Disc Golf

True Amateur Initiative

Picture from PDGA Facebook Page

Picture from PDGA Facebook Page

I have participated in several different types of competitive sporting events from road races, triathlons, mountain bike races, ball golf tournaments, tennis tournaments, and finally in disc golf tournaments. In my experience, disc golf events have the highest range of success vs. failure. I have never been in a running event that was run as poorly as some of the worst tournaments I have attended. At the same rate, I have been in disc golf tournaments that have been run with the same professionalism as the San Francisco Marathon. PDGA is in great need of consistency and oversight of its events. The PDGA is trying to address these issues and the True Amateur Initiative is one very big step in the right direction.

The PDGA has several issues to address:  Player conduct, event professionalism, and amateurism. I have never competed in any other event where amateurs compete for prizes. Amateurs should compete for trophies, strive for personal accomplishments, and participate for pure enjoyment. Testing oneself in a public arena against other athletes for the joy of personal success and defeating one’s opponent has been enough for me in every other endeavor. So why do I yearn for material gain in disc golf events?

The first event I played with no pay out came as a surprise to me. I participated in the Shelley Sharpe Memorial in Phoenix, Az. several years ago. I entered the event without realizing that there was to be no amateur pay out. It didn’t occur to me that the players package was significantly larger for the purpose of rewarding the competitors. I was new to competitive disc golf and every other event I played had pay outs. I learned of the structure of the event during the 3rd round. I lost all my drive. I lost focus. I seemed to think the event suddenly became less significant.

Ace Race 2012 013I’m not sure why I felt this way. I would trade every pay out I have ever gotten for an extra ten points on my round ratings or an extra two birdies per event. The drive to win plastic seems odd at an amateur level. It also creates a greed factor that prevents competitors from playing in the appropriate level. The PDGA is doing other things to make its events more respectable, such as the withdrawal classification due to ratings manipulation that I addressed previously.

I was recently chatting with a gentleman about his love of surfing and how every trip he made he did so with surfing in mind: weather conditions, beach conditions, hotels closest to surfing opportunities. I related that my trips almost always involved similar research regarding disc golfing possibilities:  new courses, courses I really liked, different types of courses and challenges.

He told me he had a friend that played professional disc golf and my new acquaintance had  some interest in learning about it. He was doubtful that his friend was an actual professional until I informed him that all that was required to play professional disc golf was to pay the elevated fees associated with that level. Then it occurred to me that this may be the only sport that does not require a competitor to qualify for the highest professional level; there is no clear distinction between amateur and professional disc golfers. Anyone can enter and compete at the highest level of disc golf competition. Not anyone can win but anyone can compete.

The very next day I came across a post and a long conversation on the NorCal Disc Golf Facebook page that discussed many of these issues. After reading the entire thread of 150+ posts and reviewing similar Reddit interactions, I’ve identified two camps in the disc golf world regarding the direction of the PDGA and Disc Golf Events. The first camp wants to keep disc golf local, family oriented, incredibly cheap, with as few limitations as possible. The other camp – to which I belong – wants to see the PDGA become respected as a leader in competitive disc sports, to see events evolve to a level that can be presented in major market media outlets like SportsCenter.

Here are some quotes from the NorCal thread that demonstrate the first camp’s point of view.  The thread was recently pulled down, I don’t have names but I would not have included them regardless:

“The roots were a mellower Sunday when we were done early and a bunch of players had time to play what we called a “cooler round” relaxing and having fun with the people we only saw at tourneys…everything has changed, as soon as tourneys started selling out thats when it started. the feeling of family went away the first tourney i went to that was full”

“Thats trash. Last yr in ams for me. Not goin to worlds cause of the am scam”

“And I surely hope that all the TD’s don’t follow the new AM model, I believe it will hurt the Rec and AM 2 the most. Without having any control over the handful of guys that always play a division down, the new blood of the sport will have very little incentive to “test” the tournament waters with nothing to play for.”

“Unless like Sean says, drop the entry fees in half or more, pay peanuts to play for peanuts. Pretty big assumption that the Rec players will come no matter what, and it’s not just Rec I am talking about, I did say AM model.”

There are a number of things I disagree with regarding this line of thought.  It sounds like a lot of my local golfers compete in amateur events for profit and refuse to play to their potential.  That is not amateur competition.  Why does the the feeling of family have to depart because we run events in a more professional fashion with guidelines that we adhere to?  Do we really want less attendance at events?  And, wouldn’t more control over events help control “the handful of guys that always play a division down?”

I think the opposite of the opinions stated here: I do not compete for script or plastic.  I compete to test myself and to beat you – no pay out needed for the satisfaction of a good round and a top five finish.

