Disc Golf

Tournament directors: The building blocks of the PDGA

Putting on Hole 8 at McPherson in Flagstaff

Putting on Hole 8 at McPherson in Flagstaff

In business, when making an adjustment, organizations frequently identify the most basic operating unit. Change that most basic unit of operation and the culture of the entire organization can be changed. I recently thought this way about Disc Golf and asked myself what is the most basic operating unit of the PDGA? It has to be the Tournament Director.

The success or failure of an event is almost entirely the responsibility of the TD. Regardless of the size of his or her support/volunteer staff, the TD is the final responsible individual and has to marshal resources, liaise with local government, generate revenue through corporate sponsorship, generate attendance, organize, plan and execute the event.  Even more, the TD is the forefront representative of the PDGA. The TD has to perform his or her duties according to the standards of the PDGA and is the only representative of the PDGA that most of us will ever meet.

Almost every bad experience I have had has been because of poor planning or execution on the part of the TD. I was in a PDGA event this spring that started an hour late because the TD admitted way too many last minute registrations. I was in a group of 6 or 7 for both rounds of a one day event.  I played the last four holes in the complete darkness.

Volunteer work for the Treebash

Volunteer work for the Treebash

The main responsibility of a TD is to create an enjoyable experience for the competitors. The second biggest responsibility is to represent the PDGA, disc golf, and disc golfers in a professional manner. Disc Golf is growing and we need to make sure that it grows in the direction we choose. Mostly, our TDs execute their role well; otherwise, we wouldn’t have increasing numbers of events and participants each year.

For every bad experience I have had, I have had ten great experiences. I recently played the Treebash in Flagstaff, AZ run by the Flagstaff Disc Golf Club. I really enjoy their events; their tournaments start on time, are well funded and supported by the community businesses, and are very efficient. I love events with four players per card; the rounds flow, I stay warmer, keep my rhythm. I tend to have more fun in a well run event. The quality of golf is higher and so is the enjoyment we all take from the experience.

Barley on Hole 12 at McPherson - Marcus Norling

Barley on Hole 12 at McPherson – Marcus Norling

I didn’t do very well in the event this year. I was bottom of the pack in MA1 but would have been top ten in MA2 so I guess that means I entered the right division. The elevation really messed with my putting. The changes in my flight path on drives were easier to see and easier to adjust for than on the approaches and the putts. I played a lot of rounds right before the event hoping to help me make this adjustment. I should have practiced my putting a lot more than I did. Instead, my new found backhand was tired from 11 rounds in 5 days and my approaches were not as precise and I kept over-correcting on my putts.

Despite my lack of success, this was still one of the most enjoyable and best run B-tier events. You expect this level of professionalism in an A-tier but Barley and the team of volunteers in the Flagstaff Disc Golf Club really out did themselves. There were sponsors for every hole, good players packs and CTP prizes, and the courses looked great.

Good events require months to plan, a high attention to detail, and a professional demeanor. They never pay well for the time required to make them really good – if they pay at all. I think we are at a point where some of this can change. We have gained enough popularity, and in areas densely populated with disc golfers, we can choose which events to attend. We can make choices based on quality rather than just availability.

Ball golf events are run for profit and the organizers certainly earn money. There is no reason why Disc Golf organizers should not as well. I would personally be happy to pay an extra 10 – 20 dollars for an event that only had 4 players per card, finished in time to have dinner, and was obviously well organized. Rather than charge 50.00 per participant with a field of 90 equaling a cash intake of 4500.00 charge 72 participants 63.00 to get to the same number. The event will be easier to run and will be more enjoyable for the participants. We should reward those golfers who plan ahead and choose one event over another because of the quality of that event.

We should also reward the tournament directors who organize our events. They are important pieces for the successful growth of our sport. Anyone can become a TD and be a representative of our sport to our communities but it does come with greater responsibility. So thank the TD in your area. Volunteer if you can. Make sure he or she has a cup of coffee in the morning. Support the good TD by making the effort to go to those events and let your choice as a consumer guide the direction of events in your area. Enjoy your next event and see what you can do for the TD.

Happy golfing and good scoring everyone.

