How should we behave at PDGA events?
Updated: Jun 24
This week, Vortica takes a deep dive into the (apparently!) controversial world of obeying the rules in PDGA tournament play, and offers advice about how to enjoy a tournament, how to avoid being penalised or disqualified, and how to be a pleasure to play with.
At Vortica, Martin and I share over 35 years of tournament play experience, have hosted, TDed or helped organise over 30 tournaments including three national championships, and played in well over 100 events. We’re not perfect at any of it yet, but we think we do OK – and we are always striving to improve as competitors and as Tournament Directors.
As both, we’ve witnessed the sport develop in New Zealand over the decades, to the stage we are at now, where some tournaments are becoming so well-supported that to ensure your place at these events, early registration will soon become necessary.
And so it is with this ever-increasing participation, along with the ever-increasing numbers of PDGA sanctioned events being held here, that we turn our attention to the important subject of adherence to the PDGA tournament rules.
And, as cash prizes start to become the norm for NZ National Tour Events, this subject will become even more relevant.
Playing PDGA-sanctioned disc golf is not the same as a weekend round with your fiercely competitive mates. While you can get away with just about anything with your buddies, there are myriad ways to go wrong at a PDGA event, and get penalised heavily, or even possibly DQed -- without realising the consequences of your actions ahead of time. This article is designed to prevent these things happening to you.
How to avoid disqualification
There are several ways to get yourself penalised at, or potentially chucked out of a PDGA event, whether it be C, B or even an A-tier event. Each level has stricter rules, with C-tiers being the most relaxed, or the least-strict, depending on your viewpoint.
It’s helpful for players to remember TDs often have no options available when players break the rules, and the penalties are laid out in black and white, and in the competition manual: https://www.pdga.com/rules/competition-manual-disc-golf-events
In the PDGA rules, the words “may” and “shall” are often used, when describing what a TD is supposed to do in certain situations. Whenever “may” appears, the TD has a choice in the matter. Where “shall” is found, there is no choice, whatsoever. TDs who fail to follow the “shalls” can be sanctioned by the PDGA, and lose their status as an official.
If you swear repeatedly or are rude to any person at any time, you can be DQed. This rule extends to cover all competitors, tournament officials, spectators, by-standers and park users.
So, leave the profanity in the parking lot, along with your beers, and never ever be anything except extremely polite in your dealings with people at an event. This can be a real problem for some, whose lives are a never-ending stream of profanities. Such language during a tournament is to be avoided at all costs, lest the misconduct rule be applied against you.
I will be the first to admit, I have been prone to outbursts of bad language in the past – long before NZ started regularly hosting PDGA events – but these days I purposely use some especially non-threatening, socially-acceptable epithets as expletives. You’ll often hear me say “Buggery Bollocks” or “Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Barnacles”, or even, “D’OH!”
The always alliterative phrase “Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Barnacles” comes from the salty-but-family-friendly Captain Haddock, in the Tintin comic books.
Homer Simpson’s “D’OH” comes from the early days of talking cinema, when even the word “damn” was considered swearing, and the expression comes some old famous dude starting to say “Damn”, but catching himself after the very first letter, and adding “Oh” to create an inoffensive expletive. There was a distinct gap between the
D and the OH – which is why you often see it written as “D’OH”.
These are the very worst kind of situations at a disc golf event, and the PDGA has in recent years shown it has no hesitation in handing down year-long bans to players who make even the smallest of errors in this section of the rules.
Don’t even think about brushing past someone the wrong way, lest the action be interpreted the wrong way. That could lead to a DQ and/or a ban. High-ranked pro-player Bradley Williams has just returned from a year-long suspension after just such an incident.
Taking alcohol or drugs during a round
Alcohol and drugs are banned at PDGA events, regardless of local laws, and the rules are extremely clear for all tiers of events. Any time you drink at a C-Tier event you are risking an official warning, and subsequently compulsory disqualification. At B and A-tier events, you should be DQed the instant the TD is made aware of your actions.
Historically, New Zealand TDs have maintained “Plausible Deniability” regarding drinking during rounds, but things are changing rapidly, as the sport grows, and tolerance of flagrant breaches of these rules is rapidly declining.
The Process of Continual Refinement and Improvement by all Parties
There is a clear trend developing in NZ Disc Golf; more and more National Tour events are becoming PDGA C-Tiers, and occasionally the odd B-tier, and as this happens, the standard of courses, TDs, players, and adherence to the rules is improving over time.
