thomas gilbert throwing a disc golf disc on the moon

Theoretical Disc Golf Physics Questions

Oh good you clicked on this blog! The title sounds kinda boring but I assure you this NewsBite won’t be. This blog is going to discuss situations which would never arise in disc golf. I’ve been taking physics this semester at the University of Southern Maine (Go Huskies!), and when you think about it, disc golf is mostly physics. So I’ve had a discussion with my physics professor, she told me that these situations would likely never be tested, so we apply our best guesses to these questions. Do some math and never learn whether or not we’re right. It’s still fun to imagine though.

But rather than talking about arm angles or how after 100 feet a 1 degree difference results in 5.2 feet of movement to one side or the other, I’ve made 5 highly improbable questions up for us to answer, let’s dive in.

If you were to throw a drive on the moon, how far would it go?

Excellent question. There’s less gravity on the moon, and no air resistance! Less gravity means that the disc will weigh ⅙ the original amount. Your max weight drivers are suddenly 29 grams on the moon (not PDGA legal I’m afraid). So let’s multiply your discs mass by six to make a legal disc. That means that on Earth your disc would weigh 1.05 kg or 2.3 pounds, the same weight as a large pineapple. Alan Shepard hit a regulation golf ball for distance drives on the moon, so we’re going to assume you brought your regulation disc with you as well.
So let’s say you wore your space suit and have the same motion as you did on Earth. You’re throwing a 175g Innova Star Destroyer on the moon (now 29g) with the same speed you do on Earth. Alan Shepard hit a 6 iron on the moon and they calculated the distance to be 2.5 miles. The average man was hitting a 6 iron 130 yards in 1970. I’m guessing that average disc golfers can throw a drive 300 feet. So feel free to check my math here. 130 Earth yards = 4400 Moon yards. 4400/130 = 33.84, that’s how many times further you go on the moon. 33.84*100 yards (the average distance of a disc golf throw) is 3384 yards. Converting that to feet leaves us with 1.92 miles. Feel free to measure your own throws and multiply times 33.84 to get your max moon distance.
Conclusion: A 300 foot drive on Earth would be 1.92 miles on the moon. And I wouldn’t complain about the wind speed assisting the distance record.

If I throw over an active volcano, will the heat lift my disc or will it melt?

Since lava can reach 1300-2200 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s bubbling at the top of a volcano, which is hotter than forest fires (1400F). You’re looking at your discs melting before they ever get going. Remember that time you left your discs in your car all day at work? Then you came to trainzwholesale for a round and they were all floppy? Well a car can get to be 200 degrees in direct sunlight in the summer, so think about something 10 times hotter than that seatbelt you burn yourself with. Latitude 64 made this really cool video where they melt their plastic at 428 degrees fahrenheit for the injection mold process. That’s still about 3 times cooler than the coldest lava. If you kept your discs in a freezer on the way up to the top of the volcano and pulled them out to throw them you might have a chance. However, we all know that plastic discs crack in extreme cold too. Humans have to wear heat reflective suits when they get near lava so they don’t burn, it’s improbable that your disc would be able to be thrown before it gets too soft from the heat.
Conclusion: Disc is too floppy before your throw to accurately measure what effect the heat will have.
Bonus Point: I asked Mythbusters to do this experiment years ago with Buster after seeing this on a cartoon show in 2001. Mythbusters did not reply to me.

How fast would I have to throw a disc to knock over or cut down a tree?

I get it, “Why Are Trees?” is a common question. We’ve all hit one really hard before and despite the bubbling rage building inside of us, the tree refused to fall over. Trees are all sorts of different sizes, have different weight distributions, and different root systems. So while in Maine we have lots of coniferous trees, you might play somewhere covered with Eudicots where you live.

Healthy trees generally fall over with winds of 90 mph, with the force being applied to the entire trunk. Simon Lizotte has the world record for fastest thrown disc at 89.5 mph with the Innova Blizzard Wraith at 130g. Simon generates 5.2 Newtons of Force with his disc. I’ve found that this question has been asked in a similar fashion with axes and trees on Reddit. Apparently disc golfers aren’t the only ones who don’t love trees. They determined that you would need 656,000 Newtons of force to knock the tall tree over. So if Simon generated 5.2N and we need 656,000 Newtons it’s a calculation of 656,000/5.2 which is 126,154N. That’s for a 100 foot tall tree to be taken down. The Wraith is 1.4cm tall, could we even stack that many discs in 100 feet?
The answer is to throw that many discs and to hit it all at once you’d need a tree that’s 1,766 meters tall and the tallest tree ever is Hyperion at 115.7m tall. Unfortunately no one throws fast enough, even a hundred thousand Lizottes couldn’t do it. But Andrew! I can hear it now. A lightweight disc doesn’t have enough mass behind it. A 175g disc would have so much more force. Well person in my head, I did that math as well. Throwing a 175g disc at the same speed (impossible) would generate 7N of force. So you’d need 93,714 Lizotte’s, still far too many to knock that tree over. If you need a refresher on Newtons, and you want to know how much force it is here’s a great video. Basically Simon threw what would be about 10 snickers bars of force.
Conclusion: Unless it’s a sapling, or dead tree, you’re not knocking a tree over with a disc. Discs are required to have 12.25kg flex rating meaning they must bend in half when that amount of pressure is applied. Throwing a disc too fast would bend it completely and possibly break it, losing lots of energy in the process.

