The 2018 Glass Blown Open is in the books! This annual event is considered one of the most inviting for disc golf fans and amateur players in the world. The host city, Emporia, Kansas, has a population of just over 20,000 and is considered by many the “Disc Golf Mecca.” So with another successful GBO coming to a close on Saturday, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss our participation in disc golf tournaments and the potential economic impact of that participation.
In our State of Disc Golf Survey at the beginning of the year, we asked disc golfers if they played in any disc golf tournaments in 2017. Just shy of 3/4 of us did compete in a tournament with 72.59% of survey takers answering in the affirmative. Of these disc golfers who played in a tournament, we asked how many PDGA sanctioned tournaments they played in as well as how many non-PDGA sanctioned tournaments. Here were the results:
What do these numbers tell us? It looks like the majority of us who play in tournaments still keep it casual, only playing in a handful of tournaments. We can see that more than half of us played in 3 PDGA and non PDGA sanctioned tournaments or less this year. I’d say I am a bit surprised by how low that number is, and I am also surprised that there isn’t a larger difference in these percentages. I would have imagined there would have been significantly more participation in PDGA events, but the spread is pretty even for both.
Now for some questions that lead to great info for those of us who are trying to grow the sport by getting our local parks and city officials to support disc golf. This info could also be useful when trying to seek out sponsors for your local events–How far are we willing to travel for disc golf, and how much money do we spend when we do travel?
Again, here I think the numbers should do most of the talking, so here are our responses to those questions:
As someone who has been involved in running tournaments and installing new disc golf courses, the statistical tidbit that I think I will use in future meetings is over a quarter of competitive disc golfers are willing to travel anywhere for a disc golf tournament. “If you build it, they will come,” right? If the courses are good enough and the payout high enough, the disc golfers will come and they will bring their wallets with them. Now city officials may not be ecstatic by the size of those wallets based on the results of the second question, but still, communities know that community events bring in money. If you get the chance, ask business owners in the small town of Emporia, Kansas what they think about disc golf tournaments. And if you don’t get a chance, take notice of all the “Welcome Disc Golfers” signs your friends who went to GBO posted on their social media accounts.
Getting back to our involvement in disc golf, my final takeaway is something that I think is pretty unique to disc golf. And that is disc golf fans are also disc golf competitors. Yes, there are community leagues for basketball and soccer that fans of those sports participate in, but do all fans of those sports also compete? In my last article, I reported that 77.4% of survey takers follow professional disc golfers. If we assume that the 72.59% of disc golfers who played in a tournament in 2017 also follow the pros, that would mean that less than 5% of those who follow the professionals don’t compete themselves. I’d imagine that number is much bigger for those who follow the professional game in basketball, soccer, or most other sports.
Why is that? Well, most of us learned about professional disc golf well after playing it first since pro disc golf is not in the mainstream. Also all we need to do to compete in disc golf is pay the tournament registration fee. Team sports require…well, a team of players who are willing to practice and play together. Also in most locations, disc golfers can practice and prepare to compete without spending a dime except for the money they spend on their gear. For other individual sports like ball golf or bowling, you can’t access the competition facility to practice for free. The ease of access is greater for disc golf competitors, so we see more participation in the amateur game.
Which leads to the common discussion in our sport of how much does the amateur game fuel the professional game? This year after the Las Vegas Challenge, participants were invited to provide their feedback for the event, and one of the main questions asked was if they should split the event into two weekends, one for amateur competition and one for the pros. This would allow for a larger field of competitors. You would have to contact Jeff Jaquart and the fantastic crew at the LVC for the results of that survey, but just by word of mouth I heard a lot of my fellow competitors express that they would likely not make the trip back next year if they didn’t get to see the pros compete that same weekend. But the question I have is how many fans would make the trip just to watch the pros if they weren’t competing themselves? Would the gallery be smaller for the final round of next year’s LVC? No matter the answer, I can’t help but think of the huge gallery I saw all 4 rounds of the Masters (that’s a kind of big ball golf tournament for those who don’t know :)), and it just makes me think that we still have a long way to go in disc golf.
What do you think? What are you most surprised by in these numbers? Comment and let us know!
In my last blog post I talked about the survey results regarding our opinions about tournaments. In this post I want to talk about how a desire to attend tournaments drove one disc golfer to take action to ensure he could compete, and ended up making local disc golf a little better.
