Tournament Payout Depth

After the Maple Hill Open last week, Paul McBeth posted on Facebook about the depth of tournament payouts. He stated that he felt that a player who performed far worse received compensation far above what it should have been, especially when compared to the scores of those who competed at a higher level. I can’t recall the words exactly, it looks as though the post has since been removed.

In other words, those who placed near the top took less because the payout was spread across a broad number of people. Paul was both negatively blasted and praised for his comments.

What is “Payout Depth”

The payout depth is the percentage of competitors who receive a payout. You can view the PDGA “Pro Payout Table” here. Clicking the link will prompt you to download a .xls file. With this scale, the top 45% receive a payout. The last 20 paid receive 37% of the payout.

When looking at the issue, the comments boiled down to two issues with payouts:

Should Tournament Payouts Promote Champions or Promote More Participation?

The argument is that when a regular champion receive more, others are less inclined to take part in the sport. I think that assumption is false.

Disc Golf Needs a Champion. Why Tiger Woods was Good for Golf

I once lived in Denver, where Sports Authority is headquartered, and became friends with one of the Chief Executives. He and I were lounging on a Sunday watching “ball golf”, and Tiger Woods was on the brink of losing his 5 stroke lead in the final round. With only a 1 stroke difference between him and Woody Allen and two holes left to play, what was once a leisure game of golf became intense. This executive was depending on Tiger Woods to come out victorious. I inquired why, and he said that when there is a champion which people can cheer for, the sport thrives and sales increase. In the end, Tiger was victorious, much to the relief of my executive friend.

I share that story to kick this post off, because disc golf needs a Tiger Woods. Yes, for sales. Money coming into disc golf is a good thing for places like Infinite Discs; I’m not going to hide that. So if you feel I’m bias, that’s why.

But it’s more than just dollars and cents. Champions are good for the competition, the passion, the structure, and most importantly, the fanaticism. It’s what we love in sports and what keeps us coming back – champions being challenged by underdogs, champions thriving, champions being disparaged by competitors fans, dynasties, and dynasties falling to a new one. This is what enthralls us in a sport and keeps us coming back for more.

Why Compete in a Disc Golf Tournament?

When players arrive at a tournament they want to have fun, they want to compete, they want to feel the pressure of being at the top, and they want to win. I don’t know anyone who entered a tournament who had already mentally visioned and accepted their fate of taking last place. That player would not show up on competition day. Players dream of and talk about standing atop the winners podium.

Nearly every player outside of the touring professionals are underdogs; and that’s understood. In Utah we have the Mello Yello Challenge at the Solitude Disc Golf Course. When Paul McBeth arrives in August to compete after Worlds, each player in his division will be aiming to be on the lead card with him at the end, and then to win at the final round. Who wouldn’t want to play with and score better than the top rated player in the world!? Just to amaze yourself.

Then you would realize you’re taking home a giant check, too.

When all is said and done, many players scores will fall far outside of those in the winners circle. Most of the players will not be paid. Will they be disappointed and vow never to return to a disc golf tournament? Probably not. If they vow never to return, they probably had more issues than just their score with that tournament. Disc golfers are generally easy-going, happy to participate and compete, own-my-own-results type of people. Will they be a bit bummed that they didn’t play better? Usually they are. If every competitor expected to receive payouts for mediocre or horrible performance, that would be a culture issue that needed to be addressed. Competition is not about making everyone a winner, it’s about rewarding excellence.

Many ‘losers’ will go home with stories about amazing shots, flashes of brilliance, and eagerness to improve and compete at a higher level next year – maybe even get into the money… real money, not consolation money as a result of paying a deep field, that wouldn’t even cover gas.

By removing payout for those in the middle of the pack and bumping that up to the winners, nobody will be offended. Winners will be properly rewarded, and more inclined to focus on winning and dedicating further efforts to growing the sport (and therefore increasing their competition field… and therefore increasing their future payouts). Those who don’t win will work harder to improve as well.

