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Discussion: Course design

in: Orienteering; General

Mar 7, 2016 4:48 PM # 
Where do I find good descriptions of how to design courses at the different OUSA levels? Thanks.
Mar 7, 2016 4:49 PM # 
Ah, I think this is it: Course design from OUSA website
Mar 7, 2016 9:23 PM # 
and a very good series written for ONA starting in 1986 by Beatrice Zurcher.
Mar 8, 2016 12:28 AM # 
barb - that document needs an update, but it's what OUSA has used for a long time. It's been on the to do list for a few years. Here is a handout that I made a few years ago for a local course setting training.
Mar 8, 2016 12:48 AM # 
Barb linked to an old version, which was updated in 2015. Here's the new version.
Mar 8, 2016 1:33 AM # 
Ah yes, glad for the updated link. That version includes some updates related to differing formats and rule updates. But I know that Glen, who made those updates, still would agree it can use a more substantial rewrite.
Mar 8, 2016 1:36 AM # 
Smittyo, your handout requires permission to view. Is there a way we could get access? Thanks!
Mar 8, 2016 2:18 AM # 
Sharing link:
I also fixed the link above
Mar 8, 2016 3:31 AM # 
Thanks :)
Mar 8, 2016 5:30 AM # 
Wow, those guidelines are unexpectedly good.
...must check the planned control locations out in the field. Many controls are unsuitable due to map problems. You will find that even on a good map: up to 10% of the controls selected "on paper" (by yourself or suggested by
the course consultant) will have to be rejected (and alternates chosen) after checking them in the field due to unsuitability of the map, vegetation, etc
Mar 8, 2016 11:09 AM # 
I'm wondering if the control height guidelines, given in the "General Considerations For Cross Country Orienteering Courses: Design and Set Guidelines" document, are considered still valid, given the frequent use of control stands. For example, for Brown through Blue courses, it says: "Flags should be hung just below the knee."
Mar 8, 2016 12:49 PM # 
As smittyo said, the document is still in need of a substantial rewrite. I suspect the control height guidelines would get some editing.
Mar 8, 2016 1:21 PM # 
Cascade also has a very good handbook aimed at beginner and intermediate courses for their imterscholastic season. I'll email it to you if I can find my copy.
Mar 8, 2016 7:16 PM # 
This is great, thanks. It would be great to post some examples of good course setting for the different levels. Any suggestions of some good examples of Orange courses already out there?
Edit: here are some possibilities from DOMA - I will explore further...
* O in the Pines
* 2015 Boulder Dash
Mar 8, 2016 7:29 PM # 
Pink Socks:
While nothing to do with O-USA, I learned course design from the very talented Dave Talent, and two things have stuck with me from his class:

* The 3 F's. Make things fun, fast, and fair.

* The 3 T's. Include a variety of tempo, technique, and terrain.
Mar 9, 2016 10:42 AM # 
"Flags should be hung just below the knee."

I imagine that would make it hard to run in the bush.
Mar 9, 2016 2:38 PM # 
That's what people mean when they say they were flagging a bit towards the end.
Mar 9, 2016 3:24 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
I have set courses for many events over the years (Currently I set at least 3 or 4 events every year), and I have always tried to follow a few simple rules:

a) Navigation matter! I.e. I try to start by finding interesting route choice legs, then add shorter legs to pick up the most interesting terrain.

b) Don't hide the flags: When you've navigated to the center of the circle and/or the right side of/part of the detail, the flag should be easily visible.

c) Avoid random chance, particularly control placements that are much easier to find when another competitor punches the control. Small 1m depressions in flat areas are particularly bad, unless the flag is placed above the surrounding ground!

d) N and C courses are hard to get right: N requires leading lines all the way, something which we don't always have in Norwegian terrain, while C courses should have obvious attack points/features in front of every control.

Re field checking: I always plan the courses first, then I go out in the forest and check all the control placements, moving those that don't work out for whatever reason.
Mar 10, 2016 12:36 PM # 
If you're thinking especially about the easiest course, I've been told by experienced planners that it should be possible to complete a White course without ever needing to see the map. I.e. start orientation and flag placement on their own should provide enough hints as to the correct direction. This also means all control points should be on line features, with a control at every decision point.

This is what BOF uses in the UK, and TD1 (pg. 19) would be equivalent to white:

Looking at the USOF guidelines, the White course could come out quite a bit harder than that. Introducing controls on non-line features and route choice is quite demanding when you think the course could be aimed at an under-10 with 15 mins of instruction. Following the USOF guidelines you could easily plan a course that would be considered Yellow or even Orange (TD2/3) in the UK.
Mar 10, 2016 9:27 PM # 
Yep, that's part of why they need a rewrite.
Mar 11, 2016 9:13 AM # 
How long has it been since we in North America have had a coure setting competition? 20 years? 30 years? more?
I think there would be nothing like a competition and the resulting critiques to focus attention on good courses and legs and what makes each happen.
Participation in a course setting competition was a very good way for the orienteer to practice 'armchair orienteering', (now AKA laptop orienteering?) which we had a lot of time for during the Canadain winters thus sharpen his/ her navigation skills when it came time to be back in the woods.
With that in mind I went Googling for "Orienteering Course Design Competitions" There were no shortage of Google suggestions for everything up to design. However Google drew a blank on competitions.
Does anyone have any information on how course setting competitions are run? The information may be back in your paper files.
Why I ask is that I'm thinking of suggesting to the Florida JROTC that we hold a course setting competition for their orienteering cadets but want to be sure that I cover all the bases before putting forward the idea.
Was there a template of rules for course design competitions? (I think I published something when I was editor of Orienteering Canada back in the 1970s)
One other base is getting a national level panel of judges: any volunteers?
Another is getting permission to use a good map with some detail that is of similar to Florida terrain but 'from away'. Any offers?
Mar 11, 2016 7:25 PM # 
Well, living in Florida, maybe it's during the summer that one takes time away from the forest and has time for indoor pursuits, like armchair O?

It'd be fun to have a national course setting competition too again, just for kicks. I'm contemplating including a "design a long leg" competition for the Goat that I'm organizing this summer. Participants would try to guess one of the three 1.7 to 1.8km legs, and get an award for whoever guesses the closest, but also an award for the best leg design as voted by fellow goats. If there is a national contest, then it would be neat to include route choice as a criterion, at least for the longest course set, and to use terrain that permits interesting long legs. Really long route choice legs seem to be a bit few and far between for the courses and events in which I've participated.

I'm wondering, for the Florida JROTC course setting competition, if they might benefit from field checking their locations? This is often enlightening when designing a course, especially as someone with fewer years of orienteering, seeing what the locations and routes look like in the forest versus the map. (It might require using a smaller area and short courses with few controls, to make it easier for the judge to also visit the sites, but could have benefit.) Just an idea. Usually the reason for armchair-only course setting competitions is that participants are spread far and wide, or the competition is held in the depths of winter (or summer, for the south) when there's no O.

Perhaps one could use the results of the competition for a hundred control course, just chaining the best courses together one after the other. Good training, and also a way to experience the courses.
Mar 11, 2016 8:40 PM # 
I'm pretty sure the last North American course design competition was one of the Barebones events. I would have guessed it was late 90s/early 00s but maybe my memories are completely secondhand from some earlier time. And that would still be nigh on 20 years ago. Adrian?
Mar 11, 2016 8:50 PM # 
There was one at the 2004 USOF convention in Cleveland (?), Georgia.
Mar 11, 2016 8:53 PM # 
I sit corrected, probably. About the recency of the last such Barebones competition if not its status as the last such. Were winning courses actually run sometime after the 2004 convention? Or during the convention?
Mar 11, 2016 9:03 PM # 
That'd be fun to run the winning courses soon after, of course. Perhaps it would be good to have a course setting competition for something like the Laramie event, in which courses are set from afar anyway, with a local checker. Maybe the course setting competition participants could choose whether to enter the competition for Sprint, Middle, Long or all, and for one or multiple color courses, and event participants would participate on winning course designs for several events.
Mar 11, 2016 9:23 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
It should be possible to organize a route setting competition with very little effort these days:

Many maps would be available for free for such use, Purple Pen can be used to draw courses and verify lengths etc, and you could even crowd-source the actual grading, letting all the entrants give points to the courses they didn't make themselves. Otherwise the grading of courses is by far the most work. :-(
Mar 12, 2016 6:29 PM # 
I'm liking this last thought - and will add an all-star cast of master judgers, whose points might count extra. Otherwise, for every entrant, they rate every other course in order from 1 to N (because they would of course rate their own course as best;-).

