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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.