Today we are tackling a subject in disc golf that some consider controversial while others consider it just silly. Today we are talking about par. How should we determine par? Should we adopt par 2s in disc golf? Lots of disc golfers have their opinions on this subject, but in the end, does any of it even matter? In doing some research for this post, I found a well written article from our friend Steve Dodge that I will likely refer to a few times today. So what is par exactly?
Par in Ball Golf vs Par in Disc Golf
A quick google search for the definition of the word “par” in golf will yield this definition: “the number of strokes a first-class player should normally require for a particular hole or course.” Another explanation I found said that par is how many strokes an expert golfer should take to complete a hole.
The idea of par and using par as a way to define our scores in disc golf (1 under par, 2 over par, etc.) can be directly traced back to our ball golf roots. But something we might be forgetting is that par in ball golf should reflect what first-class or expert golfers are scoring, not the field at large.
This is why on the PGA tour we see scores close to par or maybe even as low as around 10-under par winning four day, four round tournaments. So why is it that for tournaments with the same number of holes on the PDGA National Tour and the DGPT we are seeing disc golfers needing to score close to 40-under par in order to win the event?
One line of thinking that I tend to agree with is that it’s all about putting. Steve Dodge explains, “In golf, the average number of putts is theoretically two…In golf, par is the number of shots to reach the green + putts (2).” So how does this translate to disc golf? “In disc golf, the average number of putts is theoretically one…In disc golf, par would be the number of shots to reach the green + putts (1). This would make about half of our holes into par 2s.”
Par 2 in Disc Golf?
While some of us may average 2 putts from inside the circle, our first-class and expert disc golfers for whom par should be determined (if we follow ball golf’s model) are nearly automatic from inside the circle. But in ball golf, even the best putters in the game will miss putts from inside 10 feet from time to time. That is just the difference between our two games.
So ball golf and disc golf are different in scoring. Another way to phrase that is ball golf is harder than disc golf, which is something we all like about disc golf. But since disc golf is easier shouldn’t par then be adjusted to account for this? The quickest way to account for this is the adoption of par 2s in disc golf.
This brings us to our first bit of data from the State of Disc Golf Survey. We asked survey takers if they would like to see very short or easy holes be considered par 2? The answers were pretty telling:
For the most part, we disc golfers don’t want to see par 2s out on the course. But some, especially those who are new to disc golf or unfamiliar with our culture, may be confused or surprised by this. Why would those within the sport not want to see more accurate par ratings on their courses?
Steve Dodge shed some light here again: “Setting a par 2 makes the scoring expectation much harder and, oddly enough, decreases our enjoyment of playing the game. Disc golf has a tremendous advantage in that it is more fun to play because our par score is easier to attain.” That last statement is interesting, claiming that disc golf is more fun because the par score is easier. But as we discussed earlier, a 10 ft putt in disc golf is easier than a 10 ft putt in golf, regardless of the hole’s par.
This makes me think that we have a bit of a blind spot here because we have come to expect extremely low par scores in our sport. How would you feel if you shot 10-under par at your local course and then someone came along and told you that your score was actually 1-over par if your course par was rated more accurately? But if that round had always been considered a 1-over par round, you wouldn’t care as much right?
Like when I go out and play ball golf, I know that par is pretty well out of reach. So I am pretty pleased if I score a few strokes over par.
It is all about expectation, and we in disc golf have come to expect very low scores relative to par, and as we can see in the above chart, most of us don’t care that some of our par 3 holes should be rated as par 2 if we adopted more accurate par ratings.
More Par 4 and 5 in Disc Golf?
Now what about the other end of the spectrum? What about longer and more challenging holes? We asked survey takers if they would like to see more courses with par 4 and par 5 holes. Here are the results:
So once again, we see a clear answer–we want more par 4 and par 5 holes. But as we could see from our first question about par 2s, we don’t seem to care about the accuracy of our par ratings. So do we want more par 4 and par 5 holes just because we view them as an opportunity for more birdies?
When discussing a long disc golf hole and whether it should be considered a par 3 or 4, more than once I have heard someone arguing that it should be a par 4 say something like, “Well, if it were a par 3, then it would be almost impossible to birdie.” In disc golf, we expect to get our birdies, and sometimes we expect every hole to be birdie-able. And we expect birdies not just for the first-class and expert golfers, but for your average casual players as well.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last couple of days, you probably heard something about Tiger Woods winning The Masters at Augusta National on Sunday. He entered the final round two strokes behind the leader and fought to shoot -2 for the day which was just enough to win his 5th green jacket.
But isn’t this a disc golf blog? Why are we talking about “ball” golf (or as the rest of the world knows it: “golf”)? Disc golf is better than that sport, so we shouldn’t even care about what Tiger Woods or any other ball golfer does, right? Ball golf is dying, and disc golf is thriving, right?
Well, that last question is exactly where Tiger Woods winning his 15th career major and his first in over a decade becomes interesting for disc golfers and disc golf as a sport. But first of all, for those who unlike me became a disc golfer without any prior affiliation with ball golf, let’s take a quick crash course on Tiger Woods.
If you want to know more, any google search right now should lead you to a variety of articles about Woods and his historic comeback to the top flight of a sport that he single-handedly revolutionized at the turn of the century. Personally, I’d recommend this article from ESPN if you want a little more info than what I am giving here. But basically, Tiger Woods is the undisputed GOAT of golf. He was so dominant in his heyday, that golf courses were literally renovated just to make them harder for him (they called it, “Tiger-proofing”). He was even considered by some to be the greatest athlete of all time regardless of sport. After becoming the youngest to win a major in 1997, he shattered record after record playing at a level that you had to see to believe.
Sunday afternoons in my house were all about watching Tiger Woods. If there was a family dinner at my grandparents’ home, Tiger Woods was always on in the background. He was an American icon, and his influence is definitely part of why I played golf and now play disc golf.
