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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.