The most important problems facing disc golf courses in the United States

Results from the 3DiscGolf Survey (Part I)

By Josh Woods, PhD, and Dee Leekha ~

Cover art
Garbage on disc golf courses, long grass on fairways, uneven or small tee pads, erosion, and no bathrooms top the list of concerns among experienced course developers.

Disc golf has changed a lot over the last twenty years.

Two decades ago, there were 4,776 active members of the PDGA in the United States. Today, there are more than 28,861. Americans played in 329 PDGA sanctioned events in 1998. They will play in no fewer than 2,368 in the coming year, per the PDGA.

In 1998, Scott Stokely broke the World Record for distance with a jaw-dropping throw that carried 693 feet. In 2017, Simon Lizotte parked a 726-foot hole during tournament play, and the World Record is now held by David Wiggins Jr. with a distance that exceeds Stokely’s by nearly 400 feet.

Twenty or so years ago, one of the best disc golfers in the world, Eagle McMahon, did not exist.

As notable as new world records and unborn Eagles may be, perhaps the most amazing change in disc golf land can be found on the courses. In 1998, U.S. disc golfers had only 851 places to play, according to PDGA stats. Twenty-four states had fewer than ten courses to choose from. Now we have nearly 6,000 courses in the U.S., and only one state in the nation has fewer than ten.

This tremendous growth has prompted many observers to rank disc golf among the fastest growing sports in America. And yet, while the number of disc golf courses is clearly on the rise, less is known about the quality of this growth.

With so many changes afoot, we decided to take a closer look at the country’s disc golf courses by surveying the attitudes of experienced course developers.

About the Respondents

On January 13, 2018, we invited the members of a Facebook group called 3DiscGolf to fill out an online questionnaire. 3DISCgolf is a forum for anyone who supports the goal of creating safer, smarter and more sustainable disc golf.

Within two days, 156 of the group’s 354 members answered our call. The great majority of them have designed, co-designed or helped construct at least two disc golf courses. Roughly 22 percent of the respondents have worked on ten or more courses.

Members of the 3DiscGolf group are also avid players. Most of them play at least four different courses a month. Over a lifetime, the typical respondent has played more than 100 courses. They also typically play at least once or more per week, and most describe their skill levels as advanced or professional. A clear majority are (or have been) members of a local disc golf club and the PDGA.

The respondents are predominately male, white, over the age of 35, and educated with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The 3DiscGolf sample has at least one representative from 39 states, with large shares hailing from Michigan, New York and Texas. (For more details, see the Appendix).

Course Maintenance and Facilities

Based on a content analysis of 30 randomly selected reviews from Disc Golf Course Review (DGCR), we identified thirteen aspects of courses related to maintenance and facilities that are commonly regarded as “cons” by reviewers. We transformed these thirteen comments into questions and included them in the survey.

We asked respondents, “Please base your answers on your general attitude toward the U.S. disc golf courses that you have played or observed. How big of a problem are the following issues related to maintenance and facilities?” Respondents rated each aspect on a four-point scale: “A big problem,” “Somewhat of a problem,” “A small problem,” or “Not a problem,” with “Don’t know” as a fifth option.

To quickly summarize the findings, we combined two categories and constructed a list of course aspects that were most likely to be considered “a big problem” or “somewhat of a problem” (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

On issues of course maintenance and facilities, the respondents pointed to the lack of a course map on site, no bathrooms, and garbage on courses as key problems. Fairways in need of mowing or trimming, as well as soil erosion and compaction were also considered notable concerns on the courses they played.

Some of the issues found on DGCR were not deemed significant problems by our participants. Surprisingly, for instance, only 11 percent of respondents named broken or missing baskets as a “big problem” or “somewhat of a problem.” The respondents were also less concerned about off-leash dogs, and various types of insects and wildlife. (For more details, see the Appendix).

Course Design and Construction

We also identified twelve course design and construction aspects that often appear in the “cons” list of reviewers on DGCR. We measured our respondents’ attitudes toward them using the same scale, and constructed a list of the five biggest design problems, as seen in Figures 2.

Figure 2

Three of the twelve course design and construction issues were related to tee pads (slippery, uneven, too short), and each one made the top-five list of problems. The difficulty of navigating between holes, as well as boring or unimaginative courses also topped the list of course design issues.

Two problem tee pads
Examples of a lumpy tee pad (left) and a narrow, raised tee pad (right) that present ankle injury potential. Photos by Houck Design.

The takeaways

One purpose of this study is to provide information to course developers that may help them build safer and more enjoyable disc golf courses. To our best knowledge, this is the first (publicly available) survey of its kind. As illustrated in the Appendix, this report offers a unique ranking of twenty-five problems by some of the world’s most experienced course developers. Remedying these problems at new and existing courses would likely encourage more people to play and keep playing disc golf.

A second goal of this project is to encourage people of all backgrounds and experiences to come together and share their views. So, what do you think? What are the most important problems facing disc golf courses in the United States? Please join the discussion on the 3DiscGolf Facebook group, and by offering your comments below.

What’s Next?

In Part II of our 3DiscGolf survey results, we’ll tackle the issue of safety on disc golf courses. What are the most common safety issues, and which ones are perceived by course designers as big concerns? Is safety on disc golf courses really a problem?

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Josh Woods

Josh Woods, editor at Parked, is an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University. His current research focuses on the growth and group dynamics of non-normative sports.

 

 

Dee

Dee Leekha, author of Business Consciousness®, is the co-founder of Circular Productions, LLC and 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.

 

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Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.

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APPENDIX

 How many disc golf courses have you designed, co-designed and/or helped construct?

Answer % Count
None 8.33% 13
1 14.74% 23
2-5 42.95% 67
6-9 12.18% 19
10 or more 21.79% 34
Total 100% 156

 

About how many disc golf courses have you played?

Answer % Count
None 0.64% 1
1-25 9.62% 15
26-50 21.15% 33
51-100 21.79% 34
100-200 26.92% 42
More than 200 19.87% 31
Total 100% 156

 

About how often, on average, do you play disc golf, not including during very cold or hot seasons.

Answer % Count
Every day 2.56% 4
4 to 6 times per week 17.95% 28
1 to 3 times per week 55.13% 86
2 or 3 times per month 17.31% 27
Once per month 2.56% 4
5 to 11 times per year 1.92% 3
Less than 5 times per year 1.28% 2
Never 1.28% 2
Total 100% 156

 

Within a month time span, how many different courses do you typically play?

Answer % Count
None 2.56% 4
1 6.41% 10
2 16.67% 26
3 21.79% 34
4 16.03% 25
5 14.10% 22
6 5.77% 9
More than 6 16.67% 26
Total 100% 156

 

For these questions, please base your answers on your general attitude toward the U.S. disc golf courses that you have played or observed. How big of a problem are the following issues related to maintenance and facilities?

Question A big problem Somewhat of a problem A small problem Not a problem Don’t know Total
Garbage on courses. 22.00% 33 30.00% 45 43.33% 65 4.67% 7 0.00% 0 150
Fairways that need mowing, trimming or clearing. 8.67% 13 40.67% 61 42.00% 63 8.67% 13 0.00% 0 150
Broken or missing baskets. 2.67% 4 11.33% 17 48.00% 72 38.00% 57 0.00% 0 150
Missing, weathered or damaged tee signs. 21.33% 32 42.00% 63 30.67% 46 6.00% 9 0.00% 0 150
No course maps available at the site. 24.00% 36 41.33% 62 24.67% 37 10.00% 15 0.00% 0 150
Courses labeled as “18 hole courses” that only have 9 baskets and two tee pad locations. 2.68% 4 5.37% 8 22.82% 34 60.40% 90 8.72% 13 149
Off-leash dogs on courses. 6.08% 9 13.51% 20 36.49% 54 43.24% 64 0.68% 1 148
Insects, ticks, snakes or other wildlife on courses. 4.00% 6 28.00% 42 40.00% 60 26.00% 39 2.00% 3 150
Standing water or mud on courses. 4.67% 7 31.33% 47 50.67% 76 12.67% 19 0.67% 1 150
Soil erosion or compaction. 18.00% 27 31.33% 47 34.67% 52 14.67% 22 1.33% 2 150
No garbage cans on courses. 15.33% 23 32.00% 48 37.33% 56 14.67% 22 0.67% 1 150
No public bathrooms near courses. 21.33% 32 40.00% 60 28.67% 43 10.00% 15 0.00% 0 150
Incomplete removal of cut tree limbs, stumps or dead trees on or near fairways. 8.11% 12 27.03% 40 45.95% 68 18.24% 27 0.68% 1 148

 

For these questions, please base your answers on your general attitude toward the U.S. disc golf courses that you have played or observed. How big of a problem are the following issues related to course design and construction?

Question A big problem Somewhat of a problem A small problem Not a problem Don’t know Total
Tee pads that are too short or narrow. 17.33% 26 36.00% 54 37.33% 56 9.33% 14 0.00% 0 150
Tee pads that are slippery. 19.33% 29 42.00% 63 28.67% 43 9.33% 14 0.67% 1 150
Tee pads that are uneven, lumpy or rocky. 16.67% 25 38.00% 57 35.33% 53 9.33% 14 0.67% 1 150
Players have a hard time finding hole 1. 9.33% 14 30.67% 46 41.33% 62 18.00% 27 0.67% 1 150
Players have a hard time navigating between holes on the course. 18.00% 27 40.00% 60 33.33% 50 8.00% 12 0.67% 1 150
Players must take long walks between holes. 6.00% 9 14.67% 22 48.00% 72 30.67% 46 0.67% 1 150
Players must take a long walk after the finishing hole. 2.67% 4 14.00% 21 51.33% 77 31.33% 47 0.67% 1 150
Courses that are boring, unimaginative, too easy, or repetitive. 17.33% 26 32.00% 48 33.33% 50 16.67% 25 0.67% 1 150
Fairways that are too narrow. 4.67% 7 14.67% 22 40.00% 60 40.00% 60 0.67% 1 150
Fairways that are too open. 6.00% 9 20.00% 30 39.33% 59 34.00% 51 0.67% 1 150
Courses that favor right-handed, backhand-dominant players. 5.33% 8 20.67% 31 38.00% 57 34.67% 52 1.33% 2 150
No elevation changes. 5.33% 8 20.67% 31 36.00% 54 37.33% 56 0.67% 1 150

 

Finally, we would like to ask you a few background questions. First, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association?

Answer % Count
Yes 93.88% 138
No 6.12% 9
Total 100% 147

 

How old are you?

Answer % Count
18-24 years old 0.00% 0
25-34 years old 13.61% 20
35-44 years old 35.37% 52
45-54 years old 29.25% 43
55-64 years old 19.05% 28
65-74 years old 2.72% 4
75 years or older 0.00% 0
Total 100% 147

 

What is your sex?

Answer % Count
Male 96.58% 141
Female 3.42% 5
Total 100% 146

 

Please specify your ethnicity (or Race).

Answer % Count
White 88.51% 131
Hispanic or Latino 2.70% 4
Black or African American 0.68% 1
Native American or American Indian 1.35% 2
Asian / Pacific Islander 1.35% 2
Other 5.41% 8
Total 100% 148

 

What is the highest degree or level of school you have completed? If currently enrolled, highest degree received.

Answer % Count
No schooling completed 0.68% 1
Nursery school to 8th grade 0.00% 0
Some high school, no diploma 0.00% 0
High school graduate, diploma or the equivalent (for example: GED) 5.41% 8
Some college credit, no degree 25.68% 38
Trade/technical/vocational training 6.08% 9
Associate degree 8.11% 12
Bachelor’s degree 33.78% 50
Master’s degree 14.19% 21
Professional degree 3.38% 5
Doctorate degree 2.70% 4
Total 100% 148

 

What is your current state of residence?

Answer % Count
Alabama 2.70% 4
Alaska 0.00% 0
Arizona 1.35% 2
Arkansas 0.00% 0
California 2.70% 4
Colorado 2.03% 3
Connecticut 1.35% 2
Delaware 0.68% 1
Florida 2.03% 3
Georgia 3.38% 5
Hawaii 0.00% 0
Idaho 0.68% 1
Illinois 1.35% 2
Indiana 0.00% 0
Iowa 0.68% 1
Kansas 0.68% 1
Kentucky 0.68% 1
Louisiana 2.70% 4
Maine 0.00% 0
Maryland 1.35% 2
Massachusetts 1.35% 2
Michigan 14.19% 21
Minnesota 5.41% 8
Mississippi 0.00% 0
Missouri 0.68% 1
Montana 0.68% 1
Nebraska 0.00% 0
Nevada 2.03% 3
New Hampshire 0.68% 1
New Jersey 0.68% 1
New Mexico 0.00% 0
New York 10.81% 16
North Carolina 4.05% 6
North Dakota 0.00% 0
Ohio 1.35% 2
Oklahoma 1.35% 2
Oregon 1.35% 2
Pennsylvania 2.70% 4
Rhode Island 0.00% 0
South Carolina 0.68% 1
South Dakota 0.68% 1
Tennessee 2.03% 3
Texas 13.51% 20
Utah 0.68% 1
Vermont 0.00% 0
Virginia 2.03% 3
Washington 2.03% 3
West Virginia 0.68% 1
Wisconsin 2.70% 4
Wyoming 0.00% 0
I do not reside in the United States 3.38% 5
Total 100% 148

 

Are you a member of a disc golf club?

Answer % Count
Yes 89.12% 131
No 10.88% 16
Total 100% 147

 

How would you rate your skill level as a disc golfer?

Answer % Count
Professional 33.11% 49
Advanced 35.81% 53
Intermediate 22.30% 33
Recreational 7.43% 11
Beginner 1.35% 2
Total 100% 148

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Cover art photo sources: Icy pad, photo by Full Metal Basket Editor James McDonald; “Dirty discer,” pinterest.com; extreme erosion, martindiscgolfclub.wordpress.com; grassy basket, timescall.com; short pad, dgcoursereview.com.

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “The most important problems facing disc golf courses in the United States

  1. Very interested in creating safe and challenging disc golf courses. I have currently been able to design 3 courses in the Colorado Springs area. I would love to share some great ideas to develop courses for a more enjoyable experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ball Golf exploded in popularity with the Advent of the riding golf cart. For disc golf to explode in popularity merely needs and Electric scooter of sort with flotation tires. In my opinion, courses that design for riding will bring herds of players to the sport. It work for golf and will work for disc golf as well. The main advantage disc golf has is speed of play! It does not take but seconds to set up for your next shot, whereas Ball Golf people can take minutes to prepare for each shot — Game Killer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting point. It seems like we’re seeing more disc golf on ball golf courses these days (for multiple reasons). If your argument holds, this tendency should become a strong trend. If you’re interested in doing research on this idea, let us know.

      Like

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