And I wasn’t the only one. Some say that Tiger Woods caused a “golf bubble” (we will use that term more later) bringing an unprecedented number of new fans and players to the sport. Nike created Nike Golf pretty much just for Tiger Woods. Sales were up, the sport’s popularity was up, and there was no sign of that changing. Tiger was the icon and the soul of the sport as he dominated for the better part of a decade.
And then as Tiger fell, so did golf. In 2009 Tiger was involved in a car crash that started the ball rolling in a very public and humiliating divorce. Around the same time, his body started to show signs of wear and tear resulting in multiple surgeries and very little golf. After knee and back operations, his body was not the same, and in many ways he had to completely relearn how to play. He’d come back for an event or two just to miss the cut or drop out early due to injury, and then announce he’d undergo another procedure.
Pretty much every sports analyst online and on TV predicted his career was over. We would never see Tiger compete at the highest level again. The human body just couldn’t come back after everything he’d been through.
And in the meantime, Tiger wasn’t the only one not playing golf. And we as disc golfers are pretty aware of this. Over the years I have seen many disc golfer Facebook friends share many reports about the decline of golf in America and the world. These articles have been used as an attempt to advocate for disc golf courses being added to golf properties in order to make up for the low numbers of golfers hitting the links.
And in many ways it has worked! We have seen lots of disc golf courses pop up on the same property as ball golf courses. Popular ones include the Emporia Country Club course used during the Glass Blown Open in Emporia, Kansas, Wildhorse Golf Club used for the Las Vegas Challenge, and one of my personal favorite local courses, Mulligan’s Golf Course in Marriott-Slaterville, Utah. The latter is used during the Utah Open and will be featured during the 2020 PDGA World Championships. Mulligan’s was on the brink of shutting down, and disc golf helped resurrect the 9-hole golf course that is adjacent to Toad’s Fun Center.
One of the more popular articles shared in disc golf circles since its publication in 2014 has been 5 Reasons Why Golf Is in a Hole featured by Money Magazine. The first four reasons we talk about all the time as disc golfers–We’re too busy! Golf takes too long. Golf is elitist and expensive. Golf isn’t really that cool. And golf is just too hard! These are all reasons disc golfers will use to try and convince their friends as to why disc golf is better.
And frankly, they are the reasons why I even started playing disc golf. I loved the game of golf. I loved the mental challenge and idea of the sport. But it was hard to find time in my schedule for 18 or even 9 holes at my local course. My clubs were expensive, and green fees were ridiculous. Also, I wasn’t that great of a golfer! I knew I could get better with more practice, but in order to practice I had to take the time and pay the money to go out and play.
And then my friends introduced me to disc golf, and it was so easy for me to get hooked. Our local park didn’t have any fees, plastic discs are way cheaper than golf clubs, and I could finish 9 holes in less than 30 minutes. It was everything I loved about golf minus all the things I didn’t care for in the sport.
But Money’s article has a fifth reason, and it is the reason that we disc golfers have just kind of ignored when discussing the decline in golf. We’d rather focus on the reasons that appeal to our logic and sensibility. But this 5th reason gets at people’s passion and heart. Maybe we haven’t talked about it as much because something in us knew–improbable as it may be–that this reason could change. This problem with golf maybe wasn’t necessarily a permanent one. What was that final reason that golf has been struggling?
Yep. Tiger Woods.
“Skeptics insist that golf isn’t dying. Not by a long shot. The sport’s popularity, they say, is merely taking a natural dip after soaring to unjustified heights during the “golf bubble” brought on by the worldwide phenomenon that was Tiger Woods.”
Wait, golf isn’t dying?! Disc golf isn’t replacing it? Those multi-million dollar purses on the PGA tour aren’t going to shift over to the PDGA in a few years?
But what about all the golf courses closing and needing disc golf to come in and save them?
Again, from the Money article, “So perhaps it’s not so much that golf is losing favor with the masses today as it is that golf’s widespread popularity a decade or so ago was something of a fluke…Golf courses were overbuilt, saturating major cities and secondary markets with ridiculous golf hole per capita ratios.”
So if anything, this is a bit of a reality check for our hopes and dreams for the growth of disc golf. Maybe golf wasn’t ever really going anywhere besides back to normal popularity levels over the last few years. I’m sure I haven’t been the only one who has thought that maybe once golf dies off in the next decade or two, society’s demand for disc golf will grow to such a place where disc golf will just slide in and take it’s place. But if these years have really just been the backside of the Tiger Woods “golf bubble,” it doesn’t bode well for disc golf’s future as a mainstream sport.
That future may have also taken another blow this weekend. Because Tiger’s story didn’t end with the humiliating divorce and what should have been career ending injuries. He fought back over and over again, showing a resilience pretty much nobody knew he had. He finished the 2018 season with a few strong finishes including winning the 2018 Tour Championship.
But he had his eyes set on something even bigger–he wanted another major, specifically The Masters. Another quick note for those unfamiliar to golf–The Masters is arguably the golf equivalent of the PDGA World Championships. It is the most prestigious event in golf.
So as Tiger Woods hung around the top of the leaderboard all weekend, it wasn’t just his old fans who started to cheer for him. It wasn’t just Americans who love a great comeback story who started pulling for him. The entire sport of golf and any individual or company who has a vested interest in golf’s future wanted Tiger to win on Sunday. I guarantee that every golf equipment and apparel company was hoping Tiger would beat out any other pro that they sponsored. Every golf course owner and sports equipment store was cheering for Tiger. Why?
Because if you have watched the Masters every year for the last 5 or so years (like I have), then you know that you have never seen or heard a crowd like the one at Augusta National on April 14, 2019. The “Tiger roars” were back, and some say they were even bigger than they had ever been before. When Tiger tapped in that final putt, the collective golf world erupted. Their champion and hero was back.
Does that mean that they will be back on their local courses as well? Will we see a second Tiger golf bubble form? I know that is the hope and dream of every golf company.
