Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Walk in the Woods in Finland

Finland goes bonkers for disc golf

By Kari Toivonen ~

One of the 16 courses in the Åland Islands, an autonomous, demilitarized region of Finland. The simultaneous construction of 16 courses made this the most ambitious disc golf project in history. Photo Kari Toivonen.

I feel like the boy in the fable who cried wolf so many times that when the wolf actually came, no one listened to him. There have been so many articles about the disc golf boom in Finland, a small country with a mere 5.5 million inhabitants, that you Americans are probably thinking, enough already!

Well, all those previous stories were true, but had we known what was coming, we probably would have gone easier with the drum beating. I mean, now things are really crazy.

In 2018, the Finnish Research Institute for Olympic Sports examined the sports interests of the Finnish population. Back then, 263,000 Finns reported that they had played disc golf at least once during the last year. When I wrote about it in a previous Parked article, I thought, ‘this is insane!’ More than 6 percent of the adult population of Finland plays disc golf.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.

Soon after the initial shock, quarantines and restrictions, people felt they just couldn’t stand being indoors any longer. Apparently, the Finns have stepped down from the trees so recently that they have an uncontrollable urge to roam the forest.

It didn’t take long for them to realize that disc golf is the perfect sport for this situation. You can be outside doing something exciting, either alone or with friends, and while keeping a safe distance, which has never been a problem for the Finns. In Finland, we are anxiously waiting for the two-meter social distancing rule to end, so we can go back to our normal three-meter distance.

Anyway, the Finns embraced disc golf and because of that, all the courses are packed with new players. And, of course, some places are empty – namely, the disc shelves in every sporting goods store, disc golf shop and online dealer. I recently tried to buy discs for prizes for our weekly league, but I had to settle for gift cards that are valid long enough so there will be, at some point I hope, something to buy with them.

The anecdotal evidence is convincing, but there was also a second, more recent study. This time it was carried out by Sponsor Insight, a research company that specializes in planning and measuring sponsorships. Their results were staggering. Among Finnish adults, there are now 700,000 people who say they are interested in disc golf.

That is roughly 15 percent of all adults. If we add kids under 18 to the group, the number is likely over one million. What again was the population of Finland? Correct, 5.5 million.

There are currently 802 listed disc golf courses in Finland but on top of that there are a few unlisted private courses and many schools and garrisons have their own courses too. There is a course in almost every city, town and municipality. Apparently, there are only six municipalities in the whole country that do not have a course. What’s more, there is still high demand for new courses.

I just can’t imagine what my next report from Finland will contain.

author bio

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 guide book in Finland.

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

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