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Sports This Week: Pro side of disc golf looks bright

At the top level of disc golf sits the Disc Golf Pro Tour.
Jeff Spring Tour Director of the DGPT.

YORKTON - Regular readers are likely to recognize that disc golf holds a special place in terms of sport for this journalist.

I have been a definite proponent of the low cost, fun, sport activity almost from the time the City of Yorkton installed its first nine baskets years ago, becoming a promoter and co-designer of a number of courses at communities throughout east-central Saskatchewan.

At the top level of the sport sits the Disc Golf Pro Tour.

The DGPT might not be as widely known as it should be, but it has roots dating back to the Vibram Open, held in June 2016.

This year the pro tour has 23 events spanning six countries on its schedule, starting with the Invitational presented by Discraft - Feb 23 – 25 in Florida, and ending in October with the DGPT Championship in North Carolina.

At present there are no dates in Canada although the DGPT has hosted events in Canada in the past (Discmania Open in 2023), and there a few pro players from Canada who play on the U.S. and European Tour (Thomas Gilbert, Max Regitnig, Martin Hendel).

As of yet, there haven't been many qualified bids for events in Canada, but the Tour is in contact with top Canadian event directors and sees the Canadian market as a valuable expansion opportunity for the future. 

In addition, the DGPT announced the Q-Series. The Qualifying Series (Q-Series) is a new initiative this year for the Tour and will provide a new, merit-based pathway for up-and-coming players to earn a DGPT Tour Card (similar to a PGA card). 

And the new series has a Canadian stop.

The Diameter Open (at Haute Goat course) in Port Hope, Ontario will take place Sept. 13 – 15 of this year. In the long term, the Tour wants Q-Series events to function as test events for a normal tour event slot for future seasons.

So getting the chance to talk disc golf at the pro level with Jeff Spring Tour Director of the DGPT, was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Spring, who likened the DGPT to the PGA of regular golf, said when they looked back on 2023, it “was a strong season” with viewership growth at 45 per cent, nicely ahead of a year-to-average of about 30 per cent.

Spring said at that there is certainly room to grow the game more, moving it closer to some of the better known sports. He said certainly there are other sports attempting to do the same thing, lacrosse, pickleball, cornhole, but disc golf has a near 50-year history and thousands of grassroots players on courses around the world that create a broad foundation to grow from, he said.

As an example Spring said there are now more than 10,000 disc golf courses in the United States.

That foundation is percolating up to the pro level by way of creating talent.

“The talent pool is deep, and is just getting deeper,” said Spring.

The young talent brings more than disc golf still to the pros too.

Spring said many young players also bring a social media savvy with them, and that creates an interaction with fans which is important in building event viewership and drawing youngsters to play disc golf.

“That’s happened naturally for disc golf,” he said, adding that helps the sport “be really well-positioned to grow.”

That is not to say there are not challenges. Improvement in play skill sets and disc technology means consistently longer drives and more technical approach shots, meaning the best players over match most existing courses.

Spring said it is a challenge to create pro course lay-outs that both challenge the best players, but are also relatable to the casual player on their courses back at home.

The growing live spectator base at pro events is also a challenge.

Spring said they regularly see 2500 on course and at last years World Championship there were more than 4000 on the final day. That means logistical challenges from parking, to good on course spots to see the action, that the DGPT is having to evolve to serve viewers better.

So if in five years the goal is 10,000 fans they must learn how to manage that, said Spring.

The vision for the DGPT is also greater media visibility from own online production to eventual public TV coverage.

“We’re hoping to see the next wave of growth through the media lens,” said Spring.

Spring said work is constant in terms of growing content, but it is still a process in terms of placement. But he also noted the visibility of a disc doing its thing as it flies through the air does attract interest rather quickly.

“We call it golf next generation, or new generation,” he said.

That view holds true back at the core course level too, where the low cost of discs and most courses still being free to play, meaning easy access for new players.

“It’s such a low bar in terms of accessibility,” said Spring.