And should it be the nightmare of every disc golfer? Maybe. It is hard to say. As I watched those final holes at Augusta on Sunday, the kid in me was hoping Tiger would pull it off, but the cynical disc golfer in me was hoping to see him choke. Because if Tiger is back, then golf could very well be back as well.
But maybe disc golf doesn’t have to be at odds with Tiger and the golfing world. Maybe we can coexist within each others’ spheres. I could spend a whole different article talking about how disc golfers think that golfers are rude, uppity rich folks who think they are too good for our sport; and how golfers think that disc golfers are a bunch of uncultured pot heads who need to get out of the parks and go find a real job. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.
Because as much as I love golf, I have learned that disc golf is my true “golf” calling in life. So when I saw Tiger’s return and felt that tug on my heart, it didn’t send me looking for my old golf clubs.
With a lot of disc golfers trying out popular discs by different brands, we thought that we would address the questions of disc weight. For some players, the weight of the disc is not particularly important as long as it flies the way that they want it to. But for other players, the disc weight is very important since they prefer the performance of heavier discs, or desire the easier distance that may come with lighter discs, etc.
Here at Infinite Discs, we try to represent each disc as accurately as possible on our website by including a photo and the details for each one. We decided years ago that we would trust the manufacturers when it comes to indicating the weight of their discs. Most major disc manufacturers take the time to weigh the discs as they come out of the mold and painstakingly mark those weights in ink, with stickers, or embossed on the bottom of each disc. We trust that they have a well-established procedure for accurately weighing those discs as part of their manufacturing process.
WHY DON’T WE WEIGH THE DISCS HERE?
Because we’ve chosen to trust the disc manufacturers to represent their products accurately and according to their own standards, we do not take the extra time to weigh each disc as we add them into our online inventory. Here at Infinite Discs, we currently have three different digital scales which we use to weigh packages as we ship them. When used to weigh individual discs, we can lay the same disc on each of those three scales and get results that may differ a gram or two from one scale to the next or from the weight indicated on the disc. So which of those scales is correct?
A Kong marked 173-174 on one of our digital scales.
We have heard the argument that “gravity is the same everywhere,” and that is correct. While gravity may not change, the calibration of different scales might differ. While we do not own the most top-of-the-line digital scales, we have noticed that there can be differences between them, so we don’t feel that we should automatically judge a disc’s factory weight to be wrong if it differs slightly from what one of our scales might say.
The same 173-174 Kong on another one of our digital scales.
Let’s assume for a moment that we receive a disc marked as 175g by the factory, using their procedures. Then we weigh the disc and find that our scale says 174g or maybe 176g. We feel strongly that it is not our place to then scratch out the factory weight and indicate our own results on the disc. We also don’t feel that we should list the disc on our website with a weight that is different than the factory results– the purchaser of the disc would receive it, see that our advertised weight doesn’t match what is marked on the disc and feel deceived. They might weigh the disc themselves and find a result of 173g on their own scale and feel that both we and the factory were wrong. Thus, we stick with what the factory says and don’t alter the disc or the weight information provided. That way, the manufacturer becomes the ultimate authority for the disc that they produced.
DIFFERENT BRANDS AND THEIR WEIGHT DESIGNATIONS
We’ve seen a lot of players move from one brand to another when purchasing discs. We’d like to address another important consideration when it comes to the procedures of those different brands. Innova, for example, typically marks their weights to the precise gram by writing the weight on the bottom of the disc in ink. Players who throw Innova or discs by other brands that use a similar procedure are able to pick the exact weight that they feel is perfect for them.
However, Discraft has not traditionally marked each disc to the gram. They instead choose to put a sticker on their discs that indicates a weight range. For example, they’ll put a sticker on a disc that says 170 – 172. That way, they are acknowledging that there will be some variation in weight for the discs produced in that batch. Other discs may be lighter and marked with weight stickers like 167 – 169, or heavier with 177+ (typical for mid-range discs like the Buzzz). Again, we assume that their range is accurate, but can’t promise that when weighed on somebody’s personal scale that it won’t fall a gram above or below the range that Discraft indicated.
When we list discs by companies that use a weight range on a sticker, we have chosen to be consistent in our data entry practices by simply listing the low number on that sticker. That is because our data entry system does not allow for a range, but wants a single number. Thus, a disc marked as 170 – 172 will be listed as 170. A disc with a sticker saying 173 – 175 will be listed as 173. The “max weight” for a Discraft driver would typically be listed as 173, but could actually weigh on the higher end of that range.
Other brands that use weight ranges include DGA, Viking Discs, Yikun Discs, and the new Active Baseline series of discs from Discmania (not individually weighed, but sold in a weight range).
WHAT IF THE WEIGHT IS JUST PLAIN WRONG?
While we’d like to believe that we live in a world where mistakes don’t happen, that is simply not a reality. While taking photos and adding thousands of discs per week onto our website, it is possible that some busy, tired employee here at Infinite Discs may type a weight in incorrectly. Usually we catch that error before the disc ships and we contact the buyer to make sure that they get a weight that they want. If the disc slips past another employee at the shipping station and the buyer receives a disc that has a factory weight that is different than what we entered, then we take care of the problem.
If we have entered the disc weight according the factory-marked weight, as indicated above, but the buyer believes it is still inaccurate or marked incorrectly, then we’re still happy to help the best we can, knowing that some busy, tired employee at the factory may have made a mistake. After all, nobody is perfect, and mistakes are always possible. We just want to clarify that we are doing the best we can to represent discs on our website exactly as the factory specified.
In the end, when disc weight becomes a hot topic of discussion or a complaint, we often find ourselves wondering if that gram or two was really going to make a difference in the player’s game. Would a 174g disc perform that much worse for an average player who claims that they absolutely must have a 175g disc? That’s an argument to be settled elsewhere. As disc connoisseurs, we can attest that here at Infinite Discs we have discs in our bags that straddle a lot of weight ranges, and they fly as well as we can throw them.
We hope that this information has been helpful in understanding a little bit more about how brands mark the weight of their discs, and how we at Infinite Discs work with those brands and trust in those manufacturers to indicate the weight of their discs so that our buyers can make an informed purchasing decision.
The time has come for us to announce the winner for the Infinite Discs Best Disc Golf Disc: Utility Disc! This is a category that had several nominees that are great discs for all kinds of situations. Again, we know that these posts aren’t completely objective and free of bias, but we do try our best to be as objective as possible. All that being said, we feel good about our choice for this category. Before we reveal the winner, let’s first review the nominees:
And here is our selection for the winner:
THE INFINITE DISCS BEST DISC GOLF DISC: Overhand DiscsINNOVA FIREBIRD
The Innova Firebird has been featured in a few of these posts, and it seems like the clear winner for this category. The other nominees are great options as well, but what was the tipping point in favor of the Firebird is that it is a driver. This gives it a bit more versatility as a utility disc. It is great forehand and backhand, and if you need to navigate a straight shot you can put it on an anhyzer release and flex the flight. So whether it is an Innova Firebird or a similar disc, a dependable utility disc is an essential part of an experienced disc golfers bag.
This award’s category is a bit different than our other ones we have done so far. Today we are looking at unique discs. These are discs that you notice are different from the first time you see them or throw them. They could be drivers, putters, or some kind of hybrid. We are looking for the weird and unusual, but also don’t forget the first word of the title of this post: Best. Is this weird disc actually useful out on the course? And don’t forget our two keywords which are popularity and utility.
The popularity may not play as big of a role in today’s article, but we are still looking closely at utility. We are looking for the discs that are getting use out on the course still. We want uniqueness that provides something useful for the disc. So all that being said, let’s get to our nominees for The Infinite Discs Best Disc Golf Disc: Unique Disc.
The GT stands for “Groove Top,” which is pretty self explanatory. The Discraft Banger GT features a groove along the top of the disc that is designed for placing your thumb in the groove when you grip the disc. This disc is used as a putting putter, but is also a popular approach disc.
The Innova Condor is our nomination from the disc golf “super-class” category of discs. These are large diameter discs that are PDGA approved. Most of these discs are pretty much irrelevant in modern competitive disc golf, but the Condor is still popular in some communities as an approach disc or even a roller disc with it’s large blunt rim. The Condor is also a popular disc for playing catch to warm up before competitive rounds.
I often call the Innova Groove the punchline disc of disc golf. I give it this name because it is often joked about as being one of the worst discs. However, for those who have actually used this distance driver, it isn’t a bad disc at all and could even be described as underrated. It gets the jokes because of why it is named the Groove. There is a dip/groove in the rim of the disc that is kind of weird looking. However, when throwing the disc backhand, you can’t feel the groove at all. It may influence forehand shots, but for stable distance backhand shots, the Groove is a great disc.
The Dynamic Discs Justice is unique not because of how it looks but how it flies. The Justice is a ridiculously overstable midrange disc that has pretty much no glide at all. The insane overstability makes this disc is a popular choice in windy conditions. But this unique disc is not only used in those conditions. It is a popular choice for approach shots and trying to get around a tight bend.
The Prodigy M5 might be the worst selling disc among our nominees today, but it has something so unique that it is worth adding to our list. It is the most understable midrange in the Prodigy lineup, and it features a really funky rim. When you look at the bottom of the disc, it almost looks like there is a smaller disc stuck inside of a larger disc. The M5 looks like it has two rims. It isn’t a bead, but it is just two bumps that look like the bottom of two different beadless midranges. It is kind of weird and very unique.
The Latitude 64 Missilen was the first ever disc released with a speed rating of 15. And to my knowledge, it is still the only disc with a speed rating this high. To achieve this rating, the Missilen features one of the larges rims in disc golf, but that isn’t even the most unique thing about this disc. Across the top of the flight plate there are little hexagonal pock marks in the plastic which is designed to influence the flight of the disc. It does influence the flight offering a unique flight that is a little tricky to get the hang of at first, but those who have learned how to use the Missilen are able to throw the disc very far.
The HyzerBomb Moab is a super overstable disc that flirts with the line between midrange and fairway driver. It is one of the only discs that is comparable with the Dynamic Discs Justice as far as how overstable it is. This disc is a meethook that will fight any wind. It also has a unique rim that is more aerodynamic on the edge like a driver, but it has a divot in it that kind of functions as a really large bead. The Moab is a different kind of disc to say the least.
The Innova Nova wasn’t the first disc to be made with an overmold, but it features one of the most unique overmolds in disc golf. MVP/Axiom features only discs with an overmold, but when you look at their shape, they look similar to other discs that don’t have an overmold. But The Nova has a totally different shape, featuring a very tall rim. Also this disc flies like no other with hardly any fade at all due to this unique overmold.
The Latitude 64 Sinus is a pretty popular approach putter. It features three textured “patches” along the top of the disc designed to offer extra grip for your thumb placement when gripping the disc. Each patch has different textures so you can choose the one that is most comfortable for your grip. In flight, the Sinus is pretty overstable and is a good choice for battling the wind.
There are several older Innova putters that are pretty unique now, but most of them are basically obsolete. But the Innova Sonic has seen a resurgence in recent years. Garrett Gurthie has even made it one of his signature tour series discs. It is a straight flyer that is similar to the Nova in that it is very fade resistant. It has a rim that is similar to an ultimate disc and features grooves on the top for thumb grip. and it has a unique flight plate that is reminiscent of cheap promo discs you will get for free at a parade or from a dentists office. But don’t let that fool you. The Sonic is a great straight flying disc for approach and even putting.
The Reptilian Stego is an often forgotten disc coming from a smaller name brand. The manufacturer’s turn rating for this disc is a +1. For those of you unfamiliar with turn ratings, this means that the disc does not turn, which means the Stego is a massively overstable midrange disc. It also features a little lip on the top near the rim called a thumb track.
