Book Excerpt: Why golf is a great game, and why in the 21st century disc golf is even better

It is my firm belief that the sport of disc golf – which already has enjoyed strong, steady growth for more than two decades – will experience an explosion in popularity when two things happen:

  1. The general public is properly educated about the true nature and accessibility of disc golf, and all the nuances that make it so much more like traditional golf than most people assume to be the case (the variety of discs and throws, the effects of wind and terrain, etc.)
  2. Disc golf reaches a ‘tipping point’ in terms of popular opinion, triggered by either a critical mass of popular culture/media recognition or a handful of random watershed moments. For instance, if a super-famous person suddenly lists disc golf as their favorite activity, or a TV show, website, or publication with millions of fans features it prominently.

Now, it is altogether possible that a famous person will stumble across disc golf at any time, fall in love with the sport, and by sharing his/her passion for the sport do more to promote it in one day than all other players combined have done up to that point. But unless there is some exhaustive source of correct, detailed, and compelling information available that explains the many different reasons why people that have played it love it so much, chances of that watershed moment resulting in anything but a temporary fad are minimal. Those seeking the truth about the sport will find nothing substantial- or worse, the misinformation and oversimplifications that currently exist. My goal is to fill that void and have answers to the inevitable questions ready and waiting in a book, for the day the dam breaks. I’m writing a book that aims to make the two events numbered above much likelier to occur, as well as making the inevitable explosion of disc golf a mere launching point for something with staying power. The book will include chapters that discuss the history, finer points, unique grassroots growth, and formats of the sport, among others. But the unifying theme is a very specific sales pitch for disc golf, and it’s established in the first chapter and repeated throughout:

  • Golf is a great game – perhaps the best game ever  invented – and here is why
  • But golf has a number of barriers that prevent most people from ever getting to experience its greatness
  • Disc golf, by retaining the essence of traditional golf while eliminating ALL the barriers, enables everyone to experience the greatness of golf.
  • In many ways, disc golf even improves on many of golf’s strongest points

Beginning here, I’m going to post excerpts of the current draft of the first chapter, in hopes of soliciting your feedback. Let me know what you think. Challenge my ideas and facts. Suggest points I may have missed. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good we share a common goal: Letting the rest of the world in on a secret we’re all too happy to share.

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EXCERPT ONE

Arnold Palmer said “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated, it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening — and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind have ever invented.” Palmer – one of the most famous players and promoters in the history of the game – was right, to a point.

Golf is a great game- and would be the greatest game ever invented ‘without a doubt,’ as he said . . . except for the issue of accessibility. It can be played with others or in solitude. Played for the sake of competition, or comeraderie, or both. When playing golf in a tournament or even a friendly match, intelligent players realize they are actually competing against the course, the elements, and their own psyche. Another great quote comes from golf legend Bobby Jones, an early 20th century player who possessed incredible skills but didn’t realize his full potential until finding a way to master his emotions. He famously said that “competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”

Anyone who has played competitive golf knows that to be – figuratively, at least – all too true. Golf has a rulebook thicker than a Porterhouse steak, yet requires no referee, umpire or judge. Players are expected to officiate their own matches. Unlike baseball, about which many players have said ‘If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’,’ golf is linked to a sense of personal honesty and integrity. In the business world it’s often said ‘If you want to get to know what someone is really like, take ’em golfing.’ The implication being, of course, that if a person observes the rules and maintains his composure while playing as difficult and often maddening a sport as golf, he’ll do likewise elsewhere.

In the literal sense, golf is played on an expansive course that traverses miles of terrain- another factor that makes it a special and unique sport. Consider the fact that alone among the major popular spectator sports a golf competition cannot be viewed in it’s entirety by sitting or standing in one place. This is important because also unlike other major sports, it’s growth and eventual place among the world’s most recognized sports is due more to its popularity as a sport to be played rather than a sport to be watched.

Golf became a spectator sport due to the number of people that played the game, whereas with most other sports it is the other way around. But golf has some serious drawbacks and limitations. Traditional golf is in a steady, slow decline, as even it’s most ardent supporters acknowledge. In a story that ran in the Palm Beach Post on May 15, 2012, Jack Nicklaus, a contemporary of Palmer’s and winner of the most major championships in history, put it bluntly: “What are the three main things we’re dealing with? The game takes too long, the game is too hard, and it’s too expensive.”

In an effort to stem the tide, Nicklaus has advocated and even experimented with events that have less holes, strict time limits, and even holes in the ground that are twice the normal width. An examination of the facts make it obvious why so many are concerned for the future of the game, but perhaps the solution is a version of golf that retains all that is great about the game while addressing it’s shortcomings in a more drastic, fundamental way.

That’s just a little taste. The next posted excerpt will appear soon, and it’ll begin to discuss the drawbacks/barriers of traditional golf and counter them with corresponding strengths of disc golf.

If you’re interested in helping to promote the book when it comes out, email me directly at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com. To those around the world that have already contacted me, thanks! I’m trying to come up with some novel ideas for getting it noticed by the non-disc golfing public, and any suggestions are very welcome.

A plan to finally get disc golf past the tipping point

The day disc golf finally goes viral is . . . not here yet.

Hasn’t happened.

But like a geologist who observes trends and predicts a major earthquake will occur in an area with no seismic history, I believe it will.

Many share my belief, but few agree with my vision of how it will happen and what disc golf’s future potential can be. Those on the inner circle of professional disc golf — and their small but intensely loyal pack of fans — seem to think a major sponsor will come along and bankroll the professional tour, making televised tournaments a reality, thus creating legions of new players and courses.

This is a romanticized vision based more on hopes and dreams than any historical sports precedent, and I feel it is completely backwards.

Corporations are about two things — making money and, if public, increasing share price. They just don’t sink major sponsorship money into anything until they can see that it will draw a measurably significant audience and therefore improve their bottom line. By this yardstick disc golf is no where close.

My posts also appear on the premier disc golf golf blog, Rattling Chains, and I asked founder P.J. Harmer to run last week’s poll question, ‘How did you get introduced to the game’ for this precise reason. The results were just as I predicted — 67 percent said they learned of the sport through a friend, and exactly zero responded that they learned of it through some form of media.

Disc golf has grown steadily over four decades almost entirely through grassroots efforts — in my mind a testament to its very substantial and enduring attractions — but also a reality check in terms of where we’re at in the overall public consciousness. Grass grows slowly but steadily. Inexorably. Viral growth is something that builds swiftly, like wildfire, and is just as impossible to ignore.

After more than 20 years of observing and participating in all aspects of the game, I feel disc golf must reach a critical mass as a recreational participant sport before it can even dream of attaining any significance as a spectator sport. And, frankly, that’s the main thing I personally care about anyway. I want as many people as possible to become aware of this nearly perfect sporting activity.

I feel a moral obligation to share the message of disc golf — how it provides all that is great about the game of traditional golf while removing that sport’s many barriers (cost, time, difficulty, environmental impact, exclusivity) — with people around the world.

Further, it is my sincere belief that if someone knows all the nuances of and details of the above statement, there is a good chance they’ll give the game a try. And if they try it, we all know a majority will like it and some will love it. Most people who have a vague idea of disc golf have a simplified notion of the sport, and that has to change.

If you agree with my position, or if you simply want disc golf to go viral and don’t care how it happens, I have a proposition for you.

I’m working on a book that will hopefully lay out the message I just described as a compelling, detailed argument on multiple fronts. It’s already more than halfway complete. The intended audience are the millions of people out there that would fall in love with our sport if they could understand why we love it. They need to know that there is a complex, yet simple activity that provides so much entertainment, and competition, and exercise, and fellowship — at practically no cost.

Writing the book is only a small part of the plan, and that’s where you come in.

My hope is the book will be the spark that helps disc golf go viral. And for that to happen, I’m going to need help. I want an army of DISCiples to use the book as a tool for the greater purpose. How exactly that can happen — besides the obvious social media and old school word-of-mouth methods — I’m not yet sure. But I’m open to suggestions, and have begun to build a database of people who feel as strongly as I do about disc golf and want to be part of it all. Please contact me directly at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com with any and all input.

And since I realize rational thinking individuals would want to know more about the contents of the book before seriously considering to help promote it, I’m going to begin posting excerpts here and at schoolofdiscgolf.com. Look for the first to appear in the very near future.

No one knows when or how disc golf will go viral, but wouldn’t it be fun to part of it?

Observe, Learn and Test: The Engineer’s Approach to Disc Golf

The School of Disc Golf recently hosted a team-building event for a group of engineers and other techies from a Silicon Valley company.

There were a few naturals in the group, especially one guy in particular who was launching some impressive drives and hitting long putts within 90 minutes or so of starting. I don’t think the group as a whole would mind me describing them as people whose finely honed instruments are their minds rather than their bodies.

This is not to say they were in bad shape — just not a group that, when looking at them, you’d think were jocks. They were average folks, like most golfers.

I noticed several instances of participants being able to observe their discs flying a certain way and quickly assess why. They then went about experimenting (with the help of our instruction) and making modifications to their techniques.

The really cool thing that made me want to write about that outing is the one trait this group of very regular people with very modest athletic skills had in common — an analytical, engineering-type mind. For people who are curious about how things work and enjoy solving puzzles, there aren’t many more interesting sports than disc golf.

The participants at this event improved noticeably from the beginning of the day to the end. They asked a lot of questions and, as I mentioned already, made adjustments — often dramatic — as if to test out theories for themselves on why their disc went straight up in the air, or sliced immediately left.

And give ‘em credit. Most were able to get their throws flatter and straighter by making changes, monitoring the feedback, and then making more changes based on the results.

Disc golf is known for being easy to learn, but hard to master. The aerodynamic principles of a flying disc has a lot to do with that. Leave it up to engineers to make the most of something like that. A perfectly round ball with a smooth surface will only react very subtly to efforts to manipulate its flight path, but a flying disc is totally different. It interacts with the air flow much like the sail of a ship, with even the smallest variables magnified and their effects plainly obvious.

One player really heeded the instruction he received on the differences between classic putting and throwing backhand. Once he understood the idea that a putt is more of a forward thrust than a throw, he really got the hang of it and started hitting the chains on everything. The thrill of solving the puzzle was quite obvious.

Another mild-mannered computer programmer was able to practically double his distance by employing the basic instruction of reaching back with the disc as far as possible on backhand shots before beginning the throw. He recognized some universal principles of physics — I think he mentioned catapults as being analogous — and was excited when he saw that they clearly applied to disc flight as well.

Today’s key point is to be like this group was, even if you’ve played for years. Do some research, experiment with your technique, and pay close attention to the results. Then experiment some more. Make full use of your mind as an instrument for improving your game.

Getting better, when you understand why it happens and can therefore consistently employ the improvement, is one of the most satisfying aspects of any sport. With its many possible throwing styles and the aerodynamic properties of a flying disc, disc golf makes it easier to do that than most others athletic endeavors. Take full advantage of that and you’ll get even more out of the game.

Product Review: Scoreband multi-use scorekeeping device

The ScoreBand is a worthy addition to any disc golfer’s bag.

(Editor’s note: Two people associated with disc golf blog Rattling Chains tested out ScoreBand, a scoring watch that also works for tennis and other things. The first part is by School of Disc Golf’s lead instructor Jack Trageser, with a review by Rattling Chain’s lead blogger P.J. Harmer following after that).

One thing in particular piqued my interest when asked to review the ScoreBand as a method for tracking disc golf scores and statistics — I wondered if it would work for someone (namely, me) that has made a persistent effort over the past several years to remain ignorant of his cumulative score during a round.

As I’ve discussed before, a primary disc golf philosophy that I espouse centers on playing disc golf in a vacuum. In a nutshell, that refers to being completly immersed with the current shot rather than letting your mind wander about things like past shots and holes, future shots and holes, other games, what’s for lunch, and especially the distraction that pertains to this review . . . total score.

Keeping that in mind, I’ve yet to come across a method for recording my score among the traditional pencil-and-card and smartphone apps. I’ve trained myself to lock each shot on each hole into my memory banks without tallying the total until the round is over.

When I heard how ScoreBand works, however, I thought it might be the first scoring method to allow me to record my score using a device more reliable than my own grey matter — without letting the insidious organ get in its own way.

The design sets it apart from other scoring tools by being something that is worn, rather than carried, taken out and put back away repeatedly. Plus, it has a watch function, too, so you can wear it instead of your normal watch.

ScoreBand’s method of keeping track of the score lends itself to my personal idiosyncrasy as much as its ergonomic design. The user hits one button for each stroke to keep score on the current hole in the upper display, then presses and holds another button to add that hole’s score to the total score in the lower display.

Scoreband is a very cool concept and could help many people with disc golf scoring and many other items.

In theory, this lets a player hit the buttons the required amount of time for strokes and hold it the right duration of time to advance from one hole to another without having to even look at the screens and remain as oblivious as he or she wishes to be where total score is concerned.

In practice, however, I found using the ScoreBand to not be quite so simple (remember, these issues are magnified by my desire to not know my cumulative score during the round).

For starters, there is the issue of when to hit the button to record each stroke. Do you do it right after each throw, or wait until the completion of the hole and hit the button multiple times? In my case, during the five test rounds I played, settling on a system was not easy. In fact, it never happened. I tried to do it throw-by-throw, then would realize on the next tee that I had slacked, requiring me to enter all the strokes on that hole at one time. And it got worse, as a few times I realized I had forgotten for two entire holes.

