Disc Golf Pro Tour on ESPN2 tonight- what to expect, what it means, how to watch

Tonight marks a fairly significant milestone for disc golf in a year that may be looked back upon as one of the turning points in the young sport’s history.

The milestone? Professional disc golf will air globally on ESPN2, during Prime Time on the eastern coast for the U.S. It’s not the first time disc golf has appeared on a cable television network, but it is the first instance of the sport airing in a non-paid production. In other words, ESPN believes disc golf can draw enough eyeballs to create advertising revenue.

Everything you need to know to check it out is covered in this run-down at Ultiworld Disc Golf. If you are not yet familiar with professional disc golf or the sport in general, I strongly recommend you check it out. It’s post-produced coverage of the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship Finals, both male and female, and it should include some good drama and close finishes in addition to plenty of material geared toward viewers new to the sport.

The menu screen of the author’s Hulu on Roku live television schedule for November 24, 2020, proof that disc golf is airing on ESPN2 during Prime Time.

If you love disc golf and want to see it grow even more, this is a great opportunity to share it with your circle of influence. Share this post or just say “ESPN2, 5 PM EST, you gotta check out the Pro Disc Golf Tour Finals!”

I like the fact that this broadcast is taking place in the evening on the doorstep of winter. Disc golf fans are also disc golfers, and given the choice between watching and playing they choose to play. Other factors provide hope for encouraging viewership ratings: We’re all stuck at home right now, and a quick perusal of other options during that 2-hour slot doesn’t yield much strong competition. And then there is the recent trend that likely opened the opportunity for the DGPT to partner with ESPN.

A large majority of businesses, municipalities, and individuals have suffered losses and setbacks due to the pandemic. In one sense disc golf is among them as competitions and course installations everywhere have been cancelled or postponed. But the sport has seen a boon as a recreational activity due to it’s social distancing-friendly nature, as confirmed by retailers and other disc golf businesses reporting record years. I can attest that the School of Disc Golf conducted more lessons in 2020 than at any time in it’s 10-year existence.

In my book, the Disc Golf Revolution, I predicted that disc golf would achieve broader popularity as a recreational activity, which would lead to greater opportunities as a spectator sport. I believe this recent sequence of events shows that to be the case. Whether the increase in casual disc golf players translates to a commercially viable viewing audience remains to be seen. As I mentioned, the type of person who has historically been drawn to play disc golf leans toward active vs. passive activities.

What this broadcast proves, though, is that people whose job it is to know about these things at least believe it’s possible. That is really the essence of this milestone.

On the pro tours, size DOESN’T matter. Basket size, that is.

By Jack ‘Tupp’ Trageser

the debate about modifying targets to add more drama at top pro events misses a larger, more important point

Where do you stand on The Great Debate about basket size on the pro tour? The subject has been debated extensively- on YouTube in 2018 via a DGPT roundtable, more recently in a PDGA magazine article by course design guru John Houck, and in thousands of discussions among elite players and their fans.

I believe, for reasons listed below, that it is a pointless debate. Basket size and putting difficulty has nothing to do with the perceived lack of drama on the green in disc golf as a spectator sport. Read on and you’ll learn why I feel this way. First, though, a recap:

Those in favor of shrinking baskets think top pros are just too good at putting using the current disc entrapment devices. They believe this has two negative effects on disc golf as a spectator sport: scores that are so low to par that outside observers scoff at disc golf as a professional sport, and a lack of drama on the putting green. Putts inside the circle for touring pros almost always end up inside the basket.dischitschains (2)

Some pros are opposed to the change, for an understandably self-interested reason- Putting is not their strong suit and they don’t want that weakness to be further magnified. But others make more practical points. If targets are smaller, they contend, players will lay up from longer distances more often, robbing spectators of those twisting, floating, outside-Circle 2 gems that provide some of disc golf’s best spectacles.

Others question the practicality of retrofitting thousands of existing courses and the wisdom of having pros compete with markedly different equipment than the fans who would have, could have made that shot.

Good points on both sides of the argument, right? So what do YOU think?

I’ll tell you what I think. The issues that the Basket-Shrinkers raise are real, but smaller targets and less made putts won’t ‘solve’ them, if indeed they even require solving.

I wrote a book called The Disc Golf Revolution, and much of it involves comparing and contrasting disc golf and traditional (ball) golf. One of the first chapters, titled The Future of Golf, makes the point that disc golf features nearly all of ball golf’s appeal yet none of its numerous drawbacks. You know that list: Cost, time to play, difficulty, history and culture of elitism, environmental impact . . .

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I bring this up now because at the end of that chapter, per my training as a journalist, I presented the other side of that argument in a ‘devil’s advocate’ section subtitled 7.5 Reasons Why Ball Golf is Better Than Disc Golf. One of those 7.5 reasons is the undeniable fact that disc golf does not – and cannot – replicate the incredible contrast featured in ball golf between the speed and distance of a powerful drive and the delicacy, the breath-holding drama of a long, slow, undulating putt.

A 30-foot putt in ball golf might last for 30 second as it rolls slowly across the green, while a 30-footer in disc golf is over two blinks after it leaves the player’s hand. Unless it ends in a roll-away, that is, which ironically makes for some of disc golf’s most dramatic moments. What do those slow, serpentine, excruciating rollers resemble? That’s right. Ball golf putts.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama because they go in too often, but rather because they go in too quickly.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama in pro events (compared to ball golf) because they go in too often, but rather because they go in – or don’t – too quickly. That is never going to change, no matter how small and challenging baskets are made to be. It is what it is, and really, that’s OK.

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Photo by Leah Jenkins.

Another point I make in my book is that disc golf’s greatest value is as something to DO. This is evidenced by the sport’s continued strong growth in new courses, players, and market size. As disc golf participation grows, the segment of the overall disc golfing population who choose to also be spectators and media consumers also grows. They’re watching in large part because they can relate to what they’re seeing. Disc golf may not feature the drawn-out drama of a ball golf putt, but disc golf spectators (nearly all of whom are also avid players) feel the anxiety of a 30-foot putt. As easy as they can appear, we know how easy those putts are to miss. We know the very real potential for anxiety, fatigue, or a momentary lapse of focus.

So now you know what I think. Give it a try if you want, PDGA and DGPT. Use smaller baskets for some top-tier pro events. You’ll get tougher-scoring courses, and putts inside the circle won’t be quite as much of a foregone conclusion. But it won’t change the real issue, which is the unalterable fact that disc golf putting – as something to watch – isn’t and will never be quite as dramatic as ball golf putting.

Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal. Those of us who play know there is plenty of drama and challenge when you’re the one doing the putting, and in my opinion that is what really matters.

What do you think? I hope you share your own take here by posting a comment, but don’t just say yea or nay on changing basket size. Let me know where you stand on my main assertion. Do disc golf putts lack drama for spectators, and, if so, is it because they go in too often, or because they go in too quickly?

Back to Bloggin’

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.

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You’ll also see examples of my personal disc golf-themed smartphone captures, like this recent one from Hole 13 at my home course, DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA.

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!