Disc Golf Is Winning Hearts and Minds, New Study Shows

By Josh Woods ~

Cover art

Compared to most issues in our fury-fueled political landscape, disc golf is a blissfully uncontroversial subject of public interest.

But, if you plumb the depths of local news coverage, you will find at least some controversy over the upsides and downsides of disc golf.

The debate, when there is one, can be summarized with the following questions:

  • Does the inclusion of a disc golf course in a public park harm the natural environment, or is disc golf an environmentally friendly alternative to other, more destructive recreational activities?
  • Does the sport introduce unreasonable physical risks to participants and bystanders, or benefit public health and wellbeing?
  • Do disc golf communities encourage public intoxication, criminal behavior and community conflict, or provide safe, family-friendly recreation that deters crime in public parks and inspires community engagement, volunteerism and charity?

In a recent academic study, I examined how this debate has played out in 2,920 randomly selected newspaper articles published over a twenty-year period. Using one of the largest U.S. newspaper archives in the world, the sample was drawn from 49,227 articles that were published between 1997 and 2017 and contained the search term “disc golf” or “Frisbee golf.”

Specifically, the study explored news coverage of disc golf’s effects on 1) the natural environment, 2) human safety, 3) criminal activity, 4) community conflict, 5) charity and volunteerism, and 6) physical and mental health.

References in the news to disc golf’s positive effects along these six dimensions (social benefit frames) have likely improved the sport’s public image, while references to its negative effects (social cost frames) have likely diminished it.

Examples of these references appear in Table 1 below. You can read about our methodology here, and request a copy of the study here.

Table 1. Examples of Disc Golf Frames in Newspaper Articles 

Frames

Social Costs

Physical risk  

“I don’t think we should have to walk through there and worry about whether we’re going to get hit with a disc.” – The Times

 

Alcohol, drugs  

“Drinking and golf go hand-in-hand. It’s not so different for the fast-growing sport of disc golf.” – Sun-Journal

 

Harms

Environment

 

“Many have complained about the sheer number of people who play disc golf in the park and the damage they have done to the grass.” – Star-Tribune

 

Crime,

Nuisance

 

“A guy comes over and says, ‘If your dog touches my disc, I’ll knock your teeth out,’ said Rhoads.” – The Albuquerque Tribune

 

Other

Conflicts

 

“Kinch said that the course is ‘a non-revenue generator.’” – The Times

 

Social Benefits

Fun  

“The fun thing about disc golf is you compete against yourself.” – K. City Kansan

 

Environment

Friendly

 

“Our timing is right because we wanted to do something with open space, and disc golf is an environmentally friendly activity.” – Press of Atlantic City

 

Family “Schultz played disc golf on Concordia’s campus … ‘It’s really fun for the whole family,’ Schultz said.” – The Northwest Herald

 

Healthy “Bechtel said the sport is a great way to get exercise and without spending much money.” – Concord Monitor

 

Charity  

“The Ice Bowl is a charity disc golf tournament for the Community Food Bank; it is scheduled for Saturday … – Tulsa World

 

Deters crime  

“Disc golf is a good crime deterrent.” – Star News

 

So, is disc golf winning the hearts and minds of the public, or losing them?

As shown in Table 2, over a twenty-year period (1997-2017), meaningful changes were found in the discussion of disc golf’s social costs and benefits.

Assertions that playing the sport poses physical dangers to players or bystanders were rare and decreased significantly over time. Mentions of players consuming alcohol or drugs, as well as references to disc golf’s negative impact on the environment also declined, though not significantly. News frames involving other conflicts (not including controversies over injury risk, intoxication, nature, or crime) between disc golfers and local communities dropped off significantly over the two-decade period.

table 2

Meanwhile, the frequency of social benefit frames tended to grow over time. Three of the benefit frames—fun/enjoyable, family friendly and healthy frames—increased significantly, while the other three grew in number but not significantly.

Overall, using a sample of 2,920 newspaper articles, only 5 percent referred to one of the sport’s social costs, whereas 23 percent of articles talked about a social benefit.

The Takeaway

The local press represents one of the few sources of data on disc golf’s evolving public image. Given that the disc golf community is highly dependent on public parks departments, government regulations and the prevailing views of the local community, the results of this study are promising.

Although the total volume of disc golf news coverage remains low, U.S. newspapers have increasingly published favorable stories about the sport.

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

One thought on “Disc Golf Is Winning Hearts and Minds, New Study Shows

  1. As always Josh so thought provoking! I was amazed at the men who came up to me at our big tournament and told me that they had alcohol and or drug problems UNTIL they got involved in the disc golf community! Several attributed the exercise and support of their local league helped them stay clean!

    Liked by 1 person

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