As George ‘Frolf’ Costanza once famously said, “I’m back baby, I’m back!”
Tell all your content-hungry disc golf pals who (in addition to playing and watching) read about the sport whenever they can that the School of Disc Golf is back to posting a mixture of disc golf content- not just the instructional stuff tied to our core business.
You’ll once again also be seeing current disc golf news from around the world, with a focus on stories about the sport’s growth around the world. Like this story from Bay County, MI. Check out this awesome quote from director of recreation and facilities Cristen Gignac:
“One of the big parts of this grant is we do public input,” she said, adding during the month of September they had a survey that went out to the community. “There was a lot of interest in disc golf, you’ll see that as a priority in a handful of different places.”
Stories like this are popping up everywhere, and I love to share them. Add in occasional commentary provided by yours truly, Jack Tupp (aka Frisbeebrain), and you’ll see a good mix of disc golf content- much of which you won’t get anywhere else. Use the ‘Subscribe’ link at right to make sure the good stuff hits your email inbox before the metaphorical ink is dry.
A little about the history of this blog:
Back in 2008, I decided to launch one of the sport’s first blogs, DeLa Blahg then went on to write (along with PDGA’s Steve Hill) for Rattling Chains, and after that All Things Disc Golf- both also excellent pioneering Disc Golf Blogs. Since then I launched the School of Disc Golf to offer lessons and teambuilding events and published two books. Three Paths to Better Disc Golf offers multiple tips to help you shoot lower scores, while The Disc Golf Revolution aims to help you share the sport – in all its important glory – with the outside world.
Enough about me, right? Everyone is encouraged to post comments, and send me questions, ideas of topics to cover, and story links. If you want to peruse past posts for ideas, just use the search box. Let’s talk some disc golf!
Finally, a teaser for what’s up next: I’ll be sharing a completely fresh take on whether baskets should be smaller/more challenging on the pro tour. Stay tuned!
If you’re like me, the desire to ‘sell’ the sport of disc golf to anyone who crosses your path comes as naturally as breathing, blinking, and throwing a hyzer. As decent human beings we want others to enjoy the benefits of the sport we love, right? So the sales pitches just gush forth. But are they as compelling and effective as they can possibly be?
While displaying a sincere belief in and passion for something is a powerful element of effective sales, the message itself is also important. And so is tailoring the message to the audience. But often we don’t have time for anything but a quick summary of the game and it’s best features. Normally this means quickly explaining that disc golf is fun, anyone can play, and anyone can afford it.
My personal elevator pitch, when I have a minute or less to share the virtues of disc golf with people or persons I may not know well, goes something like this:
“Golf really is a great game. You get fresh air and low impact exercise, can play alone or with others, and the strategic and mental challenges ensure that it never gets old. It also builds important life skills like integrity, self-control, patience, and humility. BUT . . . traditional golf is saddled with numerous limitations that make those wonderful traits inaccessible to the majority of people in the world. Either the cost is too high, or it takes too long to play a round, or it’s too difficult, or the environmental impact is troubling. Disc golf, on the other hand, retains everything that is great about golf while eliminating each of the barriers.”
If I have a chance for a more in-depth discussion, I’ll drill down to more details on one or more of disc golf’s high points based on what I know about those listening to me.
When money is obviously an issue I will stress the affordability, pointing out that most courses are free to play and one needs only a few inexpensive discs. Most who know little about the sport are usually surprised that courses are usually free because they are aware that ball golf courses all charge significant fees.
If I’m speaking to someone who feels like they need more exercise, I’ll explain that:
Disc golf can provide whatever level of exercise a person wants, from walking only a few holes at first on a flat course to hours of hiking or even running over varied terrain
I’ve known numerous people who have lost significant weight and improved their health in other ways by simply playing disc golf on a regular basis
The casual, open nature of the sport makes it a great choice for those having a hard time fitting exercise time into a busy schedule
As a former baseball player, I frequently run into old teammates who long for a new competitive outlet. In these and similar situations I go straight to explaining how much more “golf-like” disc golf is than most assume it to be. For instance:
The constant risk-reward decisions that are a hallmark of golf are ever-present in disc golf as well
The basic throwing techniques, while easy to quickly learn at a functional level, can take years to achieve a semblance of mastery
Long throws provide that “Feat of Strength” rush that one gets from baseball, golf, and other sports
Lest someone think we’re hurling the same beach Frisbee again and again, I point out that differences in the design and weight of discs provide players with more than enough (sometimes too many!) equipment options
When speaking to someone whose concern for the environment shapes many of the choices they make, I am quick to contrast disc golf with ball golf in that context. Since the state of the playing surface matters little, a disc golf course can exist almost anywhere without any manipulation of the natural setting. Although some courses are installed in groomed park areas, watering, mowing, and landscaping are not necessary. If someone wants to play a sport and experience nature at the same time, you can’t do better than disc golf.
