As ball golf courses struggle, disc golf fills the void

Contrasting the rapidly expanding number of disc golf courses in the U.S. with the, uh, relative ‘shrinkage‘ in ball golf is one way to measure the unstoppable ascension of The New Golf.

Both Steve Dodge and I have publicly predicted that the number of disc golf courses in the U.S. will overtake traditional golf venues in the near future. Mr. Dodge wrote about it on the DGPT blog, and I addressed it a couple of times in my book. In both cases we considered the two types of courses as mutually exclusive- in other words, they are either one or the other. A growing trend, however, is changing the math in a BIG way.

If we’re comparing facilities that offer ONLY ball golf to all the parks, open spaces, AND commercial venues where permanent disc golf courses exist, our seemingly aggressive predictions of eight and five years may turn out to be conservative.

And you can guess why, can’t you?

disc golf on golf courses, disc golf lessons, disc golf teambuilding
The basket of Hole 11 of the disc golf layout on DeLaveaga Municipal Golf Golf in Santa Cruz, CA sits perilously close to a sand trap. Traps and greens are typically one-stroke hazards in disc golf.

Public ball golf courses are dropping left and right. More often than not they operate at a loss these days, and those that try to remain open are desperate to attract new patrons. Enter disc golf, a sport headed in a decidedly different direction. This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune offers a perfect example.

San Diego runs multiple public golf courses, but only the famous Torrey Pines complex with two championship 18-hole tracks turns a profit. The rest of them are subsidized by the city. Balboa and Mission Bay, which according to the article lose a combined $2 million each year, felt compelled to attract a new breed of golfer. For a relatively minimal investment they added disc golf and footgolf, and (no surprise), usage at both courses has spiked.

“The spikes in usage at Balboa and Mission Bay have been partly attributed to upgrades, including new foot and disc golf courses added to each and a greater focus on the quality of course conditions.”  -David Garrick, SD Union Tribune

A quick Google search yields plenty of other examples, like this one from Ceres, CA, and another from Tuscon, AZ where the city council recommended more desperate measures- with disc golf still the end goal.

The article from San Diego also mentioned some details on how much it costs to operate a traditional golf course. According to Garrick, energy and water costs for all San Diego public courses are expected to rise this year from $2.1 to $2.6 million, with personnel costs rising from $4.3 million to $4.6 million. Their overall budget will approach $20 million!

So is it realistic to think that within a few short years the number of disc golf-only courses in the U.S. combined with the number of ball golf/disc golf hybrid courses will be greater than the number of ball golf-only courses? Sure seems like it.

We’re trending that way already, as budget-strapped cities and municipalities are figuring out that disc golf courses require a tiny fraction of the overhead needed to keep a traditional golf course playable, in addition to requiring far less land.

What do you suppose will happen when it also becomes common knowledge that the average taxpayer these days is more likely to embrace the easier-to-learn, quicker-to-play, less expensive, and less environmentally impactful version of the game?

Get ready for The New Golf. It will eclipse the old, obsolete model, much sooner than you think.

How To Sell Disc Golf to Your Friends

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.playdiscgolf, school of disc golf, disc golf lessons, disc golf teambuilding,

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.

disc golf for all ages, disc golf lessons, disc golf classes
Disc golf is for everyone.

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.

The Disc Golf Revolution, disc golf book,
Go to playdiscgolf.org to learn more about Jack Tupp’s new book, “The Disc Golf Revolution.”

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

Disc golf lingo: many groups even have their own dialect

In a recent round at DeLa, I paused briefly to tell my friend that his last throw had tons of ‘E.V.’, but I held the comment for later when we noticed that a large group of marauders was quickly gaining on us. So naturally we . . . . what’s that? Not exactly following my meaning?

Don’t worry, you’re not behind on the latest disc golf lingo- at least not yet.

Most of those reading this are well acquainted with the fact that while disc golf borrows a great deal of terminology from its stick-and-ball ancestor (par, birdie, drive, putt, etc.), the sport has a lexicon all its own as well. Words like hyzer, anhyzer and thumber, and terms like ‘chain music’ and ‘high tech roller’ mean nothing outside of disc golf (or at least disc sports). And words like ‘chunder’ and ‘shule’ – while they can be found in a standard dictionary – have very different applications in the world where golf meets flying disc.

