2018 State of Disc Golf Survey: Disc Golf Growth

Disc golfers have been purposeful and proactive about growing their sport since Steady Ed Headrick installed the first permanent ‘Pole Hole’ course in Pasadena, California more than 40 years ago.

Most of us are familiar with the hashtag #GrowTheSport (and the more recent #GrowDiscGolf). The shared belief behind the rallying cry began with the first disc golf pioneers and became an integral part of the sport’s very personality as it spread to the next generation of new players, and then the next. The conviction that we have a duty to share the sport is encoded in the DNA of every diehard player and has been for decades, long before the advent of social media.

The 2018 State of Disc Golf survey asked several questions that sought to measure and identify the details of this most singular aspect of the sport— a topic which is finally attracting some well-deserved attention. Disc golf’s unstoppable and organic grassroots growth machine is empirically obvious, observable in thousands of communities around the world. In my new book, The Disc Golf Revolution, I dedicate an entire chapter to it and provide numerous examples from around the world. Answers to one question posed in the survey add a degree of quantification to one of the book’s main assertions: disc golfers do more than talk the talk.

When asked “In 2017, which did you do to grow the sport,” 88 percent of the 5,952 who responded said they had introduced at least one new person to the game, and 83 percent said they had given discs or other equipment to a prospective or new disc golfer. More than 20 percent said they had participated in local government affairs in support of disc golf. That is 1,260 people from this small sampling alone who are attending city council meetings and calling their representatives at minimum, with many also dedicating countless hours to work hands-on in partnership with civic leaders. Aside from its broad appeal and accessibility, this is the main reason disc golf enjoys such robust growth and can look forward to more of the same. Other impressive results included:

  • Helped physically install a new course (16 percent)
  • Ran a tournament or similar event (15.9 percent)
  • Ran a disc golf league (14.4 percent)
  • Ran an event or clinic aimed at attracting new players (11.6 percent)
  • Designed a disc golf course (9.8 percent)

If we were forced to identify from these responses something the disc golf community might do better in the future, I would point to the fact that the responses are lower for running an event to bring in new players than for running disc golf leagues and tournaments. The latter are aimed mostly at players who are already enamored with the sport, whereas the former seeks to bring new people into the fold.

Tipping Point?

Other survey questions sought to determine the rate of growth in disc golf, and whether it is accelerating in recent years (Spoiler Alert: the answer is ‘Yes’). The answers corroborate player and course growth data that is already available from the Professional Disc Golf Association and DGCourseReview.com, and I believe they also indicate an important shift in the public perception of disc golf. Whereas growth in the past was almost entirely due to the unceasing efforts of those early disc golf pioneers — steady progress despite stiff headwinds — today the efforts of an even greater number of disc golf diehards are bolstered rather than buffeted by external forces. They are more often welcomed now, if not summoned, by local governments and school officials.
Infinite received more than 11,000 replies to the survey question ‘When did you begin playing golf?’ Nearly 75 percent named a year between 2006 and 2018, and less than 20 percent selected 2000 or earlier.

A closer examination of the more recent years helps us to nail down when the shift I mentioned began. 2006-2010 accounts for 16.5 percent, while nearly half of all respondents indicated a year between 2013 and 2017.

Another question asked disc golfers how many permanent courses within a 10-mile radius of their homes had been added and deleted in 2017, and the responses unsurprisingly reflected growth across the board. 20 percent of the 6,230 survey takers reported one new course, and 5 percent reported 2 or more. Less than one in 10 reported a course closure near them in 2017, a figure that looks strong compared to the ‘courses added’ responses. But that number will likely fall even lower as the sport’s popularity continues to rise and less courses are installed on a provisional basis.

All the available data from Infinite and elsewhere confirm that disc golf has entered a new phase of growth. The world is noticeably more receptive to and knowledgeable about the game, and the pace of its expansion is ratcheting higher and higher. The foundation of organic, grassroots support? It’s alive and well, bigger and stronger than ever.

How Do We Feel About Out-of-Bounds

One of the questions on the 2018 State of Disc Golf Survey asked disc golfers how they feel about out-of-bounds rules. It was a straight-forward question and the breakdown of the responses is pretty basic. While some players feel strongly in favor of, or against the use of “OB” in the game, most players seem indifferent and feel like the use of Out-of-Bounds is generally fine.

These were the possible responses:

–> I don’t like OB and feel it should only be implemented when necessary.  16.9%

–> I feel indifferent about OB. Some OB is good, and other OB detracts from disc golf. 64.6%

–> I like lots of OB and feel that added OB enhances the disc golf experience. Bring on the islands! 14.8%

–> N/A I don’t play out-of-bounds rules anyway. 3.7%

It appears that most players understand that OB lines can be necessary to discourage players from crossing fairways or throwing toward areas where discs shouldn’t fly. But when it comes to adding more OB’s just for the sake of adding difficulty to the course, slightly more players appear to feel that it can go too far (16.9%) while a slightly smaller number feel like more OB lines add to the experience (14.8%).