Let's say there are 7 all-star judges who first rate courses themselves, and then they combine the results to produce a top 5 (or some other arbitrary number). (and use some arbitrary process - because before conceiving of doing this, we have no idea how the weights and strength of voting should be... and it probably really doesn't matter...)

Then the local club could choose to hold an event with these courses (or perhaps combine elements of the best with some field checking). The only people that wouldn't be able to compete are the actual course setters and all-stars.

After the event, the results and full set of course entries could be revealed to the public.

I'd do it.
Mar 13, 2016 2:25 AM # 
If someone has time and interest to go through the mid 1970s copies of the magazine Orienteering Canada that are now on file on the website of the organization Orienteering Canada that someone will find details of at least one if not more course setting contests that were held in that era.
In at least one contest each leg was judged and given points on choice,etc and then that score was miltiplied by the leg's length. (Yes, Aussies, size does matter not just when controls are 'hung'.)
An all-star panel of course setters? I like that idea. My three nominees are Stefan Bergstrom, Mark Adams and Brian Graham. They just consistently get it right. Mark is the grand master of trhe long leg.
Mar 13, 2016 5:09 PM # 
Swiss Orienteering recently finished its yearly course setting competition. Here's the final report and the two winning courses (PDF files, in German):

The required courses vary. This time, it was male elite (HE) and female up to 18 years (D18). The jury consisted of three accomplished mappers and course setters.
Mar 14, 2016 12:33 AM # 
Gord, can you show us examples of courses set by your nominees.?
Mar 14, 2016 1:44 AM # 
Gord I recall that semi-objective course evaluation method which rated each leg and multiplied by its length. This emphasises that orienteering is predominantly about the legs. At the end, scores were normalised to a standard length, so that a longer course didn't benefit inappropriately. More recently I saw a method for sprints where points were given for each leg, full stop. The implication was that the more legs in a sprint, the better:-))
Mar 14, 2016 1:22 PM # 
GHO: Check Route Gadget for the last two (or was it two of the last three) NAOCs held in Canada. Hamilton (Mark) and Ottawa (Brian and Stefan) were course setters there. Stefan particularly gets more great legs out of a course than any other course setter I've noticed.
Mar 14, 2016 5:36 PM # 
I stand corrected. Much of the work I was crediting to Mark Adams was apparently done by Mike Waddington.
That gives Canada four identified top course setters.
Mar 14, 2016 6:38 PM # 
I find this subject amusing. Let's turn the planning of the competition into a competition.
Mar 15, 2016 7:13 AM # 
Meta-O: just like Trail-O, only pointless.
Mar 15, 2016 4:03 PM # 
Who set the long legs at the Team Trials on the Lake George (Colorado) map way back when? (1991?) Those were fantastic route choice legs.
Mar 15, 2016 9:05 PM # 
Swampfox, I'm pretty sure.
Mar 16, 2016 1:19 AM # 
I had a vague recollection that was the case. In which case, I'd suggest him as a judge for courses that should have long route choice legs.
Mar 16, 2016 6:09 AM # 
Who shall we nominate for the run-off for the final selection from which we select whom should be on the judging panel?
Mar 16, 2016 7:38 AM # 
The really important question is who should be on the jury for the protests?
Mar 16, 2016 1:01 PM # 
Oh, I remember old Jug-ears Jinglesson made some really good decisions about protests back at the '77 Cooma 6-days.......
Mar 16, 2016 4:47 PM # 
Perhaps, instead of a formally judged contest, we could decide here on a Long, a Middle and a Sprint map on which interested AttackPointers could design and post a course for each. Then AttackPointers could comment on posted courses or legs that they thought were particularly good. This could be an interesting exercise without the need for gold, silver and bronze medals or ribbons. The discussion of what makes a good course, or a good leg, is what's most interesting. Any suggestions for such maps? I'd suggest the original Lake George map as one possibility for Long. Any interesting college campuses or such for Sprint? Any fascinating Middle terrain? Should we stop hijacking and start a new thread? Any interest?
Mar 17, 2016 3:16 AM # 
Some notes from a course planning workshop held in South Australia - so some comments need to be viewed in that context.