Disc golf is steadily growing, mostly due to word of mouth and sales pitches similar to the ones described above. Because of the game’s supreme accessibility, a large percentage of those who try it become enthusiasts themselves in short order. It is my opinion, however, that should these facts about disc golf become more widely available, the drip-drip-drip of disc golf growth will become a deluge. From dripping point to tipping point.
I’ve felt this way for some time, and it led me to write a book called The Disc Golf Revolution. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book should be available by Fall 2017. You can learn more at http://playdiscgolf.org.
Jack Trageser is the owner of School of Disc Golf and author of Three Paths to Better Disc Golf and The Disc Golf Revolution. He resides in Santa Cruz, CA
This is School of Disc Golf Headmaster Jack Tupp here, with an important message for all disc golf enthusiasts.
I’ve written my 2nd disc golf book, titled “The Disc Golf Revolution,” and I wrote it for you. Not to read so much (although I hope you do read it and am certain you’ll enjoy it), but to give and recommend to everyone who you wish knew the full story of disc golf. In other words, everyone!
I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to promote the book, and I’d greatly appreciate your support by backing the project and sharing it everyone you know. You can do both by visiting playdiscgolf.org right now.
The book is 100 percent written and now in the final stages of copyediting. The book cover designed by Juan Luis Garcia of Overstable Studios (shown below) is also complete and ready for printing. I’ve listed the chapter titles and descriptions below, but here are the primary messages the book is intended to convey:
Golf is a great game, and here is why-
Golf is also largely inaccessible to most people, and here is why-
Disc golf offers everything substantial this is great about golf, and here is why-
Disc golf eliminates all the barriers inherent to traditional golf, and here is how-
Disc golf has grown in an almost entires grassroots manner, like no sport before it
Disc golf brings people from all walks of life together on a level playing field, like no sport before it
Disc golf – and disc flight – is much more complex and engaging than you might think-
Now that we’ve got your interest, here is how and where to play
(Chapter titles subject to change)
Golf 2.0- Lists all that is great about the traditional game of golf along with the many obstacles that keep it out of reach for most of the world. Goes point-by-point to make the case that disc golf retains all the attractive elements of golf while obliterating all of the barriers
The History of Disc Golf- A very different take on the history of disc golf, tracing both golf and the flying disc as far back into history as possible
The Organic, Free-range Growth of Disc Golf- An important chapter explaining the unique growth path of a sport that seems tailor-made for the 21st century. It is broken down into the following sections: Player Growth; Course Growth: the pioneer spirit in action; Local Disc Golf Club Growth; Competition Growth; and Grassroots Growth in the News- a sampling of disc golf news stories from a random three-week period
Disc golf today: Who plays, where they play, and how- An examination of who plays disc golf, where they play, and the popular formats
Wellness Through Disc Golf- Explains why disc golf is a perfect activity for those who need exercise and/or stress release and usually find excuses (cost, time, schedule, judgment) for not getting it The
The Egalitarian Sport- Another chapter that delves into disc golf’s significance extending beyond the realm of sports, it explains how disc golf has been equal opportunity since its inception and why it seems destined to remain so
Start Playing Today!- Designed to enable readers who by this point in the book are excited to give it a try to hit the ground running, this chapter answers the following questions: How do I find the closest courses? What do I need to get? What are the rules? How do I learn to play?