Your Opinion: Win a disc of your choice!
What is your favorite unique or quirky disc? Is there a special disc that we are totally forgetting about? Let us know in the comments! Comment with your favorite unique disc golf disc (nominated or not nominated) and we will select 3 people from the comments to receive their favorite utility disc for free from Infinite Discs!
It’s Valentine’s Day, not April Fools Day, and according to this latest announcement you’ll now be able to throw a “mixed-bag” all under the same Discmania name.
Discmania CEO Jussi Meresmaa has announced that they will offer “more choices to reinvent your game” by partnering with Latitude 64 in Sweden and Yikun Disc Sports in China to create two new sub-brand discs.
Over the past twelve years, Discmania brand discs were manufactured exclusively by Innova Champion Discs. These discs will continue being sold and produced under the name Discmania Originals.
The disc line produced by Yikun will be using the sub brand Discmania Active. It appears that the partnership with Yikun is primarily to get very low-cost plastic, as the Active line discs are only scheduled to be released in a base plastic called, Base Level Plastic. Five discs have been announced for release in the Active Line: Guardian Lion, Spring Ox, Fox Spirit, Sea Serpent, and Sun Crow. All five of these discs are scheduled for release in March. It appears that the Active line is going to keep it really simple with these discs being available in just three colors: pink, white, and blue.
How will this change effect the disc golf industry?
It’s hard to say for sure. What we do know at Infinite Discs is that in terms of sales, the Discmania brand has been our fastest growing brand over the past three years.
The Latitude 64 brand has been struggling in terms of growth/market share, and Yikun sales represent less than 1% of our total sales and are not included on this chart. This partnership will definitely help Yikun discs find a way in more disc golfers hands, and will likely increase the distribution of plastic manufactured by Lat 64.
This partnership also leads to a lot of speculation and questions. How much will this impact Discmania’s already rapidly growing brand? Discmania can now offer versions of the best molds in the best plastics from the two top manufactures in disc golf. They will also be able to offer very inexpensive discs that will likely help them increase their distribution in sporting goods and big box stores that focus primarily on price.
Will the fact that Latitude 64 manufactured discs will no longer be distributed exclusively by Dynamic Discs hurt the Trilogy brands growth? How will this separation impact Innova? We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so please comment below!
This seems like a silly question doesn’t it? Disc golf, like traditional ball golf is generally a one man or one woman show. It’s you against the course. It is an intimate mental battle. You aren’t relying on others to play their part to bring home a team win. Unless we are talking about a unique format like doubles or team match play, disc golf is a competition between individuals. And unlike other singles sports like tennis, the performance of each competitor does not directly influence anyone else’s performance. The golfer before you on your card could throw out of bounds or a hole in one. Either way, you have the exact same shot to throw. The course and elements are not changed. Golf in all forms—disc, ball, foot—is a lonely mental battle.
So why is it that this time of year our social media feeds are filled with news about disc golf “teams” and disc golfers of all skill levels announcing their allegiance to these teams?
This off-season has been especially exciting with big names like Paul McBeth and Ricky Wysocki announcing that they are switching teams. Paul McBeth signed a contract worth a cool $1 mil. to join Team Discraft while Raptor Legs Ricky jumped over to Team Innova and took Paul’s old spot on the stock stamp of the top selling Star Destroyer.
Now the mass response to these moves has been…interesting to say the least. There have even been folks selling their entire Innova stock of discs and searching for “the Discraft equivalent” discs to change their entire bag. While extreme responses like this may not be the majority, we at Infinite Discs have already seen an uptick in Discraft sales as can be seen in our recent top selling Tuesday posts as well as our report on the best selling discs of the fourth quarter of 2018.
So why do we respond this way? And where do our true loyalties lie as fans and players of the sport—with the pros or their disc manufacturers aka “teams?”
Over the last 5 years of working at Infinite Discs, I have spent a lot of time manning our storefront. That has given me the opportunity to watch the spark of joy in new players who first come in buying cheap misprint beginner discs, and then come back again and again over the next few weeks asking me what discs they need to continue to improve. I love being a part of these new players’ start on their disc golf journey. Before long, they build up the courage to come out to the local weekly leagues and make new friends.
And then, there is a common trip to the shop that usually happens a few months after the first visit. These new players walk in with their first putters and favorite drivers and ask me, “Okay, what is the (Insert disc manufacturer here) version of this disc?”
I usually respond with a few similar discs, but I try to explain to them that if they like the disc they are throwing, the disc that is going to be most like it is that exact disc. But usually this is fruitless. They buy the similar disc.
Then on the next visit, they have a list of discs all from that same manufacturer that they got from an “In the Bag” video from their new favorite disc golf pro. And I think you can figure it out from there.
Jokingly, I call this the “Indoctrination Process,” and disc golf companies are getting pretty good at it. I think my journey into the disc golf world was just before the indoctrination and team disc golf culture hit disc golf hard. But how did it become that way?
I’m no expert, but I can share my story. I began playing disc golf in the Spring of 2010 and I was hooked. I bought my first disc—an overpriced DX Innova Aviar from my local Sports Authority. After that I became a frequent shopper at a small shop called Soccer Rockers. Soccer Rockers was a soccer shop that slowly saw disc golf expand from a small wall display to an entire room dedicated to the sport. With the help of my friends and the shop owner, I developed my 4 disc repertoire that I thought I’d never need to change. They were all Innova discs because I found their flight ratings system easier to understand and navigate than the former Discraft one. I also did some research online and discovered a some YouTube tutorials and learned about a few disc golf pros like Ken Climo and Nate Doss. At that time, I thought there were only two disc golf manufacturers in the world—Innova and Discraft.
