by John G. Duesler, Jr., Principal, DGPtv
When the founding father of disc golf, “Steady” Ed Headrick, posited his guiding principle for the sport back in the 1970’s, it was “Whoever has the most fun wins.”
Fast forwarding five decades and reviewing all the metrics associated with our sport, one can only conclude that the growth of disc golf has been impressive indeed. But as our sport continues to gain critical mass, Headrick’s guiding principle often seems more clouded than ever. With a burgeoning disc golf industry now emerging, fun is taking a back seat to finances, as local, regional, and national leaders attempt to move their vision forward through a prism of profit that did not exist in the formative years of the sport.
While disc golf remains relatively small compared to the menu of other “emerging sports,” the premise of fun has be usurped by local parks and recreational boards, association strategic plans, and nationwide TV distribution of our top events. Not only are more and more people playing disc golf, but the contributing factors of its success have multiplied in both number and complexity. Leaders want to know, “What’s in it for us?”
So what are the trends currently shaping the future of disc golf? Is there one guiding principle of growth, or many, that leads to more favorable outcomes than others? What are the countervailing forces that will determine the future of disc golf?
We consider five such trends here that are currently playing out in most disc golf activities and operations. Which ones do you feel are most powerful at shaping our sport?
TREND #1: Grassroots vs. Top-Down
Though disc golf comes from an incredible “grassroots” movement, the dilemma now facing its leaders is whether to support play at the highest levels of competition or whether to continue to attract youths and newcomers. Many believe there is room for both approaches to continue growing the sport, yet limited resources for tournament directors and media managers and even the players themselves is forcing disc golfers to choose. Will the approach that has lead to the slow-and-steady growth over the last five decades prevail? Or will showing our best events, courses, and athletes at the highest levels fast-track disc golf’s breakthrough moment? The sport’s leadership will have to decide.
TREND #2: Innovate vs. Collaborate
There is no shortage of creative talent in disc golf. Ideas for getting the sport to the “next level” flow freely. You just need to spend an evening with a few disc golfers after their Friday afternoon round, and you will quickly realize that there are many well-thought out ideas available to advance the sport. The question then becomes one of implementation. True that 90% of those ideas end up simply in the ether and never gain any real traction. Yet, it seems that whenever disc golf’s leadership decides to act upon an idea, it’s implementation takes place from an innovative stance, rather than a collaborative one. More disc golf manufacturers are seemingly jumping into the marketplace every month. Those discs are finding their way into a growing selection of targets. And we have never had more bags to put those discs in. Innovation is on the march in disc golf, but it no longer has to go it alone. Innovators are beginning to understand that collaboration may be the path of least resistance and offer greater return when it comes to growing the sport. The SpinTV and Innova (media), Dynamic Discs and Latitude64 (products), Vibram and DiscNation (events)…all provide powerful examples of how rowing in the same boat gets us further than rowing in separate lanes.