Golf discs are designed to travel different distances with different flight paths. Distances and flight path are affected by how fast the disc is thrown and at what angle the disc is released. As a result of this variability, discs are available in many different molds, plastics and weights.
Four Categories of Discs
Discs are broken down into four categories – Driver (speed of 9-10+), Fairway (6 to 8-9 speed), Midrange (4 and 5 speed), and Putt & Approach (1 to 3 speed). Discs with higher speed ratings have slimmer profiles making them more aerodynamic; they need to be thrown with more power and spin to fly at their intended speed and distance. Discs with lower speed ratings have thicker profiles making them less aerodynamic; they are easier to throw straight and control. Putt & Approach is a bit of a misnomer because a Putt & Approach can be thrown over 300 feet. Witness the recent "greatest shot in disc golf history" in which James Conrad throws his Axiom Electron Firm Envy (speed 3) 247 feet on the final hole of the 2021 Pro World Championships.
Many discs have four numbers imprinted on the face of the discs. These numbers represent Speed, Glide, Turn and Fade of the Innova Flight Ratings System which was designed to describe a disc’s intended flight path numerically and are intended to be used to compare the different flight paths of Innova discs of the same speed category. Innova defines them as follows:
Speed (1 to 14): Speed is the rate at which a disc can travel through the air. High speed discs are not recommended for beginners as they require more power to fly properly.
Glide (1 to 7): Glide describes a disc's ability to maintain loft during flight. Discs with more glide are best for new players, and for producing maximum distance. Beginners wanting more distance should choose discs with more glide. Discs with less glide are more accurate in high wind situations.
Turn (+1 to -5): High Speed Turn is the tendency of a disc to turn over or bank to the right for right-hand backhand (RHBH) throws and to turn over or bank to the left for left-hand backhand (LHBH) throws during the initial part of the flight. A disc with a -5 turn rating will turn the most; discs with more turn are easier to throw for beginners.
Fade (0 to 5): Low Speed Fade is the discs tendency to hook left for RHBH throws and to hook right for LHBH throws at the end of the flight. A disc rated 0 will finish straightest, while a disc rated 5 will hook hard at the end of the flight.
Note that different plastics and weights will affect the flight path of each mold. A disc in baseline plastic may have a greater High Speed Turn than a disc in premium plastic of the same mold, and a lighter disc will have a greater High Speed Turn than a heavier disc of the same mold. Note also that although most of the other disc manufacturers have adopted the use of these flight numbers, another manufacturer’s speed 8 disc may not be the equivalent of the speed 8 of an Innova disc.
To view and listen to a more detailed explanation of the flight numbers, see What do the Numbers on The Discs Mean? Flight Rating System (July 2020) by JustDisc.
Each disc mold can come in multiple plastics – from baseline (least durable and most affordable) to premium (more durable and expensive). For new players, it is best to start with baseline plastics because (1) most baseline plastics are more understable (more turn less fade) than most premium plastic and (2) many new players will try out different discs until they find one that is suitable for their arm speed and throwing style, and many will graduate to higher speed discs as they continue to improve. It is not cost-effective to buy discs in premium plastic that may not work for you in the long run. Baseline plastic also works very well in colder and wetter weather. For more on choosing plastic types, view What Type of Disc Plastic Should You Throw? (March 2021) by JustDisc.
Discs are available in weights from 100 grams to 180 grams. Beginners should be able to get more distance with lighter discs because lighter discs have more glide than heavier discs and lighter discs are easier to throw because they are more understable than heavier discs of the same mold. Lighter discs are also easier to control because you don’t have to throw them at maximum power to get the intended flight path. A general rule of thumb to follow: the higher the speed the lower the weight; most people can have success throwing a 175-gram putter but most people will have better success throwing a driver that weighs less than 175 grams.
Choosing a Disc
While disc type, flight numbers, plastic type and weight are important factors to consider when choosing a disc, we believe weight is one of the more important consideration because lighter discs are easier to throw than heavier versions of the same disc. If you want to introduce a child to the sport, the disc mold and plastic (and even colour) are secondary to the disc weight. For more on weight and plastic, view What To Remember When Buying a Disc l 2 Important Things! (September 2021) by JustDisc. For information about disc weight discrepancies, see our article about Disc Weights and Images.