These words and phrases serve as an instant bond between people who might otherwise have zero in common. Picture, for instance, a 55-year old clean-cut professional type visiting a course he’s never played before during some free time on a business trip. As he arrives at the teepad of a blind hole he encounters a couple long-haired, dreadlocked, hemp-wearing locals. The locals offer to let him play through, and the traveler asks them where the basket is located. One of them replies “If you throw a big anhyzer over those trees on the left and can get it to ‘S’ out at the end, you’ll be putting for birdie.”

Different as they might appear and even be, in respect to the other aspects of their lives, the visitor and the locals understand each other perfectly well on the disc golf course. We’re all members of a subculture that while steadily growing is still far from the mainstream, and our lexicon of unique terminology is one of the true identifying marks about which those not yet part of the clan remain completely ignorant.

But even with subcultures there are smaller micro cultures. For instance, I had played for years before I knew that those in the Midwest (and other regions, for all I know) refer to thick disc golf rough as ‘schule’. Where did that word come from? Who cares?! Shule is cool! (unless you’re stuck in it)

And recognizing that there are regional idiosyncrasies in disc golf is merely the tip of the iceberg. A sport with endless options for creativity and amazement that also happens to still be commercially decentralized is bound to foster new and unique terms in every tiny enclave where it is played. And so it has been- in my circle, anyway (and therefore, I assume, in others). Despite what my mother always tells me, I’m not that special.

I’m hoping that the rest of this post will generate lots of comments as readers write in sharing disc golf terminology unique to their regular group or at least their local course. Here are a few that have become commonplace between myself and a few guys with whom I regularly play.

E.V. stands for Entertainment Value, and we use the acronym to describe a shot that was highly entertaining to watch- whether it was successful or not. A technical spike hyzer from 100 feet out that passes surgically between crowded trees exactly as planned before slamming to the ground right past the basket would have EV value, even if it rolled away afterward.

Marauders are not hoards or barbarians bent on ripping out baskets and melting them down for weapons. Nothing as dramatic as that. They don’t even necessarily appear in large groups, although that is most often the case. Rather, marauders on a disc golf course are those who seemingly have no concept of the written nor unwritten rules of golf. It’s not that they’re rude. They just don’t know the rules or don’t care to play the game that way. They don’t both to take a legal stance (anywhere within five feet seems to be okay- especially if there is a tree or bush in the way), and they don’t take turns to throw. Instead there is a general continuous advancement with discs flying simultaneously and close calls galore. To players who are ahead of them, taking the game more seriously, marauders seem like a swarm of locusts swiftly approaching. Hmmm, locusts. Maybe that’s a good synonym for marauders!

When you’re stuck behind a bush, consider yourself foliated (as in, blocked by foliage). When you’re stuck deep inside a bush, with more bushes and trees all around you, consider yourself extremely foliated. It’s an easy, one-word way to explain to your buddy why you weren’t able to get more than 30 feet out of the rough. “Dude, I was completely foliated.” Note: This term only applies when the foliage is close enough to your lie to make it difficult to even get your throw off cleanly. You can’t claim ‘foliation’ just because there are hundreds of trees and or bushes blocking your line.

As I go through my list here and type out definitions for these words and phrases, it occurs to me that more than one of them are novel terms for classic golf excuses. A good example is fickle factor, or for those who prefer saltier language, fickle f#% factor. My favorite application is when a player has a shot that is wide open and uncomplicated except for a lone twig that appears to be as light and thin as a pipecleaner- and somehow that twig stops his disc dead in its tracks. A more objective view might be that he should have seen that twig and avoided it, but instead he assigns the blame to the ‘fickle factor’.

We also have other ‘factors’, my favorite of which is alternatively referred to as Chutzpah Factor or Scrotal Factor. It is usually referenced in regards to a shot taken that was difficult and might easily have had disastrous results. A more common way of expressing this sentiment would be to say that the shot took ‘big cajones’. Scrotal factor is the scale that determines exact how much cajones the shot required.

