What do disc golfers have in common with green tea, nicotine and the ocean?

The image of the average disc golfer in the eyes of the average non-disc golfer is not always rosy.

Most disc golf courses are integrated into existing public parks that offer other recreational activities. In some cases, this mixed use fuels conflicts between disc golfers and other park users.

The lengths to which some groups have gone to block the construction of disc golf courses boggle the mind. Consider, for instance, the report produced by one group that opposed a new course installment at the Paso Nogal Park in California. The report included forty eight pages of complaints, citing the negative impacts of disc golf on the physical environment, wildlife, other park goers, and the surrounding neighborhood.

In early summer 2015, the group made flyers and distributed them at the park and other places. They filled meeting halls and defamed the disc golf community in every way imaginable.

The controversy spilled into local media, which, among other things, reported the opinion of one “teed off” resident, who said: “It’s a totally natural setting with just hillsides, valleys and trails. Why should some lame competitive sport that sounds dangerous and is dangerous, why should that trump what already exists?”

By midsummer, the proposal to build the course at Paso Nogal was unanimously rejected by the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District board.

Conflicts of this sort are likely to increase. Disc golf course construction is booming. The number of new courses built each year is not simply growing; it’s growing at an increasing rate (1). Almost all of this growth depends on the willingness of government authorities to allow courses on public land. More than 90 percent of all disc golf courses in the United States are public (2). In many cases, public funds also go into the construction and maintenance of the course.

Disc golf has a serious public-parks addiction. Without access to the public good, the sport would hardly exist. But disc golf also provides a number of valuable resources in return. For the sport to keep growing, the disc golf community needs strong evidence that these resources do indeed exist.

In future posts, I will try to document the positive effects of disc golf on key aspects of local communities, including business, crime and public health. In this post, I begin with a possible benefit of disc golf that rarely emerges in public discussions of the sport’s impact.

Disc golfers may be helping public parks just by showing up.

 A recent study by Jorgensen, Ellis and Ruddell argued that the fear of crime discourages many people from using public parks, and that the mere presence of people in parks may lower these fears (3).

They recruited 732 people for their study. Each participant was shown a series of photographs depicting a variety of park settings. (See a set of examples from the actual study above). People were present in one half of the photos and absent from the other half.

Pointing to one of the photos, the researcher would say to the participant, “Imagine you are in this park area recreating alone without a dog or another person, and you are moving toward what you see in the photograph.”

After looking at the photo for a moment, participants rated their fear of crime in that area on a scale from 1 (no fear of crime) to 7 (extremely high fear of crime). The results of the study clearly showed that the photos that lacked people produced greater fear than the ones with people in them.

Although the study did not test the effects of disc golfers in particular, it seems likely that building a disc golf course in a park that receives few visitors would reduce the fears of all park goers and thereby increase the park’s overall use.

Not unlike green tea, nicotine and the ocean, disc golfers may have a calming effect on other people.

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(1) Oldakowski, R., and J. W. Mcewen (2013). Diffusion of disc golf courses in the United States. Geographical Review 103(3): 355-371.

(2) Professional Disc Golf Association. 2010. Disc Golf Course Directory, 22nd edition. Fulton, Mo.: Ovid Bell.

(3) Lisa J. Jorgensen, Gary D. Ellis, and Edward Ruddell (2012). Fear Perceptions in Public Parks: Interactions of Environmental Concealment, the Presence of People Recreating, and Gender. Environment and Behavior 45(7): 803–820.

* I would like to convey my gratitude to Lisa Jorgensen. She was kind enough to send me examples of the photos used in the study discussed above.

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Any thoughts? How do you think disc golfers are perceived by other park goers? Do you have any stories of groups blocking the contruction of disc golf courses? Please leave a comment.

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