One of the best aspects of disc golf to me is attending tournaments. Reuniting with people I’ve played with before and meeting new people adds another dimension to the sport. Cheering on friends adds to the enjoyment. Although there are many things that differ from tournament to tournament, such as format, tier, location, layout, and payout, there is one thing they all have in common: someone has stepped up and was willing to run a tournament. Usually more than one person. I would like to introduce to you someone who has stepped up more than anyone I know.
If you’ve played a disc golf tournament in Idaho or Utah in the last couple decades there is a good chance you’ve played in a tournament run by Brandon “Mook” Merzlock. Mook has been playing and running tournaments for nearly 20 years. He currently owns Mook’s Infinite Tour and the Infinite Discs St. George, Utah store. I asked him about his experiences running tournaments. Here is our conversation.
When did you run your first tournament? Did it turn out like you thought?
The first event I ran was in 2004. It was the Portneuf Open. It turned out to be more work than I originally thought, but the event boasted a 225% payout so it had great reviews. By the way, a 225% payout in 2004 brought $200 to first place in the Open division. I think the registration fee was like $25.
What made you want to run your first tournament? Is that what still drives you?
The local club president Steve Larsen thought I would be a good tournament director. He encouraged me and helped out with some aspects of the event. I was enthusiast about growing the sport. That is what has driven me since day one. I loved disc golf since the first day I heard the Frisbee hit the chains. That’s all I wanted to do. That is still what drives me. I love this sport and am relentless in my vision to help it grow.
How many tournament have you ran?
This week I will be running my 108th tournament.
How much time does it take for you to run a C-tier? (From planning, until it is completely finished)
I wouldn’t classify the time that it takes to run an event by the tier. I’ve run non-PDGA events where I had to set up a temporary course from scratch. That took a long time. I ran a night Halloween tournament for 10 years that was the time demanding event I ran every year. I would tell tournament directors that there is no black and white answer on how long it takes to run an event. Just make sure you have the time and the resources, and after that it will be more work than you thought. Now, there are so many tools to help you run your event. Something like a Match Play or NADGT event can be very simple to run.
What is the biggest tournament you’ve run?
I’m running the 4th Annual Infinite Discs Red Rock Classic with 200 players this week. That would be it.
What is the most satisfying tournament you’ve run, and why?
There isn’t one event I can think of that I could say “That was the best tournament I’ve run”. The next tournament is the most satisfying tournament I run. Seeing disc golfers fill my events is the most satisfying of all. We don’t do it unless the players show up.
What is the biggest challenge when running a tournament?
Patience. The complaint I have heard from tournament directors over the years is the lack of respect and appreciate for what tournament directors do. We receive complaints no matter how good the event is. We have players who blame us for their bad play and it drives tournament directors away. Be patient. It helps to have thick skin.
Are you in favor of having TD’s make money from tournaments? What would be a fair amount for someone to receive for running a C-tier?
Absolutely! Most TD’s want the best payout ever and donate all funds to the event which is honorable. I have always treated myself to something from tournament funds, but it’s always some cheesy like a new laminator or OB stakes to make the next event easier to better. I don’t think you should base your pay off of the tier. Some of the most frustrating things to do is find sponsorship for the event. If I was going to run a C-Tier event, I don’t need any sponsorship to fulfill the required 85% payout. So, I would say this, take a percentage of all the sponsorship you have raised for the event. That’s where the work is at. Say 10-15%. If I raise $10,000 in sponsorship it doesn’t seem far-fetched to take a $1500 paycheck to me.
If you could send a text/email to every disc golfer on earth who will be attending a tournament, what message or advice would you give?
READ THE INFORMATION THE TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR HAS PROVIDED BEFORE ASKING QUESTIONS OR ATTENDING THE EVENT.
If you were interviewing a TD, what question would you ask that hasn’t been asked in this interview? What is your answer to that question?
Q – What are the keys to running a successful event?
The 2018 Glass Blown Open is in the books! This annual event is considered one of the most inviting for disc golf fans and amateur players in the world. The host city, Emporia, Kansas, has a population of just over 20,000 and is considered by many the “Disc Golf Mecca.” So with another successful GBO coming to a close on Saturday, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss our participation in disc golf tournaments and the potential economic impact of that participation.
In our State of Disc Golf Survey at the beginning of the year, we asked disc golfers if they played in any disc golf tournaments in 2017. Just shy of 3/4 of us did compete in a tournament with 72.59% of survey takers answering in the affirmative. Of these disc golfers who played in a tournament, we asked how many PDGA sanctioned tournaments they played in as well as how many non-PDGA sanctioned tournaments. Here were the results:
What do these numbers tell us? It looks like the majority of us who play in tournaments still keep it casual, only playing in a handful of tournaments. We can see that more than half of us played in 3 PDGA and non PDGA sanctioned tournaments or less this year. I’d say I am a bit surprised by how low that number is, and I am also surprised that there isn’t a larger difference in these percentages. I would have imagined there would have been significantly more participation in PDGA events, but the spread is pretty even for both.
