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Disc Golf Course Boom

By Nicholas Wilson | 05/31/2022
Disc Golf Course Boom

Disc golf courses are created in all shapes and sizes. The early days of the sport saw various types of targets. Many of these were simply objects (ie; trees, signs, garbage cans, etc.) before the disc golf pole hole (the original basket) was invented by Ed Headrick in 1975. As a result, the first modern-day disc golf course was implemented in Oak Grove Park in Pasadena, CA in 1975. What followed was a slow and steady increase of course implementation across the US and certain pockets of the world. It was a word-of-mouth campaign that led to talks with city officials for space to implement courses. This slow expansion led to the abundance that we have today.

Statistics

I researched the UDisc 2022 Disc Golf Growth Report and found many statistics of importance. From those humble beginnings in Pasadena, we sure have grown. Today, we have 13,323 courses in the world, whew! That number astounds me. What’s more, is that 71% of these courses were built in the last decade. Disc golf is trending in the right direction. What follows is a list of statistics I found to be of interest.

● On average, there are over 5 courses built per day
● 90% of courses are free to play
● 55% of courses are in public parks
● 79 different countries have at least one course
● The USA has nearly 9,000 courses (4,300 throughout the rest of the world)
● There are more 9-hole disc golf courses (5,630) than 18-hole disc golf courses (5,050)

Why Now?

Many factors have led to the perfect storm for the growth of disc golf. One of these was the global pandemic. People of all walks of life were left isolated and looking for an outlet. Disc golf is the perfect combination of exercise with a purpose. People came to the sport in droves and brought with them more crowded courses. With the increase in popularity, it has been necessary to implement new courses. Luckily, disc golf courses can be implemented in many places disregarded by public lands as well as on private lands. The latter has led to a pay-to-play model that many disc golf purists have enjoyed. This model typically provides a more manicured course with fewer players crowding the holes.

This next point is possibly the most important for the longevity of the sport. Disc golf courses are generally easy to implement and are sustainable for the land. Obviously, this is not true of every
course and all courses have their issues with litter and soil erosion. However, this combination of ease of implementation and sustainability is rare for most outdoor sports which require manicuring the grounds and removing much of the native flora. Just think of the efforts of a traditional golf course or baseball/soccer complexes. Does nature come to mind when you think of these spaces? Courses can be erected with relatively few resources and a tract of land is all that is necessary. With all of the new course development, the PDGA realized they wanted to start a program to ensure the sustainability of the sport based on environmental grounds. Enter the Throw Green Initiative.

Throw Green Initiative

The PDGA created an initiative in 2018 called Throw Green. What follows is a quote from the Spring 2020 issue of DiscGolfer Magazine from an article about the Throw Green Initiative; “The goal of this initiative is to establish best practices for reducing the environmental
impact of disc golf through community outreach to all PDGA members and stakeholders. The goal will be achieved through the creation of guidelines and recommendations to establish best practice documents. Other elements of the initiative are the creation of an
award and a sustainable grant program to be given to 2-3 clubs or individuals who have exhibited leadership, innovation and results in environmental improvements at their courses, events, or region.”
I respect the PDGA for making an effort to be accountable for course implementation and ongoing efforts to curb habitat displacement whether to animals or hillsides. Disc golf can be a sustainable sport only when certain guidelines are followed. Certain courses are more popular than others and this can lead to degradation of the land. The PDGA has set clear guidelines and opened a forum for course stewards to have a dialogue and make sure courses are available without jeopardizing the nature inherent to their grounds. This is crucial for the longevity of the sport as the climate changes and we own up to our responsibility as an outdoor sport.

Where Is This All Going?

For decades disc golf enthusiasts have been saying that this is the time for the sport to soar in popularity. For years it never happened; until now. Disc golf is in the public consciousness to stay. I feel this is great for the sport as long as local, national, and international leaders
continue to guide this train down a sustainable and enjoyable track. And so far it looks like it is happening. The professional side of the game is more exciting than ever. The Disc Golf Network has steadily improved over the years and is providing excellent live coverage. YouTube channels such as JomezPro and Gatekeeper are providing exceptional next-day content free to the public. Local clubs and passionate individuals are consulting government officials to get courses on the ground. Programs such as the Throw Green Initiative are ensuring the longevity of their courses by creating a plan for tackling issues of sustainability at their courses. All of these factors have created a sustainable approach to course development which has allowed course implementation to thrive. Can you believe it, we have over 13,000 courses in the world?! Appreciate this fact the next time you play your local course. And don’t forget to make your bucket list and do some traveling to hit some new courses. What an incredible time to be a disc golfer!

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