As more and more people discover Knockwood, it is inevitable that we see a greater diversity of opinions on the course design. The feedback that I'm most intrigued by is the suggestion to cut down more trees because throwing lines do not exist on certain holes. I am not "knocking" the inclination to cut more trees down, so to speak, but merely reflecting on my own unique experience as a tester playing dozens of rounds during the grueling (8) month development process before the course opened to the public. I watched as the design team slowly and methodically converted forest to fairway, offering my personal blade to every stray sapling that dared touch my disc during a practice round. After a while, however, I realized that my inclination to shape the course to my game rather than shape my game to the course came from years of experience playing holes and courses that undeservingly rewarded me (or at least didn't really punish me) for throwing a mediocre line.
I consider myself an average to good amateur disc golfer in terms of skill level, but I have never competed in tournaments. I don't have an official rating if that matters to you for judging my commentary. I started playing disc golf about eight years ago shortly after I suffered a right knee ACL injury and had it surgically repaired. Because of my actual physical issues and perhaps more so the mental hurdles, I never became competent with the backhand throwing motion. Planting and twisting on my right knee was just never comfortable for me. To this day, I am almost exclusively a forehand thrower except for putting and short approach shots. I'll probably remain a flicker until I eventually throw my elbow out. As a one-dimensional player I know I am not going to be as good as players with a more well-rounded game. Nonetheless, after about 50 rounds played at Knockwood, my average score has dropped from the +8 to +10 range to the +2 to +3 range. I shot par on the course once. I have birdied all holes except for Hole #2, #6 short pin, #7 short pin and #18 (although I've chained out a couple of times). If I could throw my best shot on every hole in a single round, I'd demolish Smitty's challenge and set the course record at -14! But that's not how disc golf works, is it?
Few people know that the Santa Fe Lake design team removed an estimated 800-1,000 trees to create the course you are playing today. If you think Knockwood is tough now you should have seen the narrow keyholes we were throwing through before the course had a name. Those early rounds were brutal for our small group of testers with many of the throwing lanes barely wider than the discs themselves. However, we all understood that cutting trees down is a whole lot easier than putting them back, so we proceeded cautiously. We kept removing 1-2 trees at a time and testing throws until eventually we could shoot par when we threw good shots and birdie when we threw great shots. In order to throw great shots, however, we had to be willing to risk taking a bogey or worse. This risk/reward scenario does not present itself when your drive and/or approach shot can fan out 100 feet in any direction without really impacting your final score on the hole.
While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, the strategic decision-making and scramble skills required to score well are what make technical woods disc golfing fun, but also unbearably frustrating at times. This is why you see posts and reviews about Knockwood like "kicked my butt, but I had a blast," and "course beat me down, but I can't wait to come back," as well as "cut down more trees...there are no lines." Having played the course more than anyone I can say that I have had all of these feelings and thoughts at some point, and also experienced the jubilation when myself or another player on my card hit a line perfectly where I did not think one existed. The lines on heavily wooded courses are more intricate and slight variations in angles and disc speeds typically lead to very different results. These unique scramble situations force you to be creative in order to save par, and this feature is what keeps drawing me back to Knockwood again and again for round after round. I never play the same round twice and I have enjoyed the amazing scramble saves as much as the best drives that scored me a birdie.
After playing so many rounds and watching players more skilled than myself navigate Knockwood forest, here are five (5) lessons I've learned about disc golfing in the woods. Shout out to Lucas Deal and Discin' Deals' Coverage https://www.youtube.com/@discindeals for the video snippets from the recent WAMPL Championship that help demonstrate some of the lessons.
Five (5) Lessons Learned About Disc Golfing in the Woods
1. Everyone Hits Trees...Work on Your Scramble Game
No matter how good you are, every disc golfer in the world hits trees on tightly wooded courses. The first lesson, therefore, is to manage your own expectations and realize that you will too. Choose your lines and discs strategically to help minimize the risks and be prepared to use every utility shot in your arsenal (i.e. flicks, forehand and back hand rollers, flex shots, skip shots, thumbers, scoobers, etc.) to scramble and get a look at the basket. In the video below, Ronnie and Jordan took two different paths down the tree-crowded fairway on Hole 15: Nature's Revenge and had to scramble on their second shots. Ronnie threw a forehand roller and Jordan stretched out for a wide forehand flex shot. Both ended up in the same location with roughly 40-45 foot putts for birdie.
2. Throw Low to the Ground
Throwing lower will minimize the distance that a disc kicks when it inevitably hits a tree, reducing the risk of ending up in the rough with no clear approach shot. On wooded holes with tree canopies, high shots will almost always get knocked down and prevent you from making progress up the fairway. Both WAMPL players experienced favorable tree kicks much of the round with discs dropping in the fairway close to where they hit. For example, Jordan's drive on Hole 12 lifts quickly and catches an early tree in front of the tee pad. If the disc had missed this tree, it simply would have caught the canopy on the next tree behind it. Jordan corrects on his second shot and throws a low forehand laser about 3-4 feet off the ground that splits the gap and progresses a couple hundred feet up the fairway.
3. The Same Gap Doesn't Fit Every Throw The Same
The gaps in the trees may fit some throws better than others, even though multiple types of shots can be successful if you hit the line perfectly. Both players during the WAMPL Championship match threw the same right side gap on Hole 11: Sticks and Stones, but their shot choice was completely different. Ronnie threw what looked like a backhand turnover shot that cleared the initial gap but caught the edge of a second tree and kicked hard left, forcing a scramble to save par. Jordan threw a forehand flex shot that cleared the initial gap then hit a tree at the end of the fairway and dropped 20 feet from the basket for birdie. Their lines probably only varied by a foot or two but in this example, Jordan's shot shape allowed his disc to sneak by the second tree that Ronnie's clipped.
I have found the opposite to be true for shot shapes on the left side gaps for Hole 11 at Knockwood. My friend throws a backhand annhyzer on the left side of the first available tree. He has 'pured' two separate gaps that allow his disc to float all the way to the basket unscathed. On the other hand, I have not personally thrown or seen a forehand thrown yet that can clear the same tree gaps on that left side.
4. Straight: The Hardest Shot in Disc Golf
Low, straight shots are a critical tool for navigating wooded courses. You may get lucky and hit that bomber line through the trees that takes you all the way to the basket, but how many rounds and bogeys did it take for you to replicate that shot again? In all likelihood, you will score better breaking the hole down into more manageable chunks and throwing shorter distances. When navigating tight tree gaps, Ronnie demonstrated this skill set multiple times throwing with his lower speed mid-range. On Hole 10: Log Jam he hit the tree gap perfectly and skipped inside circle two, for an unobstructed birdie putt. On Hole 12: Ridgeline, Ronnie threw the same disc with a slightly flatter release to clear the tree gap, sliding about halfway up the fairway to put him in position to pitch up and putt for birdie.
5. Learn to Throw a Forehand
As an exclusive flicker I know that I will struggle with certain shot shapes in the woods that are better suited to backhand throwers. The same holds true for exclusive or mostly backhand throwers that don't work on their forehand game. Woods golf will likely require you to be proficient at both to score low. Furthermore, forehands are versatile throws that are not limited to the tee box. Our WAMPL Champion Jordan demonstrated on multiple occasions how useful a forehand can be, not just for drives but also for technical upshots that require pinpoint accuracy.
All Video Snippets Courtesy of Lucas Deal, Discin' Deals Coverage