Now for some questions that lead to great info for those of us who are trying to grow the sport by getting our local parks and city officials to support disc golf. This info could also be useful when trying to seek out sponsors for your local events–How far are we willing to travel for disc golf, and how much money do we spend when we do travel?
Again, here I think the numbers should do most of the talking, so here are our responses to those questions:
As someone who has been involved in running tournaments and installing new disc golf courses, the statistical tidbit that I think I will use in future meetings is over a quarter of competitive disc golfers are willing to travel anywhere for a disc golf tournament. “If you build it, they will come,” right? If the courses are good enough and the payout high enough, the disc golfers will come and they will bring their wallets with them. Now city officials may not be ecstatic by the size of those wallets based on the results of the second question, but still, communities know that community events bring in money. If you get the chance, ask business owners in the small town of Emporia, Kansas what they think about disc golf tournaments. And if you don’t get a chance, take notice of all the “Welcome Disc Golfers” signs your friends who went to GBO posted on their social media accounts.
Getting back to our involvement in disc golf, my final takeaway is something that I think is pretty unique to disc golf. And that is disc golf fans are also disc golf competitors. Yes, there are community leagues for basketball and soccer that fans of those sports participate in, but do all fans of those sports also compete? In my last article, I reported that 77.4% of survey takers follow professional disc golfers. If we assume that the 72.59% of disc golfers who played in a tournament in 2017 also follow the pros, that would mean that less than 5% of those who follow the professionals don’t compete themselves. I’d imagine that number is much bigger for those who follow the professional game in basketball, soccer, or most other sports.
Why is that? Well, most of us learned about professional disc golf well after playing it first since pro disc golf is not in the mainstream. Also all we need to do to compete in disc golf is pay the tournament registration fee. Team sports require…well, a team of players who are willing to practice and play together. Also in most locations, disc golfers can practice and prepare to compete without spending a dime except for the money they spend on their gear. For other individual sports like ball golf or bowling, you can’t access the competition facility to practice for free. The ease of access is greater for disc golf competitors, so we see more participation in the amateur game.
Which leads to the common discussion in our sport of how much does the amateur game fuel the professional game? This year after the Las Vegas Challenge, participants were invited to provide their feedback for the event, and one of the main questions asked was if they should split the event into two weekends, one for amateur competition and one for the pros. This would allow for a larger field of competitors. You would have to contact Jeff Jaquart and the fantastic crew at the LVC for the results of that survey, but just by word of mouth I heard a lot of my fellow competitors express that they would likely not make the trip back next year if they didn’t get to see the pros compete that same weekend. But the question I have is how many fans would make the trip just to watch the pros if they weren’t competing themselves? Would the gallery be smaller for the final round of next year’s LVC? No matter the answer, I can’t help but think of the huge gallery I saw all 4 rounds of the Masters (that’s a kind of big ball golf tournament for those who don’t know :)), and it just makes me think that we still have a long way to go in disc golf.
What do you think? What are you most surprised by in these numbers? Comment and let us know!
Several years ago I was online looking for some information about the county I live in and stumbled upon an announcement of a disc golf tournament scheduled at a local course. At that point I learned two things: first, there was a disc golf course in my county. And second, disc golfers had tournaments! Until then I had only played disc golf a few times a year, and had no idea there were competitions. I ended up playing in that tournament, and met people that I’m still friends with today. When a local club was formed a bit later, I gladly joined.
Since then, I’ve become addicted to disc golf and a big part of the attraction is the tournaments. I love the atmosphere, the competition, the camaraderie, and often times the travel. Judging by the survey results for the Infinite Discs’ poll, there are a lot of other people that love tournaments, too. And some that never play tournaments. In this blog post we will look at the survey results surrounding tournaments and some of the reasons we do or do not play them.
To play, or not to play a sanctioned tournament
Let’s start by talking about sanctioned tournaments. A tournament sanctioned by the PDGA is different than other tournaments. The rules are stricter, participants are required to be PDGA members or buy a temporary membership, they are usually longer (more holes and/or held for more days), and typically cost a bit more. Many of us like the added rules, making the atmosphere at a sanctioned tournament a bit more serious. The payouts are also usually better than at non-sanctioned events. As PDGA members, we also get the benefit (or sometimes the detriment) of getting a rating from sanctioned tournaments so that we can compare our skill level to other disc golfers.
Over half of the survey respondents played at least one sanctioned tournament last year (53%). Of the 1,850 who played in at least one, the largest group, 472 people, only played in one sanctioned tournament. The next largest group (347) played between 6-10, and the third largest played two sanctioned tournaments. A significant number of us (110) played in 16 or more tournaments. It would be interesting to know who in the survey played in the most sanctioned tournaments, and how many!
An unsanctioned tournament is more like a club tournament. Although most of the basic PDGA rules are followed, it is up to the tournament director (TD) to decide which rules will be enforced and which will be relaxed, such as marking a lie close to the basket. These tournaments usually have fewer rounds and are mostly single-day events. TD’s don’t have the same requirements as a sanctioned tournament, such as fees and added cash to the purse. Therefore, the unsanctioned tournaments usually don’t cost as much nor pay out as much.
Lower entry fees and no PDGA membership requirements may have contributed to a slightly higher number of people who played in unsanctioned vs. sanctioned tournaments. The survey results indicated that 2,083 people, or 60%, played in at least one unsanctioned tournament. Over half of that group played between 1-3 unsanctioned tournaments.
Get Some Sweet Swag
A fun and popular type of tournament is the specialty tournament, or sponsored tournament. I call them themed, because many of these tournaments have specific, unusual types of play. Disc golf manufacturers sponsor these tournaments and use them as a vehicle to let disc golfers try their product. Popular tournaments of this type include the Birdie Bash, Trilogy Challenge, and the Ace Race. Participants of sponsored tournaments get two or three new discs, plus a bunch of swag from the tournament sponsor, and only those discs may be used in the tournament. The format of the tournament varies, depending on the manufacturer. Some examples include:
–Ace Race, where the holes are typically shorter than usual, which is good because you only get one throw to make it in the basket! You get to record metal hits, which is when you hit the basket but it doesn’t go in, and aces. The person with the most aces wins, with metal hits used as a tie-breaker The Ace Race is sponsored by Discraft, and the disc mold is a new one that will be released later in the year.
–Vibram Birdie Bash, where a similar approach is found, but instead of one throw, you get two tries (on a par 3 hole) to make it in the basket. An ace (eagle) counts as five points, birdies counts as two, and a metal hit counts as one point. The person with the most points wins.
–Trilogy Challenge participants get a disc from all three Trilogy manufacturers, Westside, Dynamic Discs, and Latitude 64, and must only use those three discs. The discs consist of a driver, midrange, and putter. A regular tournament is held and the lowest score wins.
Sponsored tournaments are a great opportunity to try out new discs, get some swag, and play a tournament, all for about the cost of the discs. Winners get discs, bags, etc. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents played in a sponsored tournament last year. The most popular was the Discraft Ace Race, followed by the Trilogy Challenge.
What’s Your Excuse?
When I looked at survey results of all of the tournaments mentioned above (sanctioned, unsanctioned, and sponsored) I found that 29% of respondents (1,006) didn’t attend any tournaments last year. In my experience, the reasons people have for not attending tournaments usually fall into two camps: tournaments cost too much, or they take up too much time. The survey asked those two questions, and asked about tournament preferences, to see if we could find out what might be standing between us and signing up for a tournament. Let’s start with the aspects of a tournament that might prevent us from signing up.
In the survey we asked everyone to rate their level of agreement to the statement that tournaments are too expensive. We can assume that if respondents remained neutral, they didn’t agree with the statement and don’t consider expense to be an issue. Therefore, let’s look at those who agree or strongly agree with the idea that tournaments are too expensive.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement that tournaments are too expensive, about 86.2% of us either remained neutral or disagreed with the statement. That is an interesting statistic, since the cost to enter tournaments varies significantly. Locally, I’ve seen tournaments range from $5 (for club events) to well over $100 to enter. The more costly the tournament, the better the players pack for amateurs and the better the payout for pros. I’ll talk more about payouts and costs later. With over 86% of us satisfied with the price of tournaments, that only leaves about 13.8% of us who agree that tournaments are too expensive.
Since most tournaments consist of several rounds of disc golf, with some over several days, we wanted to find out how many of us agree with the statement that tournaments take up too much time. Again, counting those who remained neutral as not having a problem with the amount of time, the results were similar to the previous question. Only about 14% of us agree that tournaments take up too much of our weekend.
How Long Will It Go On
Since 29% of respondents didn’t attend any tournaments last year, I would expect the number of people who either find tournaments too expensive or feel they take up too much time, to be closer in number to 29%. And that it pretty much what happened. Only about 3.1% of us felt that tournament were both too expensive AND took too much time, which leaves about 24% of us who have one or the other issue with tournaments. Which accounts for most of the 29% of us who didn’t attend any tournaments. HOWEVER, that is only adding up the numbers without looking at the sources of the numbers. When I looked at how many people thought tournaments are too expensive or take too much time, but still attended at least one tournament, I found that 12.4% of us fall into that category. We could make a couple of conclusions from that data. Either those respondents don’t like the cost or time commitment, but played anyway. Or, they played in tournaments that didn’t have expensive fees or last as long as bigger ones.
The survey also asked if we prefer single- or multi-day tournaments. Again, counting those who either responded neutrally or didn’t answer the question as not having a problem with how many days a tournament takes, the results are as follows. There were 16.4% of us that didn’t like single-day tournaments, and 21.7% of us who didn’t like multi-day tournaments. The largest number of respondents were those who remained neutral or didn’t answer the question. However, 31% of us do prefer single-day tournaments and 16% of us favor multi-day tournaments.
Out of all of the above survey results that surprised me the most was the one asking if tournaments are too expensive. I hear a lot of grumbling about the cost of playing in some tournaments, so I thought more people would agree with the statement. I would agree with the grumblers were it not for two important facts: I attend lots of tournaments, and so do many other people, because so many tournaments fill up year after year. Apparently, the market has spoken.
Taking Home Some Loot
Personally, it wouldn’t bother me if the amateur divisions (which is where I play) were a bit cheaper and didn’t have player’s packs. However, based on some of the survey results, I’m in the minority. Player’s packs typically consist of a tournament stamp disc, shirt, or other disc golf swag. Every amateur player gets a pack. And despite my feelings about them, player’s packs aren’t going away any time soon for a couple reasons. First, when tournament directors get disc manufacturers and other companies to sponsor a tournament, they can get products at a cheaper price. That allows TD’s to give out packs that are close to the dollar amount of the entry fee, while only spending a small amount of money on them. They can then take the difference in price and add it to the pro payouts. It’s a win-win because the amateurs get some swag, and the pros get a better payout.
The second reasons player’s packs are here to stay is because it’s fun to get one! Some tournaments are famous for their sweet player’s packs. There is something satisfying about taking home a bunch of stuff, regardless of how we performed. Did you win your division? Did you finish in the middle of the pack? Did you take last place? You get a player’s pack. Not only is there the psychological satisfaction of getting something for your money, there is the fun of throwing a tournament disc or wearing a tournament shirt for years to let people know that you were there. It’s also fun to see other people sporting swag from a tournament that you attended and bond with them.
One of the survey results I was most happy to see was how many people played in at least one tournament. As someone who enjoys getting together with folks who like disc golf as much as I do, it was nice to see that 71% of us played in at least one tournament. To me, that means most of us appreciate the sport enough to dedicate a little time and money for some competition. Often times we enter just to challenge ourselves. Hopefully we leave the event with a desire to continue to play and improve ourselves so the next time we compete, we see a little progress. And maybe pick up a win. Or at least have some fun and make good memories with our fellow disc golfers.
Sometimes it is hard to measure the influence that a single piece of social media has on an entire industry or market, but at other times, the effects can be seen almost immediately. The 2016 Beaver State Fling disc golf tournament presented one of those rare moments where a camera was in the right place at the right time, and magic ensued. Professional disc golfer, Philo Brathwaite, approached the tee for an 850 foot, par 5 hole, and managed to rattle the chains on his second throw. Shooting 3 under par on a single hole is extremely rare and is called at Albatross. It is much more rare than an ace (hole-in-one). The video of his throw was posted on social media and immediately went viral. It even made it onto popular television sports highlight reels.
So, what is the big deal? Sure, it was an amazing shot. But amazing shots happen quite often in the disc golf world, where thousands upon thousands of players throw discs at baskets with exciting outcomes. But rarely does the mainstream public get a glimpse of a relatively young sport like disc golf. It’s new to them, so somehow it seems all the more amazing, or even impossible. Retweets and Facebook posts boasted headlines like “Disc Golf Throw Defies Physics!” While those of us who play disc golf are amazed and excited by incredible throws, we know that they don’t defy physics. In fact, it is the physics that makes the discs fly the way they do when thrown the way great players throw them. Professional skill and the laws of physics put Philo’s throw exactly in the right spot.
The 2016 Vibram Open had more camera coverage than many disc golf tournaments in the past, so once again, some awesome shots were caught on camera. A pair of aces thrown over the pond were put together in a vine that was passed around Twitter, again spotlighting the excitement of the sport. Hopefully this will happen more and more as camera coverage improves and the mainstream itches for more highlights.
Take a look at a story from a single observer named Chad, who caught a glimpse of the Philo Albatross on social media. In his own words, as shared in a conversation with customer service at Infinite Discs:
“I came across a link of some guy named Philo throwing an ace at a Beaver State Fling and started watching more videos. I had no idea how big disc golf is.
Spent the rest of the day at work on the Google thing researching disc golf and found out that my little town of Zimmerman, MN built a small 9 hole back in 2010. I had no idea.
So, I ordered a few starter sets (Innova, Dynamic and Latitude) and a bag, ponied up for the expedited shipping. As soon as I got them, I went out and had a blast. Didn’t keep score or anything. Just chucked discs at baskets for about two hours.
I think this is going to be a thing. I’m old, kids are out of the house and I have my weekends free. I’ve been looking for something to do outside since I don’t want to run or mountain bike any more. I had fun when I was out there and there are a lot of courses in the twin cities metro area I’m looking forward to hitting.”
Chad indeed had ordered a box of starter sets, and inside that box was a small flyer talking about the Infinite Discs VIP Club where players can subscribe for a mystery, spotlight disc every month with a unique, collectible stamp. It’s $19.99 for a disc that you may or may not like, but when you’re a big enough fan of the sport, it’s a wonderful adventure and pleasant surprise every month. Well, Chad may be shooting +30 on 18 holes after only a month of play, but he was so excited that he subscribed, just to get a new mystery disc every month.
Another customer service email resonated in the same way, with a young woman from California subscribing just because she felt she had to feed her new “plastic addiction”. She’d only been playing disc golf for a month. What could possess new players to buy collectible discs every month? It’s a passion that is sparked merely by exposure. And exposure is something that has been missing until social media started spotlighting “physics-defying” throws. It has been a long time coming, but that exposure should increase in the coming months and years as the sport grows.
Professional player, Simon Lizotte, has been making trick shot videos for quite some time now, and he is also making a splash in tournaments across the globe. He has inspired a younger, fun-loving crop of new players who see that “golf” doesn’t necessarily have to refer to the boring sport dad and grandpa watched and played in hushed silence. Once you add the discs and an “anybody can play” attitude to the mix, the sport seems fresh and exciting.
Avery Jenkins is a professional player who has left much of the competitive play to become a sort of ambassador for disc golf. He travels the world to host workshops and participate in events that spotlight the sport. The impact that he has in his face-to-face encounters and his presence at events is huge, but the fuel he pours onto the fire through his social media photos and blurbs is even more impressive.
Not everybody can afford to travel the globe promoting disc golf, but when a champion like Avery makes it his career and his mission, and splashes those efforts in a beautiful way all over Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, etc. then the world takes notice. It only takes a few minutes of browsing his social media content to realize that disc golf is not only a fun game, but is a sport that is surrounded by incredible beauty, vibrant variety, and life.
Most disc golf players could tell you that there is a very poor male-to-female player ratio. There are simply more men throwing discs at chains than there are women, but thanks to social media, there is hope! More and more women are seeing that it can be a fun, graceful, and feminine sport. Check out the wonderful photo blog by Discgolfngirl on Tumblr for a gallery of wonderful photography highlighting the women players that are bringing life to the game.
Social media is beginning to explode with disc golf, and it’s bringing new players who are not only interested, but enthusiastic about the sport. We welcome those new players and hope it becomes a lifetime of fun in the great outdoors. While you’re out playing, pull out your camera’s! Take those videos! Shoot those artsy photos of amazing disc golf courses! Take pictures of your friends as they fling those discs, and share them online. The magic happens on the course, but that magic needs to be shared and seen throughout the world.
Steve Dodge and the Disc Golf Pro Tour are doing some really good things to help grow disc golf. The Pro Tour has placed an emphasis on live media coverage and has focused on making disc golf events more fan friendly. It has introduced disc golf trading cards, player ratings, and a championship that provides more incentive to watch the live coverage. Disc Golf Pro Tour events also feature a festival with all sorts of disc related events to encourage more youth and family participation. While watching this and other recent events, I’ve thought a lot about what disc golf really needs to “grow the sport” on the professional level.
Last month Utah had its biggest (in terms of payout and pro presence) disc golf tournament ever. While we didn’t have most of the big name pros present, we had a handful of touring pros who came to Utah to play disc golf for the first time.
The tournament director, Jade Sewell, literally spent hundreds of hours working to make this event big — and make the Pros feel like superstar professionals. He arranged for dozens of volunteers, live stats, online voting, photographers, and video coverage from Central Coast Disc Golf.
For the tournament, Infinite Discs invested a lot of time and a money in sponsorship. While we knew this would primarily go to pro payout, we hoped from a business perspective that there would be a long-term positive return and branding advantages. The desired outcome is that professional disc golfers will draw disc golf spectators (our target market) to the event and to the YouTube tournament coverage.
A sponsor needs potential customers associating the event with their brand.
Unfortunately, the Utah Open didn’t have the big names Ricky Wysocki, Simon Lizotte, Avery Jenkins, and Will Schusterick that we saw last year. Paul Ulibarri, Cam Todd, Gregg Barsby and the local Utah pros didn’t make the final round lead card. As it turned out, there just wasn’t a lot of interest from local disc golfers or casual observers to come and watch the Utah Open.
As the final round lead card began their round, I was surprised that there were only half a dozen observers that showed up. As the amateur players finished their tournament rounds there were a few more fans that joined the gallery, but overall it was an underwhelming fan presence.
Do disc golf professionals even want us promoting their brand?
There were a few things that happened during the round that made me think the overall approach of professional disc golf needs to change IF they really want to make it a fan friendly and see BIG payouts.
I helped keep round statistics and live scoring during the final round. There was one instance where we couldn’t tell if the player’s out-of-sight throw landed in the OB bunker or not. The frustrated player (frustrated because it was out-of-bounds) refused to answer us when we asked.
As people are volunteering time to keep stats that help promote the event and the professionals’ brand, the players need to cooperate to ensure that the information is accurate.
Multiple players asked camera men that were 50 feet away to move out of their line of site. Twice, after missing putts, one of the professionals complained to the camera man, saying that he needed to be still, (which from my observance — he was) as if it was the camera man’s fault that he missed his putt.
There was also a time when the pros got into a pretty heated argument over whether a bunker shot that was right on the edge of the grass line was inbounds or not. The angry pros made an awkward, uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone present. After this instance and the cameraman berating, it seemed that the fans were hesitant to interact or even cheer after a good shot. We didn’t want to shake up a player’s fragile mental state and have them blow up for ruining their shot. It almost felt more like we were intruding on a private golf round rather than being part of a historic, professional event.
I understand that player’s livelihoods are on the line based on how well they perform, but it’s us, the sponsors, who are the ones making it possible for the relatively big payouts.
Disc Golf Needs to be Fan Friendly
The traditional golf etiquette “be still and silent” so you don’t distract the thrower may be nice for private rounds, but if we want disc golf to be a spectator sport (an ingredient needed to get serious sponsors) then fan participation needs to be open and even encouraged.
Fans love it when they can interact with the players. We love the feedback, we love being able to cheer. It’s fun to cheer for your favorite pro, but it’s just uncomfortable when you feel that you need to restrain your emotions so you don’t make too much noise.
Think of competitive basketball, in comparison. Do the players complain about fan participation? Do they demand silence during the intentional distractions when shooting free-throws? They wouldn’t dream of openly complaining, and if they do, it could be a technical and the bench for unsportsmanlike conduct.
When it’s too awkward to get near enough to the action to see what’s going on, and when you have to maintain a state of reverence instead of expressing your enthusiasm and excitement, then what’s the point of attending a disc golf tournament when there are so many other entertainment options?
Disc Golf Needs to be Camera and Media Friendly
I’m not suggesting that fans be encouraged to heckle players, but in my opinion, professionals need to change their mental outlook on how they play the game. If we want professional disc golf to grow, we need to put media coverage and fan participation first. I think professional disc golfers need to enhance their mental games so that they can make a putt without being bothered by the background movement from a fan or cameraman.
Disc Golf Needs Superstars and Drama
I’m a passionate sports fan. To me, a big draw of sports is watching my team win — when there could be any outcome. It’s the drama of not knowing what will happen, especially when I have pride and bragging rights on the line. If I don’t have a reason to cheer for (or sometimes against) a certain player or team, then I’m not going to be engaged enough to watch an entire four-hour live disc golf broadcast. If there’s no emotional bearing on the line, then what’s the point?
Professional disc golfers, the media, and the sponsoring brands need to give us a compelling reason to cheer for their “teams” and players. I recently found myself watching an ESPN women’s softball broadcast, not because I like watching softball, but because it was my college team that was playing. Can disc golfers be loyal enough to a brand that they are going to watch a finals round because a player from their “team” makes the lead card? I imagine fans are more likely to follow when the pros playing represent their home town or local club.
Disc Golf Needs Better Live Coverage
A big problem with watching disc golf is that our choices are either slow live coverage (not always reliable) or YouTube rebroadcasts where you already know the outcome and so lose the element of sports drama.
There are a few players who have engaging personalities, and have branded themselves in a way that people genuinely want to follow them and watch them win (or lose).
When live disc golf coverage is aired, there are only a few thousand hard-core disc golf fanatics that tune into the events. My guess is that most of these viewers tune in primarily because they like watching good disc golf. The lack of sports drama and professional coverage make it hard to keep the attention of hundreds of thousands of casual disc golfers and general sports fans.
There are a few things that I think can realistically be done to improve live coverage:
Increase the professionalism of disc golf broadcasts. The first time I watched a Disc Golf Planet TV broadcast three years ago, I laughed at how unprofessional it was. Walking while filming is the first great sin of amateur filmography. When the camera men needs to walk to the next shot, the broadcast footage should switch to stats, commercials, or updated footage from previous action or other cards.
Increase the speed of play. A custom of disc golf is to have the feature card play the very last round of the day. The problem with this is that disc golf tournaments almost always run slow, and backups happen. Often times the live disc golf broadcasts themselves start late. This issue is easily resolved by having the featured cards play first, or by having substantial buffer time between the aired card and the groups in front of them.
Increase the commentary. Watching silent disc golf throws isn’t nearly as fun or as informative as it could be. It’s nice to hear cheering, and it’s even better to know how difficult the shot really was when you don’t know the details of the course circumstances. When watching disc golf, I like it when the commentators tell me who the players are, what their current scores are, and what this particular shot means. One reason disc golf commentary is minimal is because of “be still and silent” golf etiquette. We either need to change player mentality so that commentators can talk while players are throwing, or else there needs to be remote commentating happening away from the actual disc golf action.
The Pro Tour is making great strides to try to reduce the downtime between shots with statistics and footage of other cards. They have between-shot statistical analysis and are aiming to have multiple card coverage. Overall our broadcasts are improving, but we still have a long way to go.
As a business directly related to disc golf, it is logical for me to sponsor tournaments, when the price is right, because while the number of spectators and viewers are small, they are my ideal target market. For the local events we sponsor, we have confidence that we will be able to sell enough product to at least cover our sponsorship and travel expenses.
But what about non disc golf related sponsors? How many more eyeballs do they need before they will sponsor disc golf tournaments?
The Vibram Open’s ~20,000 viewers is impressive compared with past disc golf broadcasts, but compared with the 38,000,000 who watched game 7 of the NBA finals — it’s easy to see why major sponsors are not reaching out to disc golf.
When disc golf events and broadcasts have enough of a following — sponsorship and money will come. Unless professional disc golf fundamentally changes to better engage fans, I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Until companies see their sponsorship as an advertising investment, we will likely not see much of an increase in pro payouts. As a sponsor, I want to feel that my sponsorship efforts are a business investment and not just a donation to people who are good at throwing discs.
Nearly every PDGA tournament has them, the self-proclaimed PDGA police who know every rule about disc golf. Today we are putting it to the test; are the rules they are citing fact, or are they fiction?
This Q&A is in no way, an official representation from the PDGA. This myth busting is according to our researched interpretation of the PDGA rules. If you have thoughts to add, we’d love to hear them below, unless you are simply an angry troll. If you have a tendency to be a troll, find a different way to present your thoughts, and then present them.
#1 You Must Use A Mini Marker to Mark Your Lie
(To clarify, this question is asking if you must use a mini to mark your lie, prior to your next throw). Both.
You may leave your previous throw on the ground and treat that as your lie, so long as it meets the following criteria: the disc naturally fell in a definite position, it is not elevated, and no casual relief is needed (Rule 802.03-B). If your disc did fall into any of that criteria, you must mark your lie. You may choose to mark your lie if your lie is in bounds, but within one meter of out of bounds.
Essentially, most throws will likely not require a mini to mark your lie. However, using a mini may be to your advantage, therefore it is a good common practice.
#2 Fact or Fiction: You cannot throw from out of bounds.
You must have all supporting points in-bounds (Rule 802.04-B-3).
#3 Fact or Fiction: When you mark your lie, the object used must be a mini marker disc.
The wording on this can be a bit confusing, as the the rules state “a mini marker disc may be used” (802.03-B, emphasis added). The word may is in reference to if you need to drop a mini at all, or use the original disc as the lie. All other language in the PDGA rule book states “mini marker disc” for when marking your lie with an object may be necessary.
#4 Fact or Fiction: Your feet cannot come off the pad when you are teeing off.
The rule states “Supporting point contact outside the teeing area is allowed if it comes before or after, and not at, the moment the disc is released” (802.01). The question, however may need additional clarity. Your supporting points must be in bounds during the release. That means that a run-up which takes you off of the tee-pad is OK. It also means that one foot may be off the ground, in front of the tee-pad, so long as the disc is released before that foot comes into contact with the ground.
Disc golf may need instant replay to properly rule this one. Until that is allowed, if a supporting point is outside of the tee-box during release, it will have to be called by somebody other than the thrower (802.04 E and F).
This also means that if you don’t like where the tee-pad is located, you cannot tee of from the side of the pad.
#5 Fact or Fiction: It is impossible to foot fault on a drive.
See answer immediately above.
#6 Fact or Fiction: You may call a foot fault on yourself.
There was a time when this was true. However, because a foot fault may work to your advantage on an errant throw, it is not allowed to call a foot fault on yourself (8020.04 E).