The finer points of the game- This chapter includes info typical to a how-to book, but with a twist consistent with the overall theme of the book. It will convince the reader how much more complex disc flight – and therefore the sport – is than they might have previously understood it to be. The idea is to fully dispel the belief that disc golf is just “tossing a Frisbee” again and again. Sections include: Tools of the Trade; Throwing techniques; The many ways to control the flight of a disc (I enlist the help of a physicist who is also a disc golfer for this section)
Disc Golf Lingo- A fun chapter sharing some of the lingo and even local dialects unique to disc golf
Disc Golf in the Context of Other Sports, Games & Hobbies- Another light chapter that shows how disc golf includes the best qualities of other more familiar and established sports & games
Disc Golf on the Road- A reference chapter on how to play anywhere you go
A Panacea for Modern Problems- A connect-the-dots chapter that matches the accessibility and broad appeal of disc golf with some of the 21st century’s most pressing social issues
The Future of Disc Golf- The author’s take on the future of a sport that in some ways is rapidly evolving, but in others remains true to its wholly informal beginnings
One final note: If you have found this blog useful in improving your disc golf game, one of the Kickstarter rewards is a copy of my other book, Three Paths to Better Disc Golf. Check it out!
How do you perform on pressure putts? Are they a weakness in your otherwise solid disc golf game? If the first question caused you to grind your teeth and/or break out into a cold sweat, and if you grudgingly answered ‘yes’ to the second question, this post is for you.
Let’s start with a seemingly random question: Have you ever had to walk across a rickety bridge spanning a 3,000-foot gorge? Or maybe you’ve traversed a narrow, slippery trail hugging the side of a steep mountain. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen such scenes in movies and know what the cool, calm, and collected inevitably say to those with mortal fear in their eyes:
“Don’t look down!”
The obvious reason for this timely advice is to help an already frightened and nervous person from becoming paralyzed with fear. Looking down in such situations reminds us of the dire consequences if things don’t go right, and healthy fear is one of the traits hard-wired into all species. But alas, not all fear is healthy, nor helpful.
Take away the consequences -possibility of serious injury or death, with immense pain along the way, in this case – and that walk across the rickety bridge is really no big deal. It’s just walking, after all. But when one false step could turn into a real-life Wile E. Coyote plunge, it suddenly gets much harder. And this is true of pretty much everything. The more it means to you, the greater the likelihood that anxiety comes into play. And anxiety, needless to say, never enhances performance.
Good news, the solution is simple! However, it’s not easy, at least not in an instantaneous, problem-solved kind of way. You gotta consciously work at overcoming a tendency that, like garden weeds, can never be entirely eliminated. But if you make a sincere effort to make this change you should see some results almost immediately.
Here is the essence of the one and only true way to combat performance anxiety. Drumroll, please . . . . . .
Think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish- and definitely not why you’re trying to accomplish it.
Many believe that athletes who are known as ‘clutch performers’ must somehow thrive on the pressure that negatively affects everyone else. That’s not true. They have simply trained themselves to concentrate on the raw components of the task at hand and block out everything else.
The general idea of focusing on actions rather than results is nothing new. Instructors, trainers, and coaches have applied it to everything imaginable- far beyond the realm of athletics. I’ve written about the applications of this concept multiple times before and have included some links later in this post. There are many techniques that will help you accomplish this game-changing transformation. Adapt one of mine, or come up with your own. The purpose here is to help you understand and embrace the basic concept.
The rickety bridge/”Don’t look down!” analogy just recently occurred to me, and I think it can be instrumental in helping golfers who already realize that the primary obstacles between them and lower scores are often mental, but haven’t gotten beyond that vague realization.
Want yet another example? I bet whoever trains people to diffuse bombs stresses the fact that the mind must remain focused 100 percent on the task at hand. Thoughts of beloved family members and fear of being blown to smithereens could result in shaky hands or a momentary confusion between red and blue wires. Next thing you know, BOOM!
As we all know, some missed putts result in different kinds of explosions (or, in some cases, implosions): Exploding scores, tempers, and visions of that personal-best round that was so close you could taste it. And it’s not the miss itself that is so frustrating, but the awareness that it was due to a brain twisted into knots.
If you now believe the simple solution revealed above (think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish) has merit, and are wondering “How, exactly?” that’s an excellent question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I think I can get you headed in the right direction by sharing a little about my personal strategies, tactics, and tricks.
