***(Disclaimer- written from a male perspective)***
When you sign up for a tournament to play disc golf, the first thing you have to decide is which division to play in. As a beginner, the choice is pretty easy: AM2 or Rec. Playing as a “Rec” is usually stress-free, but can sometimes be played from alternate tee boxes (which is why I never played Rec in my first year- I like trying to throw farther than that!). However, as time goes by, and as skill levels increase, eventually you need to move up.
The decision to move up is a personal one. No one can force a player to choose a certain division (apart from not allowing a male into a female division, or a younger player into a Masters division). As I’ve seen it, there are some players that simply get better, and move up because they’ve had one or more more first place finishes in a given year. This can be a good measuring stick for a division: if you’ve won, you’re ready to move on. A problem arises however, when a closer look is taken at how the upper divisions are separated.
A beginner would typically start in the “Rec” division. After learning the basics, this player would play in the “AM-2,” or Amateur-2 division. Once they feel they’ve improved, they move up another step to “AM-1.” Eventually, when they’ve decided to take the game quite serious, and their skills have plateaued, they play in the “Pro-Open” division. This last step, from AM-1 to Pro-Open can take a few years, and in my opinion, can cause some players to stay as an Amateur eternally.
The biggest difference from AM-1 to Pro-Open is simply the cost and the payout. In Pro-Open you typically need to pay twice as much to play, but when you’re a top 3 finisher (or deeper, depending on the tournament) you receive a cash prize. I have no qualms with having a cash prize for the Pro players, since it’s their money anyway. The issue that I see, and I’ve heard a lot of complaints about, is playing in tournaments that are very AM-1 lopsided. There will be over 25 to 30 AM-1 players, yet only 12 Pro-Open players. Often times, the hot score of the day can come out of the AM-1 division, proving that the particular player could have stepped up and played Pro with no problem. Yet, the same players will stay in AM-1 regardless.
Can you blame a person though, for not wanting to pay twice as much money, and in so doing, not receive a Tournament Stamped Disc and risk not cashing either? Fifty dollars is a lot of money to drop on a day of entertainment when you consider a basic dinner normally runs between $20 and $40. It seems logical to decrease the ‘buy-in’ amount for the Pro-Open division, and attract more up and coming players to give it a shot. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if a much better player won the money I contributed- so long as I didn’t have to put in twice as much in the first place. If a common sense way to divide up the money were laid out, it seems logical that the Tournament Stamped Discs could still be provided to certain divisions, while the Pro-Open division could have twice as many players.
I suppose I don’t have an iron clad solution to the current divisional system- I just see that it’s flawed in some ways. With less gray area, players might find it easier to play in one division or another. Perhaps if there were just one less Amateur division, and people took the Rec division a little more realistically- this could increase the numbers in Pro-Opens. I’d estimate that in the ten tournaments I played this year, there were a combined number of 15 Rec division players. That is less than two registered players per tournament. To me, that is a dead division- and there is no harm in asking those beginners to play up a division with the AM-2’s. Perhaps dividing the Amateurs into “Beginners” and “Advanced” would make the jump more obvious? After this- the leap to Pro-Open is made a little easier by reducing the entry cost? To me, these seem like the two biggest issues. That and the economic crisis and the Real Estate market. Not to mention the middle east. Or the fractured political landscape of America. Luckily, we have local disc golf tournament divisions to worry about.