Disc Golf Etiquette

A First Time Tournament Experience

Joe at a Giants Game Any one who spends any real time with me has to get to know disc golf.  My wife thinks disc golf is the best of my hobbies – I lost weight and it costs less than a lot of my prior hobbies.  My best friend, Joe Ventura, has learned a lot about the sport from me and from his own experiences golfing in the SF Bay area.  I convinced Joe to play in a one day Ice Bowl tournament in Penn Valley, Ca. a few weeks ago.  Afterwards, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity for me to present a real clean slate review of a C-tier PDGA event and asked Joe to write a few paragraphs on his experiences and impressions.

Joe, while new at disc golf, competes at everything he does.  We aren’t good basketball players, but when we play, we are working as hard as we can on the court.  He works as a communication specialist in an education field so I knew he would present a clear and honest sense of the tournament and the disc golf community.  He is also aware of my concerns about the image of the sport and kept them in mind as he made observations.  Some of these observations may seem harsh but keep in mind that they are from an existing participant in our sport – imagine how it may have appeared to a non-disc golfer.

So read below the unabridged first impressions of a C-tier PDGA event by Joe Ventura:

I don’t have a PDGA number, more than a handful of discs, or play more than once or twice a month. In other words I’m not the most enthusiastic disc golfer on the course, but I do love the sport. Being this blogger’s good friend, I’ve had the opportunity to learn the sport from someone focused on the technique and strategy of disc golf. It’s also meant I’ve heard about a number of the problems holding this sport back.

 When Justin asked me if I was interested in competing in the Penn Valley Ice Bowl tournament in January, I was hesitant. All day on an open field in the middle of January? Just to prove to others that I hadn’t spent enough time working on my driving form? I took a little convincing, but in the end I signed up online, paid my registration fees, and hit my local course a few times before tournament day.

 My experience at Penn Valley confirmed many of the problem’s Justin has been talking—and more recently blogging—about. The day was defined by:

 Poor organization. When we arrived at 8:15am there were clusters of golfers standing around without much direction, despite the fact that tee time was posted at 9am. We started at 10:15am. Because of the late start, the first round finished later than expected and participants didn’t have time go into town for lunch. (Lunch wasn’t served at the tournament because the caterer didn’t show up.)

 Poor communication. I’m certain running an event of this size is a large logistical challenge. That’s why it was so unfortunate there wasn’t clearer instructions given visually and verbally. A sign at the card table explaining the sign up process would’ve saved a lot of time. When the organizer addressed the crowd, she began by berating participants for not paying their fees on time. That’s why there wasn’t enough tournament shirts for everyone and why there wouldn’t be lunch that day. It set a negative tone for the entire day. As someone who did pay online, it also aggravated me that my first interaction of the day was to get chastised for something I hadn’t done.

 Unfriendliness.  I didn’t expect to make friends at the tournament, but I had expected some friendly conversation with my six-some on the first round. When I explained that it was my first tournament, nobody offered any pointers or much of a welcome. I know it’s not the participants’ job to act as tournament hosts, but a friendly word would have gone a long way. Instead, the five others in my group smoked pot the entire first round… and never offered me a hit.

 As a runner I’ve participated in many organized events, from the small and simple to the very large and complex. In comparison, my first disc golf tournament was poorly run and poorly executed. On top of that, I didn’t feel very welcome—damning for a sport struggling with its self-image. I didn’t have high expectations for the day, but the next time I consider spending money on a disc golf event, I’ll probably go for a run.

I know Joe will continue playing.  He has to because he lives so close to Golden Gate and I come through too often for him not to.  Plus he likes it.  But I worry about the truly uninitiated.  I recently played an event where I watched a father leering at the guys in my group while they openly smoked a pipe.  He was taking his two kids for a walk on a beautiful February morning.  How likely will he be to introduce disc golf to his children?  Those players did not keep it in the foursome very well.  Sooner or later it will have to become a more open issue if our sport is to grow.

Two weeks until the  Lava Creek Classic and one month until the St. Pats California State Amateur Championships.  Played Shady this morning with Miller who is finally back on the horse after some off-season elbow rehab.  Until next time, be aware of how your behavior is affecting the image of disc golf and enjoy Springtime disc golf.

 

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Categories: Disc Golf Etiquette

2 replies »

  1. Thank you, Joe. I enjoyed reading your candid discussion of your first tournament experience. I only wish it had been more positive. As a disc golfer heading into his 19th season of play, it pains me to see little has changed with respect to the all-too-common poor organization and poor communication issues associated with many tournaments. I am especially disheartened by the other five members of the six-some and their lack of decorum. I am inclined to believe this was an isolated occurrence, but I could be wrong.

    I remember my first tournament experience in Oregon. There was encouragement, friendliness and some welcome tutelage. Two of the guys in my first tourney foursome would become good disc golf friends when I later moved from Corvallis to Eugene, OR. I imagine I was very lucky in that regard.

    This account drives home the fact that nearly every disc golf tournament will be someone’s first tournament experience. As players and Tournament Directors, we would do well to remember that first impressions strongly shape our views going forward. Thinking back to my first tournament at Tadmore DGC in 1996, I wonder what would have happened if Roller Bob and Bruce had been total DBs instead of the great guys they turned out to be. The fact that I remember them both so well after all these years provides at least some hope that today’s new tournament players have a chance to start out on a positive note.

    To grow the sport–to “up” its appeal and strengthen its reputation among those curious about “that Frisbee golf game,” negative experiences among first-time event participants must be kept to a minimum. It isn’t difficult: Welcome all first-time players at the player’s meeting. Recognize their participation in the player packs. At the awards ceremony, thank them for coming out and encourage them to come back again. If playing with a first-time tournament player, offer some support and encouragement. Even a brief chat about how you remember your first tournament will go a long way.

    Disc golf is in some ways one big community. If the community is to flourish, it must be seen as welcoming and supportive. That responsibility ultimately rests with the players and TDs. When players and TDs fail in that regard, the entire sport suffers.

  2. You’re exactly right, Marc: every tournament is bound to be someone’s first. Your ideas around encouraging the tournament newbies are great. I wasn’t looking for special attention, but it would’ve changed my perception entirely had someone come over and asked me if I had any questions or just said, “Thanks for coming out today!” The problem with the six-some was that they didn’t know how to handle someone who hadn’t played in a tournament before. I felt like I was slowing them up, becoming a hassle. Not a very welcoming vibe.

    I also realize there’s hundreds of disc golf events each year and some are run better than others. I don’t know the full story behind this tournament. It might be that the organizers have a host of valid complaints. I never got the full story about the caterer or the t-shirt snafu. My over takeaway, though, was that it could’ve been done better.

    Like Justin wrote, I love the game and I’m certainly going to play the next chance I get. But, I’m not super eager to play another tournament. I’d rather play around with Justin.

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