Think about what you’re trying to DO
This literally means the physical movements I (and you) need to perform in order to execute a successful putt. This isn’t a post about putting technique, so I’ll only list a few things that I try to think about right before every putt (yours may be different):
Start with a comfortable, balanced stance
Focus my eyes on the orange decal on the pole, or one particular link, and don’t release the stare until the disc arrives at the basket
Follow through straight at the target, feeling the stretch in my back, shoulder, arm, hand and fingers for a lingering second after the disc leaves my hand
Notice I did not list “make the putt” as something I’m trying to do.
Do NOT think about what you’re trying to accomplish, or why you’re trying to accomplish it.
The second you start thinking about making the putt, two bad things happen.
You stop thinking the productive “Do This” thoughts that give you the best chance of success. You can’t simultaneously follow two trains of thought.
You open the door to why you want or need to make the putt. The bigger the situation, the farther the drop from that rickety bridge. It doesn’t matter whether a really bad thing will happen if you miss (you lose the round, for instance) or a really good thing won’t happen (you don’t birdie hole 13 for the first time ever). The effect is the same.
Remember when I said the solution is simple, but not easy? That’s because thinking only about the process of putting and blocking out all thoughts related to the desired achievement is a simple enough concept- but easier said than done. That’s where the strategies, tactics, and tricks come in. I’ve shared a few that I’ve posted about in the past. Adapt them to your game, or use them as inspiration for developing your own routines to prevent yourself from “looking down.”
Back in 2011, I came up with a pre-shot routine wherein I practice my putting motion several times, full speed but without the disc in my hand, right before my actual putt. I discovered several benefits in doing this, and you can read the post or watch this short video if you’re interested in the full explanation. I list it here because one of those benefits of the routine is that it allows me to think about my process keys while practicing my “stroke,” and then when it’s time to execute the actual putt, my last final thought is always the same: Do exactly what I just did on the last practice stroke. Just that one thought, and nothing else.
For me, there is no other correct final thought before I pull the trigger. The routine is now habit for me, which makes it easier to remember even in the most high-pressure moments. I’m also more likely to identify renegade “value” thoughts that try to invade my routine in time to replace them with “process” thoughts.
Assess. Choose. Execute.
Extending the routine further backward is another way to be sure I’m thinking about the right things at the right time. A successful shot starts well before I step up to my lie. In this post I discuss the proper sequence of first assessing the situation, then choosing exactly what to do, then executing. If I complete the first two steps before I step up to my lie (this post was for all shots, not just putting), I have a better chance at being able to focus on process, and only process, when it’s time to execute.
Like A Machine
Another post that touches on this subject was titled “Play Disc Golf Like a Machine. A Well-Oiled Machine.” If you need another metaphor for setting emotion and value aside and simply executing a command, you’ll find it in that post. If it helps, think of yourself emulating a robot, automaton, or even Star Trek’s Dr. Spock. If asked, he’d say “In competitive disc golf, feelings are illogical and counter-productive.”
However you get there, separating process from value on every throw will result in lower scores and less stress. Find something that works for you, and stick with it. It’ll be worth it!
Every week, thousands of people experience disc golf for the first time. (I have no reference for this, but it sounds about right, doesn’t it?) Whatever the actual figure, it’s growing quickly because a good number of those people fall in love with the sport. They continue to play, share their passion with others, and acquire a sudden desire to learn all they can about this wonderful thing that until recently didn’t exist for them.
Until recently, those seeking to quench this thirst in the literary world were let down in a big way, or worse, terribly misinformed. The handful of disc golf titles on the market claiming to provide ‘all you need to know’ about disc golf fell far short of the promise and likely reinforced the opinions of some that disc golf is not yet to be taken seriously.
The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf is indeed what it claims to be. The information it offers up is accurate, relevant to new players, and presented in the articulate language of a college textbook. The fact that the authors’ advanced degrees are listed along with their names (Justin Menickelli, Ph.D. and Ryan ‘Slim’ Pickens, M.A.) on the cover provide a good indication that this is the exact impression they wish to convey. In fact, I can see their book being used as the primary text for the growing number of disc golf courses on college campuses. The PDGA logo is also prominently displayed on the cover, but I could not divine the exact reason why.
