If you are new to disc golf and you have been shopping for discs. You have probably noticed the four little numbers stamped on the disc. They must have brainstormed for years to figure out a way to make a disc so complicated. We are going to get this all sorted out. First we will quickly introduce you to some of the most popular rating systems. Then we will go a little more into the four number system.
Everything below is for a disc that is rotating clockwise. Doesn't mater if you throw it between your legs, behind the back, or from your mouth. If it its rotating clockwise the following applies. If it's rotating counter-clockwise then everything is opposite.
Disc Golf Numbers Explained - The Four Number System
The "speed" rating is the one I believe to be the most confusing. This number just represents how fast you have to throw a disc to make it fly like it was designed. If you throw it faster or slower then it will not fly as the other numbers indicate it should. So you need to be careful to pick a disc that suits your arm speed.
The "glide" rating is pretty self explanatory. Pretty much the higher the glide number is the longer it can stay in the air. Simple is good right? Don't answer that. Kinda strange to talk to a screen.
The "Turn" rating is for the high speed portion of flight. Or the launch portion however you wanna look at it. A positive turn rating means that it should stay to the left when you throw it. A 0 rating means that it should stay straight. Last but not least a negative rating means it should go right . the more negative the number is the more right it should go. Negative turn ratings are better for beginners.
The "Fade" rating is for the low speed portion of flight. When your disc starts to slow it will fade to the left. the higher the fade rating the more it will fade. A fade rating of 0 should stay on course as the disc slows. A fade rating of 5 should fade hard right when the disc slows.
The Vibram Rating System
In case you cant read the stamp... Fade=8, Speed=50, and Turn=7
This rating system consists of just three numbers. The speed in MPH that you should throw the disc in order for it to have the designed flight path. The degree of Turn (the amount the disc goes right in the high speed portion of the throw) measured from 0-30. The degree of Fade (the amount the disc goes left when it starts to slow) also measured from 0-30. Vibram even stamps an image of the discs designed flight pattern on the bottom of their discs.
The Discraft Rating System
This rating system uses a single number ranging from 3 to -3. Maybe a little vague, but sometimes that can be a good thing. Basically the +3 rating means that this is an overstable disc ( it should go hard left during flight). A rating of 0 would be a stable disc ( it would go straight ). And a rating of -3 would be an understable disc ( it start out to the right during flight ) So if you don't feel like putting a whole lot of thought into disc selection this slims down your options quite a bit.
Disc Golf Numbers Explained - Speed, Glide, Turn, Fade, Overstable, Understable!!
What does it all mean, and how do you apply it to buying the right disc for you? There are a couple of ways this usually plays out. You likely either picked the one with the coolest name, or the fastest speed rating. Time to bang some chains! So you get out to the course with your new disc just knowing an ace is in your near future. Somehow your new disc is worse than the one you found in the creek with gouges all along the rim. Chances are that it's not your discs fault. It could just be that you weren't meant for one another. So lets dive right in, and get to the bottom of this once and for all.
There are a few terms you should be familiar with before dive into the numbers.
Everything below is related to clockwise rotating discs. Reverse for counter-clockwise
overstable- will go left during the high speed portion of flight.
stable- will go straight during the high speed portion of flight.
understable- will go right during the high speed portion of flight.
There are a few different rating systems used by disc manufacturers. Vibram, Discraft, and Innova all use a different system.
The SDLC or Secret Disc Launch Code - Four number System
It is an ancient myth that once a man deciphered the SDLC and launched a disc into orbit.
Speed- the minimum speed required for proper flight.
If you're not first you're last! More speed = more distance right? Well this is a very misleading rating so lets think of it as more of a required skill level than disc speed. They are classified in a few categories. Putters - range from 1 to 3 speed. Midrange- range from 4-5 speed. Fairway drivers- range from 6-8 speed. Distance drivers- range from 9-14 speed.
How speed relates to disc selection.