Then I took off for two years to serve as a missionary for my church. I got the chance to play a round here or there, but for the most part I was disconnected until the start of 2013. I returned to my hometown and returned to Soccer Rockers and began expanding my disc choices. I also began attending local leagues and getting more involved in the community. At Soccer Rockers I learned about new brand names like Latitude 64. There was also this new funky putter and midrange company that made discs with a different outer rim called MVP Discs. And then there was a company that was taking the disc golf world by storm—Prodigy. I stuck with Innova discs until it was time for me to pick a new putter. I remember spending nearly an hour at the shop agonizing over the decision, but the owner helped me decide to give a Gateway Wizard a try. I consider this one of the best and most influential decisions of my young disc golf life. I fell in love with the disc.
That fall I moved to Logan, Utah where I began attending the local league and met the owners of this new online shop called Infinite Discs. I decided to check out their warehouse one day, and I thought I’d walked into heaven. Discs…everywhere. I didn’t start working there for another few months, but I became very close to the operation and learned a ton about discs and decided to try out all sorts of discs, and the rest is history. I have been a mixed bag player ever since. I have my favorite molds and plastic blends, but any sense of loyalty to a specific manufacturer has felt pointless. If I find a disc I love, why should I care who makes it?
Oh, and this is when I really learned about the pro game. After my mission was when Paul McBeth mania was just getting started, and it was hard to not be a fan. I have since made friends with several professional disc golfers, so choosing a favorite is a little more difficult, but just as a pure fan of the sport, there was nothing like watching Paul McBeth do work at that time. However, I think I was in the game enough before watching McBeth that it didn’t really change what I was throwing. But I could tell that the culture of disc golf and the relationship with disc manufacturers had changed since before my mission.
How Did We Get Here?
I think that the extreme brand loyalty that we see in today’s disc golf culture can be traced back to three main events in disc golf history.
First, the launch of Prodigy Disc was huge. Prodigy hit the shelves in 2012, and at that time there still were really only 2 big names in the game, especially in sponsoring professional disc golfers. But what Prodigy Disc did was a game changer. They didn’t just offer cash sponsorships for their players, but they offered them stock in the company. So the players who joined the new Team Prodigy weren’t just getting support on tour, but they were personally invested in the company. Naturally, these players were pushing their brand with more motivation than ever before because their own money was at stake.
And these weren’t just small name regional pros. Some of the biggest names in the sport at the time jumped on board. The original Team Prodigy featured touring pros like Will Schusterick, Paul Ulibarri, Catrina Allen, Paige Pierce, Nikko Locastro, Jeremy Koling, Garrett Gurthie, and a little known up and comer named Ricky Wysocki.
Another event that happened around the same time (we can call this event one and a half) was former World Champion and long time Innova team member Dave Feldberg joined team Latitude 64 to help promote the growing Swedish company. Also in 2012, Jeremy Rusco and the Dynamic Discs team joined forces with Latitude 64 to begin manufacturing discs under the popular Dynamic Discs name. So around this time we have all these moving parts helping to dismantle the two horse race between Innova and Discraft that had dominated disc golf sales for years. And most noteworthy for our purposes was Prodigy Disc getting professional disc golfers literally invested in disc sales as well as their own performance on tour which they were already invested in.
Our second event that has led us to our brand loyalty and team culture is Paul McBeth’s extremely dominant 2015 season. This was the Grand Slam year, meaning McBeth won all five of the PDGA Majors held in 2015 including the one that had gotten away from him every previous year—the United States Disc Golf Championship. Before this season, we all knew Paul McBeth was a special talent winning two straight World Championships and recording the highest PDGA rated round ever, but 2015 propelled him into a class of his own. As a fan and spectator of the sport, it was truly amazing to witness.
So how did such a dominant season contribute to brand loyalty? Well you have to look at the framework of what happened leading up to this season. Paul McBeth won the 2014 PDGA World Championships in a playoff against Ricky Wysocki, who was having a breakout year for himself.
This leads us to our third event—Ricky Wysocki left Prodigy Disc to join team Latitude 64. This was one of many moves in the world of professional disc golf endorsements that Latitude 64 made during this time including adding several former Prodigy Disc players, but Ricky Wysocki was the most influential. Almost instantly Wysocki became the darling of the Trilogy family (Latitude 64, Westside Discs, and Dynamic Discs for those unfamiliar with that term).
So a rivalry that was developing on the course between two competitors on the disc golf turned into a rivalry between brands. I believe 2015 was the season that we started to look at wins for individuals as also wins for their sponsors. When Paul McBeth and Ricky Wysocki faced off, for some fans it was the same as Innova facing off against Trilogy. And in a lot of ways the narrative fit. McBeth was the established champion and Wysocki was the newcomer trying to prove that he could compete on the same level as the reigning champion. Innova was the established disc golf powerhouse, and the Trilogy brands were trying to challenge the establishment. But as McBeth dominated on the course showing Wysocki and the world that he wasn’t backing down, so did Innova send such a message to the smaller brands that were growing over the previous few years.
And then, of course, if 2015 was the year of McBeth, 2016 was the year of Wysocki with Ricky winning his first ever PDGA World Championship putting a stop to McBeth’s 4 year reign as the world champ. If we want to stick with this brand vs. brand narrative, this was also a win for Latitude 64 and the collective rest of the disc golf world.
All of this was setting the stage for years dominated by products featuring signatures and tour series fundraiser discs. These were especially popular from Innova and their Factory Store including discs made with “McPro” plastic—a plastic blend literally named after a sponsored player. This wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking for Innova (see the KC, JK, and Yeti Aviar), but it again shows the efforts being made by the disc manufacturers to assimilate the identities of their pros with their brand identity.
A Look Outward
For those of us who work in the industry and those who eat sleep and breathe disc golf, it’s easy to just kind of go with it. The comparisons aren’t perfect, but still if we take a look outward, the disc golf community’s relationship between disc manufacturers, professional players, and consumers is a bit of an enigma.
First let’s look at one of the oldest industries in American sports to navigate the professional endorsement game—basketball sneakers. It is a dream for many young ballers to one day have a shoe made with their name on it, but the bigger dream is sustained success at the professional level and taking home championships. On this level, the disc golf world is similar. Signature discs are great, but success on the course comes first.