See the documents here:
Mar 17, 2016 3:33 AM # 
Some interesting standards on how far controls should be visible from in various circumstances, such as streams or gullies, beyond the usual "when at the feature" (in the documents referenced by Robin above).
Mar 18, 2016 2:18 PM # 
@Gord: Thanks. Very kind. I enjoy course planning but it really helps having the assistance of several former national team members to help test different route choices.

One thing that isn't mentioned much (at all?) in the course planning materials listed above is the consideration of setting courses with a good arena in mind. I believe the Canadian course planning guidelines mention arena and course design together.

I have attended several races in the US recently where you not only had a remote start (which is fine and often necessary) but also a remote finish. The two of those together is a good recipe for a very poor race atmosphere - especially if you are already taking a bus from parking to the assembly area (and we know how much north americans love staying near their cars).

I would argue that making efforts to have a good arena without compromising the courses 'too much' is a real skill - especially if the arena is to be used for multiple days.
Mar 18, 2016 2:37 PM # 
For relays, I'd go a step further, and suggest that participants at the start/finish/exchange area be able to see orienteers a few times throughout their course. This makes the event more exciting, and not just team members disappearing for 45 minutes. It is possible; I've done this a few times, and been at other events where one could see the competitors out on the course from the finish.
Mar 18, 2016 11:26 PM # 
In certain types of terrain, yes.
Mar 19, 2016 12:30 AM # 
Yes, the ability to do this depends somewhat on the type and layout of terrain. But, I'd argue that's a reason to select, for a relay, a locale that permits this. It was fun at Florissant Fossil Beds watching orienteers navigate down Eagle Hill. Cranbrook Community Forest and Mt Laurie allowed spectation at several points through the relay courses. I'd say that it's worth designing a relay event around this...choice of map and start/finish/exchange and parking areas, design of courses, access to toilets, various other logisitics. Otherwise a relay can be a somewhat boring exercise in waiting a long time for someone else to do their orienteering...just a series of individual events, with imprecisely known start times. With the frequent spectation, it's much more a team event, with lots of cheering for teammates throughout, lots of sense of what's happening throughout, and a feeling of participation throughout. A good relay course should pass the start/finish/exchange area two or three times (in addition to starting and finishing).
Mar 19, 2016 3:23 AM # 
Agreed. But some regions really have no terrain that has those properties.
Mar 19, 2016 3:46 AM # 
I'm a bit surprised if entire regions would lack such terrain. Is there a particular region you have in mind?
Mar 19, 2016 4:46 AM # 
New Hampshire comes to mind. You can still have courses come through the arena, but it's tough to find anywhere that allows you to see people at a distance.
Mar 19, 2016 1:50 PM # 
I recall a map in Nashua having a bit more visibility, but it's been a long time since I've been there. And I'm not sure that forest visibility is always as much an obstruction as one might think...although it wasn't a relay, and might not be suitable for one, the 1992 World Cup Final at Pawtuckaway (a rather low visibility terrain if ever there were one) had a couple of legs over a few hundred meters visible to spectators at the end.
Mar 19, 2016 7:01 PM # 
The map in Nashua is probably Mine Falls. True, it does have some soccer fields and parking lots...

You're never seen it, but Nottingcook Forest (behind Bob Lux's house) is even better, due to some sandpits and power lines. That would actually work pretty well.
Mar 19, 2016 7:08 PM # 
My, that looks like a nice orienteering map. (Nice that it's on the town web site.)

This discussion thread is closed.