September 3, 2023 8:43 PM

Sustainable Growth for Future Success

Benjamin Smith
Written by
Benjamin Smith

Every year during the depths of winter we here at team Flickline have found this to be the perfect time to refocus our priorities on the season ahead. Each calendar year we create a mantra that helps guide us over the next 365 days so we can remain focused. During the first year of the pandemic our mantra was quite literally, 'survive'. Last year we took the word, 'Grow' as our mantle, and this year with so many wonderful things on the horizon our mantra for the year is 'Sustainable'.

As everyone knows disc golf growth exploded over the last two years. I am sure we could write books on exactly why that happened but regardless of why we are now faced with a new reality. Many new disc golfers have been brought into the fold and fell in love with the game. With more players comes both more challenges and more opportunities so naturally it made sense to us that the initial focus of sustainability would be centred around the players. The first thing we did for 2023 was to identify a key group of people who were making a difference in their disc golf communities all across Canada. We encouraged them to become a part of our Community Catalyst Program and we tried our best to empower them with all the things they need to succeed. We formally offered each of our players a level 1 coaching certificate, access to low cost discs, and introduced them to a likeminded group of individuals that they could bounce their ideas off of to stay motivated and engaged. We have found that having players feel empowered and not having to pay out of pocket for all of their expenses gave people the best opportunity to be involved in the game for a long time without experiencing burnout. Although it is in the early days of this program we feel like we are moving forward on the right foot.

Next up were our scheduled events. Each season Flickline runs a full tour series that features 2 PDGA events in each of the four Atlantic Provinces.  This year we have added an event in Northern Ireland. Every time we even think about that statement we have to contain our excitement. Up to now we have never taken a penny for any events we have run. 100% of the registration fees are put back into each event for prizes, players packs, green fees, and year end prizes. For a long time we ran these events at a loss because they were good for the course owners and even better for the players but after a survey last year we decided that to change our fee structure for each event to better offset the costs we incur. This year we have reduced the overall fees for each player to $37 per event. Each player will receive a $25 gift certificate to Chain Reaction, while $2 goes to PDGA fees, $3 go to the event trophies and prizes, $3 goes to the year end prizes, and $4 is set aside for admin fees, like bathrooms, water (if needed) and any real costs associated with running the event. In the end it means that our TD's might get paid around $75 to run the event for the weekend. It is not a significant amount but it does mitigate the personal loss that we take on by running these. During that same survey last year it was noted that our caddy books need improving so we are doing our best to address this. Having an open conversation about what our players want and what it takes the TDs to achieve that was our best way forward. Making the financial transactions completely transparent was extremely important to us to maintain a respectful relationship with all of our players. If you have never had the pleasure of playing in a Flickline there are two things we do that may be a little different than your average tournament. First, aside from trying to chalk all of the circles around the basket, on the final round of competition if you win your card you win a prize. Usually these prizes are $20 gift certificates to local businesses or unique discs that are special to that event. We found this keeps all of our players engaged because no matter how you do to start the event you have a 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 chance of winning something at the end. The second part of our tour that is somewhat unique is that the end of the year prizes are exceptional. Winning the tour points for your division can net you as little as a PDGA membership for the following season, to a Grip Bag, all the way up to the grand prize in MA1, which is 9 permanent DiscGolfPark baskets to have for free for a brand new course in your area that opens the following year. This year we will be adding prizes for those people who come top 10 in overall standing for their divisions too, that way we can keep even more people engaged in the year long tour. In addition to the tour many of our C2 members will be running their own events and Flickline is here to support them as well. By surveying the players and then having a deep dive into how we do things we feel we have set ourselves up to have the most sustainable season yet when it comes to running events.

The heart and soul of what Flickline does (and the thing that really gets me personally up in the morning) is building courses. All of my background has jumbled together to give me a unique skillset and a very particular outlook on life. I have been involved in landscaping since I was 15 years old and throughout the majority of my 20's I planted trees all over Canada. Many of the people who mentored me in these disciplines taught me about working with nature and not against it. Subtle changes have started to occur in the way we process and even think about land. Our good friend Dan Dupont shifted our outlook. It is now our deep belief that the best disc golf course can be made only when you create the healthiest forest. Now, notwithstanding the major hurricane we just experienced, we can see how healthy forests can ward off a lot of problems in the future. Learning how to listen to water, identifying what the native species are doing, and working with all of the natural elements of each piece of land ensures that courses are contributing to a healthy ecosystem, not fighting against it. We know that no disc golf course can work perfect with nature but by studying forestry techniques and committing to continuous learning we will do our part to stay on the front lines of sustainability. Keeping organics on the ground, shade cover in the sky, and by working with nature rather than imposing our will is the pathway forward. The pictures at the top of this blog show a couple of our favourite holes so far that take all of this into consideration.

One of the key tools we use in our new method of course building are industrial mulchers:

This mulching head can take down any tree and turn it to mulch in a mater of minutes! The ground under the tractor is the finished product.

As we work towards courses of all shapes and sizes we have started to notice some very interesting trends in the game. People prefer to play unique and challenging courses that are shorter in hole length and generally more forgiving in their stated par. Couple those preferences with the fact that the small minority are 'tournament' players but those events often get the most press and cost the most money. What that really means in real terms is that 90% of people want something short and sweet but most funding and advertising comes from big events and 'flagship' courses. When we do our long term projections on course building we fully believe that the greater disc golf community is best served by making 4 out of every 5 courses a 'community' course and 1 out of 5 a championship course. Not every championship course is meant to host a DGPT event or even an 'A' tier but they should be courses where your local players can push their limits and challenge different aspects of their game. Having courses that encourage new players to try and play and feel a little bit of success goes a long way to keeping people engaged in game. Despite believing in ourselves throughout this company our team has had a lot of conversations about dropping our egos and trying to do things that are best for the players who will be using our courses and the programs that we run. We are not perfect but we have all committed to being better tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Part of that learning is actually understanding what is happening with our climate and our forests at large. When we talk about sustainable harvest techniques we are not only talking about what trees we cut and what we leave. We are actively looking at new tree species that will thrive in the climate we are projected to have in the next 10, 20, and 100 years. Royal and English oak trees are a big part of the future in Atlantic Canada. Arguments can be made that silver maples should be on that list as well. More energy should be placed on not just what trees are left for the ideal lines disc golfers want to see, but for what the actual conditions that the forest will be in. Designs for top end play are getting so complex for the simple fact that players and discs are getting better, but those complex designs also have to consider a changing climate.

We here at Flickline are not the only designers on the planet that are thinking about these issues. In fact it has been a great step forward to have so many designers talk about what the future will look like. So much of this information is being shared now that we are starting to reach the point of a critical mass. In order to be successful in the future we need to learn the lessons on the past. We hope that by learning everyday a little more about all the aspects of what contribute to healthy disc golf growth Flickline can be in a great position to help create the future we wish to see.