Players Competing For Money Are Greedy

This is one of the reasons why the NBA and I get along less and less. Paul was blasted in his post for wanting more money, with critics saying that he just needs to learn to enjoy the ride. Here’s the reality of most top touring pros right now, including Paul – they’re not that wealthy. These pros stay in the most affordable accommodations available. Prior to competitions,  some ask for floor space to sleep on to save a few extra bucks. So yes, money can corrupt the love and passion in the sport… but touring pros are driven by the survival instinct right now. A little extra money to set aside for a home and hotel accommodations while touring is not greedy.

What about “sandbagging?”

We all know the players I’m talking about, the ones who are clearly more advanced than the division in which they are competing. I know some individuals who play intermediate regularly, even though they may take 3rd overall in the tournament. Ironically, if those individuals would have played up another division they would have won more, as the payouts in the more advanced divisions pay fewer people. In this blog post, I am not arguing for modifying amateur and lower division payouts. Continue to keep those payouts flat. In those divisions, reward participation. Keep the top division payouts aggressive, steep, and reward excellence. This, too, encourages players to improve so they can get better payouts.

Players Need to Get Sponsors Instead of Complaining About Low Payouts

Many of the comments blamed players for low payouts and their failure to obtain sponsorships. As one of the owners of a rapidly growing disc golf brand, I would love to reach into my pockets and sponsor more players… But, I don’t want to offend anybody, there are a few reality checks to visit:

Reality #1: Disc golf is small (even though it is growing).
Reality #2: Disc golf is not very profitable (yet).

For a sponsor, it’s all about ROI (Return on Investment). A smart sponsor will reach their target audience by sponsoring (which would be disc golf companies like Infinite Discs). Disc golf companies are strapped for cash due to high competition in a relatively small market, and other sponsors hesitate because they want to connect with their target audience and get decent return as well. However, there is no single great way to reach all disc golfers and get a solid ROI. For that reason, the obtaining of sponsors cannot be put squarely on the players shoulders – it actually needs to be put on all disc golfers shoulders.

How? Disc golf will continue to grow steadily throughout the United States and the world. Disc golfers need to respect their courses, respect others, and to invite others out to play. At Infinite Discs we try to encourage others to grow the sport through giveaways such as this: #growthesport campaign.

On another post I’ll focus on great ways to grow the sport, as well as the best ways to get more courses in your area. Some people have a difficult time with wanting to grow the sport, as it will become more “main stream.” Obviously, I don’t have a problem with that, it helps feed my family and hopefully I’ll be able to save something for a rainy day. I also like to see the sport grow because it’s a fantastic recreational activity for all ages. It pulls people out doors, it brings us to beautiful places in which we live, and it’s a cost-effective answer to recreation for cities. Nothing wrong with having more courses to play within a short driving distance!

Let me know what your thoughts are on the article above and what you’d like to see more of! Here’s to next time!


  • I have no issues with modifying the payout depth. I will never be in a position to win money at a tournament so I am not affected. My issue with McBeth’s comments is the medium, not the substance. Dominant champions definitely grow the sport. However, we don’t need a dominant champion using social media to vent about a small(er) payout. Those comments should be reserved for the TD and the PDGA.

    I think the PDGA would be well served to work with the top pros on using social media to enhance their (both the pros and the PDGA) brands, not use it to sound petty and petulant.

  • The current payout looks okay.

    I didn’t look up the details for Maple Hill. Last weekend we had Paul Ulibarri in town! He and JohnE Mccray finished tied for first (after 3 rounds) at the Showdown in Shelton. Paul ended winning first.

    The payout:
    10 Open
    5 Masters
    3 Grandmasters
    2 Open Women
    2 Senior Grandmaster

    The amounts appear to fall off in a reasonable way. Forcing every shot to count to make money. The top in the masters finished tied for third. There was no women close to Catrina Allen and it is hard for the top women to make money.

    Am sure the top pros in the tournament only came to this neck of the world to warm up for World which is only 120 miles away. But they made okay money for a local tournament at where the sport is at now.

