If I had known it would be the subject of an article, I’d have approached this event much differently. We think and act much differently when we’re wearing our journalist hats (you know, the fedoras with ‘Press’ taped on the side). But I was just really excited that my wife and daughters had not only agreed to but were even looking forward to a disc golf clinic. At least – being in Dad Mode – I was quick to snap lots of pictures.
The event was a women’s disc golf clinic put on by Prodigy Disc team members Sarah Hokom and Paige Pierce in Santa Cruz, three days before the Masters Cup National Tour Event. The excitement came from the fact that I’ve waited for a long time for them to show interest in my favorite sport/activity/hobby/obsession. My wife used to play with me many years ago, before the kids came along, but it was always more about wanting to share something I loved. The kids have played a few times, but hadn’t gotten hooked into disc golf as of yet.
The clinic was scheduled for 5 PM, and as it happened it was particularly windy (and cold) for Santa Cruz in April. As a disc golf instructor, I can assure you that these are not ideal conditions for teaching or learning the basics of flying disc sports. We arrived a little before 5 PM, and aside from one lady were the first on the scene. Slipping into my journalist mode (it happens subconsciously- or maybe I’m just curious/chatty) I asked her about what brought her there. She told me she was from San Francisco (a 1-2 hour drive, depending on traffic) and had played a week earlier in the Amateur Masters Cup event. The clinic was promoted during that week and during the Daisy Chains Women’s tourney in Santa Cruz County the week between the Am and Pro Masters Cup weekends. Clearly this clinic had been well-planned.
I caught up with Sarah Hokom when she was already in Georgia for the Hall of Fame Classic on the PDGA HQ grounds, and asked her a few questions. She was understandably busy during the clinic, and as I mentioned already, I was more focused on watching my wife and kids. According to Hokom, the clinic was the fourth she and Pierce had conducted that year, with “at least a dozen” more planned to take place. She said that so far she has seen 10-15 participants at each event, and the number correlated to the level of local promotion. I didn’t count, but I thought I saw somewhere between 15 and 20.
Pierce and Hokom set up a table with some Prodigy discs and shirts, and asked each participant to fill out a short form with contact info and a short questionnaire. Hokom – a former high school teacher – said she’s working on a survey for more formal feedback, “but so far, many of the attendees have reached out to me with positive responses.” And as to who typically shows up for the clinics:
“I get all types of players,” said Hokom. “There have been new players at each one, seasoned players and all types in between.
After waiting for 10 minutes past the listed start time to allow for those operating on ‘Santa Cruz Time’ to show up, they began by having the participants pair up to play catch and warm up. Good idea- especially on a chilly day. My younger daughter paired up with Pierce and took the assignment very seriously. After they warmed up, they broke into two groups, with Pierce teaching the basics of backhand throws and Hokom sharing the secrets of her deadly sidearm technique.
As a fellow disc golf instructor I was impressed with the lesson in a couple of different ways. First of all, it was clear to me pretty quickly that some women are for whatever reason more receptive to instruction by other women. My wife and girls, for instance. They made some advances that afternoon that were really encouraging. And I don’t attribute it to just the ‘female connection’ thing- although that is significant. Hokom and Pierce made some great points that stuck with my older girl in particular, like Paige telling her to snap her backhand at the point of release. It’s not something I teach, but really helped my daughter throw with more armspeed.
We had to leave early as the girls got cold, and it was a school night. But the lesson had inspired my oldest, and she insisted we go out on the weekend to watch the women’s lead card of Pierce, Hokom, Innova Disc Golf team member Valarie Jenkins and eventual winner Catrina Ulibarri. I had figured on watching about an hour or so of the action. But my daughter – who at first rooted for Pierce after the lesson but then switched allegiance to Jenkins once she realized that Val and I were in Discmasters together, insisted on sticking there for the full 4.5 hour round. She was wearing a thin cotton tank-top and obviously cold (blame that one on Dad), but she was hooked on the action. And she got the full experience. All the women in the group signed a disc for her, she got to hold the leaderboard for short intervals, and Val in particular was gracious enough to acknowledge her repeated compliments and commiserations.
The clinic encouraged my wife and both my daughters because they all experienced noticeable progress in throwing straighter and farther than in the past. My older daughter had stars in her eyes after getting to see Pierce, Hokom, Ulibarri and Jenkins in action up close. I’m not sure which (participating in clinics or seeing top pros competing at National Tour event) has more potential to increase female participation in disc golf, but both seemed to be well-received by the women and girls that showed up. The trick is getting them there. Will disc golf ever be as popular among women as it is among men?
“The nature of sports and the nature of women conflict more often than for men, so no” said Hokom. “Its not that women don’t enjoy it, its just that less women enjoy it than men.”
Hokom said she is promoting the formation of ladies leagues because “I think they are helping the growth of women in the sport and provide a supportive and fun environment for more women to play.” Based on what I witnessed in April, and what the local female disc golfing population tell me, I’d say she’s right. Hopefully the trend toward women’s clinics, leagues and tournaments continues. I know at least one young girl who plans to show up.