September 3, 2023 8:43 PM

TD'ing your first Tournament

Joe Douglas
Written by
Joe Douglas
US Affairs Managing Director

Planning to TD your first disc Golf Tournament

Tournaments across the country are filling quickly, and many have wait lists of players ready to play. Tournaments are in short supply, and Tournament Directors (TDs) are in high demand. If you are thinking about being a TD for the very first time, there has never been a better time to start. Knowing that you will have a good turnout when registration opens makes it much easier to budget for a tournament and to ensure success.  

There is nothing that says that the first tournament you run has to be a PDGA-sanctioned event, but there are many advantages to it. Most importantly, when you sanction a tournament, it comes with liability insurance. Most parks require you to have insurance to run an event. Even if insurance is not required, you should never run an event without insurance. Injuries and accidents do happen, and so do lawsuits (more so in the US, but Canada has had some, too).  You can purchase insurance from an agent, but it is unlikely that you will find a better value than having it included by the PDGA for the small sanctioning fee.  Additionally, when you sanction a tournament, your event will be advertised at the best place possible: the PDGA website.

To sanction a tournament, several things are required. You must be a PDGA-certified rules official, and know the date and format of your tournament with course/park and state coordinator approval.

The PDGA certification test is available online (test taking fee: $10), and will require you to be a PDGA member.  The test is open-book, but since you will be serving as the TD, make sure to read the entire rules and competition manuals.   You will be the one to have the final say on tournament rulings, and it is important to have a firm understanding of the rules.

"Divisional singles format" is the simplest type of tournament to run, as it is the one that most players are familiar with. If you run a doubles or team type of tournament, be prepared for a lot of questions: even if you understand those types of tournaments, you would be surprised at how many emails and phone calls you are going to get from people wanting clarifications.

Do you run a tournament for Pros, for Amateurs, or for both?  If you have experience playing professionally, then a Pro tournament will probably be the easiest type of tournament for you to run first.  Pros don’t expect player packs, the payout is simpler, and trophies are optional (although you should still have one for first place in each division). However, expectations are generally higher for a Pro tournament, and because money is on the line, players are much more likely to be upset about any mistakes you might make. I would not recommend Pro only to be your first type of tournament if you do not have a lot of experience playing professionally.  

It is not difficult to plan a player's pack for Amateurs, or merchandise payout, so don’t be afraid to run an amateur tournament either. One thing to consider is running a “true amateur” tournament.  For this tournament type, there is no payout and only trophies.  The player's pack needs to equal 100% of net entry fees, and there are rules that explain a minimum number of trophies you have to give out, based on the size of each division.  

If you are fortunate enough to have someone with TD experience helping you, then a combined event may be right for your first event.  If you don’t have a strong support staff ,though, stick to Pro or Amateur only for your first event.

The next thing you will have to decide is the Tier level.  A C tier designation is most likely your ideal level for a first tournament, as it provides you the most flexibility.  C tiers only require that 18 holes be played, and only require a payout of 85% of net entry fees.  C tiers also have the smallest mileage restrictions, which will make it easier to find a date, especially if there are a lot of other tournaments in your area.

Sometimes finding the date is the easy part, and sometimes it is the hardest part.  The farther out you plan the event, the easier it is to secure your date.  Be sure to check the schedule with your course/park owner and the state coordinator to find a date that works for everyone.  For a C tier, you are required to sanction your tournament at least 30 days before the event date and pay a sanctioning fee of $50. Once you have completed your sanctioning agreement, the event will be published on the PDGA website for everyone to see, and you will receive an email with information to help you create an event listing on discgolfscene. 

Take some time to learn how discgolfscene works, and take a look at what other tournaments have used to describe their tournaments.  The more information here, the better. Tell the players the registration fees, and let them know if there will be tee times or shotgun starts. Identify the courses and layouts being used.  Lately, a lot of tournaments are selling out quickly. The most common question I usually get asked is, “What day and time does registration open?”.  There is no reason to overthink this part, and you can always go back and make changes later, though it is better to have a majority of your information posted. If you do not have a lot of the information at the ready, you are going to be getting a lot of questions.  It is better to simply advertise “more information coming soon” than to post incomplete information.  Be sure to post the participation waiver that players are required to acknowledge before registration opens.

