A celebration of pay-to-play disc golf
As mentioned in a previous article, there has never been a better time to be alive for all you disc golfers out there. Recent growth of the sport has been phenomenal, as highlighted in UDisc's 2020 report: https://udisc.com/disc-golf-growth-report
So many factors have contributed to disc golf's huge growth since 2019 that it is hard to pinpoint the primary factor behind that growth; however, one aspect that is making a huge impact on the numbers is the amount of pay-to-play courses being built.
From an outside perspective, it might be odd to think of any (ball) golf courses that are free to play, but that was how the game of disc golf was built. For better or worse, there will always be a solid--and often vocal--percentage of disc golfers who think disc golf should be free to play. There are many things that can be said in agreeing with that statement, but for now, let’s focus on the positives of pay-to-play disc golf.
First, paying to play disc golf means that the only people with whom you are sharing a course are disc golfers and paid staff. Everything about the layout and space is intentional. Players don’t have to navigate around temporary obstacles, like people picnicking or walking their dog. There is significantly less interaction with other people in general, and there are many times when the only other people you will see are the cards ahead and behind you, and even they are at a distance.
Another huge advantage of pay-to-play courses is information. Having someone in the club house who has a sense of how busy the course is, or what the conditions are like, can be a huge help, especially for those players who have to travel for their rounds. It’s nice to know the course isn’t packed before you make a 30-minute drive after work. Disc golfers are now fortunate to have services like UDisc that list all of the holes on the course, but pay-to-play courses usually have an even more vested interest in making sure that their signs are up to date and accurate, and that the course is well marked and easy to navigate.
The next best thing is the services offered. Clubhouses where you can see, touch, and ultimately purchase discs, seem like a luxury when you have been playing city courses your whole life, and the nearest disc golf store is 20 km away. Discs are usually only a small part of the offerings good courses can provide for you. Any place that has food, water, and adult beverages is more likely to keep you onsite for longer. Pay-to-play courses put a lot of their money back into course upkeep: in the wintertime, this can mean groomed trails and clear tee pads; in warmer weather, this means cut grass, emptied garbage cans, and clean washrooms.
Lastly, players really notice the difference between free courses and paid courses when tournaments are involved. Tee times are created to suit the best case scenario for the event itself, and scheduling does not have to work around other public access requests. There may be a slight downside that some of the bigger, more popular courses actually stand to lose revenue by hosting events, but for the most part, pay-to-play courses can benefit from having competitive players experience their course at its best.
Pay-to-play disc golf will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in the future. Disc golfers desire their own spaces where they can partake in intentional disc golf, and not have to compete with other park users.