PDGA vs. USGA membership: One way the barrier to entry is higher in disc golf than in ball golf

Saying that I am a disc golf supporter and even an ardent promoter would be an understatement. Kinda like stating labrador retrievers like to chase things and bring them back, or killer whales prefer to eat meat.

I write two for two blogs exclusively dedicated to disc golf, and have a book in the works. My side business – School of Disc Golf – is more about spreading the word than generating income. I produce a TV show/video magazine on disc golf.  I have served as an officer for my local disc golf club, helped to design and install several courses, and talk about disc golf to whoever is willing to listen. I proudly hold PDGA #9715, which nowadays marks me as ‘old school’.

However, I am not a current member of the PDGA, disc golf’s governing organization.

In the past membership was a no-brainer, as it was required if you wanted to participate in certain sanctioned events. But raising young kids and injuries have effectively halted my participation in all but local, one-day competitions, so I’m no longer compelled to be a PDGA for that reason alone.

One year, the PDGA sent special stickers to renewing members. They obviously knew that most PDGA members were also tournament players/
One year, the PDGA sent special stickers to renewing members. They obviously knew that most PDGA members were also tournament players

Don’t misunderstand. Being able to compete in sanctioned events wasn’t the only reason I joined the PDGA. I somewhat enjoyed the magazine that came with membership, in both iterations (Disc Golf World News and the current version), and was proud to do my part in supporting the main organization representing the sport I love. But right around the time I stopped playing in big events I also found myself out of work, and all superfluous expenses had to go. After 13 consecutive years of membership, my streak ended in 2010.

Now I find myself gainfully employed once again, and would like to reinstate my PDGA membership, even though my big event days (at least for the foreseeable future) are behind me. I want to support disc golf in every way possible, and even though I feel the reporting doesn’t come close to what we produce daily at RattlingChains.com, I’d like to receive the magazine once again. But here’s the rub: I play in the ‘professional’ Masters division, and as such I’d have to pay $75.

At this point, I view the cost of PDGA membership – in my case – like the cost of a movie ticket. I can afford both, but it’s the principal of the thing (seriously- $12 to see a movie?). Why doesn’t the PDGA offer a membership level for people who simply want to support the sport’s growth- who don’t play tournaments and don’t need all the infrastructure that manages and supports competitive play?

For a comparison, let’s look to – of all places – ball golf. In their world, the Professional Golfers’ Association is an organization for the actual professional golfers and teaching pros. The USGA (U.S. Golf Association), on the other hand, is for everyone who plays and supports golf. In disc golf, the PDGA is a combination of the two.

Are you with me so far? Good.

Earlier on in my disc golf life, I needed to belong to a ‘PGA-like’ organization. I played in everything from little C-tier events to world championships and the USDGC, obsessed over my player rating once those were established, and used the PDGA site to find and register for events. But nowadays I simply want to belong to something like the USGA. Unfortunately I don’t have that option.

When I contacted the PDGA’s membership manager Sara Nicholson a year ago suggesting the organization add a ‘supporting’ membership option at a much lower cost than the $75 for pro players and $50 for amateurs, she agreed and mentioned that she hears that request often. Yet nothing has changed.

My own personal preferences aside, I think the PDGA is missing a big opportunity on this issue, and I can use the old iceberg analogy to illustrate my point. As you know, only the tip of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water, and similarly, only a small fraction of disc golf enthusiasts will ever even consider playing in sanctioned events. As a consequence of this – and the high cost of membership – only a tiny fraction of the people who love disc golf, play regularly, and want others to learn about it’s redeeming qualities are PDGA members.

If you don’t believe $50-$75 annually is too much to support a sport you love, consider the USGA. Their lowest level of membership costs only $10 per person, and it comes with quite an impressive list of benefits beside supporting the game:

  • Member-only
    U.S. Open golf hat
  • Latest edition of
    The Rules of Golf
  • USGA Championship Preview
  • USGA Insider
    e-newsletter
  • Advance opportunity to purchase
    U.S. Open 7-day ticket packages
  • USGA bag tag and Member ID
  • Various Member-only special offers and discounts
  • Behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities
New PDGA members get a PDGA-stamped disc. The author's is now a well-worn practice putter
New PDGA members get a PDGA-stamped disc. The author’s is now a well-worn practice putter

I understand that the PDGA does not have the resources of the USGA, but feel strongly that it just makes sense to offer membership to those who don’t play sanctioned events and don’t need the related services. It should be at a low enough cost level that pretty everyone can afford it, and it should be marketed at a grassroots level everywhere the sport is played.

In more than 30 years, the amount of people that have joined the PDGA is still well under 100,000. If the PDGA were to immediately do as I suggest, I think it could easily pass the half-million mark by 2015. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

What do you think? Am I right?  Wrong? A cheap so-and-so? Or do you agree that the PDGA should broaden it’s horizons and embrace the much larger group of purely recreational disc golfers? Let us know!