We asked our own crew what they felt about OB lines, and while most are as indifferent as the majority of survey participants, the most poignant response was from our Open level player. He basically said that OB’s which are drawn artificially around naturally occurring hazards, like trees or rough terrain, should be removed. Why? Because if you throw into those areas, then navigating out of the rough terrain or throwing out of trees can be like a penalty stroke already– you either pay the price by wasting a throw to get back onto the fairway, or you prove your skill by escaping unscathed. He feels that any time a stroke is added to his score card that he did not throw, it is unwarranted. The exception would be obvious out-of-bounds lines that protect other fairways, roads, foot traffic areas, etc.

If you have opinions about OB’s that you’d like to share, please feel free to leave comments below.

State of Disc Golf 2018 – Our Disc Buying Habits

It is always interesting, particularly for those of us working in the disc golf industry, to look at the State of Disc Golf survey responses concerning spending habits and what motivates players to buy discs. Of course, just playing the game at all requires a certain number of discs. But how many of us go beyond what we really “need” to play the game when it comes to purchasing more and more discs?

When a few thousand players were asked to say if these statements described their disc purchasing attitudes, these were the results:

I Primarily Stick With Discs I Already Know and Throw

I Regularly Try New Molds By My Favorite Brands

I Regularly Try New Discs, Regardless of Manufacturer

I Only Buy New Discs to Replace Lost Discs

I Buy Discs Primarily to Collect

I Throw Every Disc that I Buy

From the above results, a few things can be noted. For one, people tend to experiment more with favorite manufacturers, though there is a good number (majority) of players who don’t mind experimenting across brands.

It also looks like it is a minority that only buys to replace lost discs– that means more players are buying for other reasons. One of those reasons might be collecting, but when asked if they only buy to collect, the vast majority didn’t feel like that described their buying habits. Around 25% swayed toward buying to collect, if only occasionally.  The last graph shows that despite the motivation for buying, the majority of those surveyed throw every disc that they buy. Only 17.4% does not throw all of their purchased discs.

How Likely Are We To Pay Extra for the Stamp?

Another motivating factor for buying discs is the design of the stamp on the disc. We asked survey participants how likely they are to pay extra for a special stamp in the same mold, weight, and color that they could have purchased in a cheaper, stock stamp. Though the “buy to collect” market may be small, the larger “buy to throw” contingency is definitely not opposed to spending more for a stamp design that they like.

How likely are you to pay extra for a special stamp in the same mold, wight and color as the stock stamp?

That is only 14.7% that claims it is very unlikely that they’d pay more for a cool stamp design on their disc.

We’ll continue to follow disc purchasing trends and opinions closely!

State of Disc Golf–Disc Golf Tournaments

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!

State of Disc Golf 2018 – How We Carry Our Discs

The State of Discgolf Survey has been tracking the trends in disc golf bags and the different ways that we carry our discs around the course. The trends leaned from traditional shoulder bags to a strong surge in backpacks, and has been moving steadily toward carts for the last couple of years. Here is a look at the survey results for 2018.

By far, the most popular way of transporting discs around the course is by using disc golf backpacks. Disc Golf Carts have now moved strongly into 2nd place, pushing aside the large bags (with and without shoulder straps). The small shoulder-strap bags still have the edge over large bags with shoulder straps. Here is what the results looked like in 2017:

Where disc golf carts used to be 4th place at 8.6% of survey participants, carts are now 2nd place at 15.47% of survey participants. The percentage of small bag users has dropped from 2017 to 2018 but still remains a good portion of players that prefer to travel light. It appears the the trend is generally away from larger should-strap bags (even with added straps for backpack-style carrying) and toward either backpacks or carts, with small bags holding ground.

Going back to the 2015 survey, large disc golf shoulder bags accounted for 34.4% of those surveyed. That percentage has been cut to a third in 2018 with a total of 11.87% using large bags with or without straps. Disc Golf Carts were not included separately in the survey in 2015 and would have fallen into the “other” category which amounted to less than 3%. Carts are definitely an exploding part of the market.