The book is divided into three main parts, the first of which is titled ‘The Nature of the Game.’ It includes a section on choosing the best equipment, shoes, and clothing. Makes sense. But the rest of the chapter is mostly devoted to tournament play and PDGA membership, which I at first found odd considering a very large majority of all regular disc golfers never delve into formal competition. Then I realized that those who enjoy disc golf but consider it a fun, affordable thing to do once a week, and leave it at that, likely won’t be the ones reading this book. If you, like me, love disc golf enough to acquire The Definitive Guide, there is a good chance you will want to at least dabble in tournament play as well.
Other subjects covered in the Part I include the history of the game, course design, and an excellent treatment of rules and basic etiquette. Information that is useful for the here and now is blended well with interesting facts that will add depth to a new disc golfer’s appreciation for the game.
Part II is called The Science of the Game, and it ranges from 10 lessons on mental training to disc golf-specific exercises to a college level examination of the physics of disc golf flight. I mentioned that disc golf classes would use this book as a text, but it’s not a stretch to think that a creative physics professor might use it as well. Menickelli’s Ph.D. in Kinesiology is on display in this detailed discussion of vectors, form drag, surface drag, and dynamic fluid force. Those who can follow the explanation will end up with an excellent understanding and appreciation of the many factors affecting disc flight.
Part III is devoted to providing instructions on every type of grip, throw, putt, and shot known in the disc golf universe. As the owner of School of Disc Golf, I teach beginners and also coach tournament players, and I didn’t come across anything with which I disagreed or thought inaccurate. Superb photos and illustrations are used liberally, and there is so much information crammed into the short treatment allotted to each technique they act like the water competitive eaters gulp down with each bite, enabling the reader to digest beefy concepts.
In the preface, the authors state a goal of writing a book that would be ‘read cover to cover, and to provide readers with a helpful resource that warrants keeping a copy close by to reference.’ The wide range of material covered guarantees they’ll accomplish the second part of that goal, if not the first. I can confidently say that anyone who plays disc golf on a regular basis, or plans to, would do well to get themselves a copy of The Definitive Guide to Disc Golf. It’ll end up looking as used as the rule book in the side pocket of your bag. If only it would fit!
Companies that market formal clothing love to tell us how their garments lead directly to success in business.
“If you look good, you’ll feel good”. Heard that one before?
The idea is that men wearing chic, expertly-tailored suits and women wearing designer labels gain extra confidence. There may be a kernel of truth buried beneath the B.S., but that’s beside the point. What matters is we can use it to communicate some useful info to disc golfers wanting to improve skills and consistency. It’ll take a bit of ‘splainin’ to get to the meat of the lesson, though, so hang in there. It’ll be worth the 10-minute read.
First off, this tip flips those ad slogans around. Feeling comes first. Also, I am using the word ‘feel’ in a totally different way than them. We’re not talking about the touchy-feely emotional kind of feel (as in, ‘you hurt my feelings’). More like the physiological use for the word, as in ‘that toilet paper feels like sandpaper!’ (Cringe-worthy mental image, but it got the point across, didn’t it?) Finally, since we’re talking about a different kind of ‘feel’, the word good doesn’t work as well. So if we had to have a pithy slogan similar to theirs to sum up the lesson, it would be more along the lines of “Feeling right leads to playing better, and (for those who care about such things) playing better makes you look good.
Ok, we’re done laying out our tortured analogy. Onto the actual message.
The School of Disc Golf has previously mentioned the concept of ‘muscle memory’ no less than six times, with good reason. It’s a scientific explanation of why and how practice makes us better. On Wikipedia, it is summarized as “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”
By that definition, muscle memory is something that happens automatically, behind the curtain of your conscious thoughts. It’s one of the benefits of repetitive practice. I’d like to believe that as disc golfers (or any athlete working to perfect a craft) we can take it further than that. We can try to consciously maximize the process and benefits. I’ll explain using a couple commonly accepted tips.
Whether you prefer the spin putt or the push putt, the in-line or straddle stance, following through, dramatically, should be a constant. We talk about it in detail in this post and even include a video tutorial of an exercise to practice follow through and better develop the key muscles used in this particular way. Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.