I guess that can happen with other scoring methods as well, but having to hit a button for each stroke makes it more of an ordeal.

The upper display shows the stroke count for the current hole. When the hole is complete, you press and hold a button and the hole total is added to the round total on the lower display, while the upper one resets to zero. If you forget to record a stroke, or a hole or two, there is no way to tell which hole you last recorded successfully. It’s also an issue for those who want to know how they did hole-to-hole as at the end of the round all you have is total score.

The bottom line is that ScoreBand delivered in the main way I hoped it would. As a stretchy band worn on my non-throwing wrist, it was accessible and out of the way. Once I learned how to use it, I could hit the buttons without looking at the screens, enabling me to avoid knowing my score.

But it either takes time to get the process down to a routine, or I’m just inept at it. Of the five test rounds I played, my total came out wrong twice. I rely on my memory-based compilation after the round is over. Since I can recall each shot in my mind’s eye, it proved my use of the ScoreBand wasn’t perfect. I don’t think the device was faulty — it was a combination of my attention span and the user interface.

In January, ScoreBand was recognized as the Best Product Concept at the Professional Golf Association merchandise show. The people who awarded ScoreBand put more thought into things like that, so if you you’re like me and want a method for scoring that is handy and unobtrusive, ScoreBand may be for you.

P.J. Harmer

I’m a stat junkie.

No matter what I do, statistics fascinate me. Whether it’s softball or finds in geocaching or comparing scores on the disc golf course, I really get into it.

One thing with disc golf and me has always been keeping the score. Though there are many phone apps or pencil-and-paper ways of keeping score, I’ve been in search of a quick and easy way of keeping score as I play a round without fumbling with my phone or a pencil.

Insert ScoreBand.

ScoreBand is a rubber wristband/watch. The company calls it a “revolutionary quick-touch, 4-in-1 scorekeeping wristband engineered for sport.” It stood up to the challenge, too.

First, the construction is a one-piece rubber wristband. There are several sizes and colors to choose from, so you’ll be able to find one (or more) that fits your style. It’s comfortable to wear, though I’m not sure I could wear it all the time as I did notice it was there and with the rubber band, it could get a little tough to deal with at times.

Still, this band is easily worn for a round or two of disc golf. I wore it on the opposite wrist of my throwing hand, so I never knew it was there. Also, it made it easy for me to click the score.

I can’t comment on how this would be for ball golf as I always avoided wearing anything on my wrists when playing. I’m sure if people were used to wearing anything when swinging a club, this wouldn’t bother them. The same could be said for tennis.

The ScoreBand has four modes:

  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • All sport
  • Time

Those are four excellent items as it allows you to get multiple uses from one wristband. For golf, it keeps your hole score as well as your cumulative score. For tennis, keep game and set scores.

Though this is something that will be a permanent addition to my disc golf regiment, the all-score mode might be the most intriguing part of this band.

As the company notes on its site, there are many uses for this mode — including some other disc and ball golf functions, such as keeping putts, fairways hit or greens in regulation.

  • Other items that the watch can be used for:
  • Pitch counter for baseball or softball
  • As a head counter where attendance is needed
  • To count inventory
  • Keeping track of how many times you take medication
  • Lap counter

Truthfully, the options are endless with that mode.

Using the band is easy. There’s three buttons — two on the display and one on the side. Once you get the hang of how the watch works, it’s simple to use while playing. The key is remembering to use it.

Though I don’t often do it, perusing the instructions is a smart move and messing with it for a while before taking it out will help you get used to the controls so you can work it while on the course.

ScoreBand is a comfortable band that is easily used throughout a round.

The best part in my eyes?

It keeps your score as you go along. So if you click it after each throw or shot, you can see what you’ve done on each hole. At the end of the hole, add it to your overall score and you’ll have a clean slate for the next hole.

My only issue is it can get a little confusing on how to take your round score and add it to your cumulative score. You have to hold one of the buttons down to have it do this, but in the end, once you get used to it, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Though I love using my phone as a score card, the reality is it can sometimes get cumbersome to take the phone in and out of your pocket, get the screen up and type in scores. In the amount of time that takes, I’m at the next tee or shot with the score already in my watch.

If you are looking for more in-depth stats, the phone apps are probably the best. But if you are out playing and just want a quick and effective way to keep your score, this really is the way to go.

ScoreBand is $29.99, but it’s durable and something all disc golfers should consider having if they want a nice and easy way to keep score during rounds.