 

2018 State of Disc Golf Survey: PDGA Membership & Tournament Participation

This week’s examination of the 2018 State of Disc Golf Survey focuses on PDGA membership and tournament participation. As always, the results tell us plenty about the hardcore disc golf enthusiasts who are well-represented in the survey, but in this case, with the help of some supplemental data, they also help us better understand the broader disc golfing population. The most interesting question that arises is: Who belongs to the PDGA, and why— or why not? Let’s look first at the survey data alone.

disc golf survey

Figure 1

disc golf survey

Figure 2

  • A little more than half of the 11,230 respondents said they are now or have at some point been PDGA members (Fig. 1)
  • A large majority of those who said Yes are either current now or plan to be in time to play tournaments this season (fig. 2)
  • More than half of those who said Yes to the PDGA question also said they joined the PDGA in the last 3+ years (fig. 3)
  • Most respondents played in multiple PDGA events last year as well as multiple non-PDGA sanctioned events (fig 4)

We know from other survey results this year and those from surveys in past years that the disc golfers who respond tend to be from the nucleus of the disc golfing population— what I like to refer to as the Inner Core. People who eat, sleep, and breathe disc golf. Learning that most play multiple tournaments each year and belong to the PDGA is no big surprise. But take note that the response rates and affirmative responses are higher for questions asking about tournaments in general and non-sanctioned events than PDGA events. It appears that nearly all PDGA members play tournaments, but not all tournament players belong to the PDGA, a line of inquiry that gets more interesting when we consider the big picture.

disc golf survey

Figure 3

The disc golfing population is accurately represented as a large circle with a small Inner Core and an even smaller bullseye (fig. 6). An estimated 2.5 million people play disc golf at least once a month (the PDGA’s website says 2 million, but their number hasn’t changed for at least 5 years). At the center of this population are those who are plugged into the small, tightknit ‘disc golf community’— an estimated 100 to 150,000 who play at least local tournaments, belong to their local clubs, and proudly display disc golf shirts and stickers. The Inner Core. In some cases (but, importantly, not all) we also belong to the PDGA.

If you are reading this, odds are pretty good you are in not just the red dot but the white bullseye as well. Reading about disc golf online is typical ‘Inner Core’ behavior. So is completing disc golf surveys, which is why the results usually tell us much more about the five percent of all disc golfers who play tournaments than the 95 percent who don’t.

disc golf survey

Figure 4

If you and the disc golfers who answered this survey accurately represented all disc golfers, the PDGA would have more than a million members, right? That is obviously not the case (the PDGA currently has around 42,000 active members), but have you ever wondered what a disc golf organization with that many members could accomplish? It’s an exciting question, which brings us back to our original questions: Why do disc golfers join the PDGA—or, in the case of the overwhelming majority, why not?

The data suggests that players join the PDGA and renew each year for two primary reasons: participation in top-tier events and maintaining a player rating. Both are perks that require an active membership. It seems that while a large majority of Inner Core disc golfers play tournaments, a healthy minority are satisfied with non-sanctioned events and therefore see no need to join the PDGA.

disc golf survey, disc golfer breakdown

Figure 5

Almost to a person, those regular disc golfers who keep it casual but still love the game don’t belong to the PDGA. Most are likely unaware it even exists, and those who do might be balking at paying annual fees that average $50 just to support a cause.

One final piece of this week’s finding has until now gone unaddressed. Of the 6,176 who said they had joined the PDGA at some point, more than half said they had joined in the past 3+ years. Disc golf is growing, and fast. Just remember when you hear the impressive PDGA numbers regarding membership and event growth that it is just (to use one last metaphor) the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, the sport is growing even faster. In this case, though, the unseen will not sink us. Quite the opposite.

 

 

State of Disc Golf – What Brands Do You Know and Throw?

In the 2018 State of Disc Golf Survey we asked some questions that we love to ask every year– we want to know which brands are most recognized and loved, plus how many players bag discs by those brands. Sometimes we see an imbalance between brand awareness and loyalty vs. what is actually inside a player’s bag. For example, last year we discovered that while more people claimed that Dynamic Discs and Latitude 64 were their favorite brands, there were actually more people who had Discraft in their bags than those who bagged Dynamic Discs or Latitude 64. Let’s take a look at how those results panned out in this year’s survey.

BRAND AWARENESS VS IN YOUR BAG

First of all, this chart excludes any brands that were under 1% of survey participants claiming to bag the brand. The “Regularly Follow the Brand” data is made up of those participants who said that they regularly follow the brand as apposed to “not aware of them,” “heard of them,” “I know some things about them,” etc. In other words, we only included the data where players ranked the brand the highest in terms of awareness.

Innova has taken the top spot again in terms of high brand awareness with Dynamic Discs, Latitude 64, and Westside (all Trilogy brands) following behind. When it comes to bagging the brand, Discraft has now fallen right behind Dynamic Discs, but is still in front of Latitude 64. That is still a big disparity between people who regularly follow Discraft and those who bag Discraft — while they don’t follow the brand, they do have Discraft discs in their bag. It’s probably safe to assume that the extremely popular Buzzz mid-range has a lot to do with that.