Disc golf tournaments are fun and popular. But, as we discovered in the survey results, some of us have issues with certain aspects of tournaments, such as cost and how long they last. One of my friends, Steve, had some of those same issues with tournaments. He has several kids and runs his own business, and although he would love to attend lots of tournaments, time is big issue for him right now. So what did he do?
He did what everyone should do who isn’t happy with the status quo — he got to work and made the changes himself. He started the Pure Line Series, a tournament series with a simple theme: “One-day, one-round, inexpensive tournaments with 100 % payouts.” He arranged for different disc manufacturers to sponsor the tournaments, so at his tournaments the amateur division gets a different brand disc as a player’s pack. The series is held once a month at a different course each month. It caught on immediately when it started last year, and continues this year. They have been well attended. Not only can participants win cash (for the pro division) or Infinite Bucks (credit at Infinite Discs), they also get points toward the series championship that offers more prizes.
Steve is working with Infinite Discs to develop a program which models the Pure Line Series, to assist anyone interested in starting a similar series. The program will include online registration, tracking the series points, automatic amateur payout, and more. Details will be announced when the program is available for use in 2017.
The biggest lesson that we can learn from Steve is that one person can make a difference. How many times have we seen that in disc golf? One person decides to hold a tournament, or start a club, or teach some kids how to play, and the idea grows into something wonderful for our sport. Want to get a new course in your area? Get busy and make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a big idea. Organize a cleanup day for your local course. Make and hang up some signs or posters promoting disc golf. Keep some extra discs on hand to give to newbies who show up to the course with Frisbees or Ultimate discs.
One thing I’ve seen over and over in disc golf and life is that there are a lot of people willing to help out and support a good idea. They just need someone to take the lead and get the ball rolling. Be that person. Once you know there are people to back you up, it makes things a little easier for you. So, get out of your comfort zone, make your ideas a reality, and help grow the sport!
If you’re near the Utah Area on October 1st, check out the temporary venue for the Pure Line Championship… There are still spots available.
Several years ago I was online looking for some information about the county I live in and stumbled upon an announcement of a disc golf tournament scheduled at a local course. At that point I learned two things: first, there was a disc golf course in my county. And second, disc golfers had tournaments! Until then I had only played disc golf a few times a year, and had no idea there were competitions. I ended up playing in that tournament, and met people that I’m still friends with today. When a local club was formed a bit later, I gladly joined.
Since then, I’ve become addicted to disc golf and a big part of the attraction is the tournaments. I love the atmosphere, the competition, the camaraderie, and often times the travel. Judging by the survey results for the Infinite Discs’ poll, there are a lot of other people that love tournaments, too. And some that never play tournaments. In this blog post we will look at the survey results surrounding tournaments and some of the reasons we do or do not play them.
To play, or not to play a sanctioned tournament
Let’s start by talking about sanctioned tournaments. A tournament sanctioned by the PDGA is different than other tournaments. The rules are stricter, participants are required to be PDGA members or buy a temporary membership, they are usually longer (more holes and/or held for more days), and typically cost a bit more. Many of us like the added rules, making the atmosphere at a sanctioned tournament a bit more serious. The payouts are also usually better than at non-sanctioned events. As PDGA members, we also get the benefit (or sometimes the detriment) of getting a rating from sanctioned tournaments so that we can compare our skill level to other disc golfers.
Over half of the survey respondents played at least one sanctioned tournament last year (53%). Of the 1,850 who played in at least one, the largest group, 472 people, only played in one sanctioned tournament. The next largest group (347) played between 6-10, and the third largest played two sanctioned tournaments. A significant number of us (110) played in 16 or more tournaments. It would be interesting to know who in the survey played in the most sanctioned tournaments, and how many!
An unsanctioned tournament is more like a club tournament. Although most of the basic PDGA rules are followed, it is up to the tournament director (TD) to decide which rules will be enforced and which will be relaxed, such as marking a lie close to the basket. These tournaments usually have fewer rounds and are mostly single-day events. TD’s don’t have the same requirements as a sanctioned tournament, such as fees and added cash to the purse. Therefore, the unsanctioned tournaments usually don’t cost as much nor pay out as much.