Now, as you read this, don’t focus on what that description of following through looks like. Focus on what it feels like. If I was giving you an in-person lesson right now, I’d explain follow through, much as I just did in writing above, and show you what it looks like. Hopefully after seeing me do it you’d make your best effort to replicate what you just saw me do. Assuming you did it correctly, I’d tell you so, and you’d accept that you just did it correctly based on my positive feedback. But here’s the thing: I can’t follow you around for all your practice sessions and rounds of disc golf. My lessons are reasonably priced, I think, but that would get costly quickly! And even if that were feasible, the key to the lesson (that follow through is a key to good putting) would not penetrate beyond your logical mind. In other words, it won’t be carved into your muscle memory. That kind of learning requires feel.
Let’s go back to the word picture I offered:
Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm and hand stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.
As you read the words, stretch your throwing arm toward a focal point across the room. It doesn’t matter what it is, but keep your eyes locked onto it. Now zero in on the key words and phrases, “rigid throwing arm and hand”, “stretched”, “elbow . . . locked”, “arm and even fingers perfectly straight”. Rather than thinking about these descriptions look like, or what you should look like emulating them, let your mind dwell on what each of these things feels like. An arm stretched straight ahead to its extremity feels very different than one that is dangling at your side, or resting on the arm of a chair. Get that feeling locked into your long-term memory and recall it before every putt. Remind yourself that unless you feel that sensation of stretching and straining directly toward your target, you’re not doing it right.
This post is meant to be more about the importance of learning and recalling by feel than a putting lesson, but we’ll make one more point. At the end of your putt, just before, during and after you release the disc, the feeling should also include a quick, sharp burst of movement. Don’t misunderstand all the talk of stretching toward the target and conjure up thoughts of slow motion Tai Chi. For more on that check out the follow through post referenced above.
Since we went into pretty good detail about the importance of ‘feel’ in the putting example, this one will be short and sweet. It should help drive (no pun intended) the point home using a different type of scenario. We’ll focus on one particular aspect of good, consistent driving: Balance.
One of the key points in our comprehensive post ‘Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique‘ is the relationship between balance and weight transfer. When it comes to throwing a golf disc properly the two are intertwined, and the difference can definitely be felt when done correctly vs. incorrectly.
First off, when you’re setting up to throw, make sure you begin with good posture (knees still slightly bent, but back mostly straight and body not ‘hunched over’) and weight evenly distributed between front and back foot. As you execute the throw, remember the goal of keeping that weight centered as much as possible. Yes, you need to transfer weight to the back foot as you reach your disc all the way back and transfer it forward in sync with the disc as you throw. But to retain the most consistent control of where your disc goes, you must remain well balanced. If you feel yourself falling off to one side or, more commonly, falling forward upon disc release, your balance is off and likely so is your aim.
This is why, in the backhand post cited above as well as all lessons I give on the subject, I urge players to begin by learning proper backhand technique without a run-up. It’s important to lock in the feel of proper balance and weight transfer so you can recall it when needed, and identify flaws when they arise.
This post doesn’t include any images, for a good reason. Visual aids do have a place in learning. But when it comes to muscle memory it’s all about learning through feel, and realizing that feeling is the best way to learn.
In this excerpt from a soon-to-be-released disc golf book targeting non-disc golfers, the considerable environmental impact of ball golf course development and maintenance is contrasted with the relatively invisible footprint of most disc golf courses. Consider the resources demanded by a ball golf course located in the middle of a desert wasteland. A disc golf course on the same piece of land, on the other hand, would involve nothing except strategically-placed targets and tees. Virtually no manipulation of the landscape whatsoever. And no watering.
I hope you enjoy the read, follow the links and post comments below.
The Environmental Impact of Golf
Traditional golf attracts criticism from environmentalists for two primary reasons: water and pesticides. Prodigious amounts of both are used each week by U.S. golf courses to keep fairways and greens lush, green, and free of weeds. The more radical line of thinking is that the environmental impact on such large areas for the benefit – and recreational benefit at that – of so few is unconscionable. Even a good percentage of golf enthusiasts polled on the subject of golf and the environment tend to agree that course owners and greenskeepers need to modify maintenance practices.