#7 Fact or Fiction: You must allow those further away from the basket to putt first
The away player throws first. However, “To facilitate flow of play, a player who is not the away player may throw if the away player consents.” (801.05 D).
If a player throws out of turn, without consent of the away player, it may be called a courtesy violation.
#8 Fact or Fiction: Do you have to tee off by lead score?
If you play out of turn, it is considered a courtesy violation. Contrary to the “away player” where a player may consent to allowing another to throw first, the tee off order has no such courtesy allowed.[/learn_more]
#9 Fact or Fiction: A player that does not hole out (finish a hole) gets an automatic 7
A penalty applies, but it depends on the players intention.
Intentionally did not hole out: It is considered withdrawal from the tournament (803.03.G.3) Unintentionally did not hole out: It is the number of strokes made, plus three penalty strokes. For example, if you forget to place your disc in the basket on a 1 foot putt. One stroke for holing out, and two for the misplayed hole.
#10 Fact or Fiction: If you lazily throw a disc back to your bag, for convenience, that’s a one stroke penalty”
1: The PDGA defines a throw as: “The propulsion of a disc by a player that results in a new lie.” (800.02)
2: In the PDGA Q&A, the PDGA says: “You can throw it with your foot if that works for you. Note: That also means that kicking the disc can be penalized as a practice throw. Applicable Rules: 800 Definitions (Throw).” (Q&A, Q29)
3: The PDGA Q&A also says: “The throw begins when movement of the disc in the intended direction begins. A disc dropped or knocked out before or during a backswing does not count as a throw.”
Our call is that this needs additional clarity. There are a number of arguments that can be made citing these two examples. The argument I’ll be using “But Tournament Director, I intended to throw towards the basket, not the pond.”
#11 Fact or Fiction: If a player lands in casual water he MUST play it from that position.
“A player may obtain relief only from the following obstacles that are on or behind the lie: casual water, loose leaves or debris, broken branches no longer connected to a tree, motor vehicles, harmful insects or animals, players’ equipment, people, or any item or area specifically designated by the Director before the round.” (803.01-B)[/learn_more]
#12 Fact or Fiction: If your disc is in a tree and is not retrievable you get penalized a stroke.
Fact & Fiction
If the disc is retrievable or not is not a factor here; whether the two meter rule is in play, and if your disc came to a rest above the two meters is the only factor.
#13 Fact or Fiction: If you tie with somebody on a hole, the order of play is changed, in favor of the player with no penalty throwing first.
The only factor in determining order of play is the score. The order of play rules say nothing about factoring penalty strokes into the equation. (801.05)
#14 Fact or Fiction: A player must write his totals and initial on his or hers scorecard before turning it in.
“At the end of the round, each player shall sign the scorecard to attest to the accuracy of the score on each hole as well as (805.02.F) the total score.”
#15 Fact or Fiction: When within 10 meters of the basket you can fall to the side, but not towards the basket
#16 Fact or Fiction: Players must watch a fellow group member’s throw.
“Players should watch the other members of their group throw in order to aid in locating errant throws and to ensure compliance with the rules” (801.04.B, emphasis added).
The language the PDGA uses is “players should…”, not must. The rules then go onto further explain that a player who refuses to help search for a lost disc would incur a courtesy violation (801.04.D). Therefore, if watching the flight of a disc, or watching the players performance to monitor any breaking of rules is expected of players, then a repeat courtesy violation offender may be justified penalty. While debatable, this rule seems to ultimately encourage players to be actively involved with their groups tournament play. If you are oblivious of others actions, it should incur you a penalty for repeat offenses. Will it? That may be up to the tournament director.
#17 Fact or Fiction: You incur a penalty for landing in the wrong basket.
“Wrong Target. The player has holed out on a target that is not the target for the hole being played. If no subsequent throw has been made, play continues from the resulting lie.” (803.03.G.2).
Essentially, the player has been penalized enough by playing to the wrong basket. They then continue their play to the correct target, totaling all strokes taken to hole out at the correct hole.
If a player played to the wrong basket, and has then teed off for the next target, a two stroke penalty is incurred. It would seem most logical that a “Failure To Hole Out” penalty would apply (which adds three strokes of penalty), but the rules explicitly state that it is a two stroke penalty.
#18 Fact or Fiction: Discs which land on top of the target are considered in.
This is one of the most discussed, and should not be debatable at this point; however, new players enter the sport daily, and many-a-player have seen discs come to rest atop the basket, so it is a worthy question.
“The disc and it must come to rest supported by the chains and/or the inner cylinder (bottom and inside wall) of the tray. It may be additionally supported by the pole.” (802.05.A)
#19 Fact or Fiction: A single blade of grass under your disc, qualifies it as in bounds.
An object which is connected from in bounds, towards out of bounds, does not make everything under the object in bounds.
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:
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!