Having to reach through several limbs and branches to execute his shot, this player has a legitimate claim to being 'foliated'. Since the green behind slopes sharply downhill, if he goes for the basket the shot will have a high 'scrotal factor'. Photo by Asaf.
Having to reach through several limbs and branches to execute his shot, this player has a legitimate claim to being ‘foliated’. Since the green behind slopes sharply downhill, if he goes for the basket the shot will have a high ‘scrotal factor’. Photo by Asaf.

Another category not to be overlooked relates to good-natured gamesmanship between frequent competitors. For instance, my friend Alan often likes to put extra pressure on me before putts (and I occasionally return the favor). He uses reverse psychology at select times by asserting that putts inside the 10-meter circle are in the ‘Jack Zone’, meaning they are automatic for me. I assure you, they are not.

My similar weapon is not reverse psychology but the sadistic reminder of his lifelong struggle with short putts. He deals with this struggle by using a flip putt when close to the basket, but there is always a gray area when he has trouble deciding whether a putt is too long to flip. I sometimes refer to that gray area – usually for him between 15 and 20 feet out, depending on wind direction – as the Alan Belt. If I’m playing doubles against him, I might say to my partner (loud enough for Alan to overhear), “Oooh. That one is right in the Alan Zone.”

A flip putt is attempted from the edge of the Alan Belt. Photo by Jack Trageser
A flip putt is attempted from the edge of the Alan Belt. Photo by Jack Trageser

Another one to mention quickly is Allenfreude. I won’t go into detail on it here, but it is related to the famous German word schadenfreude. Follow the link to a previous blog post for a description. I’m sure others can relate.

As a reminder, this is the kind of teasing that is appropriate among friends only- and we have an understanding that these types of mind games are only to be used when defeat appears imminent. Don’t try this with the thick-necked guy on your course with a temper and a short fuse.

So my question to you, the reader, is which of these terms do you identify with the most? Better yet, share some of your own, with a description of how and when they are used. Language is a big part of any shared experienced, and few subcultures have a richer lexicon than the disc golf community. Let’s add to it!

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!

Disc golf book excerpt #2: The economic realities of golf vs. disc golf

The previous excerpt of my upcoming book hopefully accurately captured the essence of golf, what makes it such a singular sporting activity, and why both versions of golf share the remarkable qualities.

Next up is a point-by-point discussion of where the two sports are starkly different, and why those differences position disc golf as the golf of the future. Today the discussion focuses on the economics of golf and disc golf.

The Economics of Golf

For all but maybe five percent of the world’s population, cost alone is a nearly insurmountable barrier. Even leaving out of the discussion those hundreds of millions in developing and/or impoverished countries for whom any leisure activity will never be a consideration during their lifetimes, golf simply costs too much.

In a 2008 report written for Yahoo! Sports titled “The cost of public golf,” Sam Weinman wrote “The average cost of greens fees for a course built before 1970, according to the National Golf Foundation, is $42.70. The average, however, for one that was constructed between 1970 and 1990 is $48.33, and $60.55 for those after 1990.”

In the same article, former USGA president Sandy Tatum is quoted as saying “The question is do you have affordable access to golf, and on too many fronts, the answer is no.”

Even in the most prosperous countries, $50 for an afternoon of recreation is too expensive for an average member of the population. In countries like Thailand, where total average annual income in U.S. dollars is less than $5,000, it’s not even an option for anyone but the richest of the rich.

 

Golf equipment is an additional, but no less insurmountable, part of the economic roadblock for those who may wish to play. A new set of clubs today runs from $150 on the low end to thousands of dollars for a top name brand set, and possibly tens of thousands for a set that is custom-fitted to the player. Then there is the ongoing cost of balls, which averages about $20-$25 per dozen. Even the most skilled players need to replenish their stock over time, and for the majority of players (whose frequent errant shots are often never found or end up in water) balls are a big part of the ongoing price tag of golf.

And then there are the little extras. Things that are not absolutely necessary to play the game but which most players end up purchasing at some point. Golf shoes, which many would say are necessary, cost anywhere from $40 to $250. Gloves are another $10-$40 each.

The list could go on, with rangefinders costing $200, and pricey golf attire so a player can”look the part” and fit in playing a sport with opportunities to demonstrate one’s financial status are numerous. But right now, we’re talking about what a person needs to pay out to take up and play the game.