Initially in this process, TDs and players inevitably made many and varied mistakes. This is to be expected. But as time goes by, TDs are learning and improving, and so are players’ knowledge of the rules.
So over time fewer mistakes are made at tournaments. This is certainly Vortica’s experience, with both of us always trying to lift the bar a little higher each time we host an event. It’s worth noting we’ve both made some whopping mistakes as TDs, and as players in the past, too. Please don't hold those against us.
The fastest and easiest way to improve your tournament score
We have an entire blog post on this subject, you can read it over here: https://www.vorticasport.com/single-post/2017/10/12/The-Single-Easiest-Way-To-Improve-Your-Game-Guaranteed
To sum this up though, you will improve the most, for the least amount of effort simply by studying the PDGA rules, and passing the open-book, open-ended, PDGA Officials Exam and become a qualified PDGA Rules Official.
Do that over here: https://www.pdga.com/rules/exam
It only costs US$10 and you only pay when you have passed the exam.
You may not be a professional now, and you probably never will be, but that does not excuse you from the requirement to act in a professional manner during PDGA rounds. Acting in a professional way at all times is by far the easiest way to ensure you never fall foul of the courtesy rules found in the “Competition Manual” at https://www.pdga.com/rules/competition-manual/301
We can’t stress this enough.
Acting in ways that are not professional is a sure-fire way to bring yourself into disharmony with the Professional Disc Golf Association. It’s right there, in the very first word of their name.
Most pointedly it is not the “Swears Like A Salty Sailor Disc Golf Association”. Neither is it the “Professional Alcohol and Disc Golf Association”.
Players can’t even carry alcohol or drugs during PDGA rounds, and it is not consumption which is the issue, but rather “having it on your person” which is sufficient to break the rules.
What it means to be professional
Professional behaviour is the highest standard we can aspire to, as players. It means always behaving in such a way that if your Grandmother were on the card with you, she would be proud of you, and if your entire round was published to YouTube, you would be proud to have it up there.
The Spirit of The Game encapsulates professionalism
Here we’re just going to copy and paste straight from the PDGA:
>Disc golf is typically played without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the player to show sportsmanship, integrity, consideration for other players, and to abide by the Rules of Play. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. Make the call. Accept the call. It’s not personal; it’s the rules. That is the spirit of the game of disc golf.
Things happen – what next?
Because all players are required by the rules, to enforce the rules, it is necessary to report any discrepancies between what you understand of the rules, and what you’ve seen take place on the course.
This does not refer to common rules like foot faults or falling putts – those are up to the players at the time of each incident – but rather, ambiguous scenarios, where the group is unsure how to proceed, or where the group sees someone egregiously break a rule on another card.
In any instance where you believe it is necessary to report an incident to the TD, we suggest you adopt the following approach; First, talk to another player who you think knows the rules well, and explain what happened, and ask for their opinion.
This is to prevent the TD being bombarded by questions which could be quickly ended by a discussion with other players.
Think of your poor TD!
Unless you are a TD yourself, you have no idea how stressful it can be, particularly when mobbed by players with personal agendas, questioned incessantly about things which are a matter of record, and a hundred other things besides.
Genuine issues which require clarification will need the attention of the TD, but how that attention is gained is critical. We suggest the following process:
If you are reporting your own accidental violation of a rule (such as a misplayed hole) then it does not need to go via the TD – but rather, the scorers. For example, you have owned up to a rule violation and need to inform the scorer that your score needs to be adjusted accordingly.
If your issue is an uncertain interpretation of a PDGA rule, then you should approach the designated Rules Official(s) for the tournament. The TD should announce ahead of time who these people are.
The TD is the final arbiter, and not your first port of call - please remember this.
If there are no designated Rules Officials, then you will need to once again, consider your approach; if your question relates to the score of a direct opponent, then you should engage a neutral third party, and we suggest making your approach in the following way.
Approach the TD with a question, not with a statement
This can’t be stressed strongly enough. If you have an issue you want to report, then you need to raise a question with the TD.
Statements tend to be emotional things, especially when directed AT a TD, rather than taking the civil approach of questioning. People who are a little excitable can make poorly formed statements to TDs rather than asking simple questions. They are then putting themselves in a precarious position with regard to the 3.03 Player Misconduct rules.
It is not a good idea to put the TD on the spot. It is not a good idea to upset a TD, or appear aggressive towards a TD – as the results could be exactly the opposite of what you hoped would be the outcome.