Lower entry fees and no PDGA membership requirements may have contributed to a slightly higher number of people who played in unsanctioned vs. sanctioned tournaments. The survey results indicated that 2,083 people, or 60%, played in at least one unsanctioned tournament. Over half of that group played between 1-3 unsanctioned tournaments.
Get Some Sweet Swag
A fun and popular type of tournament is the specialty tournament, or sponsored tournament. I call them themed, because many of these tournaments have specific, unusual types of play. Disc golf manufacturers sponsor these tournaments and use them as a vehicle to let disc golfers try their product. Popular tournaments of this type include the Birdie Bash, Trilogy Challenge, and the Ace Race. Participants of sponsored tournaments get two or three new discs, plus a bunch of swag from the tournament sponsor, and only those discs may be used in the tournament. The format of the tournament varies, depending on the manufacturer. Some examples include:
–Ace Race, where the holes are typically shorter than usual, which is good because you only get one throw to make it in the basket! You get to record metal hits, which is when you hit the basket but it doesn’t go in, and aces. The person with the most aces wins, with metal hits used as a tie-breaker The Ace Race is sponsored by Discraft, and the disc mold is a new one that will be released later in the year.
–Vibram Birdie Bash, where a similar approach is found, but instead of one throw, you get two tries (on a par 3 hole) to make it in the basket. An ace (eagle) counts as five points, birdies counts as two, and a metal hit counts as one point. The person with the most points wins.
–Trilogy Challenge participants get a disc from all three Trilogy manufacturers, Westside, Dynamic Discs, and Latitude 64, and must only use those three discs. The discs consist of a driver, midrange, and putter. A regular tournament is held and the lowest score wins.
Sponsored tournaments are a great opportunity to try out new discs, get some swag, and play a tournament, all for about the cost of the discs. Winners get discs, bags, etc. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents played in a sponsored tournament last year. The most popular was the Discraft Ace Race, followed by the Trilogy Challenge.
What’s Your Excuse?
When I looked at survey results of all of the tournaments mentioned above (sanctioned, unsanctioned, and sponsored) I found that 29% of respondents (1,006) didn’t attend any tournaments last year. In my experience, the reasons people have for not attending tournaments usually fall into two camps: tournaments cost too much, or they take up too much time. The survey asked those two questions, and asked about tournament preferences, to see if we could find out what might be standing between us and signing up for a tournament. Let’s start with the aspects of a tournament that might prevent us from signing up.
In the survey we asked everyone to rate their level of agreement to the statement that tournaments are too expensive. We can assume that if respondents remained neutral, they didn’t agree with the statement and don’t consider expense to be an issue. Therefore, let’s look at those who agree or strongly agree with the idea that tournaments are too expensive.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement that tournaments are too expensive, about 86.2% of us either remained neutral or disagreed with the statement. That is an interesting statistic, since the cost to enter tournaments varies significantly. Locally, I’ve seen tournaments range from $5 (for club events) to well over $100 to enter. The more costly the tournament, the better the players pack for amateurs and the better the payout for pros. I’ll talk more about payouts and costs later. With over 86% of us satisfied with the price of tournaments, that only leaves about 13.8% of us who agree that tournaments are too expensive.
Since most tournaments consist of several rounds of disc golf, with some over several days, we wanted to find out how many of us agree with the statement that tournaments take up too much time. Again, counting those who remained neutral as not having a problem with the amount of time, the results were similar to the previous question. Only about 14% of us agree that tournaments take up too much of our weekend.
How Long Will It Go On
Since 29% of respondents didn’t attend any tournaments last year, I would expect the number of people who either find tournaments too expensive or feel they take up too much time, to be closer in number to 29%. And that it pretty much what happened. Only about 3.1% of us felt that tournament were both too expensive AND took too much time, which leaves about 24% of us who have one or the other issue with tournaments. Which accounts for most of the 29% of us who didn’t attend any tournaments. HOWEVER, that is only adding up the numbers without looking at the sources of the numbers. When I looked at how many people thought tournaments are too expensive or take too much time, but still attended at least one tournament, I found that 12.4% of us fall into that category. We could make a couple of conclusions from that data. Either those respondents don’t like the cost or time commitment, but played anyway. Or, they played in tournaments that didn’t have expensive fees or last as long as bigger ones.
