Disc golf and the PDGA are at a turning point. It seems obvious from the tone of the survey the PDGA put out after the recent Board elections that the organization is trying to decide what the future of sanctioned events will look like. Everyone has an opinion. Do we shift the focus of the organization to strengthening the recreational base of disc golf? Do we attempt to build a community of professional disc golfers that generates big money main stream sponsors?
Through this series of etiquette posts I have gotten a wide variety of feedback. I have also refined my own opinions about what I want the future of disc golf to look like. While I want to help build a respected and profitable organization of disc golfers, disc golf is so awesome that there is enough room for everyone. We can have serious events. We can also have local non-sanctioned events with the far more laid back environment that many of the golfers who have provided feedback want. We can have it all.
I have tried to provide some guidelines for understanding what kind of disc golf environment golfers can find themselves in and what is the appropriate behavior for any given situation. My opinion is that there is room for all of us. Every kind of golfer can have what he or she wants. It doesn’t need to be one or the other. A good guideline is that as long as a golfer’s behavior doesn’t interfere with another golfers experience we can all get what we want out of this amazing game.
Here are some final thoughts on disc golf etiquette and how we can continue to grow the sport that we love:
Professionalism: Not everyone wants disc golf to become a professional endeavor like ball golf. I do want it to become professional but not every one does. I recently heard a golfer at an event discuss how awesome the Beaver State Fling is because of the higher level of professionalism. They have spotters on every hole and the TD responds to a walkie-talkie and answers rules questions on the spot. This is the kind of event that has the potential to generate real sponsors and have a real presence in the lexicon of our sports culture. But not every event needs to be this professional. I love a good local series or event as well. A one day event that has as much to do with hanging out with friends and enjoying ourselves is awesome but is not going to help progress the sport. Both types of evenst can coexist but I do believe we need more Beaver State Flings to balance the scales.
Collared Shirts: I would really like to see disc golfers up our game regarding our appearance. In every event I have ever played that wasn’t played in the snow or the rain there is at least one guy that is wearing a dirty sleeveless t-shirt or no shirt at all. That is okay at your local course during a casual round or a weekly event. But in any event where there may be photographers, where the TD might be trying to generate local business sponsors to increase the value of the tournament for it’s participants, we need a dress code. I often wonder why every disc golf t-shirt has to have a zombie or vaguely veiled reference to an obscenity on it. My mother recently got me a disc golf t-shirt for my birthday. On my birthday card she commented that it was difficult to find a shirt that was not inappropriate.
I don’t think we need to become ball golf with slacks and nothing but Izod polos everywhere. In fact, I recently watched a very funny commercial about professional ball golfers campaigning for the right to wear shorts on the course. Disc golf has something that the mega money earning ball golf wants – a more casual and relaxed environment. Conversely, ball golf has something we need – a more professional appearance. We are tougher than ball golfers and we play in more challenging conditions. That doesn’t mean that we can’t develop a dress code that would help our image.
Disc Golf’s Image: Disc golf’s image needs a facelift. We need sponsors and airtime. We need to build a culture worthy of sponsors and airtime. My etiquette series has been, in part, an effort to improve the image of disc golf. The fundamental casual nature of disc golf does not need to change. We can continue to be a grassroots endeavor that mainly caters to the local golf community. But for those of us who can see the possible future of disc golf, who want disc golf to be more than your local dart league, we have to do something to change the impression we give to people as a whole.
I moved to California 3 years ago. I moved for work but made sure the area I moved to had sufficient disc golf opportunities. The first thing I told my new supervisor was that I would need to be able to play at least 1 disc golf tournament a month, if not more. My supervisor, while chatting with her husband about her new manager, told him that I played disc golf, that I made it a priority in my personal life. Her husband warned her that I was likely an alcoholic or drug user. If I am or not is not the issue. The issue is the impression our sport gives to non-disc golfers. Teachers have these issues just like bus drivers and political figures. Every professional sport has these issues. But other athletes do not get classified this way because of their association with a recreational activity. This is often the image of disc golf.
Why doesn’t ball golf have a similar image? I have had a drink during every round of ball golf I have ever played. Most ball golf courses have beverage carts driving around the course for the players’ refreshment needs. Ball golfer Garrigus has admitted that he and other golfers smoked marijuana on the Nationwide Tour. Yet, their image is far different. Their game is played virtually the same, the principles of competition and game structure are the same, and both games are frequently more fun with a buzz.
The difference is the level of professionalism that is expected from ball golfers. The difference is our outward appearance. We are at a crossroads as an organized league and I for one hope we can create a league that offers a more professional environment. We can’t complain about low pay-outs and a lack of funding for our events without acknowledging our own role in the situation. We need to up our game. We need more Beaver State Flings if we are to grow our sport. We have a strong recreational base of disc golfers that I don’t think anything can shake. Disc golf is here to stay. When we talk about growing the sport I think we are talking about growing the professional aspect of the sport. That kind of growth needs to start by improving our image. Improving our image starts with setting some etiquette standards and sticking to them.