Give your TD as many options as possible
If a player goes into an area the card can’t decide conclusively is or is not OB, then the player should play as many sets of provisional throws as required to satisfy all possible outcomes of a hole.
As a player, do not be afraid to declare provisional shots to complete a hole, and play it out two (or maybe more) ways so that the TD can declare which was the correct way to play the hole, and assess the player with the correct score, without penalty for misplay.
Often it can happen that descriptions of things are ambiguous, or people’s understanding of the lie (especially with regards to Mandatories) is not complete. Misunderstanding of relief is also common. In these cases, the player should always complete the hole with two sets of scores and record both, and the circumstances of each.
We strongly encouraged players to use provisional throws to provide the TD with the easiest (and fairest!) solution to ambiguous situations.
But the TD made a bad decision! What do I do now?
Nothing, most likely. Suck it up. The vast majority of TDs are unpaid volunteers who put in huge amounts of their time and effort into hosting an event. They are not perfect, and they do the very best they can.
However, if it is a serious matter of a TD not following the existing rules, then you should raise the question of what rule affects the outcome and have a copy of the rule to refer to when discussing the situation with the Rules Officials, and if you are still unhappy, then get in touch with the PDGA clearly explaining the situation. But we need to stress that making an official complaint to the PDGA is a serious matter.
Never tell a TD what to do
You may even be a TD yourself (in which case you should know better!) but you must never approach a TD demanding they do X or penalise Y - or anything else for that matter.
While it is true that the rules often restrict what a TD can and can’t do in certain circumstances, proper respect for the position of Tournament Director must be expressed at all times. Your TD is more than able to arrive at the conclusion he has no choice in a matter under consideration, but it is never your job to tell them so.
All these things also apply to Rules Officials. So, always tread lightly.
Your caddy’s behaviour is your responsibility
This has been brought home to us most recently by the disqualification of Valarie Jenkins from the Master's Cup, due to her mother taking over bag-carrying duties with four holes to play. Sadly, Val’s Mom was carrying an open can of beer, and this constitutes a major violation of the alcohol rules, and unfortunately, the TD had no choice but to DQ her.
You will do well to remember this, and if anyone offers to caddy for you at any time during an event, you must ask them if they are in possession of any banned substances, otherwise, you could suffer a similar fate.
TDs do not want to disqualify or penalise ANYONE
Believe us when we tell you that penalising someone is not what we like to do. In fact, we hate it. We wish players would know the rules better and follow them with more diligence. And we hold ourselves to the same standard – trying to increase our depth of knowledge over time.
TDs do not take decisions lightly
Every TD I have ever met wants to do the best possible job they can, it’s as simple as that. No one leaps for the Big Red Pen, and as TDs we often discuss issues with other rules officials and other players in an attempt to be accurate, consistent, and compassionate where we can.
You may need to be That Guy
Despite what some players may think, it is the height of professionalism to enforce the rules correctly. It is up to you to call the mistakes you see made on the course. You should not feel bad or guilty about doing so, as it is a requirement of the rules.
BUT – how you goabout it is quite important. You must be entirely dispassionate about it. Never get upset or angry at someone for breaking a rule. Never raise your voice when discussing a rule violation.
Remember, in most instances, the group has to decide on rules issues as they arise, and if a rule break requires a seconder and none is forthcoming, you must remain relaxed about it, and not push the issue – you have done everything required by the rules.
It may be necessary to quote rules from time to time
Players are required to watch other players teeing and throwing, to ensure they are following the rules. In the above situation where a rule was broken, but no one else on the card saw it, it is necessary to remind the group they are required to watch, and leave it at that.
Stop players breaking the rules before it happens
Many times I have prevented players taking penalty strokes during a tournament. Often they’ll be in an illegal stance prior to throwing, or I can see them wanting to take relief from something that doesn’t qualify for it. And it sometimes happens that someone marks their lie with a mini, sets up to throw, and then goes back to their bag to swap discs, and then they shape up on their thrown disc, which has been moved. It is up to you to tell them to stop before they misplay their lie.
For this reason, if you mark your lie with a mini, either put the thrown disc away, or place it directly ahead of your mini (but not touching it!) so that you can’t make this mistake.
Please note well; placing your thrown disc on top of, or overlapping your mini
marker is illegal, as it disturbs the mini marker after you have placed it, no matter
that the movement is minimal . It is a potential misplay.
Perhaps even more common than this, is players touching their mini before they release the disc. This constitutes a foot fault, and an automatic and instant penalty stroke. We suggest you always set up 5cm behind your lie to avoid disturbing your marker.
