After a long weekend a couple months ago, I went back to work Monday morning, and the first thing my boss asked me was “How was your fantasy golf?” No doubt mixing up “Fantasy Football” (which I don’t play) and “Frisbee Golf” (which is technically called Disc Golf).
It’s a step in the right direction, I suppose- in educating the masses about disc golf. The most common response to the phrase “disc golf” is usually a slight giggle followed by muttering the phrase, “disco…” So clearly my boss has moved past that phase, into the realm of acceptance- but hasn’t quite grasped the vocabulary. I can’t blame him for not knowing anything about the sport since it has zero television exposure, and there are only a handful of official courses in eastern Massachusetts- zero in greater Boston where I work. That doesn’t stop me from wishing I could talk with people about the National Tour of the PDGA though, just as I do about the New England Patriots and the NFL.
In a lot of ways disc golf now is similar to skateboarding in the mid 80’s. At that time the act of skateboarding was considered ‘underground,’ but the few who did skateboard were obsessive. The commercial side of skateboarding was also underground. Now you can’t go into a Target without seeing the pre-stitched and pre-worn pants that a skateboarder might buy, and you can’t watch ESPN2 on the weekends without seeing clips and shows of the X-games with competitive skateboarding. Despite it’s rise to heavy marketing and popularity though, the act of skateboarding has with-held a strong amount of integrity since you simply can’t fake things like dropping into a half pipe. In reality- there are similar stereotypes that held skateboarding back in the 80’s and 90’s that are also currently placed on disc golfers today. It is often assumed that disc golf is a game of barefoot, hippy, pot-smoking dudes who just want to throw tie-dyed plastic around the woods. However, if you show up to a place like Maple Hill in Leicester, MA this coming weekend for the Vibram Open Tournament you’ll see athletes, as well as a huge crowd of people dedicated to every little detail of a sport. The top pros don’t only put their talent on display when they play big tournaments like this, but they also have been forming interesting story-lines along the way. Can Nikko shake his reputation of being the young hot-head? And how may years can Ken ‘The Champ’ Climo remain a threat to win every tournament he plays in? What about Barry Schultz and the healing of his broken hand?
Personally, I wish the sport would get more exposure on the professional level. This would in turn, help the beginner and amateur levels grow at a quicker rate. I don’t actually expect a national television audience, or even a regular tv show. But there IS entertainment to be had with disc golf- and it’s followers have a fierce passion about the game.
Early this season, the number one rated player (number two depending on the point system) Nikko Locastro played in a warm up tournament for 2011. He was one stroke down from the lead playing on the final hole. With a wide open fairway, it was a reasonable assumption that the leader would throw a birdie 2, which left Nikko only one option: throw an ace. He actually ended up throwing a hole in one (or an ‘ace’)- from 394 feet away and forcing a play-off for the win (he’s only thrown three or four aces in tournaments ever before). He then went on to win the play-off and the tournament. This was the kind of drama that all sports are built on- the bottom of the 9th, two outs, full count, bases loaded kind of thing. However, if I were to call up 98.5 FM the Sports Hub and try to talk to Felger and Mazz about Nikko Locastro, I wouldn’t get past the call screener (Beetle is dink anyway).
In the end, it would seem that the growth of an underground sport like disc golf is hinged upon two things: the almighty dollar, and exposure. If a big company believes they can make money, they’ll advertise and sponsor events and get involved. However, even with all their money and marketing- they can’t shoe-horn a sport onto someone without the actual players and followers. The most powerful thing for the sport is the people who actually play it- and I may be aiming low, but if I can get my boss past the “Fantasy Golf” phase, I feel like I’ve taken the first step.