I don’t claim to be on the forefront of anything disc golf related. We here at Hyzer Flipped try to stay on top of the latest and greatest but you will notice my name is rarely, if ever, attached to posts about the newest disc or tournament. The only thing I have over the rest of these guys is longevity. I’ve been throwing plastic for a solid 12 years now (albeit with a few year break in there). In that time my game hasn’t changed much, but pretty much everything surrounding the sport has.
A Decade Ago
I started playing in college because I met a guy in the dorm who played and there was a course within a few miles. Being in such close proximity to a 25,000 student university, it was a fairly crowded course.
If you only played disc golf there, you would probably assume that it was a highly active recreational sport. However, take half a step away from that perfect combination of college students with endless free time and the extremely social activity offered by the sport and things looked a little less crowded.
Want a new disc? Drive 30 minutes to the other side of the city to get to the store which carried more than the Innova starter packs. That or get lucky enough to catch a local pro in the parking lot and buy a couple off of him. If you were enamored enough with the sport to try another course you’d be shocked at how empty it was even on a perfect spring weekend afternoon.
The landscape of disc golf as a recreational sport, at least from my perspective, was clear: college kids participated because it was convenient, with a few veterans mixed in. It wasn’t a viable money-making endeavor for outdoor stores yet. You want me to sell a small frisbee for $15? Who wants to buy that?
I can’t say for sure how common my experience was. I was in Charlotte, NC at the time which has a high concentration of challenging courses, perhaps it was a case of too many courses for too few players? Even if being able to play a course like Hornets Nest and only seeing three other people the whole time wasn’t a common situation at the time, the business of selling discs was certainly an indication that big money wasn’t taking the sport seriously.
Fast-forward to 2013. The sport is still dominated by the 18-40 male demographic with too much free time on their hands, but things have changed in some subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways. See the dad with his two middle-school aged children on the course? Not a crazy sight. Courses not within shouting distance of a large university? Those are busy now. Want a decent selection of new discs? Go to any sporting store besides Dick’s (the beast moves slowly) and you’re in luck.
I’m going to back up a second and spit out some numbers. Taken from the PDGA website (PDF), posting in January 2012, some of the growth numbers of the sport over the past ten years:
PDGA Member Growth: 125%
PDGA Sanctioned Event Grown: 238%
PDGA Event Participants: 171%
Disc Golf Course Growth: 149%
Those are big numbers. For every one course there was 10 years ago, there are now two and a half. This is the easily measurable growth and does a good job of measuring growth of the highly involved amateur disc golf community. It doesn’t necessarily do a great job of telling you how many recreational “Sunday golfers” (to borrow a ball-golf term) have entered the sport, but the growth of at least semi-serious disc golfers is impressive by any standard.
The other thing to note about those statistics are that they are 19 months old as of this post. That is 19 months since they were posted, the actual statistics were most likely grabbed prior to that. In the past 19 months there are been at least 4 new public courses to begin building within a 25 mile radius of my home south of Raleigh, NC. By my count, as of January 2012 there were 4 public courses within the same 25 mile radius. The number of courses is currently in the process of doubling. That’s on top of the insane growth numbers posted above.
That’s all for now. Part II will take a look at what the growth means for Joe Disc Golfer as well as those who are more involved.