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Most disc manufacturers have come to a consensus on the use of 4 numbers to summarize the flight characteristics of a disc.  These are displayed on the product pages like the following:

 

speed:
8
glide:
6
turn:
-1
fade:
3

Let's have a look at the individual numbers and explain what they mean.

 

First, Some Disclaimers

These numbers are:

  • Not standardized. They are more of a hint to what you can expect.
  • Different from one manufacturer to the next. The numbers will give you a general idea of what to expect, but not an exact flight profile.
  • Based on a reasonably talented throw.  Your results may vary, especially as the numbers reach the extremes.
  • Based on the mold only, not the plastic or weight. Lighter discs can significantly change the results of your throws, as can the type of plastic.

 

Speed

Speed is the rate at which a disc can travel. Slower discs typically have a more blunt edge, and a thinner rim. They are more affected by the wind, and often find themselves blown off course. Faster discs are more aerodynamic and have sharper edges that are perfect for embedding your disc in the trunk of a rotting tree. A fast disc can cut through the wind with the greatest of ease. 

While you CAN play catch with a slower putter, you would not want to try and catch a high speed driver! 

Typically, these numbers range from 1 to 14.  They roughly correlate to the disc types (Putters 1-4, Midrange 5-6, Control/Fairway Drivers 7-8, and Distance Drivers 9-14).

Note to Beginners

Stick with the lower speeds as you are starting out.  Sure, we all want to throw 14 speed discs. As you gain experience and arm speed, the spectrum of speed numbers available to you will open up.  But, we recommend starting off with discs in the bottom half for your first discs.

 

Glide

The glide number gives you an idea of how likely your disc is to remain aloft.  The numbers vary from 1 to 7.  You could imagine a brick is going to have a glide of '0'.  A lofty disc would be a 7.  

Why would we want a disc with less glide? Good question, lower glide discs are more likely to stay on target when the wind starts blowing.

Note to Beginners

Typically, a beginner is going to get better distance with higher glide numbers.  There is a place for lower glide discs in the short game.  Is it easier to hit a dart board with a dart, or a paper airplane?

Turn

Turn is where the magic happens.  If you see professionals on the YouTubes throw long booming drives with a beautiful S-shaped flight, you have already noticed the "turn" of a disc.  The numbers range from -5 to 1 (yes, that's "negative five".) 

Sometimes you will hear the terms "overstable" or "understable" regarding a disc. Think of understable discs as the most negative. And overstable are the most positive.

At the negative end of the scale, the disc will tend to "turn" with the spin in the early flight. A right-handed-back-hand (RHBH) or left-handed-fore-hand (LHFH) will turn right, while a RHFH and LHBH throws will turn left. 

Note to Beginners

Beginners and those with slower arm speeds may notice that none of their discs "turn". This is typically because they are not putting enough spin or speed on their throws.  If this is happening to you, try to find a disc with more understable (more negative) turn number.  

When you throw your first S-shaped throw, you WILL be hooked on disc golf.  You have been warned.

 

Fade

Fade is the tendency for all discs to hook against the spin as the disc slows down. Think of it as the anti-turn. The numbers range from 0 to 5.  A lower turn disc is likely to finish straighter, while a higher fade disc will finish to the Left for RHBH and LHFH throws and Right for RHFH and LHBH throws. 

Note to Beginners

Beginners should look for the lower fade numbers when selecting their discs. At lower throw speeds, it is very hard to prevent your throw from immediately fading hard into the ground.  Lower turn discs, especially at lower speeds are much more likely to get more distance and accuracy. 

It's very rare to see a completely straight shot end to end, due to the laws of physics we are currently bound to.