Now when we add the third element of the consumer is where things get interesting. For our purposes, we will look at two loyalties of the consumer. There is the consumer loyalty which is the side that purchases sneakers and other products, and there is the fan loyalty which is the side that cheers for the athletes and teams.
The easiest way to analyze this for me is to look in the mirror a bit. I am a huge fan of LeBron James. I am also a huge fan of the Utah Jazz. Whenever LeBron is playing, I cheer for him and the team he is playing for unless he is playing against the Utah Jazz. My loyalty to my favorite team is stronger than my loyalty to my favorite player which I’d imagine is common in the basketball world as well as in other team sports.
On the consumer side, LeBron is sponsored by Nike. I’m no sneakerhead, but overall I have had good experiences with Nike and would consider them a favorite brand. However, I am not one to purchase a product just because of a professional endorsement. That doesn’t mean those endorsements don’t work—in fact they do work. Nike just signed LeBron James to a lifetime contract, and Under Armour has had a lot of success breaking into the market since partnering up a few years ago with an undersized up and coming guard in the league you may have heard of, Steph Curry.
But this is where disc golf steps it up a notch. Do fans of basketball watch in hopes that the Nike sponsored athletes will outperform the Adidas athletes? Are Steph Curry fans happy when Joel Embiid has a good game because he is also sponsored by Under Armour?
Now a common explanation I have been given when bringing this up to other disc golfers is simply, basketball is a team sport, so of course we will cheer for the teams. I have also been told that the disc golf manufacturing team support is often fueled by sports fans’ desire to bring that team element that they like in other sports to a singles sport. I think these explanations are fair, but it doesn’t check out when we look at other singles sports like tennis or our closest relative, golf.
I grew up during the heart of Tiger-mania. I have lots of memories of watching Tiger Woods on Sunday afternoons with my family. The world of professional golf has evolved over the last few years without Tiger, but with Tiger winning the tour championship in 2018, we are already seeing that he may still have a few more years left.
For our purposes, Tiger Woods is a perfect case study because Nike Golf was a brand built entirely around Nike’s relationship with Woods. Nike began manufacturing clubs after they signed on Tiger when he first turned pro in 1996. But as Tiger fell, so did Nike Golf who discontinued their club and ball manufacturing in 2016. Nike still sponsors Tiger as an apparel sponsor, but he now is endorsed by Taylor Made for clubs and Bridgestone for golf balls. Obviously the story of the success and failures of Nike’s endeavors in the golf industry is more complex than just Tiger Woods, but it does illustrate the influence these endorsements can have for companies.
And we see a lot of the same elements in the golf endorsement game as we do in basketball and disc golf. Consumers will buy products with signatures, custom logos, and names that feature their favorite athletes. Some may even develop an allegiance to the brands that sponsor their favorite athletes. But how far do they take that brand loyalty with them when they are watching the pros compete? When watching the Master’s this year, will the hardcore Tiger Woods fans who have developed a brand loyalty to Nike also cheer for Rory McIlroy or Jason Day just because they also wear Nike Golf apparel? You really don’t see that very much in golf.
To be fair, another element that does bring in a team aspect to golf is country. I remember as a kid my dad who was a casual fan of the sport would often cheer for the American and Spanish golfers over all the others. He was an American obviously, and he lived in Spain for two years as a missionary. It is common in golf media coverage to see the flag of a golfers home country next to his or her name on a scoreboard.
But here is where it comes full circle again. Where that home country’s flag is in golf coverage, the disc golf manufacturing sponsor’s logo has been showing up in recent disc golf coverage.
A Personal Experience
I am going to keep this pretty general to protect the identities of everyone involved, but I was watching the final round of a bigger disc golf tournament a few years ago. I was following along in the gallery with a few people including a friend of mine who was a newer fan of the sport. This young fan fit the mold I described earlier about newer disc golfers who would jump all in on a disc golf brand of their choice. Also in our group of people watching the end of the tournament happened to be a touring pro who was sponsored by the same brand my friend had allegiances to.
This final round we were watching ended in a tie between two competitors and went to a playoff. The first competitor was sponsored by the same brand while the second was sponsored by a different company. In the end, the first of these two won the tournament.
As we were walking back to tournament central, the sponsored pro who was in our group made a comment that they were happy that the first competitor won.
My friend responded, “Yeah, go team (blank)!”
The sponsored pro immediately said, “Oh, no! I don’t care about that at all,” and explained how the first pro was just a friend, and it had nothing to do with their common endorsement.
I have always found this experience interesting because it shows that the team sport culture and mentality that we see and develop as fans doesn’t necessarily carry over to those who compete in the sport at the highest level. Friendships and support for one another are not formed just because you throw the same brand of discs. And this should be obvious right? Even in team sports, just because you are on the same team doesn’t mean you automatically get along and are best buds. I think the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL is enough to prove that point.
In simple enough terms, we have created a team sport culture in a sport that has no teams. Is there anything wrong with that? What’s the big deal?
Well, I think that depends on who you ask and in what context we are talking about. Obviously for the disc golf manufacturers, they are never going to complain about brand loyalty, and if the team loyalty that fans experience in other sports are being assigned to their brands, that has to be a dream come true.
Think about that one for a second. I think team loyalty is one of the strongest bonds in sports. You may love an athlete, but if they do something controversial or under-perform, as a fan you can just cut ties, and we do cut ties to athletes who break the law or cheat like Tom Brady…well, I guess not all of us, but you get my drift.
But if your favorite team hires a terrible head coach and makes a foolish trade and finishes the season worst in the league, are they still your team? In Cleveland, team loyalty had them burning LeBron’s jersey after “the decision,” and some of us in Utah are still pretty hurt after Gordon Hayward left because we are loyal to our team. Like I mentioned earlier, I love LeBron, but I always cheer for my team when they play, and that can be said for any of my favorite players and teams in any sport. The team comes first.
