Disc golf is: similar to traditional golf. Instead of a ball and clubs, however, players use a flying disc made specifically for the sport. The sport shares with traditional golf the object of completing each hole in the fewest strokes (or, this case, the fewest throws). A golf disc is thrown from a tee area, often a rectangular cement tee pad, to a target which is the ‘hole,’ most commonly an elevated metal basket with several chains to catch the disc. As a player progresses down the fairway, he or she must make each consecutive throw from the spot where the previous throw has landed. Different discs may be used, depending upon the type of shot to be taken. There are putters (for short shots), drivers (for very long throws) and mid-range discs as well. Professional PGDA players carry bags with multiple discs.
According to statistics shown on the PDGA website, there has been significant growth in the number of disc golf courses available, from 1,722 in 2004, to 4,060 in 2013. Player numbers have also increased (it is estimated that eight to 12 million people play the sport recreationally), as has the number of sanctioned tournaments and the number of players participating in those.
Sports Destination Management: Disc golf is obviously popular. Where are most courses found?
Matt Gregoire: The vast majority of courses are in state, city or county parks. That’s part of why the sport is doing so well; it’s generally free to get into those parks, and there’s not a lot of expensive equipment – people just need to buy a few discs. You’re not playing greens fees, you don’t need a cart and there aren’t tee times. It’s very family-friendly and it gets people outside playing together. Every course is going to be different, depending upon the landscape in that area.
SDM: What surprises people the most about disc golf?
Gregoire: It’s more difficult than it looks. It’s definitely not the same as throwing a Frisbee around on the beach. A lot of precision is involved. You can still play it and have a great time, but when you go to your first tournament, it’s mind-boggling. You will see people throw the disc 500 feet and have it land in an area that is 10 meters wide. The record for throwing the disc right now stands at 836 feet. As someone who has played the sport for 10 years, I can tell you that I still watch this kind of thing happening and say, ‘How are you doing that?’
SDM: PDGA has a number of competitive events.
Gregoire: The website has a list of sanctioned events that take place during the year. In addition, there are those considered PDGA Major events. The PDGA Amateur & Junior Disc Golf World Championships were in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships were in Portland, Oregon. At events like that, you’ll see hundreds of competitors playing at five to 10 different courses. There are Masters (for players age 40 and up), Women’s and Collegiate championships too, and those also run every year. The PDGA now has bid documents for cities that want to host Major events; those are on our website.
SDM: Is disc golf just an American phenomenon?
Gregoire: It’s biggest in the United States, but the sport is played all over. There are 30-plus countries that have courses now, and there are competitions in Europe, and in Japan and Australia. It’s getting really big in the Scandinavian countries.
SDM: There have been growth initiatives for golf, trying to make the sport more accessible. Foot golf is one part of that. Do you think disc golf can help too?
Gregoire: It is helping. It also goes under the umbrella of disc sports, and those also are getting more popular. Ultimate, for example, is growing; they’re starting to show that on ESPN now. I like seeing the growth. I can go into gas stations and see disc golf or Ultimate equipment for sale, and think, ‘That’s great; it’s right there by the Gatorade.’