The survey also asked if we prefer single- or multi-day tournaments. Again, counting those who either responded neutrally or didn’t answer the question as not having a problem with how many days a tournament takes, the results are as follows. There were 16.4% of us that didn’t like single-day tournaments, and 21.7% of us who didn’t like multi-day tournaments. The largest number of respondents were those who remained neutral or didn’t answer the question. However, 31% of us do prefer single-day tournaments and 16% of us favor multi-day tournaments.
Out of all of the above survey results that surprised me the most was the one asking if tournaments are too expensive. I hear a lot of grumbling about the cost of playing in some tournaments, so I thought more people would agree with the statement. I would agree with the grumblers were it not for two important facts: I attend lots of tournaments, and so do many other people, because so many tournaments fill up year after year. Apparently, the market has spoken.
Taking Home Some Loot
Personally, it wouldn’t bother me if the amateur divisions (which is where I play) were a bit cheaper and didn’t have player’s packs. However, based on some of the survey results, I’m in the minority. Player’s packs typically consist of a tournament stamp disc, shirt, or other disc golf swag. Every amateur player gets a pack. And despite my feelings about them, player’s packs aren’t going away any time soon for a couple reasons. First, when tournament directors get disc manufacturers and other companies to sponsor a tournament, they can get products at a cheaper price. That allows TD’s to give out packs that are close to the dollar amount of the entry fee, while only spending a small amount of money on them. They can then take the difference in price and add it to the pro payouts. It’s a win-win because the amateurs get some swag, and the pros get a better payout.
The second reasons player’s packs are here to stay is because it’s fun to get one! Some tournaments are famous for their sweet player’s packs. There is something satisfying about taking home a bunch of stuff, regardless of how we performed. Did you win your division? Did you finish in the middle of the pack? Did you take last place? You get a player’s pack. Not only is there the psychological satisfaction of getting something for your money, there is the fun of throwing a tournament disc or wearing a tournament shirt for years to let people know that you were there. It’s also fun to see other people sporting swag from a tournament that you attended and bond with them.
One of the survey results I was most happy to see was how many people played in at least one tournament. As someone who enjoys getting together with folks who like disc golf as much as I do, it was nice to see that 71% of us played in at least one tournament. To me, that means most of us appreciate the sport enough to dedicate a little time and money for some competition. Often times we enter just to challenge ourselves. Hopefully we leave the event with a desire to continue to play and improve ourselves so the next time we compete, we see a little progress. And maybe pick up a win. Or at least have some fun and make good memories with our fellow disc golfers.
When the PDGA pronounced an 18-month suspension of professional player, Bradley Williams, because of a shoulder-check leaving the tee at the 2016 Ledgestone Insurance Open, it began a cascading effect that may have reached its apex with the Pro-Tour decision to separate the finale from the PDGA by making it a non-sanctioned event. It didn’t take much for the wave to swell. One of the biggest names in disc golf, Paul McBeth, quickly posted on social media that he desired more transparency from the PDGA about the decision, and soon thereafter announced that he would not play non major PDGA events in protest. Pro Tour organizer, Steve Dodge, then made the announcement that he’d decided to separate the Pro Tour from the PDGA, making the finale an “unsanctioned tournament”.
There are many more details and undercurrents that can be researched about those cascading events, but the intention here is not to outline what happened, but simply to follow that chain of events down the rabbit hole. Let us project the attitude of separation further and ask some relevant questions that arise when a major tournament featuring top-tier pros suddenly declares that it does not need the existing governing body. For example, does separation from the PDGA really mean anything if the tournament still happens with the same players, the same payouts, and the same media attention?
The Value of The PDGA
What does the PDGA offer in terms of value?
According to the 2016 State of Disc Golf Survey, the most important aspect of PDGA membership is player ratings. 86% of respondents said that their PDGA# and Rating was “Important” or “Very Important”.
Survey respondents also value being able to see lifetime statistics of their competitive performance that appear on the PDGA website for current paying members.
A good number of those surveyed also value PDGA membership so that they don’t have to pay the $10 non PDGA registration fee for the tournaments they play.
If the PDGA is a governing body (the organization that sets the rules), how did they become such, and are they necessary if the independent tournament sets their own rules– rules which are accepted by the participating players? The list of questions and “what if’s” could go on and on.