It is not professional to stand idly by, and watch someone set up to break a rule, without bringing it to their attention first. If you eagerly watch a player setting up illegally, and then call them on it after they throw, a strong argument could be made to the TD that you are failing to play in a sportsmanlike manner, and you could be penalised, or potentially disqualified.
Call perceived rule violations immediately
If you see a rule being broken, announce it straight away. Sometimes you will be right, and sometimes you won’t know the rule correctly. In either case, you are right to always call what you see.
Do not wait until after the round to begin complaining about rule violations, especially about things which are up to the card to decide; foot faults, legal stances, etc.
People were breaking rules all over the place on my card!
This can be a tricky situation. It can happen quite naturally in the Recreational division, and I wouldn’t worry too much, as it’s likely players are almost entirely ignorant of all but the most basic rules.
If it is not Rec division, and the problems persisted throughout the round, then an approach to the TD may be called for. However, you need to consider what you are trying to achieve in doing so.
If the rule breaking results in changes to the leaders of a division, then we suggest you raise it with the rules officials.
There’s one player who falls every time they putt!
We sympathise. Some supposedly capable disc golfers seem to be unable to prevent themselves falling when inside the circle. The new rules in 2018 make this a lot easier to enforce, because the player no longer gets a re-throw, and simply takes a penalty stroke.
And if a player is falling on every putt, then you’re going to have to call them every time, and give them a penalty each time they do it.
Previously, a player would be asked to re-throw the putt, and of course, they fall in that putt, so they get a penalty and get asked to putt it again… a potentially infinite series of re-putting and falling.
Never accuse anyone of cheating
Unless your accusation is true, you are performing a great dis-service to the card and to the game, as well as greatly insulting the player. Thus, it is always best to assume that someone has simply made a mistake. This applies to scorecards (although the way the scores are taken should preclude scoring as a cheating method), foot faults, lies – and pretty much any other rule you will encounter.
It is always best to assume a player is making a mistake, even if you see them do something as egregious as kicking their disc into a better lie, or not marking their lie correctly.
Accusations of cheating are always going to wreak havoc in the group, as will any kind of emotional response to seeing it take place, or to being accused of it yourself. So, stay calm about rule-breaking at all times.
If you think cheating is taking place then it is your job to report what happened to the rules officials, and let them deal with it.
Follow the rules -- This is No. 1
Being known as a rule-abiding player is the best indication of a person’s sporting prowess. This can’t be stressed enough. The greatest players enforce the rules on themselves even when it costs them a stroke or more.
Always be honest with yourself
Is that disc OB, or not? This year we have seen Eagle McMahon declare his own disc to be OB, when two other deciding card-mates were pretty much settled on ruling it inbounds. This was a result of Drew Gibson simply asking Eagle if he thought his own disc was in or out.
Eagle replied that it was out, and took the penalty. He did go on to win the event, however.
This sort of behaviour is the sign of a true sportsman; a player recognises that the 3-way vote by the other players is about to swing his way, even though when he looks at it, it appears to be OB to his eyes, and he declares his own disc OB.
Of course, the card can over-rule him – but unless at least two other players are inclined to insist that the disc is in, the player’s decision is what you go on.
Please don’t pretend to know all the rules perfectly
Sometimes I hear players try to quote rules which either don’t exist or were dropped some time ago. As a player, it is important to know the rules, but if you are not very sure indeed of your knowledge, it’s best not to be dogmatic about it.
Carry a current PDGA rulebook
This should be 100% pure obviousness, but it is surprising how few players have one in their bag. Make sure you keep it in a ziplock too, as they work well as a sponge.
Vortica currently has oodles of rulebooks, and if you mention a rulebook
in your order over the next few months, we’ll throw one in for free.
Your round ends when you hand in your scorecard
If you grab a beer from your car before you hand in your scorecard, or even allow someone to pass you a beer, you have broken the rule, and could be warned at a C-Tier, and will be disqualified from everything else. Even if your beer is still sealed! And even if it is not your beer!
So, feel free to knock yourself out, the instant you turn that card in, but keep it squeaky clean until then.
Wrapping it all up
Do your absolute best, to play your absolute best, and be on your absolute best behaviour. That’s about it, really – and learn the rules, of course. We’re trying to take our own advice here, too.
Which rules do you see broken most often?
Let us know in the comments, what rule you see broken most frequently, without getting picked up and penalised. Our money’s on foot faults.