Ace Race 2012 005I also disagree that prices need to drop.  Events with 110 – 180 players are difficult to manage, insurance and park fees must be high, lunch and players packages aren’t free.  Moreover, the idea that you should be able to show up the day of an event and be added is ridiculous.  Late entries reduce the enjoyment for those that planned ahead which I discussed at length in a previous post.

Every other sporting event has increasing registration costs the closer to the event that you register.  I paid 115.00 to run in the SF Half Marathon 2 years ago and all I got was a t-shirt and a free drink afterwards.  What I earned was the right to say I completed the SF Half Marathon.

There are plenty of people that feel the way I do on these issues and their opinions were also reflected in the thread:

“Better payout don’t always attract Arms. I am an Am and I go to tournaments I like not for the payout. The payout is a bonus.   Memorial has been trophies only for 5 years and Masters Cup the same. Now add worlds. Payouts will get smaller and players packages will get bigger.”

“The Norcal Series is about the players – as mentioned in the above comments things are definitely changing in the disc golf world …and I for one am happy. It’s what many many, many people worked for – Everyone should realize that with change there are adjustments that take time to work out and it certainly does not happen overnight.”

“And yes since Discgolf is getting bigger and we are getting a little more organized, then yes the nor-cal series should be reworked. But it has to start here and all of us really need to work together to make it happen. It is obvious that there is a need and a great passion for this great game.”

I did manage to get a screen shot of what seems to be an organizer’s valid sentiment about the existence of a discussion on these topics:

FB Comment

However, I really like the one comment posted here.  This is exactly why people like TooNa and myself have committed so much time to creating a forum for these discussions. There is a lot going on in disc golf right now. It is hard to evolve; change is not easy. I think the PDGA wants us to evolve in a direction more like ball golf with higher standards and stricter guidelines for competition. I for one agree.

From dgcoursereview.com

From dgcoursereview.com

There will always be local club tournaments where you can structure the event however you want. PDGA sanctioning  sometimes seems to draw event organizers for the wrong reasons. A sanctioned event will draw more attention, comes with greater advertising and visibility,  and can generate more money for the organizers.  This can be a danger when organizers abuse the benefits of being PDGA sanctioned and let the desire for money encroach on the value of the experience for the competitors and impinge the credibility of the sport. I think there is room for all kinds of competitors in disc golf but sanctioned PDGA events are not always the place for everyone.

I’m icing the elbow and doing my yoga in preparation for the Master’s Cup Am at DeLaveaga this weekend.  Only played the course once and I had a hernia waiting to be operated on at the time.  Looking forward to seeing Armando and his family again along with some new friends I made at St. Pats last month.  I’ve been putting in the wind whenever I can to steel my nerves for all the overhangs and roll-a-ways at such a challenging course.

Look for the tournament review with perspectives from Armando, myself, and anyone else I can convince to add their two cents.  Until next time, happy golfing and good scoring to all.


6 replies »

  1. Nice entry, Justin. I personally prefer a larger players package versus script myself. And of course trophies for the first three spots. But I might be a bit biased as I’m typically right on the bubble of AM2 in all the tournaments I play. I also already have a life-time supply of plastic, as many of us do. I much rather get something special in the players pack, like a umbrella, cool chair, ect.. I also find this is much easier for the host clubs. Not everyone has a Pro Shop on site like Orangevale.

    Good luck this weekend if I don’t see you! The downside of tee times..

    • Thanks for reading A.J. I saw you a couple times last weekend but always from across the course. Are you playing the auburn Am in a couple weeks?

  2. I’ve never played in a PDGA sanctioned tournament, but I have played in a few local tournaments where the divisions were: rec., intermediate, and advanced. I played my first intermediate tournament at about 6 months into my disc golf career and won. I was awarded a trophy and $50. I can’t remember what ever happened to that $50, but I smile every time I walk by that trophy. I wish more tournaments gave out trophies or medals for the winners like they have done in every other sport I’ve played in my life.

    TL;DR: I’m for the no pay out with trophies in the AM divisions.

    • Thanks for the reply. I’ve mostly been getting this kind of feedback. I was personally surprised to see anyone complain about the no pay out amateur system. Where do you golf?

  3. Those are some great points. If the rewards are sufficient for amateurs to stay amateur, then it’s better to sand bag so you can play down a division and actually win. That is a problem.

    Depending on the tournament, it’s about getting as many people as possible to participate. Many, including myself, won’t participate unless there is a reward to justify the cost to pay for the event. The reality is that I’m not good enough to win, and so participation is all just for the “fun” of the event. If I’m getting a reward just for showing up, I’m more likely to participate. If I have to pay money to play a course with strangers that I could play with my friends, I’ll just play it with my friends another time.

    Disc golf absolutely needs to be more professional, but it also needs to present more opportunities for the recreational player.

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