The year of 2013 witnessed big things for disc golf. Record numbers of new players are finding the sport. Record numbers of players are becoming members of the PDGA and playing in sanctioned events. There are more disc manufacturers, bag designers, and retailers than ever before. There are also more opinions about how we should grow the sport.
Here is an overview of three of the most pressing issues that disc golf faced in 2013:
1. Mixed Bags.
Lots of pro players defected from their traditional disc sponsors like Innova and Discraft to newer disc companies like Prodigy this year. Choice and competition are good developments in disc golf. Having enough demand to support more manufacturers is a good thing.
The notion that sponsored players should only be throwing the plastic made by his or her sponsor has arisen. This is sometimes an issue in PGA golf as well; McElroy switched to all Nike clubs and struggled much of the year. I can only hope that one day we are discussing the latest phenom’s switch to Nike or Reebok discs.
I don’t think that a player should be judged for using a mixed bag. I do think that economics could drive a player to sign an agreement to only use a sponsor’s discs. I could not fault a player for trying to advance his or her place in the sport.
However, in a recent interview, David Feldberg stated that we should be building recognition in a player’s brand more than we should be building recognition for a manufacturer’s brand.
I agree with Feldberg but pro players should be getting paid better and if that requires pros to only use particular discs, we should understand. What I don’t understand is wiping discs and re-stamping them with a different disc’s stamp. That bothers me though I’m not sure why.
I think the PDGA is aware that we need to increase the appearance of professionalism in disc golf. They recently revised the dress code standard – which can be found here. I agree entirely with the dress code. Shirts with a collar and no profanity or obscenity, clean shorts or pants with no holes or tears, and shoes are all now required in National Tour and Major Events.
Why not make this a requirement for all sanctioned events? I imagine the PDGA is working to increase the appearance of professionalism in our events. But they may be afraid that making large sweeping changes may chase away more players than it would attract. I am still encouraged and believe this is just a first step and that we will see the recommendation that all Tournament Directors follow this rule will soon become a requirement.
Discmania’s CEO recently posted an article, “On the Edge of Professional Disc Golf,” that brings up several very good points regarding the possibility of having a Professional Disc Golf enterprise. I agree with what Jussi Meresmaa has to say. We need players and organizers to be able to support themselves through their disc golf endeavors.
The article states that there are more private chefs working in private homes than there are people earning a living through disc golf activities. A recent question on Reddit asked how many pros were earning a living playing disc golf in the U.S? The consensus was that between 25 and 35 players supported themselves by playing.
A push towards professionalism by the PDGA and business owners involved in the growth of disc golf has also started a different conversation – how professional does the PDGA really need to be? There were questions in the most recent survey that asked if we should drop the “Professional” portion of the PDGA.
There is a faction of disc golfers that want the PDGA to stop trying to be a professional league and to reinvigorate efforts to stay recreational and accommodate casual players. This opinion is frequently held by the same golfers who think that PDGA events include amateurs for the sole purpose of funding the professional end of the events.
The survey discussed creating a multiple tiered system of PDGA membership that would attract more casual players to organized events but cost less for the new players just wanting to try it out. Attracting new players to disc golf is easy but getting those players to remain members of the PDGA for more than a year or two seems to have proven more difficult. Getting those players to become regular tournament participants has even more challenges.
What will PDGA membership look like in 5 years? Who knows. I do know we all have the opportunity to help shape what this sport becomes.