    Paul $2000
    John $1350
    Catrina $600

    Maybe the payout in the smaller populated divisions could be tweaked some. But doing so would not significantly make the top pros any richer. Changing the payout would rob others who are paying the tournament entree fees, which support the pros payout, of a chance to recoup some of their money.

    Think our best option is to leave the payout alone or only make minor modification to it. As a amateur, my fees go to pay the top pros, support the local pros, and the local club. Even so, I look at my costs: tournament fees and lodging. Do I camp out the hottest months of the year? Where do I cut corners? Yes, even the pros have these issues.

    Changing the payout may discourage the local pros of striving for greatness. Occasionally winning $400 might encourage someone to practice more and become one of the top players in the US.

    Growing the sport is also about encouraging others to greatness. Unfortunately the only carrot we have is money. So, keep spreading around in a reasonable way.


    — Leroy __

    • There are many factors that effect the ability to make a Real living while only competing in disc golf as a means of income. The main reason is simply player demographics, the average disc golfer earns around $35,000-45,000 a year per household. (This is based on my observation alone, but not far from accurate maybe even inflated a bit.)this money is closely guarded and spent mainly on necessities. Our close cousin has an average household income of $95,000
      That allows for a great deal more discretionary spending and they do. On greens fees, Food and drink at the club house, driving range use, and buying new equipment regularly. All of this spending is without ever intending to playing more than a few competitive rounds (if any) at the local course. Most importantly this is done to support the true professionals. For those that want to or dream compete in the sport they have to pay; for the time at a course, to practice, for there equipment, and to qualify for events that offer a chance to win money. Most will never go anywhere in the sport, never make a penny, but they will pay with the time and dollars to try. People pay -as a whole- hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the chance to play the game with no aspirations of becoming competitors, just to enjoy the experience and have some fun competing at the club level. So my point is that for the foreseeable future competitive disc golf will not easily earn any player a comfortable income even when they are the currently dominant player. How could it? We the players don’t have the income as a group to support it. We love it because it’s among other things cost effective to play. No greens fees, we are not supporting that aspect. I’m not buying a $175.00 driver this year are you? (Ball golfers do)no we tend to hold onto our <$20.00 discs as if they were gold keeping some if not most for several years, not supporting that aspect. We go to social gatherings AKA "tournaments" and ask for the bulk of proceeds to be given back to each player so that more participants are rewarded for being there, not for excellence, Not supporting that aspect either. It's not really how the money is distributed, there is not enough money to make much of a difference, it's more about how the sport is supported by the players, and the fact that most players don't have the means to support it.

    • WRONG! As an amateur, your fees DO NOT go towards the pro payout. They go towards your divisions players pack or prize outs. Pros compete for each other’s cash and added cash.

  • I agree with Paul. Payouts need to change… with that being said, until Disc Golf becomes more legitimate and corporate sponsors start stepping up, it’s not going to happen. So this bodes well to needing that Champion… we had one for many years, but instead of utilizing that to further the growth of the Professional aspect, that champion was used to make more money for the disc manufacturer. We could argue these points till we are blue in the face…

    Here are a couple of things I feel need to occur before Disc Golf will ever be considered a ligitimate sport and start to obtain serious corporate sponsors:

    1) I have a live and let live mentality, but removing the negative stereotype of disc golf = pothead. This can be achieved by requiring drug tests for PROs

    2) Create separation between PRO’s and AM’s. The Professional Disc Golf Association should be for PRO’s only. An organization like the United States Disc Golf Association should be for AM’s only. Kind of like the USGA for Ball Golf.

    3) With USDGA sanctioned AM Tournaments, standarize the entry fee’s for non major events, so no matter what tournment you play in, you know what your cost. Create Flights based on ratings with a deviation of 15 to 20 points from lowest rated to highest rated. This will provide more competetive divisions and slow down the bagging.

    4) Remove the payout structure from AM tournaments. You play for trophy and status. Huge players packs and dozens of prizes for free raffle. If you want to get paid to play the sport, then you should step up and play PRO.

    5) lastly, we need more pay to play courses. Not expensive, but courses that are well groomed and enforce true “GOLF” etiquite.

    I’m not saying these are the answers, but in order to grow our sport and provide more cash for the elite pros, we have to find a way to become more legitimate.

    FYI, the USDGA is incorporated as a non-profit and is looking for investors and volunteers to make this happen. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you want to become a part of the future of Amateur Disc Golf.

  • I played in the Showdown at Shelton, and I never expected to win anything, but I went (and “donated” my entry fees) because I wanted to play in a larger tournament, and see how players much better than me played. I have no problem tweaking the pro payouts so that the top players make more. I think that it would cause the top 10% to move more around the country and not all play the same events every weekend. If the top 20 players all played a different tournament in a given weekend, it would bring a lot more people out to compete with them.
    As for touring players making a decent living, I will use Eric McCabe as an example. Not only does he tour and play to win cash, he is working in his sponsor’s warehouse, filling order; designing courses (most likely for a fee); giving clinics wherever he goes; running tournaments; etc… He makes his living at disc golf, but not by tournament winnings alone, he is an all around promoter of the sport. I think that others could learn from his example, and maybe more pros could make a living doing what they love!

  • It would be nice if my disc golf heroes could make a decent living that would support a family and eventually send their kids off to school. We are not there yet. Changing the payout to give better players more and eliminate cash prizes for some of the class finishers may prove counter productive to growing the sport. It also depend on your view of what growing the sport actually means. Innova makes a chunk of money off of non-tournament players. Look at the number of different discs in the Blizzard plastic (130-159g). Is there a way to get these folks playing in tournaments? Maybe reducing amateur fees by reducing player packages. Most people already own the disc they want to throw.

    A friend in his 60s (aged baby boomers is a reality) would like to spend money on going to a week long disc golf school. Maybe there is one but he couldn’t find it. Also, do we have a school for certifying instructors like PSIA for skiers do?

    If you buy a current copy of Chess Life and look at a one page tournament adds you may drop your jaw. They took a different approach for payouts. To grow their sport by not focusing on the super elites but focusing on the masses. For their World Open this year they had a $200K minimum guaranteed prize fund. How much do you think the winner of the tournament got. He only got 4 times more then the top winner of any class. $20k vs $5k . Their classes are not done by age and sex but by skill level. So even a beginning playing among his peers has a chance to win $5k. They were projecting paying top 10 finishers in each class. Plus some cash prizes for the unrated new to tournament group. They awarded at least 88 cash prizes. So, for them they decided it was best to grow the support by spreading the tournament money around.

    What is the turnover rate of PDGA members, especially pro members? Do most stay for only 2 years? How many folk, on average, do not renew their membership? Some folks may say if they want to leave we don’t need them. But if we really do want to grow the sport we should find ways to maintain our membership by reducing attrition.

    I think it would be a big mistake to cater to the super elite pros and not the masses. Maybe the chess world with their $200k prize fund distribution to the masses model is wrong for us. It is working for them. The pros are people like every one else and make a decision each year to maintain or not their membership. It will be a big benefit to them if we grow the sport so that they could make an exceptional living. Think we need to focus on giving more folks a chance to win money. At flip doubles there are a bunch of college age folks playing for blood just to win $25. Winning $300 occasionally in a tournament would probably not only keep them as members but get all their buddies playing in tournaments too.

    – Leroy __

  • Peter Lovegrove

    what does a conventional payout distribution look like for a pro ball golf tournament, or tennis tournament? that would help me a lot with my opinion.

  • When I raced motocross, after a certain number of good finishes (points), you were automatically bumped up to the next higher class of competition. The PDGA should have a system in place that forces better players to be bumped out of their sandbagging comfort zone and be forced to suck it, for a while, until they pick up your game in the next higher class. They will be forced to become better players to survive/make the payout in their newly acquired division. It creates better competition, clear division structure, respect from your fellow competitors and a professionalism that will benefit the sport for years to come.

  • Excellent thread! Thanks!

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