On a recent vacation to Incline Village, Lori Baker, a USGA Boatwright Intern serving in the Handicap Department at the WSCGA office, had an opportunity to experience disc golf.
So what, pray tell, is disc golf? Disc golf is a flying disc game, as well as a precision and accuracy sport, in which individual players throw a flying disc at a target.
According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, founded in 1975 by ” Steady Ed” Headrick to officiate the standard rules of play, “The object of the game is to traverse a course from beginning to end in the fewest number of throws of the disc”.
The early history of disc golf is closely tied to the history of the recreational flying disc (especially as popularized by the trademarked Frisbee) and may have been invented in the early 1900s. The true pioneer of the sport of Frisbee Golf is Kevin Donnelly, who, while a Recreation Leader and then Recreation Supervisor for the City of Newport Beach, California, formulated and then began organizing Frisbee golf tournaments at nine of the city’s playgrounds he supervised. This culminated in 1965 with a fully documented, Wham-O sponsored, city-wide Frisbee Golf tournament. In 1967, two years after conducting the first-ever organized Frisbee Golf Tournament, Kevin, then the Coordinator of the Parks and Recreation Section at Fresno State College, California, organized and then taught the first ever college level Frisbee Golf activity course, in which George Sappenfield was registered.
In 1965, George Sappenfield, from Fresno California, was a recreation counselor during summer break from college. While playing golf one afternoon he realized that it might be fun for the kids on his playground if they played “golf” with frisbees. He set up an object course for his kids to play on. Other early courses were also of this type, using anything from lamp poles to fire hydrants as targets. When he finished college in 1968, Sappenfield became the Parks and Recreation Supervisor for Conejo Recreation and Park District in Thousand Oaks, California. George introduced the game to many adults by planning a disc golf tournament as part of a recreation project. He contacted Wham-O Manufacturing and asked them for help with the event. Wham-O supplied frisbees for throwing, and hula hoops for use as targets. However, it would not be until the early 1970s that courses began to crop up in various places in the Midwest and the East Coast (some perhaps through Sappenfield’s promotion efforts, others probably independently envisioned). Some of Sappenfield’s acquaintances are known to have brought the game to UC Berkeley. It quickly became popular on campus, with a permanent course laid out in 1970.
“Steady Ed” Headrick began thinking about the sport during his time at Wham-O toys. Headrick, who is now regarded as the “Father of Disc Golf”, designed and installed the first standardized target course in what was then known as Oak Grove Park in La Cañada Flintridge, California. (Today the park is known as Hahamongna Watershed Park). Headrick coined and trademarked the term “Disc Golf” when formalizing the sport and patented the Disc Pole Hole, the first disc golf target to incorporate chains and a basket on a pole. He started designing the target because he was tired of arguing over what counted as a scoring disc with his friends.
The number of disc golf courses doubled in the 8 years from 2000 to 2008, and the game is now played in about 40 countries around the world.
While the roots of the game are very casual and laid back, the newest generation of players is taking course design as well as the other elements of the game to a new level. Though early on targets were trees or fence posts in the woods, now courses are being cut out and under-utilized parts of parks, schools, and private land are being used to make some of the most challenging and strategic courses around. All courses share the same basic elements; targets, tee pads, signage, topography, and most important, safety.
The golf discs used today are much smaller and heavier than traditional flying discs, typically about 8 or 9 inches in diameter and weighing between 90 and 180 grams. The PDGA prohibits any disc to be heavier than 200 grams. Discs used for disc golf are designed and shaped for control, speed. There is a wide variety of discs used in disc golf and they are generally divided into three categories: putters, all-purpose mid-range discs, and drivers.
While there are more male than female players, the Women’s Disc Golf Association exists to encourage female players and arrange women’s tournaments. A PDGA survey states that out of its 11,302 members in 2006, 8% are female, or about 900. In PDGA competition, women have the option to play in gender-protected divisions. The women’s field has in fact grown rapidly in the past 5 years, as many Women’s Only tournaments grow in popularity around the world. There are many sites with tips to help encourage more women to play, including Innova Disc Golf.
Several companies have started programs to help attract women to the sport. DiscGolf4Women.com; the “Go-to site for Women’s Disc Golf” and their associated Facebook group has dramatically increased the communication between women disc golfers. The PDGA Women’s Committee is “Dedicated to Attract, Encourage, and Retain Female Participation in Organized Disc Golf Events”. The PDGA Women’s Committee set historical records on May 12, 2012 by running the Inaugural Women’s Global Event that attracted 636 female players in 24 states and 4 countries. The Women’s Global Event will become a bi-annual event returning in 2014 with hopes of setting the bar even higher in the number of participants.
There are also Disc golf companies such as Disc-Diva, that have started up with a primary, though not exclusive, focus on women in the sport, promoting accessories geared towards women and using catch phrases like, “You wish you threw like a girl.” Sassy Pants is another group that focuses on getting more involvement from women in the sport, advocating for sponsorship of women to enter tournaments.
Women’s disc golf teams are even involved in the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship, and the Mississippi State Women’s Team were the very first champions.
For more information about disc golf, the rules of disc golf and disc golf courses visit these websites:
Or, for a more personal touch, give Lori a call in the WSCGA office at 909-592-1281 x200.