For some perspective, consider a question asked and answered on the Yahoo! Answers website.

The question was: “What’s the cost for clubs, membership, clothes etc? Just mid-range gear, but not second hand. And how much would it cost to continue to play fairly often (twice a week)?”

The best answer, as chosen by voters on the site:

I started in July 2007, between games and equipment, I spent $1300 plus. I play on public courses, I bought what is called a Trail Pass in our area which gives a reduced rate at different courses. I bought a starter set of clubs which were the last set at a small golf store. I got them for half price. If there is an Academy in your area, you can get 75 reload golf balls for less than $20. You will (lose) a lot of balls in the (beginning) so don’t pay a lot for them.

You can save on lessons if you get a friend to take them with you. The pros usually have a group rate. As for clothes, wear collared shirts and non-denim shorts you may already have.

Last year, I upgraded my clubs, bought another trail pass and a promotion offer at another course, played about 60 times and spent around $2550.

Another answer, with a little less editorializing:

Mid-range clubs: about $700. Mid-range golf balls: $25 per box. Greens fees $60 per round, $15 for cart if you want one. Clothing, $60-80 for collared shirt and pants/shorts.

Memberships to private clubs cost a lot, it could be (more than) $10,000 just to join ,plus monthly fees, but public courses are charged per round.

While these totals don’t completely price everyone out of the option to play golf — especially in the United States — they are high enough to be prohibitive for a large majority and at least a major consideration for nearly all of us.

The Economics of Disc Golf

When it comes to the monetary cost of playing a sport, traditional golf is at the high end of the spectrum and disc golf is at the opposite end. In fact, disc golf is not only inexpensive in comparison to ball golf, but in comparison to nearly all other sports as well. Pretty much anyone that wants to play disc golf can find a way to cover the minimal cost.

One of the big reasons is the majority of disc golf courses around the world are free to play. No charge whatsoever. According to online course directory Disc Golf Course Review, as of August 2012, 3,420 of the 3,951 courses listed have no fees. That’s 87 percent.

Of the courses that do have a fee associated with access, many (usually in city, county, or state park land) simply charge a vehicle parking fee of $2-$5. Courses that do charge a per-player fee (known as pay-to-play courses in disc golf because they are the exception and not the rule) usually charge somewhere between $3-$10 to play an entire day — as many rounds as the player feels like playing. The most expensive disc golf courses, naturally, are those that were installed on existing ball golf courses. In these cases the course usually charges disc golfers the same green fees as the ball golfers. (As a side note, the growing number of instances where golf courses open their venues to disc golf speaks volumes about the opposite trends of the respective sports, and the ball golf course owners’ recognition of those trends.)

The comparison between the cost to play the average disc golf course and the typical golf course is obviously no comparison. But how does disc golf rank with other popular recreational sports?

It’s hard to beat free.

Public tennis courts are usually free but limited. Team sports normally require seasonal fees to cover the costs of field maintenance, officiating, and administration. Pick-up basketball is a notable exception — but like tennis — supply can be quite limited. Ever hear the term “I got next?” Downhill skiing is right up there with ball golf in terms of both the cost to use the facility and the equipment cost — and it requires a snow-covered mountain.

It’s hard to think of any sport that is more affordable than disc golf in terms of course costs. And unlike ball golf, certainly, and most other sports as well, even the equipment is within practically everyone’s budget.

Aside from the course, the only specialized equipment one needs is a few discs. Disc golf discs — quite different from the Frisbee-style flying discs used for playing catch — cost between $8 and $20 new, but used discs can be purchased for even less than that.

As far as the money it takes to play disc golf, that’s all that’s required. Certainly the rise in popularity for disc golf has spawned specialized disc golf bags, apparel, and various accessories, but none are required to be able to play the game. You can wear whatever you want on any course you play, use whichever pair of shoes suit the terrain best, and use whatever carrying case is handy to hold your discs.

Coming soon: Time requirements, level of difficulty and environmental impact.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional editor at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

Book Excerpt: Why golf is a great game, and why in the 21st century disc golf is even better

It is my firm belief that the sport of disc golf – which already has enjoyed strong, steady growth for more than two decades – will experience an explosion in popularity when two things happen:

  1. The general public is properly educated about the true nature and accessibility of disc golf, and all the nuances that make it so much more like traditional golf than most people assume to be the case (the variety of discs and throws, the effects of wind and terrain, etc.)
  2. Disc golf reaches a ‘tipping point’ in terms of popular opinion, triggered by either a critical mass of popular culture/media recognition or a handful of random watershed moments. For instance, if a super-famous person suddenly lists disc golf as their favorite activity, or a TV show, website, or publication with millions of fans features it prominently.

Now, it is altogether possible that a famous person will stumble across disc golf at any time, fall in love with the sport, and by sharing his/her passion for the sport do more to promote it in one day than all other players combined have done up to that point. But unless there is some exhaustive source of correct, detailed, and compelling information available that explains the many different reasons why people that have played it love it so much, chances of that watershed moment resulting in anything but a temporary fad are minimal. Those seeking the truth about the sport will find nothing substantial- or worse, the misinformation and oversimplifications that currently exist. My goal is to fill that void and have answers to the inevitable questions ready and waiting in a book, for the day the dam breaks. I’m writing a book that aims to make the two events numbered above much likelier to occur, as well as making the inevitable explosion of disc golf a mere launching point for something with staying power. The book will include chapters that discuss the history, finer points, unique grassroots growth, and formats of the sport, among others. But the unifying theme is a very specific sales pitch for disc golf, and it’s established in the first chapter and repeated throughout:

  • Golf is a great game – perhaps the best game ever  invented – and here is why
  • But golf has a number of barriers that prevent most people from ever getting to experience its greatness
  • Disc golf, by retaining the essence of traditional golf while eliminating ALL the barriers, enables everyone to experience the greatness of golf.
  • In many ways, disc golf even improves on many of golf’s strongest points

Beginning here, I’m going to post excerpts of the current draft of the first chapter, in hopes of soliciting your feedback. Let me know what you think. Challenge my ideas and facts. Suggest points I may have missed. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good we share a common goal: Letting the rest of the world in on a secret we’re all too happy to share.

———————–

EXCERPT ONE

Arnold Palmer said “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated, it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening — and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind have ever invented.” Palmer – one of the most famous players and promoters in the history of the game – was right, to a point.

Golf is a great game- and would be the greatest game ever invented ‘without a doubt,’ as he said . . . except for the issue of accessibility. It can be played with others or in solitude. Played for the sake of competition, or comeraderie, or both. When playing golf in a tournament or even a friendly match, intelligent players realize they are actually competing against the course, the elements, and their own psyche. Another great quote comes from golf legend Bobby Jones, an early 20th century player who possessed incredible skills but didn’t realize his full potential until finding a way to master his emotions. He famously said that “competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”

Anyone who has played competitive golf knows that to be – figuratively, at least – all too true. Golf has a rulebook thicker than a Porterhouse steak, yet requires no referee, umpire or judge. Players are expected to officiate their own matches. Unlike baseball, about which many players have said ‘If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’,’ golf is linked to a sense of personal honesty and integrity. In the business world it’s often said ‘If you want to get to know what someone is really like, take ’em golfing.’ The implication being, of course, that if a person observes the rules and maintains his composure while playing as difficult and often maddening a sport as golf, he’ll do likewise elsewhere.

In the literal sense, golf is played on an expansive course that traverses miles of terrain- another factor that makes it a special and unique sport. Consider the fact that alone among the major popular spectator sports a golf competition cannot be viewed in it’s entirety by sitting or standing in one place. This is important because also unlike other major sports, it’s growth and eventual place among the world’s most recognized sports is due more to its popularity as a sport to be played rather than a sport to be watched.

Golf became a spectator sport due to the number of people that played the game, whereas with most other sports it is the other way around. But golf has some serious drawbacks and limitations. Traditional golf is in a steady, slow decline, as even it’s most ardent supporters acknowledge. In a story that ran in the Palm Beach Post on May 15, 2012, Jack Nicklaus, a contemporary of Palmer’s and winner of the most major championships in history, put it bluntly: “What are the three main things we’re dealing with? The game takes too long, the game is too hard, and it’s too expensive.”

