It’s been awhile since I’ve paid much attention to the world of disc golf.
There were many reasons I walked away from the sport a few years ago. Not that I ever was a great player, but it was a fun game and I enjoyed going to events and tournaments. Though one of the reasons I stopped was because I had to drive more than an hour to play at a decent course and that I had a new job, another was because I didn’t like certain directions the sport at the higher levels was going.
Up until that point, I had run a pretty successful disc golf blog (rattlingchains.com) and tried to utilize journalism as a way to cover the sport, rather than basic Q&As or reviews. I think, for the most part, me and the group of people who worked tirelessly and voluntarily did a solid job of covering that mission.
Still, I had lost my true like for the sport for various reasons and decided I needed to walk away, so I did. I’m not saying I’ll never play another disc golf round again, but I knew I needed to take a long break and not worry about it. I do still read a couple of blogs, and I watch tour standings for the pros and all (after all, a few top-level pros had contributed to Rattling Chains, so it’s nice to see them continue to grow and push the sport), but I have distanced myself from other parts.
Part of that is the PDGA, which is the governing body of the sport. Though the reality is you never will agree with everything a governing board does, I scratched my head more often than not about things the PDGA did. For those who read my blog, you may recall me writing about a phone interview I had where one of the questions I was asked about my like or dislike of dogs?
Yeah, this post covers that.
Let’s just say that the interview came with a certain governing body of a sport I once used to play on a more regular basis.
Anyway, over the few years I ran Rattling Chains, I had the opportunity to interview, talk with, and pick the brains of many prominent people in the industry. Some of them were higher up, so to speak than others. Some of these people I still call friends to this day, which is something I hold a bit more near and dear.
And some of these people I would also call visionaries. I don’t use that term lightly, but when dealing with a sport that is still in its grassroots era and trying to grow beyond an image of pot, booze, and flipping Frisbees, you need visionaries.
You need somebody like Steve Dodge.
I met Steve several years ago through a mutual friend and I came to like and respect Steve at the highest level. His mind on the game is amazing. He’s the head of Vibram’s disc golf division. And though he told me, honestly, that he loved the idea of what I was trying to accomplish with Rattling Chains, the reality was it might be a little before the time (it was) that the sport needed something like that.
I had the chance to watch Steve in several capacities and I’ve tried to maintain some contact with him as much as I can. This past summer, he actually contacted me about possibly doing some work with him — to help get media coverage and give some as well for this fledging new tour he was working on — The Disc Golf Pro Tour. Unfortunately, with my schedule for the summer, it just wasn’t a match. But it made me look to see what he was doing and, as per normal, his vision was moving the game in a good direction.
Recently, I read a blog Steve posted about a pro player being suspended for 18 months for actions on the course. With not being there and only reading a few reports, I can’t really comment on the situation. Apparently, this player has had issues before and was currently on probation. Apparently, the situation, too, includes some possible physicality. If all that is true, I have a hard time thinking this person shouldn’t be suspended for some length — but is 18 months too long?
That’s what the PDGA did, though.
Now, disc golf touring pros go grassroots. They make their money in many ways, be it sponsorship, tournament winnings, clinics, etc. So this would definitely cut into a person’s living if he couldn’t play sanctioned tournaments. And I’m not defending any negative actions he did. If any normal person did something negative like this, they’d likely be suspended or fired. Just because he’s an athlete doesn’t mean he should get special treatment.
But it seems like there are other ways to take care of this, as well as making sure you still uphold the integrity of the game and keep top players playing.
And these are the types of things, too, that I’ve long said hurt the sport reaching the mainstream more. You can’t have tantrums and physical confrontations and things like that, mixed in with how many people view the sport already (hippy sport) and expect it to grow in a positive light. I remember a few years ago when I was playing in a tournament and saw one of the most amazing meltdowns I’ve ever seen by an adult. Screaming, throwing of discs and bags and, eventually, walking off the course.
If you get like that over throwing plastic — no matter your level of play — you need a dose of reality and a suspension is likely called for. But back to the original — is 18 months too long? Does it hurt the sport? Normally I would say probably not. But in this situation it might. A punishment can be handed down without that long of a suspension and without just extending a probationary period. Maybe a mix of the two and some fines might help. But when handing out punishments, sometimes you have to look at a lot of things. Again, I wasn’t there and I didn’t see it, as well as only hearing certain aspects. So take that all with a grain of salt as I’m going off what I have heard/read.
As the governing body of the sport, the PDGA has to accomplish many things. Since I’ve left playing the game on a regular basis, I watch things to see if it continues to grow. I know at a local level, some things have (local to me) because I still see one or two area clubs and what they do is amazing. But, that’s local. That’s not the PDGA. Most things I see happening in a positive way are more grassroots. I’m not saying the PDGA doesn’t do anything good — the organization does — but not at the level it probably should.
Taking all this in mind, I was still shocked when I saw Steve Dodge’s Disc Golf Pro Tour, which is holding its championship this weekend, decide to not sanction the tournament. That means it is no longer a PDGA event. So, those playing in it won’t do anything with their PDGA ratings etc.
In the end, for the pro players, that probably doesn’t matter. After all, they’ll still get paid if they place. The PDGA doesn’t hand over money for tournament directors to give to the winners.
This is a bigger issue, though, and Steve Dodge is making a stand. He outlines in his post why he is doing this and he isn’t afraid to call the PDGA out. I encourage you to read Steve’s post and form your own thoughts and opinions on this stand.
Basically, according to Steve’s post, the PDGA is not working with the DGPT, and the DGWT (a world tour that also started this year) in regard to scheduling, working together on other aspects etc.
So, the PDGA basically drew the line in the sand and took their discs and went home. Steve has seemingly shrugged and grabbed his own discs and is playing anyway.
This is a good thing. This is the type of stance that makes organizations take notice. This is the type of situation that can lead to eventual change.
For disc golf to get to the next level, a lot of things have to happen. But people like Steve Dodge and others have visions that need to get some attention. The PDGA seems to walk the same line (at least as long as I’ve been near the sport), which doesn’t necessarily grow the sport. Little things are good, but you can’t do everything as one organization. Steve Dodge is being smart — he’s looking to grow the professional tournament end of things. Bigger prize money and things like that.
But the game needs to grow underneath for it to be bigger and bigger and that means the amateurs, and the people who just go out and chuck discs. Without them, you lose a base that allows the pro tour to continue to get bigger. It takes time and it takes a lot of vision to be able to shape the direction of a growing sport. But for a professional tour to grow and gain major sponsors, you need fans. The way to keep growing a fanbase is to grow at the lower levels and not just be worried about a professional tour. That’s something the PDGA should fully invest in doing, especially when you have people like Steve Dodge and Jussi Meresmaa (Disc Golf World Tour) utilizing great visions for a top-level pro tour. These are people the PDGA should be working with, not necessarily against or in competition with.
Growing the game also means having the ability to change your thinking and be open to ideas that go beyond the realm of the organization’s normal thought process. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s the direction the governing body always leans.
I hope this move Steve made makes some waves. It might or it might not. For the good of the sport, hopefully this is the move to make all parties involved realize they need to work together, and work together well. If not, it could come down to high-level players having to choose sides about where they play. At that point, it’s going to likely come down to prize money (and for a pro, it should), and that ultimately could be something that splits the sport in different directions.
Steve Dodge has talked about a tour like this for as long as I’ve known him. His drive and passion is unmatched by nearly any person I’ve ever met in the disc golf world. He’ll make this succeed and make it bigger — of that I have no doubt — and he’s already proven he’ll do it with or without the PDGA.
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