The Coexistence of Disc Golf and Traditional “Ball” Golf

This weekend Northern Utah will host the Pureline Championships disc golf tournament on the Sherwood Hills “ball golf” course. The TD, Steve Suhaka, has spent countless hours meeting and negotiating with the course owners and groundskeepers to allow us to have this tournament there. The price agreed on to reserve the course for the day is not cheap, but the course is amazing, and we’re hoping that this tournament will open doors for potential of a future permanent disc golf solution on this underutilized land.

I don’t have financial numbers, but know from general observation that this golf course is rarely (if ever), at full capacity. The course, including 200 acres of land and a nice club house is currently listed for sale for just $2,000,000, which leads me believe that the golf course itself is not very profitable. When I called to make a “tee time” to play a round this afternoon and the course pro admitted that it’s never busy so reserving tee times isn’t necessary.

Why are the course owners opposed to having disc golf on golf courses if it has potential to bring extra revenue for almost no additional cost?

I went with Steve to one of the negotiating meetings with the owner (an elderly lady in her seventies) and it seemed that her two big concerns were:

  1. It would interfere with the “ball” golfers experience.
  2. The discs would cause damage to the greens, and nice greens are where the money is made.

I saw this video on my Facebook feed this morning posted by Dude Apparel that illustrates the cultural judgements of Skiiers attitudes towards Snowboarders in the 1980’s.

When this news report was filmed, ski resort operators simply refused to allow snowboarders to ride their lifts. A similar attitude likely exists between many “golfers” and disc golfers. The reason they are likely opposed for now is because they don’t fully understand.

Is this a real issue? Is it simply judgments and stereotyping that make it difficult to get disc golf on ball golf courses, or are there negative consequences that make having  the disc golf option a bad idea?

After having the temp course in for two days the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The course manager has even requested that we leave the baskets up for a few more days. Now that it appears we have overcome the stereotyping and potential conflicts, it looks like having a coinciding permanent disc golf course might indeed be a real option.

If we look at golfing trends, a disc golf option really is something many golf courses should consider.

Graphs Comparing the Growth of Disc Golf and the Decline in Ball Golf

Here are trends showing the number of golfers in the United States according to the National Golf Foundation. As you can see, the trend over the past five years has been declining for both “total golfers” and “committed golfers”.

Decline in Ball Golf GraphIn disc golf there isn’t a survey that accurately reflects the total number of people that play disc golf in a way similar to the NGF data. However, the trend in active PDGA member clearly shows a rapid increase in the amount of tournament participating disc golfers.

numberofpdgamembersgraph

Number of Traditional Golf vs Disc Golf Courses

While the number of open ball golf courses has declined for the last decade, the number of disc golf courses have dramatically risen in most areas.

This Graph is not an apples to apples comparison, but the trends are clear. For statistics used in the graph, ball golf only counts 9 hole courses as a “half” course, and the number of disc golf courses displayed is any sized course including the little 6 holer. In addition, I was unable to dig up US only courses, so the disc golf course statistics displays course throughout the world and not just in the US.

In Utah unprofitable golf courses, many of which are publicly owned, are a big problem for local governments and economies. Many cities have had to spend public taxpayer funds to pay the bills because the golf course revenue alone is not self sustaining. In recent years, several courses throughout the state have been shut down because they simply lost too much money. The question of what to do with the current public golf courses has been a political hot topic. One of these courses, the Jordan River Par three course, was completely shut down as an operating golf course and has now been transformed into a permanent disc golf course that requires very little public maintenance. With disc golf, they don’t have to maintain expensive greens and fairways or mow as often. At the Jordan River course, it doesn’t even look like they water a good portion of the disc golf course.

What Disc Golfers are Willing to Pay for a Round of Gold

The reality is that most disc golf courses are in public areas that are free to play. In general, disc golfers are used to playing a round without financial constraint. However, if the course is excellent and well maintained, almost all disc golfers are willing to pay for a round of golf.

From the 2016 State of Disc Golf Survey we see that 95.6% of disc golfers are willing to pay up to $3 for a round and almost 90% are willing to pay up to $5. There starts to be a significant decline when the rounds get more costly, but more than half–53.6% of respondents said that they are willing to play up to $10 per round.

While the average disc golfer isn’t willing to pay as much per round as the average ball golfer, they are willing to pay to play. Perhaps many financially strained and closing golf courses could remain open by creating additional revenue streams through disc golf, even if disc golf is only available during non peak hours.

The 9 hole Mulligans golf course in Ogden, Utah is now also a championship level disc golf course used for the Utah Open, a premier tournament that will be on the 2017 Disc Golf Pro Tour. With the way things seem to be going with our trial experience, perhaps we will also see the Sherwood Hills golf course on this exclusive tour.

Have you played disc golf on a ball golf course? If so where is the course at, and what was your experience?

 

9 comments

  • It is not whether disc and ball golf can coexist. Can ball golfer and disc golfer coexist? Two different demographics.

  • I play both ball and disc golf pretty regularly ( 50+ rounds of disc golf and 20+ rounds of ball golf a year). I love both for different/similar reasons and I think they should coexist.

    I love disc golf because my friends and I can get out and play anytime and I was able to teach my lady to play disc golf pretty easily. I really enjoy disc golf because it offers a fantastic challenge and is cost effective. Nothing is better than throwing that perfect drive, hyzer flipping a disc and watching it gracefully fly through the air, sinking that 40ft putt that I never thought I would make. Same goes for ball golf, spanking that drive 300 yards or sinking that 15 foot putt.

    I guess both are equally difficult and both are equally rewarding. The allure of ball golf is the challenge of making a club do what my arm already does in disc golf. I have played many ball golf courses thinking to myself “if i just had my Evidence i could have parked this shot” and similarity I have thought “Man my 9 iron could have put the ball into the chains (understanding a ball could never rest in the basket).

    I play both games with class and such. I suppose most ball only golfers still think of disc golf as a stoner sport and that is such a misconception. It is to bad that we do not have a chance to show that disc golfers are classy and are just chasing those low scores as well.

    We all want that same thing, the personal best. We all crave the same thing, the shot that brings us back in the round. Whether it is watching a ball or disc fly, that perfect flight makes us want to throw or swing again. It brings us back to our first great shot over and over again. It keeps us hooked.

    I hope we can find middle ground to be equal patrons of any course, especially struggling county courses, and breath life into the places we love and continue to chase those low scores, whether you are swinging a fairway wood or hucking a fairway driver.

    There is room for all. We just have to be a good neighbor.

    Sincerely,

    A dude who likes low scores

  • I played at the Ledgestone this year and my first round was on a ball golf course and I enjoyed it. The changes in elevation as well as the various hazards such as water and sand traps made the round very interesting. I would gladly play on a ball golf course again.

  • The one course I have played was awesome……except for the ranger. He came out and was blaming my brother and I for holding people up. In reality, it was a group of 8 ball golfers in front of us. We were waiting for them to play through since they were on our fairway. We were just following common courtesy rules, but he didn’t see it that way. I think it is a great idea, but the people involved need to have their entire staff on board.

  • This golf course has a great landscape for a disc golf course. The elevation changes, beautiful green grass, and plentiful trees are begging for a disc golf course! I have played it a few times now and I love the manicured atmosphere of a golf course. This disc golf course has the potential to be better than the Mulligan’s course in Harrisville. If Sherwood takes it seriously and does it right, this could be the premier course in the state. There are a few great holes, but with some simple changes, the majority of the holes could be amazing. I think they should offer season passes and a $5 cart rate per round. I would be up there all the time!

  • If you are in the area, and want to compete in a tournament on a ball golf course, check out the tournament on the PDGA site. Union – Presented by Sun Life Financial this December 3-4, in Union, Ontario, Canada, being held at the prestigious St. Thomas Golf & Country Club (as a ball golf course, it’s ranked 30th in Canada)

  • I just got done playing a weekly leauge round at Emerald Hills golf course. They put in a permanent 18 hole disc golf course on this 9 hole course. The experience has been amazing! It’s $10 a round during leauge play, and because the local golfing pro is so excited about disc on his course they have reduced prices for regular rounds. There hasn’t been any negative exchanges between the”ball” golfers and disc golfers that I know of most let us play through because they realize we play faster. It’s been an all around great time and I rarely miss the weekly leauges. I’m also on my way to a tournament near Ukiah CA this weekend where the final round is being held on another 9 hole ball golf course. They also coexist well and it’s a great experience in the redwoods! I really enjoy playing on ball golf courses. Having events on them are a great way to get the sport out there. My experience at the Masters Cup was great the 3rd round was a real treat! Hope to see the trend and I might just have to schedule the tournament in Utah next season

  • In an interview on smasbox with Katrina Allen it was mentioned that nearly 100 players paid $50 for a chance at the Winthrop gold course for qualifying purposes, and a small number of those paid just for the chance to play where the top pros are playing this weekend knowing they didn’t have a chance of qualifying. When a course is excellent, maintained to a degree where is challenging and affordable, people will come. And where people come, they are willing to spend on the extras. A place to meet, play, relax, and pick up a needed item (pro-shop on site) should do well.

    I play disc golf because I’m poor. I know there are affordable clubs and balls and courses everywhere. I however, am 6’6” and affordable clubs that make me play down to 5’10” don’t help me get better, they’re just frustrating. What I would spend on longer shafts make the cheep clubs beyond my price range. Discs have no height limit, age limit, or extra cost to make then work for me. I can work on form to get better faster and at less cost than traditional golf.

    I’d still love to have DG closer to home though. DG and traditional golf can work together with just a little more education and fair discussion. It’s on the DG community to make it better. It was the serious boarders that made snowboards fit on the slopes, it’ll be the serious DG players making an impression on the Golf community that changes traditional thinking.

  • Great article, thanks for such excellent information! It’s consistent with the research I’ve done in California and the opinions I hear from disc golfers who play our 20 “dual golf” courses — which was only 8 courses as recently as 2014.

    Your survey asked all players what they would pay to play disc golf. I’m wondering if you have more data about how much disc golfers are willing to pay for a round — specifically, whether the costs you cite are for parking, entry, and/or green fees. In my experience, disc golfers have a different attitude and different expectations when they pay $5 for parking than when they pay $5 for green fees. (Incidentally, I’d love to see DGCR or PDGA break out this information where they label courses as “pay-to-play” — is it parking, entry fee (e.g., campground), or green fee?)

    For better or worse, my 2015 California Dual Golf Survey only included players who have paid green fees at dual golf courses — perhaps not representative of disc golfers as a whole. They were asked “how much would you pay?” at each existing dual golf course. The most typical response was “$5-6.” Across the most popular 6 courses, the median was $7-8. Across the least popular 6 courses, the median was $3-4.

    For what it’s worth, here’s the full text of the question:

    “What’s the highest green fee you’d be willing to pay on a regular basis for 18 holes at this course — as currently designed, installed, and maintained? (note: this includes any tee time booking charges you might pay, but not the cost of any optional amenities such as golf carts.)

    free
    $1-2
    $3-4
    $5-6
    $7-8
    $9-10
    $11-12
    $13-15
    more than $15

    The full results of my extensive dual golf survey can be viewed here: https://app.box.com/s/jrqfxl46supf79g2xzlq0mpr291a2jun

    Keep up the good work, Infinite!

    -Leonard