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Disc World

Could creating disc golf courses be the answer to getting families active? Kath Hudson reports on the burgeoning sport

by Kath Hudson | Published in Sports Management 27 Jun 2016 issue 123
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The sport attracts people of all ages and abilities / lindsey bauman / press association
The sport attracts people of all ages and abilities/ lindsey bauman / press association

Like golf, but using specially weighted discs and metal cages, disc golf is a relatively simple game, which has widespread appeal from children to OAPs. It dates back to a group of Canadian college students throwing tin plates at cans in the 1920s, but became more popular in the US in the early 1960s.

There are now at least 35 disc golf courses in the UK and new courses are cropping up all the time. They provide a great way to use under-utilised public areas to get people active as the barriers to entry are low.

Carlyon Bay, in Cornwall, launched the UK’s first beach-based disc golf course at the end of May. Event manager, Charlotte Parslow, who discovered disc golf on a trip to New Zealand says: “We wanted to do something which is family friendly, sporty and different, and which isn’t already being offered.”

HItting the beach
The six-hole course at Carlyon has been designed by Chris O’Brien, from disc golf specialists Catch the Spirit, and the main obstacle will be the offshore wind. It will be offered free of charge, on a first come, first served basis with people bringing their own frisbees or buying the specially weighted discs on site.

Two years ago, Devonshire golf course, Mount Edgcumbe, opened three disc golf courses (a beginners, advanced and pro course) to attract a new clientele to the country house and park and provide a new way of enjoying the spectacular location.

“We try and get everyone who visits to have a go,” says spokesperson Jez Whillmott. “Most people can throw a frisbee, the learning curve is quick and once you’ve tried it, it can be very addictive.”

Many courses offer free usage, but Mount Edgcumbe charges £6 for adults and £4 for children in order to make people ‘value the experience more’ and to create revenue to keep the course well maintained.

There has also been a lot of promotional activity to drive participation, especially visits to primary schools. Willmott says the sport has a widespread appeal because it is affordable, doesn’t require much kit, is uncomplicated and something the family can do.

“People enjoy the flight of the disc and the challenge of getting it into the basket or cage. You can go out and have fun instantly,” he says. “It definitely has the potential to be big in the UK and it’s growing very quickly.”

Disc Facts
The British Disc Golf Association oversees the sport in the UK and organises the 12-date tour.

There are almost 4,000 courses in the US and 5,000 globally. The sport is played in 40 countries, primarily the US, Canada, central and western Europe, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. Each year 390 sanctioned tournaments take place.

Around £12,000 should be enough to install a basic nine hole course. Several acres are needed for a recreational course, which typically have nine to 12 holes, with three holes per acre. Pro courses need one acre per hole and the Professional Disc Golf Association requires courses to have at least 13 holes for its events. Some obstacles are needed to add jeopardy: trees and bushes are perfect. A secondary income stream can be created by hiring or selling discs, which usually cost about £10 and are weighted differently to go either straight or in a curve. Good players have around 15 differently weighted discs.

Public Interest
Local authorities are identifying disc golf as a relatively low cost option to provide physical activity. Now open, but set for official launch in July, the Longford Park Disc Golf course is the result of a joint venture between Trafford Council and Manchester Disc Golf Club. Funded by the council, a crowdfunding campaign and a £50,000 grant from the Veolia Environmental Trust, the course is considered one of the best in Europe and will host this year’s British Disc Golf Association Nationals.

The focus, however, is not on elite players. “We knew the small cadre of passionate, top players wasn’t going to be enough to justify or support an 18 hole course long term,” says Alan Heckman, the executive chair of the new club. “So we have focused a big part of our volunteer effort on teaching people how to play and building a community of players. Our open days are especially popular with families.”

The course is free to use and unmanned, except during special events. The cafe in the park will hire out discs for £1 and volunteers from the club will carry out maintenance tasks, such as looking after the basket targets and keeping the course beautiful. The council contractors will carry out any major mowing and tree maintenance work which is needed on the site.

As well as informal play, twice weekly club events will be organised, along with ladder competitions and open days, inviting the community to come and learn.

Heckman expects the course will be well utilised by three core customer groups: “We think it will develop a wide local user base of people who play occasionally for a laugh, a more passionate core group of locals which makes up the club, and disc golfers from around the UK and the world who are willing to travel to play a great course.

“We particularly hope that we will bring teens and young adults into the park and teachers and sports coaches tell us it is perfect for getting kids moving and developing physical skill.”

Disc Facts

The British Disc Golf Association oversees the sport in the UK and organises the 12-date tour

There are almost 4,000 courses in the US and 5,000 globally

It is played in 40 countries, primarily the US, Canada, central and western Europe, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia

Each year 390 sanctioned tournaments take place, including a World Championships

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