September 3, 2023 8:43 PM

DGPT Conference and the direction of Disc Golf

Benjamin Smith
Written by
Benjamin Smith

After an action packed 7 days of disc golf dialogue I am back in my own bed and ready to share with you my newfound enthusiasm about the future of our game. Regular readers of this blog (and anyone who has ever met me) will know I was already pretty enthusiastic about our game. This week in Tuscon did little to quell that passion. In fact after 7 full days of talking with other disc golfers I believe the game of disc golf is in the best position it has ever been in. The future is now and the moves we make over the next few months and years will go along way towards creating the framework from which all things will be built.

As many people will be aware last week the Disc Golf Pro Tour hosted the first ever Disc Golf Industry Conference. It was created to share ideas and put faces to the names that many of us have been speaking with over the years. It took place in a lovely resort just outside of Tuscon, Arizona just ahead of the Allstar weekend. The conference brought together people from all over the world who have been contributing in meaningful ways to make the game of disc golf better. Keynote speakers included the likes of Steve Dodge (founder of Maple Hill and the DGPT) and outside influencers like Andrew Zimmern. There were many thoughtful presentations about different aspects of our game and shared stories of how many people arrived at this point. The true strength of the conference was the space and time given to each person to make contact with one another and form personal bonds. So many afternoons and evenings were spent with new friends exploring the ideas that are going to bring our game forward and better understanding the things that have come before us. Steve Dodge spoke from the heart about his personal experiences (including two near death experiences) and put a strong focus on the 'culture of the disc'. Many people felt his words were among the most powerful spoken at the event and his desire to make sure the 'spirit of the game' is not something that ever goes away was a very inspiring aspect of the gathering. Players like Sarah Hokom and Sarah Nicholson (who is more than just a player) highlighted the increased need for support in the female side of the game. Many people at the conference agree that the future is female and a lot of thought went into how to best support this future.

This was not a terrible place to hold a disc golf conference in Feb

One of the most encouraging aspects of the conference for me personally was seeing the new 'outsiders' who are stepping into the game. Hedge fund managers, independent investors, companies who had no ties to disc golf now see both the appeal and financial opportunities that our game presents. Many of the things that are being discussed around kitchen tables and between upshots are now happening in real-time across the world. The pandemic boom was real and felt by a wide variety of people. We now understand that this next phase is about how to guide so much of our new growth. We, as a collective group, need to prioritize what is important as we go forward. Standards are now being set for almost ever aspect of our game. Outside money will start to trickle in as well as outside influence. It is up to us what kind of culture we want to maintain as the game grows.

My inspector inspecting what it would take for us to make this metal displays.

One of the most interesting things for me personally was to humanize the many people that are household names in our game. It is one thing to complain on the internet or at your local C tier about how stupid this decision is or why one of our organizations suck at some task you think should be easy. It is another thing completely to understand that a real human being is tasked with making those improvements and implementing solutions. Our game just experienced an unprecedented growth and in many cases organizations or companies just don't have the staff to meet the current demands. Jeff Spring (who runs the DGPT) is a human with flaws and strengths. He is trying his best to navigate uncharted waters. They (DGPT) have taken steps to examine other industries and do their best projections but all they can do is try. I myself have been critical of how things run, and after seeing more of what is behind the curtain I still believe there is room for improvement but I also better understand how many people are trying their best to fix problems that are apparent to many of us. I guess I am trying to say this conference helped me to have even more empathy for the people who are actively shaping the game. We still have a long way to go but I can see the road forward. It includes many voices and we shouldn't stop trying to make it better.

That's right. That's Kats cat in that backpack. You're welcome

For the readers who may reside in Atlantic Canada I will tell you this; we are on the right path. Our game is still being shaped by wonderful, kind, and honest people. We are growing some of the best parts of the culture and respect side of disc golf. Our courses are trending in the right direction and our events are widely regarded as positive ones. Some of the issues that other clubs have faced are not problems here and a lot of credit should go out to local clubs and volunteers who have stepped up to grow our game in such a positive manner. I bring this up because this conference was a great reminder to me that a lot of the work we are doing is worthwihle and I hope people can hear that and feel good about all the contributions that are being made.

Back to the conference itself. The setting was wonderful and the general mood from everyone that we talked to was overwhelmingly positive. There are a few things that I left thinking can be improved about the game. Keep in mind this is just me personally talking about how I feel. First, the pay structure for how the average professional is paid is in need of an overhaul. I am not 100% certain players should have so much of their fortunes tied to how many tour series discs are sold. The market is full of discs, and although I agree disc sales will still happen in the future, I think it is time we consider other avenues for funding players specifically. People cannot buy discs forever at the same rate they do when they first find the game and companies cannot survive if they accumulate increasing numbers of dead stock, so discs being created on demand seem to make some sense. Also having outside companies fund disc golf teams might be more advantageous. There are advertising opportunities there and it would give disc golf companies more room to focus on disc golf specific issues. Second, standards (or at the very least guidelines) are now needed on what quality courses should look like from simple public designs all the way up to DGPT courses. A major development going forward will be to train TD's, assistant TD's and all of the key positions clubs should be looking to fill. At this point we have a long history of what a successful clubs, events, and courses look like. These principals should help steer the game so that the current and next generation can make positive growth without some of the issues we faced. If you know how to do any of the things I listed above make it a goal to train 2 additional people this year in these roles. This is how we grow sustainably in the future. Finally (for my short write up anyways) we need to start doing a better job of telling the stories in our game. Most everyone knows about Paul, Paige, and I might argue Kristen at this point, but there are so many stories about the men and women who took the leap to become full time professionals that if we shared these stories the general public might find our game more appealing. This, in turn, will generate more interest in the game and help attract bigger outside sponsorship. The pillars are in place. We have some amazing talent all throughout our game and it is time that we treated them as such. The women's side of the game is stronger than it has ever been and we should celebrate that and grow it even bigger. The mens side is amazing as well and the top end talent there are doing things with a disc that we could not have dreamed about 20 years ago. With that in mind I would like to share with you this picture:

That's right. That's me scratching of Calvin's name for the CTP. I'd call it a humble brag but I am not sure there is anything humble about it.

Overall the game is in great shape. If you are reading this you are probably one of the people who helped make it this way. Each one of us should be very excited about where the future is bringing us and I encourage you to think about the ways we can help build it even better as we go forward. I hope that this write up can give you even 1/10 the energy I felt at this conference. I am already fast at work on the things I can do to make 2023 the best year yet. A special thank you should also go out to Zoe AnDyke who spent lots of her free time with a bunch of Canadians going over all of the ways we can make the game better. Anytime spent with her or Uplay is time well spent. Beyond that get out there and play some disc golf. I know I will.

See you on the course!