Discmania is also making great headway in terms of the number of players who bag their discs, and their brand awareness is also growing rapidly. MVP and Axiom have picked up in the number of players bagging their discs. The awareness of those brands has also pulled up the awareness of their newer spin-off brand, Streamline, though not as many people bag that brand yet (at the time of this survey there were only two Streamline molds).

The rising of other smaller brands in awareness and disc use, like RPM, Mint Discs, Kastaplast, Hyzer Bomb, etc. is encouraging in showing that more players are becoming aware of newer or smaller brands, and are more likely now to add their discs to bags when compared to previous years.

FAVORITE MANUFACTURER

 

We also asked survey participants this question: If you could throw discs made by only one manufacturer, which would it be?

The “Innova Made” brands took the lead with 46.4% and that includes brands like Discmania, Hyzer Bomb, and Millenium, which are all manufactured by Innova.

Trilogy came in a strong second with 32.9% and that includes the brands Dynamic Discs, Latitude 64, and Westside.

MVP also manufactures Axiom and Streamline Discs, and they now take up third place with 9.3%. Though quite a bit behind the two leaders, they are a fast-growing part of the disc golf market. They passed Discraft this year to take that third place spot.

Another ironic move in this year’s survey is that Vibram jumped into sixth place where they didn’t even hit the top eight last year. But since the survey they have opted to exit the disc golf business.

CHANGING BRAND LOYALTIES

Finally, we asked if survey participants had changed their favorite brand during the last year. The majority 74.5% said that they did not change favorite brands, while the other 25.5% said that they did. So, a quarter of disc golfers changed brand loyalties last year, showing that the market is still fluid when it comes to branding.

 

Our Course Preferences and Courses Played

This week we’re going to look at what types of Disc Golf Courses we like by examining our vegetation density and course length preferences.

We will first take a look at the vegetation density, broken down by skill level.

 

 

Right away we see that Beginners like moderately wooded courses just a tad more than lightly wooded courses, but they are almost equal. However, Intermediate players vastly prefer moderately wooded courses. My speculation is that Intermediate players want more of a challenge, and they enjoy taking their game to the next level by having more trees to throw through.

Once players reach the Advanced and Professional levels though, the lightly wooded courses take a step back up to nearly 25% of preferences. Moderately wooded courses still reign supreme, while thickly wooded and wide open courses remain a minority. This could be because Advanced and Professional players are competing more, and courses with too many trees could add in some unlucky tree hits and kicks, hurting players scores. Yet, these players still prefer moderately/lightly wooded courses because it adds far more technique and skill than a wide open course.

Now we take a look broken down by gender:

 

 

We don’t see any vast differences between Male and Female disc golfers’ course preferences. The only noticeable difference is that males seem to prefer moderately wooded courses a bit more.

Now, taking a look at length of course preferred by survey participants. Here is a break down of the course distances broken down by the survey.

Short Courses: Less than 4500 feet

Moderate Courses: 4500 – 6000 feet

Longer Courses: 6000 – 7500 feet

Pro Level Courses: 7500+ feet

 

This is what you would likely expect in course length preferences, broken down by skill level. Beginners mostly want the moderate length courses. Intermediate players like the same, but with a growing percentage of people enjoying the longer courses. Advanced players have a larger percentage who enjoy pro level courses and longer courses, while moderate still reigns supreme. Professionals (with good reason) prefer pro level courses more than others, but still enjoy an equal mix of moderate and long courses. Short course preferences are all but lost among the higher skill levels.

I’m led to conclude that as your skill level goes up, the more likely you are to enjoy a longer course. This is what I predicted before examining the data, and you probably did too.

Here is the breakdown by gender, in case you were curious. These results are also to be expected:

 

 

Let’s take a look at our summary of course preferences of every player. These results show that the most preferred course type is Moderately Wooded with Moderate Length. This is followed by Lightly Wooded and Longer Courses.

 

 

Lastly we’ll take a quick look at how many courses we played in 2017, by skill level.

 

The results are also to be expected. As skill level rises, the average number of courses played last year rises. However, in every skill level, the most common answer was 10-15 courses played last year. It was the 2nd and 3rd most common answered that varied by skill level, slightly rising with each division.

In conclusion: We love Disc Golf, and as we get better at it, we want to play harder courses and we want to play more courses. This is to be expected! The only response that was not linearly effected by skill level, was the intermediate players preference to course vegetation density. It dramatically increased from beginners, and then dropped back down with advanced skill level.

 

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