Disc Golf Tournaments: Why We Play State of Disc Golf Results

When I started playing disc golf about eight years ago, I pretty much only played casual or league rounds. I might have played in a ‘themed’ tournament, where your entry fee buys you a couple discs that you use in the tournament. But, I didn’t play in any sanctioned tournaments. That didn’t happen until the next year. After that, I was hooked on tournaments!

I can’t say it was the competition that made me want to keep playing tournaments, since I wasn’t very competitive. Part of the appeal was undoubtedly the players pack. Part if it was playing new courses. But, a very big part of my desire to play tournaments was for social reasons. It was fun to meet new players and get to know a wider family of disc golfers. I still love to reconnect with my disc golf family in other areas, either in person or on social media.  Some of which I have known since my first my first tournament year!

In this blog I will dive into the tournament section of the 2019 survey to find out who is playing tournaments and why, which tournaments are the most popular, and other aspects of tournaments covered in the survey. The timing is a bit unfortunate, since so many tournaments this year have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19. But, it will still be fun to see how we viewed tournaments in general last year.

Tournaments: Aye or Nay

The obvious place to start is to see how many of us attended disc golf tournaments of any kind last year. According to the survey results, of the nearly 7,000 responses we received, almost two-thirds of us attended at least one tournament in 2019. I suspect that if you are active enough in disc golf that you would take the time to fill out a survey, you are more likely to attend at least one tournament throughout the year. Even so, over one-third of us didn’t attend a single tournament last year. Here is the breakdown:

To Sanction or not to Sanction

For those who did attend a tournament, we also wanted to find out which tournaments people were attending. First, we asked if people attended a sanctioned tournament. Then we asked how many people attended unsanctioned tournaments. From there, we wanted to see how many attended ‘themed’ tournaments. Let’s check out the results.

A sanctioned tournament means that the tournament is sanctioned by the PDGA. Certain requirements have to be met to be sanctioned, and PDGA rules and guideline have to be followed. The rules are stricter, and typically the payouts are better than unsanctioned tournaments. A benefit to the participants is that they can see what their rating is compared to others at the tournament. Participants either need to be PDGA members, or purchase a $10 temporary membership. Some people like the more professional and consistent play of a sanctioned tournament. According to the survey, over half of us played in at least one sanctioned tournament in 2019.

Sanctioned Tournament Count

We also wanted to find out how many sanctioned tournaments individuals played last year. A majority of us played five or fewer. Quite a few lucky individuals played 12 or more sanctioned tournaments. Here are the numbers:

Next we asked about unsanctioned tournaments to find out how many were playing in them, what kind they were, and which themed tournaments they were playing. An unsanctioned tournament could be anything from local charity events, to themed tournaments, to night tournaments, or a variety of other events. The main thing is that these tournaments aren’t governed by the PDGA. As such, the rules tend to be looser and the payout structure different. Casual players tend to favor the more relaxed atmosphere of an unsanctioned tournament. Although more than half of us played an unsanctioned tournament, we played in more sanctioned tournaments than unsanctioned. Again, that might go back to the fact that if you are taking the survey, you are a little more serious than the casual player who doesn’t care about sanctioned tournaments. Here are the numbers:

Unsanctioned Tournament Count

A majority of us played in three or fewer unsanctioned tournaments in 2019, and a smaller percentage of us played in 12 or more unsanctioned tournaments.

Special Types of Tournaments

Among the many unsanctioned tournaments held around the world, one of the more popular ones are the themed tournaments. Various manufacturers sponsor those tournament. For the entrance fee, participants receive a couple of discs and some swag. Those discs must then be used to play in the tournament. It’s a great way to try new plastic, while getting to play in a tournament.

Topping the survey were the more generic event, Putting League, and the food-charity tournament, the Ice Bowl. Each of these tournaments had a third of the survey participants attend them. The Ice Bowl numbers are even more impressive because those tournaments are only held in January or February.

