Do Live Broadcasts Grow the Sport of Disc Golf?

The Disc Golf World Tour debuted last weekend and for the most part, it delivered on Jussi Meresmaa’s promises. But whether it can deliver on his long-term vision of disc golf as a spectator sport- well, that’s another matter. As is the question of whether his and the other new tours’ efforts will ultimately help or hinder the sport’s growth.

He said his new high-profile tour series would be broadcast live with better production quality- a slicker, more polished presentation if you will – and it was. In that sense, SpinTV delivered, and then some.

Open courses can be picturesque, but do they really show off disc golf's best features?
Open courses can be picturesque, but do they really show off disc golf’s best features?

The on-screen graphics and animation during live coverage of the inaugural La Mirada Open represented a huge leap forward. Little details like on-course sponsor signage, the pads wrapped around the basket pole colored the same yellow as the Innova DisCatcher band, and even the DGWT branding on handheld microphones added to the overall effect. On Saturday, when we couldn’t see residential streets and chain link fences in the shot, La Mirada looked like Augusta National. Even the commercials looked to be more professionally done.

Announcers Jamie Thomas and Avery Jenkins (who both performed fairly well and will certainly get even better) made much ado of the next-level ‘metrics’, Greens in Regulation, Putts Inside the Circle Ratio, Putts Outside the Circle Ratio. Sports fans definitely love their stats and having these on-screen graphics available at any time is a big step in that direction.

Speaking of the announcers, did you know Avery starred in another disc golf TV show five years ago? Discmasters, a show featuring Avery, Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins and your truly (Jack Tupp) was filmed for local TV in Santa Cruz and made the rounds on YouTube. Hopefully, he’ll get to show his lighter side on SpinTV as well.

One last big positive to point out: the player profiles mixed into the broadcast. Media experts have understood that the more insight viewers get about what makes the players tick, the stronger their connection to the action.

As an avid disc golfer, I have an appetite for live disc golf action and I can appreciate the strides that have been made by  DiscGolfPlanetTV, Smashboxx, and now SpinTV. It’s definitely getting better and better. But I have two major concerns about the direction things are headed.Logo-web

The first is the fact that with the current course and camera configurations these broadcasts don’t come close to conveying the essence of disc golf. Even with two cameras, the angles are almost always from behind the thrower and behind the basket. In both cases, the disc remains fairly static on the screen and so does the backdrop. Ball golf uses at least six cameras to properly film a hole, and that’s just not feasible for disc golf yet. Disc golfers who are viewing can convert what they are seeing into the majestic S-turn we know the shot required and appreciate the amazing skill. To a non-disc golfer, it’s just people throwing Frisbees again and again.

The other nit I’m gonna pick today is with the decision – or rather the necessity – to feature mostly wide open holes. The logic that open holes film better is sound, at least as long as the technology is limited to two camera angles at ground level. But it’s regrettable because another essential aspect of disc golf’s mystique is the wooded hole. In terms of how the games plays, two important elements of disc golf that distinguish it from ball golf in a positive way are missing in coverage of wide open courses; The holes with multiple obstacles players must navigate on a single shot, and the fact that disc golf can be played on very rugged terrain. Forest? Jungle? No problem! That needs to be part of the elevator pitch- which five minutes of live coverage seen by a non-disc golfer amounts to.

Once again, if the aim is to use the broadcasts to introduce potential new players and fans to the sport I don’t think it’ll work. In fact, seeing guys throw Frisbees in what appears to be, and usually is, a city or county park probably just confirms their misguided preconceptions.

What’s the real goal here? If it’s to entertain disc golf enthusiasts, then fine. Well done (Although your typical disc golfer likes to be outside on a Saturday afternoon, so even that market gets diluted somewhat). But if the goal is to ‘#growthesport’ of disc golf, we need players, and we need even more courses. For now, the best solution is still the one that got us where we are today. Support your local club. Volunteer, become a dues-paying member. Sponsor a hole.

Then take a break and watch some live Disc Golf World Tour coverage. If you’re already a disc golf nut, it’s a treat to stream the best players in the world onto a big screen TV.

The ‘Worldwide Broadcast TV Premier’ of DiscmastersTV

So here’s the lowdown on the TV show: We’ve got the first episode complete and online on our YouTube channel here. We have enough footage already for the first four episodes, but will be shooting more soon.

We now also know when the show will air on local Santa Cruz cable. If you’re interested in helping it get aired in a different community, let me know. Here are the initial Santa Cruz show times:

+    Sat    05/21/11    03:00 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Fri    05/20/11    08:30 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Thu    05/19/11    06:30 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Tue    05/17/11    01:00 PM    Channel 27/73
+    Mon    05/16/11    09:00 PM    Channel 27/73

Future episodes feature Nikko Locastro, GreGory Barby, Jon Baldwin, Shasta Criss, and a bunch of other local and Pro players. Enjoy!

A Discmasters teaser plus, uh, "Gourd Disc Golf’

The Memorial via DiscGolfPlanet.tv

Practice makes perfect. Well, lots and lots and lots of practice, plus talent, makes almost perfect. But practice does equal improvement, and the more live broadcasts DiscGolfPlanet.tv gets under its belt, the better it gets at it.

For the Memorial this week, I noticed that the announcers (David Greenwell, Crazy John Brooks, and the ‘Disc Golf Guy) are getting more comfortable and less repetitive, graphics were added to show hole layouts and player names, and the camera work is much more sophisticated. For their next big step forward I’d like to see some form of instant replay. I hate to admit it, but I craved it most in a Nascar-type moment, when a spotter was hit in the head by a Garret Guthrie drive. The guy got up and seemed okay, so I don’t feel too bad wanting to see it again. But instant replay would be a big deal for an ace or some other type of spectacular shot.