The real question is, if the big names in disc golf start shunning the de facto governing body, then how long before that governing body no longer has any sway at all? It would carry into all aspects of the game, because the PDGA only has whatever power the players concede to give it through united acceptance. Take away that acceptance, even piece by piece, and the power lessens. If the Pro Tour says “we don’t need you” and it doesn’t change the material outcome of their events, then how long before smaller tournaments decide that PDGA sanctioning is no longer a necessity for their events either?
For example, the Cache Valley Classic is a PDGA sanctioned event that takes place in Logan, Utah, where Infinite Discs is located. It doesn’t draw big-name pros, but it fills a full roster of intermediate, advanced, and open players. By sanctioning the event, the PDGA established guidelines that had to be followed to the smallest detail, and also meant that a check for a few hundred dollars had to be written out to the PDGA.
What was the payback in terms of the event’s outcome? Would fewer players have come without sanctioning? Would it have been any less or more of a success, had those hundreds of dollars been withheld? It’s hard to say. It is possible that fewer of those open players who have sponsorship deals would have come. In their absence, more advanced, intermediate and even recreational players might have paid to participate, quickly filling any vacancy. What would have ultimately been missing? A stamp of approval? A formulaic ranking for the event, the course, and the players?
Let’s assume that PDGA rules are removed from previously sanctioned events? Who then becomes the governing body? Who enforces a standard? Is it too much of a stretch to assume that the tournament directors could step in and say, “these are the rules associated with this particular tournament”. What might happen then? There are a couple of possibilities. If the players all understand and approve of the rules and still love the way the tournament is set up, then certainly that is enough. If the players don’t like the rules, don’t show up to play, and don’t have a good experience with the tournament, then the event fails, probably loses money, and likely won’t be repeated.
The tournaments that set welcome and appropriate standards for participation would succeed. The ones who muck it up would fail. Is that a bad formula for the growth of disc golf as a competitive sport? Or is it too much like anarchy if there were no central authority figure, like the PDGA, to keep rules consistent and put their stamp of approval on events?
The PDGA is not only involved with events, but is also responsible for the technical standards of the game. They set the guidelines for approved targets in tournament play, which all of us who have played temporary courses with home made bicycle wheel baskets are grateful for.
The PDGA makes the ultimate decision to approve or not approve the discs that can be thrown in the game of disc golf. Of course, that technically means the discs that can or can’t be thrown in PDGA events, but the power of that “stamp of approval” has shaped the disc market. An approved disc is much more likely to sell successfully and has a shot at becoming a staple in the game. An unapproved disc is quickly dropped from production and banished into the dark corners of forgotten products. How many players own a Gateway Ninja disc? Not many. It is unapproved. How many players pull out the outlandish looking Turbo Putter? Not many, because it is unapproved and thus is nothing more than a collectible novelty. But if tournament promoters were to separate from the PDGA who set the disc guidelines, then it is logical to say that players could pull out whatever disc the tournament director allows. Suddenly, that unmentionable 180g Destroyer comes into play. Suddenly somebody brandishes a sharp-edged Ninja disc, or an Aerobie that they can throw 800 feet.
If the tournament director says, “follow PDGA guidelines” then that certainly sets the rules. This is what the Utah Open, an “unsanctioned” tournament that will be on the Pro Tour next year has done. Would, or should, an unsanctioned tournament need to pay the PDGA for declaring an enforcement of the rules and standards that were set by the PDGA?
Can Tournaments Effectively Govern Themselves?
Let’s go back to the small action that started this chain of cascading events. Let’s assume that a tournament is non PDGA sanctioned, and one player walks past another player who is approaching the tee and gives them a shoulder-check, either intentional or non-intentional. Does the offended player have recourse if they can’t call up the PDGA and complain? Of course they would. They’d simply tell the tournament director, “this guy behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner toward me, and it effected my game.” The tournament director, who is then the immediate governing body, then could decide the appropriate response. Maybe the result would be to add penalty strokes, or maybe to kick that one player out of the tournament, or even take the extreme of saying, “you’re not welcome here anymore…ever.” That’s their call. The tournament would then either benefit or lose credibility based on that decision, and that is where it ends. It doesn’t go beyond that. It doesn’t bleed into other tournaments, other opportunities, and a player’s ability to seek a livelihood with winnings.
In a world where there is no longer a generally accepted governing body, is disc golf better off? Would it continue to grow? Of course. The game is addictive, fun, challenging, beautiful, and would continue to be so, even without an entity setting rules which really aren’t changing much. But would it be perceived as less professional without that entity watching over the competitive side of the sport? Probably. Do we need an NFL, a PGA, an NBA, an NHL? Or do we take disc golf in a different direction that feels more open, more free, more organic, and less ruled by red tape?
Another argument for the role of the PDGA remaining solidly implanted within the competitive disc golf world is that they have created a system of rating players, tournaments, courses, and events. Those ratings can consistently rank players in order, determined by performance. It is a mathematical formula, and the variables within that formula have been established and fed with data which helps division assignment. Thus, the ratings and rankings seem to make sense and treat all players, across the board, fairly. That matters, assuming you’ve paid the dues to become a member of the PDGA and you care about playing in a manner that produces accurate ratings. If the PDGA were to vanish, taking away those rankings, would chaos ensue? Would players suddenly feel like they have no measuring stick by which to evaluate their game play?
Many have argued that the disc golf rating system should be replaced with something more similar to ball golf.
While the PDGA does have a rating system that in most opinions is pretty good, it’s definitely not something that can’t be replicated or replaced. While our intention is not to create an official rating, Infinite Discs has created the Infinite Rating that uses and creates ratings very near those created by the PDGA. These ratings have been very valuable for creating divisions for our local disc golf events, especially for those players who are not PDGA members.
Compare the PDGA rating and the Infinite Rating from our recent tournament:
The main difference between the results is that the Infinite formula creates round ratings based on past results.The first round of the Infinite formula is based off of scores submitted before the tournament, while the second round is based off of scores submitted during the first round. The PDGA formula compares scores and determines a rating solely from within that round.
Formulas like these take the X’s and the Y’s into account when players upload scores from different courses, and then calculate a course rating, subsequent player ratings, and even individual round ratings based on averages within the existing data set. In the case of Infinite Courses, there are still very few courses and players that have a rating. Players need to upload scores under a variety of circumstances and in different locations for the X’s and Y’s to be replaced by actual, meaningful data. All it takes is enough people uploading scores in enough places, and suddenly there is a full-fledged rating system that can do essentially the same thing the PDGA system does, but without membership fees, and without the pretense of a governing body. Infinite Courses is free to access, free to use, and easy to pull up a variety of stats and comparisons, if that’s what you want out of your game. There will still be those in the silent majority who will never care about rantings, averages, and comparisons. They just want to play disc golf.
Ultimately, we can’t currently answer the questions posed by a world without the PDGA. Undoubtedly there would be less standardization in tournaments. With some of the current events, it sure teases us all with a glimpse of what that world might look like. We can imagine it. We could long for it, or we could fear it. But we probably shouldn’t worry about it, because with or without the PDGA, disc golf will continue to spread like wildfire. There is something magical in the disc golf experience which can’t be suppressed.
We want your opinion. If you are a PDGA member, what aspects of the PDGA enhance your disc golf experience? If you aren’t a member, are you more or less inclined to play a tournament if it is sanctioned by the PDGA? Is there something we’re missing that makes the PDGA more essential than we can comprehend?
The Ledgestone Insurance Open, the tournament with the biggest payout in disc golf history, is finally here.
Smashboxx TV will broadcast four rounds of this tournament every day at approximately 2:30 Central Time. As the official vendor of the Ledgestone Insurance Open, Infinite Discs will be giving away $250 worth of gift cards, promo codes, and a Zuca Cart. Be sure to watch the live coverage to find out how you can win.
The first ever Disc Golf Pro Tour is rolling! And we here at Infinite Discs are happy to be a part of it. Steve Dodge and his team are working hard to make this tour something special that will help grow this sport that we all love.
Just last week we added some exclusive Disc Golf Pro Tour Products to our store inventory. These products include discs, apparel, and some really cool cups!
Cups may seem like a silly promotional gag product for an event like the DGPT, but these cups are actually pretty nice. These super durable and rubbery cups are made by Silipint. They are microwave and dishwasher safe, and can even be used on cooking grills.