Golf

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Outdoors and Uber-Competitive, Disc Golf is Flying High

11 Apr, 2021

By: Michael Popke

The 2021 Disc Golf Pro Tour teed off at the Wildhorse Golf Coursein Las Vegas in late February, beginning its 13-city trek across the United States. Featuring the sport’s top men and women, the Tour is gaining a bigger following than ever, thanks to new interest in a sport that naturally encourages social distancing

There’s the Disc Golf Network, which provides live and streaming coverage of all Disc Golf Pro Tour events, as well as exclusive disc golf shows, podcasts and interviews with touring pros. Additionally, as SI.com recently noted, professional events have been televised on CBS Sports and ESPN2 for the first time, filling the void left by other sports.

“That increased interest in participation is translating to rising television viewership, which generates more money for competitors. In fact, 225,000 people tuned into ESPN2 for the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship when it was aired on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, making it the channel’s most-watched program of the day,” SI.com reported. “The event awarded $20,000 to the winner of both the men’s and women’s competitions, the most ever awarded to a disc golfer at a single competition. The total purse was $130,400; second-place finishers netted $10,000, third place earned $5,000 and fourth place got $3,000. … Until the mid-2010s, the prize money for tournaments was almost entirely the sum of its entry fees. The best players would make money from everybody else, and not much at that.”

“Our numbers have astronomically skyrocketed in every way: PDGA memberships, views on Pro Tour livestreams, disc sales,” Paige Pierce, the world’s top-ranked female professional disc golfer, told SI.com. “All the manufacturers had to buy more machines and go to three shifts. So they’re running shifts 24/7, and they still can’t keep up with production right now.”

“The sport has grown tremendously in the past year,” Tyler Martinsen, co-owner of a new disc golf shop called Grip N Rip Disc Golf in Perre Marquette Township, Mich., told the Ludington Daily News. “It’s the largest jump they’ve seen in the sport since it started. Not having anything else to do, [people] looked for a hobby and, and disc golf is a sport where you … can buy $30 in discs and go play a whole round.”

Mason County, in which Perre Marquette Township is located, boasts no fewer than 14 disc golf courses, and Grip N Rip sells discs in a wide variety of sizes and colors, as well as bags and carts.

Courses Galore

Communities around the country are hopping on the flying saucer bandwagon and greenlighting new disc golf courses. An 18-hole golf course at the 122-acre Broussard Sports Complex in southern Louisiana is expected to spark a new local league, as well as give the city a sports tourism boost by hosting professional tournaments.

“This added amenity is great for our city in more than one way,” Broussard Mayor Ray Bourque told KATC.com, an ABC-TV affiliate. “It’s wonderful for local residents and families to get outside and enjoy our park, and it will also bring visitors to Broussard from outside our region, who hopefully will enjoy a meal or shop here.”

Meanwhile, parks and recreation officials in Waynesville, N.C., recently added lights to the baskets on the town’s disc golf course and offered participants glow-in-the-dark discs for some after-hours competition on two consecutive Saturday nights in March.

About four hours due west of Waynesville — in Cary, N.C. — the 22-hole Diavolo Disc Golf Course at New Hope Park opened last year and is already ranked No. 7 in the world by UDisc.com. During its first month of operation, more than 6,000 rounds were played, according to officials, and as of early March, players have come from 23 states.

“You’re out here in nature, and breathing fresh air is great,” Diavolo designer Jay Pontier told SpectrumNews1 in Charlotte, N.C. 

The PDGA — the sport’s governing body, which sanctions events for all skill levels — says there are more than 8,000 disc golf courses worldwide. Depending on how deep into the weeds you want to go, the sport was first played in either the mid-1960s or the mid-1970s. As the PDGA puts it: “The concept of disc golf … has a long and blurry history.”

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