anyone recall America’s Cup regattas where the result was decided by the Rules Committee?

Mercifully, disc golf players do not need an army of lawyers on retainer to study and interpret the voluminous rules of the game. This is because the rules of disc golf are incredible simple to learn, and amazingly brief!

Compared to many sports, our rule book is tiny, and the effort required to learn them is trivial.

To my mind, the single best way to ensure you know the rules is to sit the PDGA Certified Rules Official Exam online. It costs just 10 USD, and you’re then certified for 3 years. You can then host PDGA sanctioned events as a Tournament Director.

Being a PDGA TD means that you can be an official at a sanctioned event. And as a TD, it’s always nice to have other certified officials on hand to help interpret rules, something which does happen from time to time.

So, if you want to get better at disc golf in about a week: study the rules found here: and sit the exam found here:

After passing the exam, you will know the rules well, but you should still refresh your memory from time to time.

It will help you greatly to download a copy of the rules to your phone, from here: so you can refer to them if a question arises.

Be aware the PDGA Rules Committee is an active one, and they do not sit on their hands. There are sometimes rule changes from year to year – so it does pay to stay abreast of the rules.

The 2017 Rule Change Debacle Recently there was a document circulated without permission, which contained proposed changes to the rules, which may come into effect in 2018.

However, there are no rule official changes for 2017!

Hannah J, showing perfect balance inside the circle.
Hannah J, showing perfect balance inside the circle.

Enforcing the rules Now we get into the murky territory where almost all disc golfers fear to tread. Just recently in a non-sanctioned tournament, I had a doubles partner who, on every single putt, fell forwards, regardless of where the lie was. Inside or outside of the circle made no difference at all.

When it first happened, I looked at our opponents, and they simply ignored it! I actually considered calling a falling putt myself – but when I look at the rules, it says that a player may not call a falling putt on themselves. This is known as “The Barry Rule”, because back in the day when you were allowed to call a falling putt on yourself, you could make a tricky putt, see that the disc was going to miss, and intentionally fall forwards, then call your own falling putt.

The first violation of a falling putt draws only a warning and a rethrow without penalty – so a player could effectively give themselves one extra putt per round if they abused the rule.

My interpretation of the falling putt rule is that as doubles players, we are effectively one player on this issue, and we may not call a falling putt on ourselves, because that would defeat the intention of the Rules Committee, which was to prevent players using the rule to their advantage.

Yes, I know – it wasn’t going to be an advantage for us, but the point remains valid. And so I did not make any falling putt calls that round, and I believe that I fulfilled the letter and the spirit of the rules by not doing so.

However, in any other situation, it is necessary to call infractions as they occur, no matter who makes them.

The very best policy is to recognise a player is about to make a mistake – perhaps by playing from the wrong disc, or behind their thrown disc when they’ve put down their marker, or they’re straddled to the side but they’re following an arc not a right angle from the lie, and are therefore using an illegal stance…

All these potential infractions – and more – are easy to prevent, and an alert player should always speak up as soon as they see this, rather than wait until the infraction happens, and call it. You would always expect that if you are about to break a rule by mistake, that someone will bring it to your attention and save you from it.

Breaking the rules is seldom cheating This is an important point to make. People often break rules because they’re ignorant of them, or make a mistake – but it’s extremely rare to catch someone actually cheating.

The vast majority of the time, rule violations are accidental – and it is necessary to treat virtually all violations as such – right up to pencil whipping, where it is possible to make a mistake in your own favour, without a cheating thought ever going through your mind.

So, it’s important to keep in mind that calling rule violations is not accusing people of cheating in any way. Merely pointing out a mistake, and ensuring everyone is on the same playing field.

It might seem hard to call your friends, or worse, strangers, on rule violations in tournament play, but you must learn to do it. And the reason you have to do that is because…

Not enforcing the rules is breaking them! Rule 801.01B says:

B. Players are expected to call a violation when one has clearly occurred. Calls must be made promptly.

And in relation to this, Rules 801.04D says:

D. Refusal to perform an action expected by the rules, such as assisting in the search for a lost disc, moving discs or equipment, or keeping score properly, is a courtesy violation.

This means failing to call a violation of the rules is itself a warnable inaction. Subsequent failures will draw a penalty according to rule 801.04G:

G. A player violating a courtesy rule may be warned by any affected player, even if from another group, or by an official. The player shall be assessed one penalty throw for each subsequent courtesy violation of any type in the same round. Repeated violations of courtesy rules may result in disqualification in accordance with Section 3.3 of the Competition Manual.

Not only is failing to enforce the rules breaking them, but it is also such a serious breach of the rules that you can actually be disqualified for it. It is unlikely such a thing has ever happened, but the rules are extremely clear on the matter.

Even if you make 30 falling putts in a round, you can only be penalised 30 strokes, and never disqualified for it.

So, it is very clear the rules place a very strong emphasis on enforcing the rules – and that is right and proper. Disc golf is a self-refereed game, and the game can only ever be as good as the referees, so don’t hesitate to follow the rules precisely, and to expect that others do, too!

By following the rules, and using them well, you WILL become a better golfer, and those around you will, also.

That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for your valuable time.

NEXT WEEK – MAYBE! In development for several weeks now, my “How Golf Discs Fly” article is taking a very long time to prepare. I have reverted to the first principles of flight, and questioned everything I have ever learned about flight, and the Bernoulli principle, as a paraglider test pilot, instructor and examiner. I’ve even resorted to measuring the surfaces of golf discs to create a Lift Index of sorts.

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