So if disc golf brands can get fans of the sport to develop that team mentality and loyalty to their “teams,” then that’s a huge win for them.
Ironically enough though, the team culture may not be so positive for the professional disc golfers. They are the ones who are doing the work that the disc manufacturers try to reap the benefits from. Don’t misunderstand, professional disc golfers benefit financially from endorsements as well, but money from disc sales go first to the disc manufacturers, and how much of that gets kicked back to the pro depends on the exact terms of their contract. There have been some rocky relationships between companies and disc golfers in recent years resulting in endorsement changes. Paul McBeth has made it clear that his main reason for leaving Innova was money.
During free agency periods in team sports, we often see players make moves from one team to another because of money, but I think this is especially pertinent in disc golf because it is still a small sport with less money. Also, in singles sports, your success is not predicated by which team you are on, so equipment endorsements–which is really all these “teams” are for the players–come down to the financial benefit and viability for the players.
And if you think that it has anything to do with the actual products available from each manufacturer, you are wrong…mostly. If they feel like they have a full repertoire of discs available to them, disc golfers will follow the money. Again, there still isn’t a lot of money in disc golf, and that includes tournament payouts.
So for these professionals who are trying to make disc golf their full time job and pursuit, they have to jump at the opportunities to make more money. Those who hope or expect these professionals to make their decisions based on “team” loyalties are going to be disappointed as the sport grows.
Which brings us to my personal number one concern for the sport. How does a team sport culture in disc golf influence the growth of the sport? Let me grab my soapbox really quick…
In my opinion, disc golf needs to and will outgrow this “team” phase that it has been in for nearly ten years. Does that mean I want to be rid of manufacturing sponsors? No, of course not. I believe that disc manufacturers will always have their personal “team” of players. But as we grow we will also see apparel and other equipment endorsements make their mark on the sport. We have already seen this sporadically with companies like Adidas, Keen, and Oakley. So in the next few years we could see professional disc golfers become members of a variety of big name “teams.” These additional endorsements will help make the current team structure irrelevant to the fans of the sport.
Personally, when the news broke that Ricky Wysocki would no longer be sponsored by Latitude 64, I was so hopeful that he would be joining Paul McBeth at Discraft. How would the fans have responded to the two biggest rivals in our sport now competing for the same “team?” Well, the ironic thing is that they wouldn’t be competing for the same team. Disc golf is not a team sport. They would be competing for the same team, themselves. They would just be using discs manufactured by the same company.
But that didn’t happen. Ricky Wysocki will be throwing Innova and Paul McBeth will be throwing Discraft this season. I think one of the most interesting demographics in the sport to take a look at are Paul McBeth fans who chose to throw only Innova discs when they play disc golf because of that fandom. What do they do now? Do they stick with Innova because they truly believe they are the superior manufacturer? Or do they jump ship and change their entire collection of discs because their favorite pro is now using different discs?
Again, a quick jump to golf—do you think fans of Tiger Woods who bought Nike Golf golf clubs a few years ago would get rid of their perfectly functional clubs just so they could get Taylor Made golf clubs to match what Tiger is now using on tour?
The Ricky Wysocki fans are also facing an interesting predicament because Ricky has joined the “team” his rival was on. So do they stick with their trusted Trilogy plastic, or start throwing discs from a company they had viewed as being “the dark side?”
To those who may be struggling with these or similar dilemmas, here is my advice—just do you. Throw the discs that you have the most confidence in, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. I’d also recommend deciding who you cheer for on the tour based on something more than what discs they are throwing. There are a lot of great guys and gals out on the tour right now who deserve support regardless of who they are sponsored by.
The Times They Are a Changing
Some of the sentiment expressed in that last paragraph was also expressed by Dave Feldberg in the video we just released announcing him as a member of Team Infinite this year. Part of the agreement with Dave joining Infinite Discs is that he can throw any disc he wants regardless of manufacturer. This is a crucial part of the agreement with the direction he is taking the Next Generation Tour, and it works well with us and our standing policy for members of Team Infinite.
I also think in some ways Paul McBeth joining Discraft helps in moving disc golf away from team allegiances. I mentioned that the two big names for a long time were Innova and Discraft, but in recent years Discraft sales took a hit as Trilogy, Prodigy, and other manufacturers got into the market. They also had a relatively quiet team presence in the disc golf world, but as they make waves again with new stamps and of course new endorsements, their sales numbers have already seen an increase.
In a lot of ways, I think all of the moves this off-season gives us a chance to reevaluate our disc golf culture. As we collectively think about our identity as disc golfers, are we divided into many tribes within the culture, or are we one big family focused on growing the sport as a whole? There has been a lot of talk about the perils of tribalism in our society today, and I hope that we can choose to come together as a disc golf family. Of course, we will always be individuals with our personal preferences, and I think rivalries and competition are great for the sport. But that shouldn’t change our common goal to grow the sport together.
So, is disc golf a team sport? No, of course not. A few years down the road we may look back and remember how much we used to care about the “teams” we were a part of or that we supported. But I believe disc golf as a whole will be on to bigger and better things.
It is time to announce our winner of the Infinite Discs Best Disc Golf Disc: Roller Discs! We recognize that all of these posts are subjective, and this category is especially subjective as there are lots of popular discs used for rollers. But in choosing our nominees and the eventual winner, we tried to pick discs that are popular and offer great performance for all skill levels. Here are the nominees once again:
This is the Innova Sidewinder‘s second nomination and first win. Like was mentioned above, this category is especially subjective, but for disc golfers of any skill level who want to learn how to throw a roller, the Sidewinder is a great choice. The Sidewinder is an understable driver that offers a nice smooth turning flight pattern that can easily be manipulated for rollers. So whether you are new to the roller or a roller veteran, the Innova Sidewinder is a fantastic disc to throw. Our next category and nominees will be announced soon!