In an effort to stem the tide, Nicklaus has advocated and even experimented with events that have less holes, strict time limits, and even holes in the ground that are twice the normal width. An examination of the facts make it obvious why so many are concerned for the future of the game, but perhaps the solution is a version of golf that retains all that is great about the game while addressing it’s shortcomings in a more drastic, fundamental way.

That’s just a little taste. The next posted excerpt will appear soon, and it’ll begin to discuss the drawbacks/barriers of traditional golf and counter them with corresponding strengths of disc golf.

If you’re interested in helping to promote the book when it comes out, email me directly at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com. To those around the world that have already contacted me, thanks! I’m trying to come up with some novel ideas for getting it noticed by the non-disc golfing public, and any suggestions are very welcome.

A plan to finally get disc golf past the tipping point

The day disc golf finally goes viral is . . . not here yet.

Hasn’t happened.

But like a geologist who observes trends and predicts a major earthquake will occur in an area with no seismic history, I believe it will.

Many share my belief, but few agree with my vision of how it will happen and what disc golf’s future potential can be. Those on the inner circle of professional disc golf — and their small but intensely loyal pack of fans — seem to think a major sponsor will come along and bankroll the professional tour, making televised tournaments a reality, thus creating legions of new players and courses.

This is a romanticized vision based more on hopes and dreams than any historical sports precedent, and I feel it is completely backwards.

Corporations are about two things — making money and, if public, increasing share price. They just don’t sink major sponsorship money into anything until they can see that it will draw a measurably significant audience and therefore improve their bottom line. By this yardstick disc golf is no where close.

My posts also appear on the premier disc golf golf blog, Rattling Chains, and I asked founder P.J. Harmer to run last week’s poll question, ‘How did you get introduced to the game’ for this precise reason. The results were just as I predicted — 67 percent said they learned of the sport through a friend, and exactly zero responded that they learned of it through some form of media.

Disc golf has grown steadily over four decades almost entirely through grassroots efforts — in my mind a testament to its very substantial and enduring attractions — but also a reality check in terms of where we’re at in the overall public consciousness. Grass grows slowly but steadily. Inexorably. Viral growth is something that builds swiftly, like wildfire, and is just as impossible to ignore.

After more than 20 years of observing and participating in all aspects of the game, I feel disc golf must reach a critical mass as a recreational participant sport before it can even dream of attaining any significance as a spectator sport. And, frankly, that’s the main thing I personally care about anyway. I want as many people as possible to become aware of this nearly perfect sporting activity.

I feel a moral obligation to share the message of disc golf — how it provides all that is great about the game of traditional golf while removing that sport’s many barriers (cost, time, difficulty, environmental impact, exclusivity) — with people around the world.

Further, it is my sincere belief that if someone knows all the nuances of and details of the above statement, there is a good chance they’ll give the game a try. And if they try it, we all know a majority will like it and some will love it. Most people who have a vague idea of disc golf have a simplified notion of the sport, and that has to change.

If you agree with my position, or if you simply want disc golf to go viral and don’t care how it happens, I have a proposition for you.

I’m working on a book that will hopefully lay out the message I just described as a compelling, detailed argument on multiple fronts. It’s already more than halfway complete. The intended audience are the millions of people out there that would fall in love with our sport if they could understand why we love it. They need to know that there is a complex, yet simple activity that provides so much entertainment, and competition, and exercise, and fellowship — at practically no cost.

Writing the book is only a small part of the plan, and that’s where you come in.

My hope is the book will be the spark that helps disc golf go viral. And for that to happen, I’m going to need help. I want an army of DISCiples to use the book as a tool for the greater purpose. How exactly that can happen — besides the obvious social media and old school word-of-mouth methods — I’m not yet sure. But I’m open to suggestions, and have begun to build a database of people who feel as strongly as I do about disc golf and want to be part of it all. Please contact me directly at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com with any and all input.

And since I realize rational thinking individuals would want to know more about the contents of the book before seriously considering to help promote it, I’m going to begin posting excerpts here and at schoolofdiscgolf.com. Look for the first to appear in the very near future.

No one knows when or how disc golf will go viral, but wouldn’t it be fun to part of it?