The three causes for taking extra strokes in disc golf- and how to avoid ’em (if possible)

After hole 7 the other day it occurred to me that I had already carded three bogeys. To loosely paraphrase Ice Cube from back in the 90’s, I was givin’ out strokes ‘like government cheese!’

Then, in keeping with my longstanding and hopefully constructive practice of pondering why the bogies occurred rather than simply lamenting the fact, I observed each was attributable to one of the three different reasons players take extra strokes in disc golf: bad execution, mental error, and bad luck. If you haven’t thought of your disc golf game from this perspective before, it might be worthwhile to check it out. Bad luck (and good luck!) will happen when it happens and luck is impossible to control (although often times ‘bad luck’ is set up by a bad decision). Errors are another thing entirely.

Knowing which type (execution or mental) you’re more prone to commit will help you know which area of your game requires more work in order to improve performance and consistency.

To make it clearer, here are the details of those three bogies at the start of my recent round, and some related thoughts:

On hole 1 my drive was thrown too low, resulting in it turning over and grinding to a halt. Cut down in its prime. It ended up well short of my normal landing area, which on uphill hole 1 at DeLa means a difficult par save- and sure enough, I took a bogey. The problem here was purely a lack of execution. I had a good, straightforward plan, didn’t vary from my routine, and didn’t have distracting thoughts floating through my brain. Quite simply, I overthrew in an effort to compensate for the cold weather, and in the process removed all the smoothness from my form.

Hole 1 at DeLaveaga, photo by John Hernlund.

At DeLa, hole 4 requires the player to pass through trees. The course rules at DeLa also state that the two meter rule (a one-stroke penalty for discs stuck two meters or higher in a tree) is in effect. And due to the way the fairway dips down mid-way, any air shot is at least at some risk of getting snagged in some branches. Lower shots are less likely to get caught, but on that day my drive – which seemed rather perfect as it left my hand – ended up OB. The odds of that happening were quite small, but happen it did. Oh well.

Now the bogey on hole 7 was by far the most avoidable of the three. The mistake I made there was entirely mental, and those are the ones that bother me the most.

My drive had left me about 70 feet from the basket, with the slightly downhill angle of the shot making it play more like a 50-foot birdie try. But here is where I screwed up: A putt anywhere between 50 and 70 feet has a less than 50 percent chance of landing in the basket. Depending on the conditions (in this case a bit of a low ceiling near the cage) quite a bit less than 50 percent. That factor (the low probability of success) alone would not be a reason to lay up rather than go for it. But coupled with the reality that hole 7 at DeLa has a very fast, rutted fairway and a green that slopes down to the basket and far beyond, it makes birdie attempts quite risky.

Yet go for it I did, and the result was predictable. After a skip, rattle and roll, my comeback putt was around 40 feet . . . and I missed it. All I could think of was the fact that it took me three shots to hole out from 70 feet. Not acceptable.

Think about these three bogeys, and consider whether you identify with any one of the three in particular.

If you identify with Hole 1 (bad execution), you will likely see the quickest improvement through practice. Get out on a field, and get your reps in. Commit your good form and technique to muscle memory, so when it comes time for real play on the course, your body knows what to do.

If the bad break on hole 4 seems all too familiar to you, think long and hard about whether you’re really getting more than your share of bad luck or if it’s maybe the result of leaving too much to chance too often. I believe that luck evens out over time, so if you think you’re always getting the short end of the stick it’s likely because you’re not making the best decisions. At DeLa tournaments like the Masters Cup, out-of-town players often act frustrated at what they claim is the ‘fickle-factor’ connected to the course’s sloped terrain and fast greens. The players who score best in events there, however, know that these elements require special respect and adjust their games accordingly.

And that brings us to the stroke I took on hole 7. I knew the risks involved in going for that long putt with a fast, downhill green- the odds of making it didn’t match well with the odds of a miss resulting in a long comeback putt. But I went for it anyway, succumbing to whatever bad rationale happened to float through my mind at the time. Maybe it was impatience at being +2 after six holes, or maybe it was a type of bravado that led me to think nothing bad would happen if I ran the putt. But the odds played out, and what was most likely to happen did, in fact, occur.

If this type of mental error costs you the most strokes in your rounds, consider it good news. These are the easiest to eliminate as they have nothing to do with your ability to play the game. You just need to learn to get better at ‘thinking’ your way around the course. No one is perfect in this respect, but those that work at it get the most out of their abilities.

If you enjoy analyzing disc golf as much as playing it, it’s actually quite interesting to do a post-mortem on your mistakes. You’ll end up learning something nearly every time, and that means even your screw-ups can be productive in the long run.

So which of the three do you identify with the most, and more importantly, whatcha gonna do about it?