The Cultures, Economies and Politics of Emerging Sports
Josh is an associate professor of sociology at West Virginia University who plays disc golf and writes about it. He has two goals for Parked: convince the disc golf community that social scientific research can benefit the sport, and convince the academic community that disc golf is worth studying.
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.
The 2021 PDGA Junior Worlds wrapped up in Emporia, Kansas earlier this month, and nine juniors were crowned World Champions. However, there could have been a tenth, my daughter Hayden who represented Team Throw Pink in the junior girls ≤8 division (FJ08).
She was one of two girls invited to compete in this division and the sole entrant in the field when registration closed on July 2.
Since Hayden was the only registered player in her division, the PDGA sent us an email prior to the event stating, “We don’t run divisions of one at the PDGA World Championships,” and that she was required to “play up” at the main event if there was not a second entrant in her division.
Permanent human-made infrastructures are the key to growth
By Josh Woods ~
WATCH THE video ESSAY HERE:
Ed Headrick’s importance to disc golf is not a subject of debate. I mean, the guy perfected the flying disc, invented the pole hole, installed the first formal disc golf course and founded the Professional Disc Golf Association. And that’s only the first page of his resume.
But which of these deeds most influenced the rise of competitive disc golf? Now this is a question worth debating. As I often do when I wonder something, I recently took to the internet and posted a poll on Twitter.
A while back I was working on a Where’s Waldo puzzle with my daughter when my mind began to drift to where it so often drifts.
Gazing at the strange assortment of people in the puzzle made me think of disc golf. It’s amazing what you can find when walking through a crowded course on a Friday afternoon, or perusing disc golf handles on social media.
I’d rather be hit by a Bullet than a Boss. I mean, I’d rather not get hit at all, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the Bullet.
Of course, the odds of being struck by an original Bullet, made by Destiny/Dynamic in the 1980s, are close to zero, because you just won’t find them on a disc golf course. The Bullet was not approved by the PDGA’s Technical Standards Committee.
Although, as Joe Feidt wrote, the Bullet “was one smokin’ hot golf disc” in its day, the movers and shakers of disc golf deemed it too small, too hard and oftentimes too heavy and ushered in safety standards that are still in place today.
Back in 2017, Paul McBeth dropped a sympathy bomb on social media. He was like, check me out. I’m only five and a half feet tall and I weigh less than a panda. I’ll never be the favorite in sports. I’m the OG underdog. Send me some love.
Of course, he didn’t say it quite like that, and he had just dropped out of the Green Mountain Championship due to an injury that was only going sideways. And so, his fans did send love.
In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, several sports reached their fast-growth stages.
Skateboarding was headed to the Olympics and regularly appeared on television and in fashion magazines. Energy-drink-powered teens were pulling down big paychecks from esports megaevents. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was filling large arenas with fans and pouring mass-mediated adrenaline into mixed martial arts.
Even a few lesser-known sports were on the rise. Spikeball, the promoter of roundnet, landed deals with Shark Tank and ESPN. Cornhole was appearing on ESPN and courting moneyed sponsors like Johnsonville Sausage. Ax throwing and wood chopping were being nationally televised.
After decades of slow growth, disc golf was also on the rise.
Disc golfers are no strangers to wildlife and many of us identify deeply with the natural environments we play in. We enjoy the view from an elevated tee pad, the impressive stature of mature trees and the sound of buzzing bees. Manufacturers even name discs after mammals, fish, birds, insects and plants.
Part of the joy of disc golf comes from the fear of trying it. Leaving our comfort zones and walking onto the course can be daunting. “Can I do this? I got this. Nope, I can’t do this. What am I doing!?”
All of us, from top professionals to first-time players, deal with insecurities as we navigate a course. And when we overcome those fears and throw a great shot, it feels fantastic. A shared sense of vulnerability may also explain why camaraderie and friendships are so quick to grow on disc golf courses.
While mild unease may heighten the pleasure of a well-thrown shot and encourage group solidarity, too much fear can hamper performance and create conflicts in groups.