Nearly a third of us attended a Trilogy Challenge in 2019, helping it lead the Themed Tournament category. It almost had as many of us attend as the next two tournaments combined. Here is a list of the most popular special tournaments:

Why We Play in Tournaments

One of the more fascinating aspects of the survey was to explore what motivates people to play a tournament. Just like in life, we all have different things that motivate us to take action. Whether you are talking about choosing a job or political party, or how we will spend our free time. Different things drive us to choose the things we do. In the case of disc golf, we wanted to find out why people were willing to commit time and money to participate in a tournament. For the survey, we let people choose all that applied to them. Here is what we learned.

Not surprisingly, over three-fourths of us play tournaments for the competition. That is in our wiring. Even if we don’t think we can win our division, we still like to see how we stack up against the other competitors. It feels great to win, but can still feel good if we just beat some of our buddies. The second most popular reason people play in tournaments is also not surprising: For the fun of it! We are, after all, playing disc golf! It’s something we enjoy doing, so it only logical that we would enjoy doing that in a tournament. Two-thirds of us indicated that we play tournaments because they are fun. Here are the survey, including the rest of the survey options.

Despite having a variety of choices for why we would play in a tournament, nearly 5% of the people who indicated that they play tournaments do so for a single reason. Those people gave just three reasons: Competition, fun, and the social aspect of tournaments. Here is the exact count:

Why We DON’T Play Tournaments

Since we’ve talked about the reason people DID play in tournaments in 2019, it is also interesting to see what kept people away from tournaments. I have to say, these results surprised me. Having invited literally hundreds of people out to our local leagues, I thought I could have predicted the results of this question a little more accurately. Before getting into the results, let me also include that this question allowed for more than one answer.

Not Enough Hours in the Day

Surprisingly, the number one reason that people don’t play in tournaments is because of how long they take and/or the days they are played. To be specific, the answer reads, “Limited free time. I’m not available to play on weekends when tournaments are held.” While I would like to explore the time and date subjects separately, the bottom line is that people’s schedules don’t allow them to play. That could be because they work on weekends, or more likely because they DON’T work on weekends, so they need the weekends to take care of home/family needs. Over 40% chose that reason for not attending tournaments.

The number two reason is that people said they are not skilled enough to play in a tournament. That is what I thought would be the number one answer because I’ve heard similar remarks so often. Nearly a third of those who don’t play tournaments selected a lack of skill as the reason they don’t play. Here are the numbers:

Why disc golfers don't play tournaments graph.

Interestingly, the three least chosen answers are the ones that I hear the most. Even more reason that the results surprised me. Adding to the surprise was that over half of the people who answered the question only chose one reason they don’t play tournaments. Their answers were in line with the people who gave multiple reasons. Here are the results:


Things That Would Motivate People to Play Tournaments

Our final question in the tournament series was similar to the last one, but with some different answers. We asked people who didn’t play in tournaments what it would take for them to play. We included questions about enticements, such as free stuff, bigger winnings, and the option to play with friends. Turns out that playing with friends doesn’t mean as much as getting stuff! J

The top answers reconfirmed the previous answers. Other things that would get people to play tournaments include making shorter, less expensive tournaments, and getting the word out about the tournament in some non-traditional ways. Having said that, quite a few people said they have no desire to play tournaments.

Return to Normal?

Hopefully, tournament life will get back into full swing soon so that those of us who enjoy that aspect of our sport will be able to satisfy whatever reasons we have for playing. Until then, we will have to be content with whatever disc golf looks like for us at the moment. Whether that includes tournaments, casual rounds and leagues, or practicing at home, there are usually a variety of ways that we can satisfy our disc golf itch.

Ted is the Chief Writer at Infinite Discs. He is responsible for the State of Disc Golf Survey articles and most of the "best discs" posts. Ted runs all kinds of local disc golf leagues and tournaments and tournaments in Northern Utah.

One comment

  • When I’ve played in tournaments they last all day. I love disc golf but I get bored after about 2 hours and I completely stop caring about my game and I just want to do something else. I’m used to playing 18 holes in 30-40 minutes and moving on to the next thing. I know I’m the exception and not the rule, but competition is completely unappealing to me, if not somewhat abhorrent. I just want to get some exercise in the great outdoors while watching plastic fly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *