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  • Chris Davies. Edited by Martin Galley

Moonbase Musings; Or, how challenging courses can cause bad play

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Twizel, MacKenzie County; Big Sky Country. Desert country. Disc Golf country! This last weekend saw 45 National Tour competitors touch down for Moonbase 3, and very few people played anywhere near their capacity, leaving me in 3rd overall when the dust settled after the Super Six playoff. How did THAT happen?

This year after two overall seconds, two fifths, and with five GM victories, and sitting in 9th place overall, I needed a very high finishing position at Moonbase 3 to increase my tour points, and given the fact the effective 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th

ranked players were in attendance...


...plus a bunch of highly talented young guys from Wanaka, Queenstown, Christchurch and Dunedin – it seemed like I would be there simply to make up the numbers, and I considered my chances of getting into the playoff were pretty remote.

Big Sky Country: the author slowed to almost legal speed to snap this.
Big Sky Country: the author slowed to almost legal speed to snap this.

Twizel Moonbase The championship 18 layout is a fantastically challenging course in the same way that Bella Rakha in Auckland is. It’s the kind of course where you add up all the birdies you can make, and realise you should be able to turn in a 9-under if you played your best disc golf, but the chances of doing much better than 5-under are heavily stacked against you, because of the extreme number of opportunities there are for it to go pear-shaped and for the course to cough up single, double, or even triple bogies.

Moonbase 3: Championship 18 on State Highway 8, Mackenzie County
Moonbase 3: Championship 18 on State Highway 8, Mackenzie County

There are plenty of risk/reward opportunities if you have a big arm, but plenty of ways to have genuinely good chances of birdie for less than MPO top-card type arms, too. The long birdies are sometimes quite risky, and require adequate thought be given to the attempt beforehand. Going astray can leave you with a pitch-out on a few of the holes, and going from rubbish straight to garbage is also possible.

None of these things could possibly stop me attending, of course; and while I am primarily focused on my place on the NZ tour, the Moonbase competition has everything a disc golfer could ever ask for: a compelling drive on a challenging road, epic views, incredible weather, the world’s most gorgeous sky (day and night!), the Main Divide and Mount Cook, great social gatherings, a well-run event with excellent food, gorgeous keepsake trophies, terrific prizes, a highly challenging course, and the possibility of high winds just to keep you on your toes. It is, for me at least, a major highlight in my disc golf year.

Plus of course, Vortica Disc Golf business partner Martin “Meerkat” Galley puts on the best tournaments in NZ. No bias here, or disrespect to other TDs, including myself! Being obsessed by disc golf, and being slightly OCD is always a good thing when you are a TD, and Martin takes these things seriously – so seriously he ditched me after the doubles on Friday, and did not play in his own event – a rarity for a TD in NZ.

We’d played decidedly averagely together on Friday with a total of 107 against the par of 112, and this did not encourage me regarding my performance potential for the solo rounds. But remember, I was only there to make up the numbers, and have a good time…

Beautiful keepsake trophies by Wanakan Kyle Martin
Beautiful keepsake trophies by Wanakan Kyle Martin

Preparing for an event Each night before a tournament round I have a ritual which helps me to get to sleep, because I often have difficulty drifting off the night before. I play tournament rounds in my head. Sometimes it can take me 3 or even 4 full rounds before I succumb to sweet slumber.

In my mind-game, I only play the shots I can play reliably in real life, and I plan my strategy accordingly, so as not to throw any bogies. I visualise every shot vividly and imagine them with different winds, so I always have conservative options for any wind strength and direction, throughout the course.

It is very seldom I deviate from my mental rounds on a tournament day, and it is usually only poor execution, or poor luck, which causes it. It should be noted that, as my execution level rises, so too does my luck level.

I am sure these mental rounds are a factor in my relative tournament success in the last few years. Based on my previous experience at a DGC, and my practice rounds, I work out which holes I can realistically birdie, and which holes I will definitely play for par. It changes each year as my skill level increases.

Yours truly, Heart Basket all day long.
Yours truly, Heart Basket all day long.

I play my own game In my mental rounds, I execute the drives so I can either make my par as planned or simply give myself an opportunity for birdie, on the holes where I can potentially make one.

In real life, I never try to make birdie on my planned par holes, and I stick to my game plan.

How others are doing is irrelevant to me. I’m playing against the course, and the conditions, not against any other person, even arch-rival Grand Master Dom “Silver Fox” Hayden, who denied me at last year’s event, beating me by just one stroke.

To par, or not to par? That is the question. My decision about whether I play for birdie or par, on holes where I could potentially make a birdie is strictly decided by the risk versus the reward. This was exemplified by basket 6, a double-mando “slalom”, where two large trees are in line with the teepad, and your disc must pass between the gap, from either direction. Missing the mando puts you on the dropzone, 27 metres out, and well beyond anything other than a crowd-pleasing throw in – and those attempts can easily result in an additional two putts.

The birdie play is a powerful and well-weighted RHFH (Right Hand ForeHand) anhyzer drive with an overstable disc, that passes right of the first mando on its anhyzer and flies left, then flexes right around the second mando, and fades into the triangle of trees supporting the elevated basket, shown below. Both mando trees are mature, and have foliage beginning at 3.5 metres height. The skill level required to make this shot, and park it, is very high.