What’s the par if I threw around the circumference of the Earth?

I think this one is just a simple mathematics question. The Earth is 24,901 miles around . So let’s go back to those videos of top pros doing the “Mile challenge”. Thomas Gilbert has accurate data for his throws and averaged a whopping 588.33 feet per throw, he did denote a tailwind in his throws but that’s still incredible. There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so 24,901* 5,280 (feet per mile) is a total of 131,477,280 feet. When you divide that by his average long distance drive, it would take Thomas Gilbert 223,476 throws to throw around the Earth. So that’s pro par, put in an upshot as well, and we’re in Maine so we have generous pars.
Conclusion: I’d say that par is 223,479 for the around the Earth hole. We’re making the assumption that he’d have to throw uphill and downhill at the same rate, and also never hit a tree. That his disc would float and he would have the same footing on each throw, and everything else to give him perfect driving conditions.
Bonus: Let’s call the average disc golf course 6000 feet. There are 9,278 disc golf courses (PDGA website). We’re talking about 55 million feet of disc golf available around the world. So Thomas Gilbert would be throwing more than double the distance of all holes combined. If he jogged to all of his shots at 6 mph, not taking a break at all, it would take 173 days of straight throwing to get around the globe.

Could a disc golfing robot beat a human?

Robots are replacing humans in everything, it’s called Automation. Every time you use an online tool to help you find a disc you are effectively replacing me. Just kidding guys, let’s get to the robot part.
I’m a chess fan and as you may have heard in 1997 Gary Kasporov the world champion lost to Deep Blue, the IBM computer. This is one of the first times a machine has beaten a human in sports. There have been other notable attempts at robots performing in sports. Here’s some videos of some of them for you to enjoy. Basketball, Ping Pong, Soccer (16:40 goal), Volleyball, and even ball golf!

There are plenty of things players of all levels think about when disc golfing. Disc selection, angle, arm speed, wind direction, wind speed, ground play, grip, footing, trees, the list goes on, and on, and on. The golfing robot doesn’t have hips or knees. It has the end of the club at a fixed point and really only has to hit the ball straight every time. We know that robots can outcalculate humans. In chess Magnus Carlsen (current #1) says he thinks 15-20 moves ahead. Stockfish the #1 chess engine in the world is capable of thinking about hundreds of millions of moves in seconds. So if we give the variables to a computer I have no doubt it will be able to analyze the data and make a good shot. The golfing robot LDRIC can’t stand somewhere if it has a bad lie, it wouldn’t be able to move its wheels for a follow through on its shot. Golf doesn’t have anywhere near the footing challenges that disc golf has.

I think we could see a robot that could out putt even the top putters. A machine would be able to make the putt time after time if it had correct wind indicators. It wouldn’t feel the pressure we all do when we step up to a putt. You know how great it feels when there’s a slight headwind/tailwind and you compensate in your head and execute a throw? The machine would do that and not feel anything.

Andrew Marwede, Ezra Robinson, Thomas Earhart, and Cale Leiviska were the #1 players inside the circle this year from MPO, and they made 88% of their putts from that range! That’s incredible and they still missed 12% of the time. A swinging arm in an open field with a basket would be able to beat them soon. But as for the drives, the many variables, I think we aren’t there yet.
Conclusion: Not yet, maybe in our lifetime. We’re making leaps and bounds in the field of robotics but for right now you don’t have to worry about one showing up at your local course and shooting -18.

So that’s the blog this week. I’m sure I made mistakes in calculations, errors in judgement. Let me know in the comments. These are all hypothetical and for the most part fun to imagine. There’s almost no chance NASA sends one of their Astronauts up to the moon with a disc, or volcanologists bring a freezer up Mt. Kilauea filled with plastic to toss, and Thomas Gilbert is unlikely to take half a year off touring to prove me wrong. Let me know what you think or if you have any fun physics questions for disc golf. As always...

May your discs miss all the trees,
Andrew Streeter #70397

Streeter (PGDA #70397 )

He started disc golfing in 2011 and instantly fell in love with the flight of a disc. He has a degree in Sports Management from the university of Southern Maine and has been blogging for SDG since 2020, He writes about informational disc golf content editorials, and disc golf entertainment.

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