The Sociology of Disc Golf? Yep, that’s a Thing

Josh Woods ~

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I am terrible at cocktail parties. I rarely say the right thing when meeting new people.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who looks down on small talk. I can chat about sports, the weather and Caribbean vacations all day long.

The problem is, when encountering strangers, the topics of careers and hobbies invariably arise.

“What keeps you busy?” Someone might ask.

For me, there’s really no way to answer this question truthfully without staring into a blank, confused face.

“I’m a disc golf sociologist,” I could say. But I never say that. From my experience, most people think that sociologists are either social workers or socialists. And many people are even less familiar with disc golf.

The other day my own mother asked me, “How’s the disco golf, honey?”

Have you ever thought, while sipping a beer with an inquisitive stranger, that it would be easier to describe yourself as a socialist disco dancer than what you really are?

I have.

If you’re still reading this meandering post, I’d like to say more about disc golf sociology. For a while now, I’ve been blogging about a sociological study I conducted on disc golf. With permission from the publisher, I included a link to the study below:

Using Social Media to Estimate the Size and Demographic Characteristics of Hard-to-Reach Sport Communities: The Case of Disc Golf

If you’d rather read plain language summaries of the article, check out the five related posts below:

1) Three Reasons to Care about Disc Golf Research

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The potential social and economic benefits of disc golf are exciting. Given its fast growth over the last two decades, disc golf represents an ideal case for studying non-normative sports movements. More research is needed to provide institutional stakeholders and scholars with sociological insight on this potentially transformative social movement.

Read more here.

2) Why Do People Play Disc Golf?

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Figure 1: A Model for Explaining Disc Golf Behavior

When studying behavior, many psychologists focus on people’s attitudes toward the behavior (“I like disc golf”), perceived control (“I live near a course”) and subjective norm (“my friends like disc golf”). But a complete explanation of why people play disc golf also requires an examination of the social forces behind these psychological phenomena. The best predictors of disc golf’s future are sociological variables, including race/ethnicity, gender, geography, education and age.

Read more here.

3) What We Know and Don’t Know about Disc Golf

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Part of the challenge of studying disc golf lies in the lack of previous research. When earlier scholars pave the way, it’s easier to push new research forward. But that’s not the only problem. Disc golfers are just hard to study. The community is relatively small and thinly spread across the world. We have some great data on PDGA members, but non-PDGA players are elusive creatures indeed. Read more about how I studied this hard-to-reach population here.

4) A Demographic Portrait of Disc Golf Land

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In this post, I offer one the first demographic portraits of the disc golfer population in the United States. Here’s a quick and dirty summary:

  • In 2017, the U.S. disc golfer population stood at roughly 530,000.
  • The number of women (15 percent) and racial minorities (9 percent) exceeded previous estimates, but these groups were clearly underrepresented.
  • The mean age of disc golfers was 33.
  • The percentage of disc golfers with some college education (36 percent) was surprisingly low.
  • Disc golf was more popular in the Midwest than in the Northeast, South and West.

Read more here.

5) Who Gets Hooked? The Demographics of Disc Golf Involvement

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In the final related post, I move the discussion beyond disc golfer demographics and examine people’s levels of involvement in the sport. Although racial minorities are underrepresented in the disc golfer population, those who do play are just as involved in the sport as whites. Unfortunately, the same is not true about women. Men are significantly more involved in disc golf than women.

Older disc golfers tend to have higher levels of involvement in disc golf than younger ones. Among the four U.S. Census regions, the Midwest has the highest number of disc golfers per capita (per 100,000), and yet, Midwestern disc golfers tend to be less involved in the sport than disc golfers from the Northeast, South and West.

Read more here.

The Takeaway

Disc golfers are famous for their optimism. Some have claimed that disc golf is one of the fastest growing sports in America.

While there is some evidence of progress, to keep the sport growing, we need to focus not only on what’s pushing it forward (building courses and organizing tournaments), but also on what’s holding it back. Namely, a lack of diversity.

If, for instance, we built more disc golf courses in under-served communities and attracted more women, people of color and youth to the sport, popular expectations might fall in line with empirical reality.


If you would like to support disc golf research, please like Parked on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below, and consider writing for us.


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

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