The PDGA reports that there are about 2,000,000 regular players and probably many more occasional players, or those who have at least tried the game once. Historically, players have designed and developed disc golf courses, and hundreds of thousands of disc golfers have engaged within their communities to introduce the game to others. At the very least, all disc golfers take it upon themselves to be active ambassadors of the game. The growth of the game has been achieved through the efforts of individuals in communities around the country who have enlisted themselves in the mission of promoting and growing the game.
In the past 20-30 years, we have seen the birth of a new occupation: the disc golf course designer. This title can be claimed by anyone who wants to start designing. There is no formal education, but there are some workshops offered by us sporadically that anyone can take for a small fee. A Parked.com survey indicates that approximately 2/3 of those who design or redesign courses have never been paid to design, and most of those who have ever constructed courses have never been paid to build them. This is the true spirit of a passionate disc golfer who has, through his/her own time, money, and other resources, labored to grow the game that he/she is so passionate about.
While some senior designers have now started their own design companies and are getting paid to design, there are still many who do it for the “love of the game.” 62% believe that parks simply don’t have the money and are not willing or only slightly willing to fund disc golf. Yet, only 10% of this group stated this is because of the willingness of non-professional to create designs. Most have bought into the belief that it’s lack of knowledge about disc golf or budget limitations that parks don’t fund more disc golf design and development. Not so, according to some senior designers (3%) who claim parks are very willing to fund disc golf.
The types of courses that are going up vary immensely in quality of design and construction. While this allows more room for the growth of the game, it is also creating some confusion around what a disc golf course really is. Ideally, disc golf courses should now be given dedicated land in public parks, since the game’s popularity is increasing usage in parks, and discs are flying farther than they used to. Some of the designs that were put in many years ago may only be good for beginners, as they were designed with beginners in mind when the game was still in its infancy and discs were not flying as far as they do now. Player skill has also evolved and now even amateur players throw much farther. The older courses should be reviewed and in some cases, redesigned to bring the course up to date.
Due to the increase in distances players can throw and the greater usage in parks, design has become more important than it might have been before. The evolution of disc golf course design is occurring rapidly also because regular players are demanding more complex and challenging designs. The continued need for beginner courses and simpler smaller courses is also increasing significantly as the game becomes even more popular. With disc golf may be on its way to becoming an Olympic sport and is already engaging over 200 colleges around the country in competition, the need to offer disc golf in more community parks is greater than ever.
The design of these future community courses needs to consider many variables as these courses may co-exist with other park amenities. 56% agreed holes near walking paths, play grounds, ball fields, or other park amenities are the most common type of hole, and 74% believe that those types of holes present the most risk. The second greatest risk was holes too close to each other. So why are parks departments not hiring designers with expertise who understand what types of distances are needed to create safer courses? Probably because historically, these types of courses have been designed for free by players or budding designers who lacked experience. The impressive thing is that disc golf is still a very safe game with a very few isolated cases of injuries caused by discs.
There is money in the parks budgets for disc golf. Multiple senior disc golf course designers have now designed courses where cities have budgeted over $250,000 toward the disc golf course. Some designers have worked on multiple budgets that are as high as $500,000 and a several have worked on or aware of projects with even higher budgets. Those types of courses are projects where disc golf course designers are working with landscape architect firms and engineering firms to build some of the best courses. Parks are willing to pay but they need to see for what and why.
WriDee Leekha, owner of Micro Disc Golf Courses, author of Business Consciousness®, and is also the co-founder of Circular Productions, LLC, DBA Houck Design, a disc golf course design company. As an entrepreneur, her business operations focus on uplifting communities and lives through the sport and game of disc golf.
Dee has started a facebook group called 3Discgolf for those interested in discussions on safer, smarter, and more sustainable disc golf.