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8 replies »

  1. I’m the state coordinator for Iowa and we almost have the opposite problem, too many good TDs! There are 3 areas of the state that essentially have their own tour with a smattering of small towns that try to squeeze in when they can. There’s probably over 100 tournaments on the schedule this year, and for the most part they all do a good job. Certainly some are better than others, but most have a niche. I don’t hate your idea, but if someone is charging over $50 for entry I guarantee quite a few players are just gonna plan a little road trip or just wait for the following weekend. If anything we support bad tournaments because it gives us an excuse to take a week off!

    • Thanks for reading and the comment.

      I would say that the $50 for a tournament, depending on context, would have to be for the better tournament, the event with foursomes and not fivesomes, the event that provided a better lunch and a better players pack.

      I am in Northern California and there are also tons of events, but also our share of bad tournaments. I love the idea of competition for players, TDs working hard to make better events. Are the tours you’re talking about all PDGA events?

  2. TDs are certainly the backbone of tournament disc golf, but I don’t think of them as representatives of the PDGA. Rather, the PDGA is the representative of TDs, and exists to serve the needs of TDs, and all of the PDGA’s power is derived from that relationship. It is also revocable, TDs must continue to feel like they are getting their value from PDGA sanctioning, otherwise the PDGA will be finished. If you follow the history, you’ll see how PDGA has been built up by attracting TDs from hosting independent events that originally dominated the sport in the wild west days (those tourneys each had their own rules of play, and sometimes players could only throw a certain company’s plastic). The times have evolved, but PDGA is still organized largely along these lines, and TDs are still the ultimate source of power.

    One thing that should concern PDGA is that there is a rapid rise of interest in non-sanctioned tournaments/series, among both TDs and players, both pre-existing, current, and planned in the future. PDGA has responded by being more flexible and including smaller tourneys and leagues with lower fees, but for which players still earn ratings, which is a good direction but probably they haven’t gone far enough.

    • Thanks for the input John.

      I think we do agree on a couple points:

      1. TDs and the PDGA are in a relationship and that relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. The PDGA certainly provides TDs with tools to run good events. I see the TDs as representing the PDGA because they are the people we know in the disc golf community, and other than the PDGA website, for players, they are the only means we have to interact directly with the PDGA. They also most directly influence our opinion of the PDGA.

      2. I agree that the PDGA derives its power from the existence of PDGA Tournament Directors. Without the TDs, there would be no PDGA, which is I think we should go out of our way to support the ones that run the best events.

      I do disagree with one point you made:

      I do not believe the PDGA has anything to worry about. I did a quick count and in June 2013 there were 231 sanctioned events. This was a 330% increase in the number of sanctioned events when compared to June 2003’s 70 events.

      Looking at it from a membership perspective, the earliest 20000 PDGA# first registered in 2002. It was 4 years later in 2006 when the first 30000 PDGA# registered, and 3 years after that in 2009 when the first 40000 PDGA# registered, and finally, only 2 years after that in 2011 when the first 50000 PDGA# registered. Membership as a gauge for interest in sanctioned play has been growing faster and faster every year.

      I have only been playing competitive disc golf for 5 years and I’m not as familiar with the evolution of the PDGA and the sport. What I want to address is the future of the sport. I want to describe the future I envision for disc golf. That future has to include a respected governing body that sets and maintains standards for professional play. How else is my round of golf in Northern California going to be accurately compared to a round of golf thrown on the east coast without a standardized rating system?

      I also think the larger point is that disc golf is big enough for everyone. There is more than enough golfers out there to support a vibrant and growing interest in sanctioned play. There will always be local and club events that function outside the constraints of the PDGA. This is how it should be in my opinion. My competitive nature is most fulfilled by tracking my player rating and trying to throw the highest rated rounds I can. That is not the role disc golf plays for everyone; not everyone needs the PDGA for disc golf to be fun and fulfilling. This is why disc golf is so amazing – it can be awesome for everyone.

      • I agree, PDGA appears to be doing well, because they have been doing a good job over all, and they’re continuing to improve all the time. I’d personally like to see them move more of the essential functions in-house, as opposed to contracting things out (e.g., online registration, ratings, etc.). Certainly things seem to be moving that way, such as hiring serious professional internet technologists like Steve Ganz, whose help was critical to overcome the problems on their website owing to extremely poor performance of the previously contracted firm.

        A note of caution regarding the interpretation of PDGA number data: The active membership is typically only about 1/5 to 1/4 of the total numbers issued, a significantly large majority do not regularly keep their membership, or registered once to play a single tournament to get a registration fee break, but never played again in PDGA events.

  3. This article was well written and it is nice reading some constructive comments and thoughts about TDs in the sport.

    Over the last few years I have run multiple 100+ people events, a handful of 60+ player events and a whole bunch of 25+ player events in North Dakota and Minnesota. When I first got into the sport and wanted to TD, it was a dream of mine to be a positive PDGA TD and support the PDGA as much as I could. Over the years, I have become less and less interested in boosting the PDGA’s image to disc golfers.

    My first large event was in 2008 and was 105 people. In North Dakota, many people do not have a PDGA membership because of sparse population, large travel distances, and fewer tournaments than largely populated states. I can’t remember the exact percentage, but something like 55% of people at that tournament were not sanctioned PDGA members. Every non-sanctioned player needed to pay $10 to the PDGA on top of their entry. This set a red flag off at that time, but it has become even more of a glaring issue throughout my years and every event as a TD in North Dakota.

    I would like to pose a few questions: Where does that money go to directly? What advantages does that funding allow for a non-sanctioned player? Why does a portion of every entry go to the PDGA even if they are a member?

    At the same time, I understand the benefits of sanctioning an event — advertising, visibility to the disc golf community, professional appearance, insurance, equal standards and rules (except the two-meter rule!), and a place to post results and ratings.

    With the emergence of other high-quality disc golf websites that allow tournaments to be posted, social media to get people involved and excited and ratings calculators, I have come to the point of taking the PDGA out of the equation if at all possible to save on funding and give it straight back to the players or to the game itself.

    In order for the PDGA to get me fully in their camp, I would need to see some more tangible benefits. If a TD is running a 150+ person event and advertising the PDGA to all of them, that is a huge promoter for the organization. Could there be some sort of point system for TDs through the PDGA? Maybe a tiered system?

    Maybe if a TD runs a huge event, pays their dues on time, has positive feedback from players, etc., they should earn points that goes toward something tangible/usable for future tournaments. The points could be used to pay sanctioning agreements for future events, insurance certificates, advertising on websites for their tournaments with a banner, used to pay for player fees, travel funds to attend workshops, workshop/training supplies or something else.

    The PDGA isn’t going anywhere and is on the whole a great organization, but I think it is having a little identity crisis right now. Eventually it might need to divide itself into an Amateur Disc Golf Association and a true Professional Disc Golf Association where funds are used to pump up the game in different ways.

    I am lumping a whole bunch of ideas that probably are on tangents, but just stating some problems I have with the PDGA from a Tournament Director perspective. It would be nice for the PDGA to set aside some funds for a TD conference/workshop each year to get some big TDs in one spot and get down and dirty on details to what would make the SPORT (not just the PDGA) better for everyone.

    Thanks for reading and for all the great posts before this. Engaging stuff.

    • That was a great comment Joey, thanks a ton for your input.

      I agree with you pretty much entirely as far as my knowledge base allows. I agree that there is an identity crisis at hand and this is largely why I decided to start writing this blog. I want to be part of helping define the identity of Disc Golf and the PDGA along with other interested and responsible disc golfers.

      Consistency is at the core of my feelings regarding the direction the PDGA needs to go. I voted for this year’s board positions based almost entirely on accountability and transparency issues. I love your idea of a points system that rewards TD’s for full compliance with sanctioning guidelines and quality of events.

      I feel the PDGA could make more of an effort to communicate the earnings results and allocations of revenue more like a corporation does in an quarterly earnings report to investors. After all, most of us are in the game for the love of the sport and that largely makes us the investors.

      From a competitors standpoint in an area with enough events to make the membership payoff financially, the PDGA really only has benefits. In an area like yours, I can now see how those benefits would get diluted. Your idea of having two different organizations, one for Pros and one for Ams is very interesting. With some of the inconsistencies I have seen in TDs and quality of events, I agree workshops would be a very constructive idea.

      I hope to hear from you in the future.

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