Disc Golf – A Newcomer’s Perspective of a Rapidly Growing Sport
Karl A. Lamothe
Perhaps you haven’t heard of disc golf. Don’t worry, many people haven’t despite its rapid growth in North America and it’s supposed roots in Canada. Nonetheless, disc golf has become one of my favourite sports and I have quickly become addicted, so I’m here to write a short post introducing you to the sport, how it benefits me, and how you can get into the action!
First – what is disc golf? Disc golf is a low intensity sport (no contact, no running) that scores similarly to traditional golf, where individuals are trying to minimize the number of shots they take to complete an 18-hole course. Sometimes disc golf courses are associated with ball golf courses, but more often you will find disc golf courses of their own or associated with public parks. To find a disc golf course near you, check out the Udisc app (more on this application later). As opposed to traditional ball golf where you aim to hit a ball into a small cup on each hole using different style clubs, disc golfers aim to throw a disc (or Frisbee) into a chain basket (Figure 1) using differing styles of disc that vary in their shape, weight, texture, flight length, and flight path.
Generally, discs can be categorized as putters, mid-ranges, fairway drivers, or distance drivers, and similar to traditional ball golf, putters are used for the shortest shots, followed by mid-ranges, fairway drivers, and distance drivers. There are many brands of disc (similar to ball golf) and within each brand, there are many different disc types. Each disc is rated based on its speed, glide, turn, and fade, and provides a perspective on the complexity that disc golf can bring:
- Speed describes how fast the player must throw the disc to achieve its desired flight and is scored on a rating from 1 to 14, where 1 is the slowest disc and 14 is the fastest disc;
- Glide describes the ability of a disc to maintain loft during flight and is scored from 1 to 7 where lower values indicate less glide;
- Turn describes the tendency of a disc to turn over during the initial part of the flight. Turning a disc over, for a person throwing a back hand shot using their right hand (Right hand back hand – RHBH) leads to the disc banking over to the right. A disc with a +1 rating is most resistant to turning over, while a -5 rating will turn the most.
- Fade describes the tendency of a disc to hook left (again for RHBH throws) at the end of the flight and is rated from 0 to 5, where 0 rated discs fly the straightest and 5 rated discs hook hard at the end of the flight.
Typically, disc golfers carry 15-20 discs in their bag when traversing a disc golf course, but beginners should start with a single putter, mid range disc, and fairway driver to learn the feel of disc golf discs – they aren’t the same as a typical beach Frisbee. I started with the beginners Discraft pack, which provided an Avenger SS (Speed: 10, Glide: 5, Turn: 0, Fade: 4), a Buzzz (S: 5, G: 4, T: -1, F: 1), and a Soft Magnet (S: 2, G: 3, T: -1, F: 2) – now I own over 30 discs (Update 2021: I own over 100 discs……). Each disc has a unique flight path, and if controlled properly, can reduce the number of shots needed to take on a single hole.
Unfortunately, disc golf is not a nationally recognized sport in Canada (see National Sport Organizations), and as a result, efforts to progress the game are limited by funds. Nonetheless, there are professionals representing Canada making a name for themselves abroad. For example, Martin Hendel (PDGA #: 39469) and Thomas Gilbert (PDGA #: 85850) are currently (December 2, 2019) the highest ranked men in Canada with ratings of 1022 and 1012, respectively, and earning over $50,000 USD in prize money collectively over their careers.
At its current state, disc golf is mostly composed of male competitors, with estimates of a 90% male to 10% female participation rate commonly tossed around. Clearly this needs to change and more effort needs to be directed to promoting the sport to women. The top woman disc golfer, and my personal favourite competitor, is Paige Pierce (PDGA #: 29190). Paige is a 5-time world champion, taking home over $200,000 USD in career earnings and recently signed a six-digit contract with Discraft to continue improving on her craft. Check out www.paigepierce.com to learn more about Paige and support her in her career. Update 2021: PAIGE IS MAKING MILLIONS IN WINNINGS AND SPONSORSHIP DEALS.
I noted in my introduction that disc golf benefits me personally, and it does so on several fronts. First, disc golf is an outdoor sport often located in beautiful and locally accessible areas. I love being outdoors and disc golf is a way to convince myself to leave this computer and enjoy the fresh air. Second, disc golf is relatively inexpensive compared to other sports. Some disc golf courses are freely accessible, and the cost of acquiring discs can be minimal, particularly if you look to local disc golfers for hand-me-downs. Third, disc golf is a great form of exercise. The most obvious benefit is the walking done on the course – playing disc golf tricks you into a many kilometer walk. Furthermore, as you build confidence in your throw, you start to put more and more effort behind that throw, increasing your need to improve strength in your core muscles. Most importantly, disc golf benefits my mental health. Mental health is something that everyone struggles with, and for me, getting outside and focusing on the flight of a disc is relaxing and enjoyable (despite that I might be playing terrible sometimes).
If you are interested in getting into disc golf, a great first step is to check out whether you have a local disc golf course nearby. The Udisc app is the official app of disc golf and provides users with locations of disc golf courses, electronic score cards, and the ability to record and track your scores over time. For someone interested in statistics and keeping track of my scores, this app is awesome!
Other great resources include:
- Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA): https://www.pdga.com/
- JomezPro: https://www.jomezpro.com/
- Disc Golf Answer Man: http://discgolfanswerman.com/
- The Disc Golf Guy: https://www.youtube.com/user/thediscgolfguy
If you have questions about disc golf, feel free to reach out and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction!