By Kari Toivonen ~
The European Open was held in Nokia, Finland a few weeks ago. It was a fantastic battle between the best players in the world, but the comeback victory of Paul McBeth was not the only thing that made people gasp.
The videos of the event showed galleries of thousands of people starting on day one. The final round was so crowded you would think you were watching a major ball golf tournament. In the comments of these videos, there were questions like “Who are these spectators, and do they even know what they are watching?” Oh yes, they do, I would say, and a recent study supports this claim.
Okay, some may think, enough with this Finland thing already, but bear with me for a moment, because this is interesting stuff and it’s based on facts.
The Finnish Research Institute for Olympic Sports carried out an extensive study of sports participation rates in Finland. The study was financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Olympic Committee. And unlike sports participation surveys in the United States, this study asked questions about disc golf.
Including 3,241 people aged 15 to 74, the sample matched the adult population in Finland in terms of gender, age and area of residence.
Of the 4,120,906 adults in Finland, 6.4 percent of them, 263,000 people, are not only familiar with disc golf but have also played it at least once a year. In popularity, disc golf in Finland beats such sports as ball golf, volleyball, basketball and tennis.
But wait, there’s more. Of those 263,000 people, 18.6 percent said that they play disc golf at least once a week. That is 49,000 (very) active players.
This may not sound like much if you live in the U.S., but if Americans exhibited the same disc golf participation rates, there would be 21 million Americans playing at least once a year and 4 million playing weekly.
Of course, comparing Finland to the United States is not fair as they are completely different countries in so many ways, but it is still mindboggling how this sport, invented in the United States, has become so popular in this small northern European country.
If we dig deeper in the study, it shows that disc golf is the 11th most popular sport among men. Some of the more popular sports are walking, jogging and swimming. Ice hockey beats disc golf only barely. Among the respondents who answered that they have played disc golf at least once a year, 35.7 percent were women, which is 94,000 individuals. This is quite significant as getting women to play disc golf has always been difficult.
The fact that researchers keep track of the popularity of disc golf and place it alongside more traditional sports shows that disc golf has become a serious sport in Finland. The mainstreaming of the sport is shaping other aspects of Finnish society, which will likely lead to even greater popularity in the future. Many schools and even garrisons have their own disc golf courses. Gym teachers have increasingly included disc golf in their curriculums. Towns and municipalities build disc golf courses to attract new taxpayers.
Apparently, there will be follow-up studies in coming years, so it will be interesting to see how popular disc golf can become. My prediction is that we haven’t yet seen the peak of disc golf’s rise in Finland. The level of play is currently high, and dozens of excellent players can challenge the best in the world occasionally, but the absolute top player has yet to arrive.
A “Finnish Eagle McMahon” would make the disc golf scene in Finland explode.
Kari Toivonen is a Turku-based advertising man who has been blogging about disc golf for over 10 years and has co-written the first disc golf guidebook in Finland.
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Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.