You wouldn’t think that a few grams of weight would have much effect on the flight of a disc. Yet, experience will show you that there is a big difference in flight between a 175g disc and a 165g disc of the same mold.
Let’s review the factors that affect the flight of a disc, then check out how weight plays into the flight.
As we’ve mentioned in other articles on this site, there are many things that determine how a disc will fly. The disc’s flight numbers, its condition, the elevation you’re at, the temperature, how fast you throw the disc, the plastic type and, of course, its weight.
For the sake of this article and to simplify the discussion, let’s proceed as though all of the other factors that determine the flight of a disc are equal, except for the weight. That way we can focus on how the weight affects the flight.
Weight of Disc Golf Discs
The Professional Disc Golf Association determines the specifications for discs to be approved for play in disc golf. They have determined that the maximum weight for a disc golf disc is 200g.
However, they also have guidelines that limit the maximum weight based on the diameter of the disc. This limitation makes most drivers’ max weight around 175-176g. Midrange discs have a larger diameter, so they have a slightly higher max weight. Superclass discs like the Innova Zephyr and Condor can be up to 200g.
At the other end of the weight spectrum, there isn’t a PDGA minimum weight. Although most disc golfers throw 150g and above discs, lighter discs have their place in many players’ bags. There are discs that hover near the 100g mark, and those are perfect for kids. A disc that light would likely not be a good fit for someone with any experience in disc golf.
Let’s talk about why that is the case, and what a discs weight does to its flight.
How Disc golf Weight Affects Flight
For this example, we will use an Innova Destroyer as our test disc. A quick check of InfiniteDiscs.com reveals that, as of this writing, the Destroyer comes in Blizzard plastic as light as 143g, all the way up to 173-175g discs in Star and Champion plastics.
Although 32g doesn’t sound significant, we’ll see shortly just how big that difference is in disc golf. Before we do that, let’s refer to another article on this site that talks about physics for a moment.
As we learned in science class, Newton’s first law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.
Newton’s second law state that the acceleration of an object depends on the mass of the object and the amount of force applied. Even though it is inaccurate to say that mass always equals weight, we will use the terms interchangeably to simplify this discussion.
The best way to visualize Newton’s first two laws is picture a grocery cart. If you were to push an empty cart, you could get it rolling very fast, very quickly. Now picture the same cart with a bunch of gold bars. How much more difficult would it be to get the cart going fast?
In the case of a golf disc, when we reach the disc back in preparation for a throw, as some point the disc is pretty much ‘at rest’. We then need to apply force to the disc (our throw) in order to get the disc moving fast enough to fly properly. How much force we need to apply depends on the mass (weight) of the disc.
The lighter disc will take less force than a heavier disc. In other words, if we want to get a heavier disc flying fast, we would have to have a good amount of skill and timing.
If you are an experienced player, you can likely throw a 175g Destroyer and it will fly like it was designed to fly. On a right-hand back-hand (RHBH) throw with no wind, the Destroyer will turn slightly to the right during the early stages of flight.
It will then continue in that direction for a while, then start to fade to the left as it slows down. If viewed from above, the flight would look have a sort of ‘S’ shape to it, which is a great flight.
A beginner likely can’t get the same 175g Destroyer flying as fast as the disc needs to be flying, due to inexperience and less-proper technique. Let’s say that the best he can do is a 40 MPH throw.
Since the disc isn’t flying fast enough, it will behave the same as the experience player’s disc does when it is slowing down: with no wind, it will fade to the left early in the flight and the beginner won’t as much distance as they possibly could. Now let’s compare the beginner and experienced play when they throw a lighter disc.
Since the 143g Destroyer has less mass, the experienced player can get it flying faster (let’s say 62 MPH) because it takes less force to throw the disc. However, if the disc is flying faster, it will behave differently. At the fastest portion of the flight, the disc will turn even more to the right than the 175g disc.
If fact, it might turn too much to the right and come crashing to the ground early. If it does have a full flight, it will turn to the right early and not have as much fade to the left as it slows down.
For the beginner throwing a 143g disc with no wind, he will be able to generate more speed that when he threw the heavier disc. With less mass to accelerate, it takes less force to get the disc flying properly. The beginner might get the disc up to 50 MPH on his throw.
While that is still less than the 55 MPH that the disc is made for, it is much closer than if he threw the heavier disc. His flight will be straight, and maybe even a little turn to the right, followed by a fade to the left. With that flight, he will get more distance on the lighter disc than the heavier disc.
To summarize the effect that weight has on the disc (the all other factors being equal), on a RHBH throw, the disc will turn more to the right in the early stages of the flight for faster discs. Lighter discs can be thrown faster, and therefore will turn more to the right. They will also fade less to the left.
How much the discs turns to the right and fades to the left depends on its speed, which is determined by our skill and technique.
You can see how important it is for beginners to select disc with the proper weight and speed for their skill level. That will give them more distance in their flight, and help them have more fun! It takes a bit of experimentation, but the results are worth the effort.