  • Another sign that the pro Tour is growing up is the fact that no one gets more than two or three NT wins in the Open division in a single season anymore. The days of a few elite players traveling the country and hoarding all the wins is over. As Greenwell pointed out on the broadcast, until the last few holes six players were within a couple strokes of the lead, and another three or four of the top-ranked players (Nate Doss, The Champ, #1 ranked Dave Feldberg, Avery Jenkins) were not among them
  • Josh Anton must hate pars. He’s a birdie machine, and it seems the only time he’s not carding birdies he’s taking bogey strokes because he can’t stand the idea of not birdying. If he learns how to mix in a dash more discretion into his game, he’ll be THE player to beat.
  • Props to my homie Nate Doss for keeping his cool after the first hole today. He had clawed back to only two shots off the lead after trailing by seven after the first round, and five after the second. The he took at snowman 8 on the first, and dug a hole he just couldn’t climb out of. Still, he showed the poise for which he is known, beating the rest of the group over the final 17 holes and not showing any frustration.
  • The last time I played the Memorial was 2003, and at the time I thought it was bush league that an NT event would be played on a course with grass teepads. I know that Fountain Hills now has those round cement pads, but I still saw the players teeing off grass again today on one temp hole. And I still say it’s bush.

Disc golf as a model for economoic recovery

One of the results of California’s ongoing budget crisis was the threat last year of all state parks closing for the foreseeable future. Luckily the move was eventually exposed as a bluff by the governor, and nearly all parks remain open. But when it was still a possibility and the neighborhood groups were mobilizing to protest, a thought occurred to me:

“If the affected local communities were like disc golfers they’d get organized and figure out a way, through volunteerism and donated resources, to keep their parks open. If they approached the situation the way disc golfers have for decades, they’d probably even find a way to improve their parks.”

Think about it. Nearly all the disc golf courses being used by the public today – especially those in California – are the result of dogged lobbying efforts, countless hours of manual labor, and thousands of dollars of donated, non-taxpayer money. Disc golfers in California don’t look to the state, county or town when they want a new course in their area. Instead, they present an arrangement that should become even more attractive to local governments than it already is: Give us permission to install a course at our desired location, and we’ll pay for it, build it, and maintain it at no cost to the city/county/state.

When a municipality strained to the limit for resources hears an offer like this – especially now – it has a hard time turning it down. So maybe other interest groups should follow this example (and maybe they do, and I’m just unaware of other instances.) Come to think of it, parents of students that want to participate in sports, band, etc., have been asked to pony up for years.

More signs of legitimacy

When I come across a news item like this one from the Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, GA, it’s easy to imagine that disc golf has finally crossed the imaginary threshold into mainstream relevance. The story is about the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship, the existence of which is a statement in itself. But it’s also very well-written, in a straight sports reporting style rather than the novelty/human interest angle most coverage still seems to favor. It’s written with the assumption that the reader understand the sport of disc golf. That’s not the case today across the country or the world, but apparently in Augusta – at least in one newspaper’s mind – it IS there.

And I find the fact that it was published so close to the home of Bobby Jones’ Augusta National Golf Course, location of the just-completed THE MASTERS, makes the story more notable, not less. Maybe it’s an indication that those that are best-acquainted with the virtues of the game of golf understand those virtues exist in disc golf, without limiting factors such as excessive cost, time to play, and difficulty.

Part 2 of ‘Knockin’ on the Wrong Door’, and the latest on Me!

The main point of my last post, though I rambled away from it, is this: If the PDGA or John Duessler think that getting 7,000 people worldwide to sign up for a live webcast of disc golf’s most prestigious event makes more than a tiny ripple in the sea of mainstream media and deep-pocket sponsors, they are mistaken. We’re still several levels beneath dog shows and synchronized swimming in terms of public awareness. And this is really just a small example of the larger misconception. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If disc golf ever attains large sponsors and TV coverage, it’ll happen from the ground up, not the other way around.

If we find creative ways to get more people playing the sport casually, and more casual players competing in leagues and tournaments, the rest will follow.

Last round (for a while) a good one?
Today, I see an orthopedic surgeon to finally address my shoulder injury. If he tells me to shut it down for awhile, I at least got one last round in. Yesterday was Gregory’s b-day, and we met at DeLa for a mid-morning round. The weather was a bit brisk with no wind- perfect for disc golf at DeLaveaga.

Gregory hadn’t played for more than a month, and the rust was evident early. No disasters- just drives slightly off and putts he normally drills sliding out the side or just missing high or low. An early highlight was an upshot throw from his back (no kidding) on hole 4 after hitting trees early left. He heated it in the second half, proving that it was indeed just rust and not diminished skills.

And speaking of diminished skills, I made a point of telling G not to expect the game he’s used to seeing out of me, due to my shoulder problems. I then proceeded to nearly birdie hole 1, birdie 2 with a nice legal leaning putt (what others call a jump-putt), drive past the basket on 4 (missed the short but technical birdie attempt), and birdie 8 and 8a. After that, pars until bogeys on 12 and 13 followed by a birdie on 15. And the the fun began for BOTH of us.

After bogies on 16, neither of us bogeyed the rest of the way. We had four star frames (19, 21, 24 and 26a) and I finished at -7. Normally that’d be good for me but not great, but compared to how I’ve felt and performed the past four months, it was amazing! The birdies on 26a were especially delicious. Gregory essentially parked it – not an easy thing on that tricky hole – and I nailed my third legal lean-putt of the round. Maybe I should cancel the appointment today . . .