The next step in preparing for your first tournament is preparing a budget.  It is best to know what all your costs are before you create a registration fee.  Identify all the supplies you will need and add at least $200 to what you estimate.  It is easy to overlook important items, as you most likely won’t just be buying players' packs and trophies. Some of the basics you may need to purchase include scorecards, pencils, rope, marking paint, water, a first-aid kit, and an air horn.  Also, don’t forget to account for PDGA player fees or city permit fees.  For C tier events, you are allowed to deduct the PDGA player fee from the payout and also the permit fees. I prefer to make this transparent as possible and identify the fees on discgolfscene.  When calculating the value of players' packs and merchandise payouts, you are also allowed to use the retail value of those products for your calculations. Payouts can be difficult to budget and plan for, especially for your first tournament.  The easiest solution is to work with a local disc golf store or online retailer to obtain vouchers for the players.  This gives the players a lot more selection and gives you a lot more flexibility if the turnout is not what you expected.

It is okay if you set a smaller cap for the tournament or restrict certain divisions, even if it means everyone doesn’t get to play.  However, you should always create a female division for every division that is offered.  If you would like to include Junior divisions, be sure to consider the time of year and difficulty of the course for appropriateness.

There are advantages and disadvantages to running tournaments with shotgun starts or tee times.  Shotgun starts make it easier to have time to complete two rounds in one day, to give a natural break to volunteers between rounds, to ensure that players will all encounter the same weather, and to ensure that everyone starts and finishes the tournament rounds around the same time. Of course, there are always those that show up late or finish later.  

Shotgun start tournaments will limit the size of your field based on the number of holes.  If you have an 18 hole course, try to stay at or below 72 players so that no group is bigger than four; the tournament experience is dramatically different if you have groups of five.  Some of the disadvantages of shotgun starts include: communicating  to large groups of players at one time; accounting for players at the start and end of rounds; congested parking lots; and inconsistency in starting holes.  Furthermore, shotgun starts will take much more planning to mitigate risk to COVID-19.

Field sizes can be larger with tee times, as they are more restricted by daylight than by course size.  However, there is usually only enough time to complete one round in a day with a larger field.  Having tee times works best for multi-day tournaments.  Two rounds of tee times in one day can be accomplished by limiting the field size.  The main advantage of tee times is improved communication, as the groups are smaller.  It is also easier to account for the players before they tee off; just be sure to tell each group exactly the same instructions.  Also, you usually can have most of the tournament wrapped up before the final card finishes, as you will know most of the outcomes as they finish. Tee times make both traffic flow in the parking lot and COVID-19 mitigation much easier as well.  Some of the disadvantages of tee times include: difficulty in scheduling volunteer breaks; being busy pretty much the entire day; and inconsistency in weather for the players.

Deciding on tee times or a shotgun start will often come down to what fits your personality style, and either one will work great for your first tournament.  If you don’t mind talking to large groups, and prefer a one-day tournament, go with shotgun.  If you enjoy talking with small groups of players, and being at the course all day for two days, go for tee times.  If you need to mitigate COVID-19 risks, choose tee times.

The primary key to running good tournaments is keeping things simple and relying on your strengths.  Don’t make changes you are not comfortable with.  It is impossible to make everyone happy, but you should make an honest effort to listen to all of the feedback that you receive.  Most importantly, do the best job that you can, and be happy with that.

If you read through this and felt overwhelmed, just remember you won’t be alone.  The PDGA is an amazing resource, and are always there to help answer your questions.  Additionally, reach out to local or regional TDs, and you would be surprised at how many are willing to help.  If you don’t think you are ready to TD your first tournament, consider volunteering.  Volunteering is a great way to learn the ropes of running an event without having full responsibility.