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
  • 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!

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

  1. My PDGA #706 just says I am older but still loving it. When I first joined it was only so I could play in a tournament. I played several made a few bucks but life happens. I didn’t play any for many, many years, maybe 25+. Now I wanted to join again and wanted to play in some tournaments but not in the Pro division. I wanted to play with guys my age and in the Am division. So, I signed up for the Am division. I petitioned the PDGA to give me AM status. They said if hadn’t played for several years that could happen. I’ll let you know what they decide. I am playing in the Am division and having fun.

  2. My PDGA # 5464 also says I have been around. I agree that the annual fee is too high. I could easily afford it but I no longer play competitively. I also agree that the PDGA is missing out on extra funds from people who would like to support the game. I also received a disc when I first joined. It was not a non-descript putter, it was a lightning Bearcat and the coolest thing about it was my PDGA number stamped into the plastic. Why not do that for members?

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