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.

Disc Golf Book Excerpt: The environmental impact of disc golf vs. ball golf

 

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.

As shown on this shot from the fairway of hole #3 at Pinto Lake DGC in Watsonville, CA (site of the 2011 PDGA World Championships), disc golf can be played on severe slopes and any type of ground cover- in this case bare dirt.
As shown on this shot from the fairway of hole #3 at Pinto Lake DGC in Watsonville, CA (site of the 2011 PDGA World Championships), disc golf can be played on severe slopes and any type of ground cover- in this case bare dirt with a severe right-to-left slope.

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.

 

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!

Roller shots: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

When I’m teaching or playing with people new to the sport and they see me execute a roller shot for a long, accurate drive, it’s only a matter of time before they say “Can you show me how to do that?”

They are correctly deducing that quite often a disc can travel farther rolling along the ground than spinning through the air. Actually, if the terrain and conditions are suited to the purpose – and the roller shot is thrown by someone who knows the right way to do it – that is usually the case. Pretty enticing for someone who is having a hard time getting the kind of distance he sees everyone else getting.

Some people eschew the roller shot as a violation of an important aesthetic element of disc sports (“it’s supposed to float through the air, man”), but to them I say “get over it”. At one time I was in that camp myself, but then I realized that as a person who loves the competitive golf aspect of disc golf, I was just jealous that others who could execute rollers had an advantage over me. So I began to figure out that whole other world of getting discs from point A to point B.

In fact, roller shots are not nearly as inelegant as they might first appear. The same science of selecting just the right combination of release angle, armspeed and aim that goes into a good air shot applies to rollers as well.

What follows in this post is a summary of some of what I’ve learned between that time and now. In this case, slicing it up using the journalist’s tried and true who-what-when-where-why, and of course, how categories makes lots of sense. Just so you know ahead of time, the ‘How’ will follow in a Part 2 post to follow shortly.

Who

The people who throw rollers tend to fall in one or two groups- or both. Some are players that really love the sport and regularly play, but for physical reasons just can’t get much distance through the air. Age is often a factor, as players of Boomer age often find that their bodies won’t generate the kind of armspeed and whip action that is needed for long flights through the air.

The other group includes players that insist on mastering every possible way to throw a disc further and past obstacles that block high-flying hyzers and anhyzers. Players who are obsessed enough with disc golf to incessantly experiment will eventually discover the roller shot- either through intention or by accident.

What

Well, the ‘what’ is pretty self-explanatory. A roller is a disc golf throwing technique wherein the disc rolls along the ground rather than flies through the air. But wait! Sometimes it’s not quite so cut-and-dried. Depending on the situation, some roller shots don’t actually hit the ground and start rolling until more than halfway into their total distance covered. What’s more, as far as the technique is concerned roller shots are really just backhand or forehand throws with modified angles or release so that the disc will hit the ground mid-flight at an angle that will cause it to roll on it’s edge rather than stop, slide or skip.

A good example of a roller in mid-roll, and also of ideal terrain for a roller: short grass on smooth, flat ground. Stock photo.

Another thing about roller shots to keep in mind is that the rate-of-rotation effects the path they travel just as much as airshots. Maybe more. So just like a shot through the air will have the highest spin rate just after it’s released, then towards the end the spin will slow down and usually cause the disc to ‘fade’ (to the left for a right handed back hand shot), a roller is effected by this principle as well. More on this in the Part 2 where we’ll discuss the ‘How’.

When

Not a whole lot to discuss here beyond what’s already been mentioned in the ‘Who’ section and what’ll be covered in the ‘Where’ section next.

When you need a little extra distance and your airshot doesn’t quite get you there, the roller may bridge that gap. When there is a stand of tall trees that also have low-hanging limbs between you and the basket that would otherwise be reachable, a roller can zip right past those tree trunks and under those limbs.

Not when (or When Not) is also important to keep in mind, and the one thing to remember is that wind can greatly effect roller shots. Since the disc is vertical rather than horizontal most of the time with rollers, the wind can push it around that much more. Just picture a sailboat in a strong storm. Don’t take this to mean that you can’t throw rollers when it’s windy. Just be aware that the wind will make a big difference in the results. Sometimes the change is good, and sometime baaaaad.

Where

Roller shots work best on terrain that is hard and smooth, or as close to that as possible. Grassy fairways that are mowed often and not too bumpy usually produce good rollers, and hard-packed dirt is even better. Obviously ground that is fairly free of bushes and debris is more conducive to a successful roller shot than otherwise, but players will often roll the dice and hope for the best when there are rocks and roots to be navigated. When a small obstacle on the ground is encountered the chances of the disc hopping over it and continuing on it’s intended path are about the same as the disc being re-directed away from the target- sometimes far away. That’s just a risk that is present that obviously isn’t an issue with shots that travel through the air.

A roller would not work on this hole for many reasons. The ground is covered with brush, and the soil- although you can’t tell from the photo – is soft and loose. Photo by Jack Trageser

When using a roller to get past a stand of trees, it’s good to remember that you’ll be rolling past the bottoms of the tree trunks and not dealing with any part of the trees above six inches or so (once your disc hits the ground and begins rolling). That combined with the fact that the disc itself will be mostly vertical and therefore presenting less opportunity to hit something should enable you to see more chance for a successful roller.

One other thing. As you experiment with rollers, you’ll learn that a certain amount of space is required to execute this shot. It’s generally tough to pull off a roller in a place where you need to hit a small gap directly in front of you. The disc usually needs to travel a bit before hitting the ground, and getting it to land at the correct angle often requires some lateral (side-to-side) space. The only way to know your own limitations is through experimentation, and the only lots of practice can reduce those limitations.

Why (and Why Not)

As a recap, the reasons to throw a roller are the potential for more distance than you’re able to get using any other technique, and the ability to get past obstacles that block all options through the air. Sometimes, when those limitations are present, the roller provides an option where there otherwise would be none. And rollers aren’t just useful off the tee. They can be lifesavers as rescue shots where you need to get under obstacles, have a lie that restricts your normal throwing motion, or need to get around tight corners.

But there are plenty of reasons why you should NOT throw a roller .

As mentioned in the ‘Where’ section above, some terrain is just not conducive to roller shots. No matter how much the shot otherwise calls out for a roller, if the ground is full of rocks or gnarly brush, you’re  more likely to get a hopper-and-stopper.

When you’re assessing whether to use a roller, another thing to keep in mind is the fact that a roller gone awry can get far, far away from it’s intended route. The flip-side of the extra distance rollers can provide toward the target is the extra distance they can wander away from it. For this reason, you should not attempt rollers in a round you care about until you’ve gotten enough practice to be able to use them with confidence.

Finally, remember (as mentioned above) that roller take a different path from the time they leave the hand to the time they hit the ground than airshots. They usually require more lateral space and often more clearance as well. You’ll only know when you’re in a place where your own personal roller won’t work through trial-and-error. Best to do that experimenting when the money/victory/bagtag/bragging rights aren’t on the on the line.

Coming soon, a post where I’ll discuss the mechanics of the different types of roller shots. I’m hoping to get the direct input from my own personal roller coach, so stay tuned!

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

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.

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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?