We are certain that by now that everyone knows disc golf is growing. That part is undeniable. But for us, a really exciting thing is realizing that disc golf is evolving. There was a time not so long ago where every new basket in the ground was a celebration, every new person on the course was a surprise, and every new event was something you wanted to be a part of. The game was always on the cusp of 'making it'. Even though none of us really knew what 'making it' looked like, we had a vague idea that disc golf could be big and generally more awesome. There were two things we had no idea about - what it would take to make it grow and what it would look like when it arrived.
It turns out that the thing we needed to kick start our explosive growth was the new activity searching that came with a global pandemic. Disc golf was finally looked at as a viable, low-cost, family-friendly, outdoor, social or solitary pastime and people started going out of their way to try it. Courses began to pop up everywhere and when they did, people were playing them. Friends, coworkers, relatives, and strangers all now knew something about the game and eventually went to their local course for a round. For the disc golfers who had been around in the 'before times' it was glorious. We were finally getting to share the game we love with a wider audience, but what was less clear was what to do now that people were enjoying it so much.
Every sport that has gone mainstream had to transition from backyard to big stage. Sandlot baseball, hockey rinks that were just patches of ice, and golf courses on farmers fields all evolved into polished versions of themselves with professional players, standardized building practices, rules, and guidelines. It wasn't obvious at first that this would be such a massive task, but as our game became more and more popular it started to become more pressing. So many of us built courses using anything that we had at our disposal, on shoe-string budgets, and with a ton of help from volunteers that it can be somewhat forgiven to not realize that we had to evolve our game too.
By now you might be thinking, 'Isn't this supposed to be an article about disc golf in a National Park?' It's true, and it is. We just felt it was important to give context as to just how amazing two days of disc golf in Fundy National Park really was. When we think of National Parks we often think of beautiful places, pristine conditions, and authentic adventures. This event was all of these things and more. It was our second event in a National Park (Gros Morne, 2021) and it came after a lot of work by one of our community catalyst members (Bryan Neary) and our behind the scenes team. The idea was to test the waters to see if disc golf could fit into the scope of what Parks Canada stands for. Would families enjoy it? Can we build it in an environmentally sound way? Does it work overall? After seeing the results of the people who played and tried it for the first time, we believe the answers to these questions are yes, yes, and yes!
After all the prep work and negotiations we settled, two events at the park where disc golf would take over the golf course at Fundy National Park were set for a Tuesday and Wednesday in August.
On day one we would offer lots of public engagement lessons, doubles, and a drop in round on a family friendly layout. Throughout the day we had well over 60 new people drop in to play. Some of them saw baskets in the field and just wandered over, others saw it advertised somewhere in the park, and a small few people just called the golf course to book a round but were told they could only play disc golf.... so they did. We received lots of written feedback and much to our delight, every single piece was positive. People were generally surprised that the game could be so simple yet so complex. They loved the fact that they could improve on their throws so quickly and that the game was generally more cost effective and quick to play. The majority of the people who took a lesson played the course and very few people walked off without a smile on their face.
On day two we set up a harder course to push some of the distance and skill levels. We left a basket and some discs in the field but did not commit to any formal lesson times. Over the course of the day there was almost always someone or some family trying the discs on their own and eventually we had about 30 more people seek out an experienced disc golfer and ask for lessons. To our surprise, almost half of the families from day one came back on day two to try the longer course. We also had some of the park staff play holes. We gave away about two dozen discs and one basket (to a park staff who was immediately hooked).
What was most striking to us all was how lucky we were to be there and playing the game we love in such an incredible setting. It was a moment where we really felt like we arrived at a successful place. Not us as a company, but the game in general. Families who were in the park could choose to go kayaking, hiking, swimming, disc golfing, or take part in any other activity being offered and they were all seen as equally as awesome. We have said all along disc golf is just one of the tools in the toolbox of healthy activities that the public should have at their disposal.
A couple of the stories we would love to share with you:
On day one a family of four made their way over to us early in the day. They started the lesson with the usual mix of interest and trepidation. After a while we started asking them the basic questions like where they were from and what brought them here. We found out they were from Maine and lived less than ten minutes away from Pineland Farms, one of the most beautiful courses in the state. They had never played disc golf before and they took to it like a fish in water. We sent them all home with some discs knowing that they live in the mecca of disc golf. We knew it was the right decision on day two when the whole family came back for a second round!
On day one just before we were tidying up a family of four called the pro shop to try and book a tee time for nine holes on the golf course only to be told that it was disc golf only. They said that was fine and asked if they could still get a lesson. Luckily there were still some instructors hanging out near the practice basket that waited around to teach the family. After a quick 15-minute lesson they headed to the course. After playing the ten hole course they were over the moon happy. Their goal was to do a family activity together and ideally teach the kids the concept of golf. They had no idea that disc golf was going to be a better version of what they had intended. This exact same scenario happened two more times the next day.
These experiences just drove home the point that disc golf is for everyone. The game thrives when we give it all the energy it needs and build it to the same standards we hold all of our other professional sports to. The Fundy National Park staff were wonderful and we felt that every person who took part in our disc golf day left with a genuinely positive experience. The game shined when it was given the opportunity and for that we are truly thankful.