As part of a comprehensive report on golf and the environment in 2008 written by John Barton, Golf Digest magazine conducted a survey with the purpose of determining the opinions of golfers as compared to the general population. When asked if Pesticides used on a golf course creates a potential health hazard for humans, 40 percent of the golfer group responded yes (compared to 66 percent of the general population group). That says two things: Two-thirds of the general population think that the pesticides used on traditional golf courses are likely hazardous and even close to half of all golfers are willing to admit it; yet their reasons for wanting to play the game are so compelling that they don’t care. They’ll take their chances!
To the poll question “Should the amount of water used on golf courses only be enough to keep the grass alive, not make it green and lush?” 44 percent of golfers said yes. Pay attention to this one not only to the reply (most golfers still want their course green and lush, whatever it takes) but to the particular wording of the question. ‘ . . . enough to keep the grass alive . . . ” How much is that, exactly? And why is keeping the grass alive necessary if it isn’t going to be esthetically pleasing? Dead grass comes back every Spring.
The answer to the first question is hard to nail down, as the difference between ‘alive’ and ‘lush and green’ is entirely subjective. But the answer to the second question is more illuminating and goes directly to why golf will always be a concern – and, therefore, a barrier – to certain environmentalists.
Thick grass, mowed (emissions from maintenance equipment are another concern of environmentalist) at a consistent height is essential to the game of golf because players hit the ball from wherever it lands. They expect a reward for keeping the ball in the fairway in the form of a clean shot at the ball as it lies atop the perfect grass. And greens, where players putt the ball at the hole, are supposed to be kept so short and uniform that the ball will roll straight and smoothly with a slight tap of the club. To get a better idea of how important this manipulation of the land is to the game of traditional golf, think of your favorite natural open space park. Now imagine people trying to play golf there, hitting their balls from amongst the dirt, brush, tall native grasses or bushes and clustered trees. Not to mention finding the ball after each shot.
In the Golf Digest story mentioned above, five different people with different perspectives on golf and the environment were interviewed. One of them was a noted environmentalist named Brent Blackwelder, who is also an avid golfer. According to Barton, Blackwelder is one of America’s most prominent environmental advocates and has testified before Congress more than 100 times. He is also past president of Friends of the Earth and now president emeritus of the same.
Blackwelder answered asked a number of questions, but his response to the final one was the most illuminating in the context of this book. After touching on specific issues like pesticides, energy use, and genetically-engineered grasses, Barton asked, “What would golf be like in a perfect world?” Blackwelder’s reply:
“You’d be playing on an organic course. The maintenance equipment would be charged by solar power. Recycled water would be used for irrigation, and used efficiently and sparingly. There’d be a great variety of wildlife habitats. This idea that you’ve got to make everything look like a miniature golf course with a green carpet is crazy. It’s the same problem that we see with these lawn fetishes—all the water and chemicals and energy that are used for a lawn that just sits there. So let’s get back to the rugged qualities of the game. People ought to read the history of golf.
“We’ve not been very good stewards of the earth as a species. We should be a blessing to the rest of life, not such a curse. The whole idea of living with and appreciating and understanding our surroundings is something we need more of. We have this incredible nature-deficit disorder worldwide. We’re sitting all day in front of a computer in an office and not getting out for a walk in the woods. Golf is a great opportunity to be outdoors. It should be a fun, interesting, great walk out there; a healthful, salubrious experience.”
The utopian golf experience that Blackwelder describes as “golf in a perfect world” is already a reality, and it’s even better from an environmentalist’s perspective than he’s imagining. It may not be the golf he grew up playing, with clubs and balls on 150 acres of heavily manipulated land. But it can be played on virtually every type of terrain with hardly any alteration required, and zero watering or pesticides. As this book aims to demonstrate indisputably, players get the full golf experience – the mental challenge, the constant risk/reward equation to solve – while in an entirely natural, native, organic environment.
They may not realize it, yet, the growing number of people like Blackwelder who see great value in the game of golf but also feel a strong obligation to minimize human impact on the planet.
Disc golf is the Utopian golf experience.
It requires one-third the land of a ball golf course, and rather than being carved out of a local natural habitat, a disc golf course can completely conform to it. No watering and no pesticides needed.