The ever-tempting and ever-treacherous Basket 6
The ever-tempting and ever-treacherous Basket 6

The basket is suspended with the rim of the cage at 170cm in height, from three mature trees in a triangle, and it is protected from several angles (see right), especially the hyzer line, meaning that missed runs often result in triple putting.

This hole saw only 4 birdies from 45 players in 3 rounds, or just 3% of attempts. For the first time in NZ disc golf history, live scoring was used, and DiscGolfMetrix showed an average of more than 3.8 for the hole, over the tournament.

This aligned nicely with my assessment of the hole, which was that even the attempt at the forehand anhyzer flex shot was insane, as missing the mando results in an average of 5 – double bogey!

So, I did not try or practice the birdie play, and concentrated on playing a short skip shot with my Enforcer, which always put me in easy range of par. And I dropped in 3 times out of 3 for par, while better players averaged close to double-bogie, attempting the birdie.

One could argue about the design of this hole and say it should be par 4 – but par is utterly irrelevant to scores. One could say such a hole is poorly designed because it makes suckers of good players by having many of them hyzer out early or hit the second tree and miss the mando.

But I think it is an excellent hole, and I will never attempt to birdie it, because it is a sucker’s hole! It is designed to cause otherwise smart golfers to make silly decisions, by attempting a very difficult shot, the failure of which results in an automatic double bogey. The risk is far too great for the reward, and you are crazy to attempt it.

Because it’s in the middle of the course, it’s never a decider hole – where if you don’t make the birdie you’ll lose the tournament. And to my mind, the only justification for going for that birdie is if you have to make it to force a playoff. Or you are a show-off, in which case, you deserve your double-bogie!

Otherwise, the best strategy on that hole is to always take my easy 3 – because it IS an easy 3 – take 0.8 strokes on the field, and move on to basket 7 which I can also birdie…

Despite these (I thought!) very self-evident facts, many people with skills on par with mine were making the crazy birdie attempt and failing. Even if the FH annie-flex shot actually gets through the mando, it’s unlikely it’ll be within easy putting range – and the elevated basket makes long putts very problematic – so you can still easily take bogie even if you succeed in making the risky drive!

This hole design perfectly demonstrates players’ basic failure in risk/reward analysis of a hole, and a misunderstanding of the intention of the designer. He is NOT inviting you to make a birdie, he’s inviting you to take double bogey!

The position of the DZ makes this hole’s design very clear: you mustn’t try for the birdie, or you’re a sucker!

The dreaded Penstock Mando on #18. A real heartbreaker!
The dreaded Penstock Mando on #18. A real heartbreaker!

There are other Mandos and OB/Hazard which tempt a player into playing a shot for which the punishment of failure exceeds the reward of success. Some of the holes are cunningly designed to only tempt the top players into birdie attempts, where only truly terrific shots can ever make the birdie. And several of them paid the price looking for that stroke, by landing in a Hazard, missing Mandos, or going OB.

By planning my game strategy based on my assessment of each hole’s risk and reward, I’m able to minimise risk to my score, and maximise what few opportunities I’m able to create with my conservative strategy.

I’m open to changes to my strategy if needed – and after failing to execute on a high spike forehand in round one on basket 8, I converted to the high putter backhand anhyzer for the final two attempts, with more success.

I also disced down for a tunnel shot in round 2, in response to two things. Firstly, the condition of the tee was awful, and the ceiling was very low, and it was into a headwind 2 of 3 rounds. Many players were throwing high into the foliage about 20 metres in front of the tee, and it wasn’t until round 2 when I took a close look at it that I realised why; there was a subtle but definite height difference between the back foot and front foot placement, with the plant spot being about 50-60 millimetres higher than the back foot position.

Thus, the teepad had an effective incline, which people were not taking into account, and then wondering why every shot was going high almost instantly. I only told one person about my observation, and then kept quiet about it, and proceeded to throw discs at the right height and nose angle from then on, and I did make it out of the tunnel, to give me a clear shot at the basket.

I also disced down to a low-glide midrange due to the headwind which tended to turn and lift fairway drivers into some nasty stuff on the right, and I figured a straight midrange was the right solution, absent a long, low, and accurate RHFH skip shot with an overstable driver – something I can’t rely on in my own game, as yet.

I can only assume most people thought their shots were skying out because of bad form, or headwind – but in reality it was the teepad angle doing it.

All these observations on the course help to reign in failure, and give success a chance – because that is all I look for in my game, a small chance to make something happen on my designated birdie holes, and to hold par with conservative throws where I can’t make birdie.

It must be said my strategy never goes entirely according to plan, (to put it mildly!) because if it did, I’d have taken 9 birdies and no bogies each round, winning the tournament by 13 strokes, when in fact after 69 holes, I was 19 strokes behind the winner, NZ’s own Ken Climo; 14x NZ Champ, World Mini Disc Golf Champ, and ex-world Masters distance title holder, Simon Feasey, owner of RPM discs.