When I started playing disc golf I could barely eclipse the 225 Ft mark. So I started shopping online to find a distance driver that would get me over the hump. I looked through flight charts trying to find the straightest and longest pattern. "This one says it goes 300 plus Ft, and barely curves left at the end." I thought this must be the one for me. When I got to the course and saw it in live action it was nothing like advertised. Well the problem wasn't in the disc at all. I was throwing a 13 speed disc with a 10 speed arm.
The speed rating isn't how fast the disc travels. Although a 13 speed is more aerodynamic than a 10 speed driver. That just means the potential is there for more speed. Your arm is where that speed has to come from. So if your arm can only get a disc up to a "10" at full power then every disc rated higher will be overstable, and will go hard left far shorter than it's designed flight pattern. This can be used to your advantage if you have an obstacle you need to go around or maybe a hazard you want to be sure to stay left of. If you throw a disc rated at "9" with "14" power then it will Turn hard right sailing way off course, and possibly crashing straight into the ground.
Glide- the degree to which a disc stays aloft.
Rated from 1-7
How Glide relates to disc selection.
So basically a high glide disc has the potential to stay in the air longer than one with low glide. However this comes with a lot of variables. Wind conditions probably have the biggest effect on glide. The faster you throw a disc the more lift ( glide ) it will have. The slower you throw it the less lift it will have. So if you are throwing into a 15 MPH wind it's like you are throwing 15 Mph faster and the disc will have more lift. In this case you would want to use a disc with a lower glide rating in order to make it more accurate. The opposite is true for throwing with the wind.
When you are a beginner you want a disc with a higher glide. This will allow you to get a little extra distance on your throw. Weight can also affect the lift of your disc. Lighter discs have a potential for more lift, while heavier ones have less.
Turn - the degree that a disc goes right during the high speed portion of flight .
Ranges from +1 to -5. ( +1 = overstable, 0 = stable,-1 to -5 = understable )
How Turn relates to disc selection
The speed that you throw your disc has a huge factor on Turn. So even if you have an understable disc , and you don't get it up to speed it will still go left much sooner than it was intended. If you throw a stable to overstable disc it can still go right if thrown much faster than the speed rating.
A +1 ( overstable disc ) is harder to get distance out of because it will almost immediately curve to the left which means it will hit the ground sooner. This can also be more accurate since you don't have much chance of it sailing to the right. Understable = more accurate into the wind.
A 0 turn rating ( stable ) means that it will stay straight until it slows. Then it will fade to the left.
A -1 to -5 ( understable ) disc will start right then go left as it slows. Which can give you a little more distance. Can also be less accurate in the wind. Be careful with understable discs though. It's a helpless feeling to watch your drive start right ..... then just keep going right... and land 200 FT past and to the right of the basket. You can also use this to your advantage once you figure out how to make it keep going right intentionally.
Fade - the degree that a disc goes left during the slow speed portion of flight
Ranges from 0 to 5
How Fade relates to disc selection
If your disc has a 0 Fade then it should stay straight at the end of the throw, and is likely to get more distance. A disc with a Fade rating of 5 will break hard left at the end of the throw cutting your distance a little shorter. A high fade disc will give you more control into the wind. If you throw an understable disc with high fade it can make an S-shaped flight pattern which can give you even a little more distance.
Wrapping Up The Numbers
Wow! That Four Number System is by far the most complicated rating system in all of the lands. By now you probably think you will need hire a team of engineers and scientists to help you figure out which disc to buy. Some say that the numbers are meaningless. I feel like they are mostly useful as a reference point. For example if you have a disc that you like you can use its flight ratings as a reference point for others that are similar.
With A Grain Of Salt
All of these rating systems are pretty good. Just don't expect them to fly exactly like the numbers indicate. The flight pattern can be affected by your release angle, arm speed, the snap of your wrist, wind conditions, and even if you don't hold your mouth right.
I hope I have been of some help getting you started with your Disc Golf adventures. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Now grab some discs, some friends, and enjoy bangin chains.
Vice President of DisbeeFrisbee.com