When I first started playing Disc Golf one of the things which attracted me to the sport was the relative informality. It wasn’t a big production or a big expense like traditional golf. No $300 clubs, no big bags to lug around, no caddies, no tee-times, no carts, no huge greens fees. You just went out with friends in a nice, natural environment, carrying a few discs with you and had a good time.
Well, that was 25 years ago or more and times have changed a bit. Now there’s a pro tour with people who actually make a living playing disc golf. There are more and more private courses and even private clubs that charge membership and greens fees. Following in the tradition of regular gold there are even a growing number of disc golf vacation resorts. There are professional promotors and course pros who make a decent living. I’ve even seen major disc golf events on ESPN from time to time.
Along with that has come the parephernalia, and the merchandising and even product sponsorship. Companies pay Ken Climo to put his name on products and he and a few other top players attract respectable sponsorship deals. We’re not in Tiger Woods land yet, but it’s a far cry from the days when the world champion lived in a van parked at a local course. This increased level of professionalism filters down through every level of the sport. There are even tournaments which have a dress code.
After taking too much time off I no longer have to worry about endorsement deals or the responsibilities of fame, but when I do have time to play I encounter the new more respectable veneer on the sport more and more. People still go and smoke dope in the bushes by certain holes, but now they have more discs, fancier clothes and take the game far more seriously in a lot of little ways.
Something which caught my eye at a recent tournament is the advancement in disc portage hardware which has taken place in the last few years. Here I am with my nice little shoulder bag from Wall City that I bought ages ago, and I feel positively obsolete in the face of modern disc golf bag technology. My bag is easy to carry around and holds about a dozen discs with sleeves on the outside for two putters. I’ve always thought that’s about enough discs for any course. 3 or 4 long range drivers, a couple of rollers, 3 or 4 discs for approach shots and a couple of putters. What on earth more do you need?
Well, it seems that today’s disc golfer needs to carry enough discs to throw a different one for every shot in a round (that’s 30 if you’re a god and 60 if you’re a spazz). That means a bag the size of a small suitcase – way too large to carry on a shoulder easily without becoming a hunchback. So the new bags have complex harness systems like the patented Proline QuadShock system which let you carry the huge bag on your back without collapsing under the weight – sort of like high tech backpacks that ride handily at waist level. They feature massive, padded shoulder straps and belts and fast-release clamps and insulated water bottle carriers and storage compartments and they can hold 30 or 40 discs with ease – each in its own individual protective sleeve. This is, of course, assuming that you don’t mind looking like a complete dork while playing what used to be a nice simple sport. And they’re not cheap. $50 or more for the bag itself, plus another $50 for the strap system. You could buy a couple of decent golf clubs for that price.
It gets worse. For some players carrying their massive arsenal of discs is too much to handle even with a harness – they’ve got to have wheels. As far as I can tell no one is commercially mass producing wheeled disc golf bags yet, but more and more players are following a simple design to make their own wheeled bag/carts which are depressingly reminiscent of wheeled golf bags from traditional golf and start with the same basic hardware.
The standard design begins with a relatively inexpensive steel Golf Bag Cart or a fancier aluminum model like the Bag Boy Express. To this you add the accessories which appeal to you the most. In most designs the essential addition is a wire bicycle-style basket to put various junk in. This is accompanied by either a rack to hold your disc bag, or in one design a series of layered folders to hold and display discs. Another popular addition is a cooler or a water jug or even a pony keg for refreshment needs.
There’s one accessory you can add to your rolling basket carrying device which really spells the demise of all the things which make Disc Golf a sport – a folding chair or stool to sit on between shots. This really says everything about the decline of the game. First, it means that the competition and exercise aspects of the sport have lost all meaning for you. You don’t even have enough motivation to stand up between shots. Second, it suggests that you expect to be playing in a group that moves at such a slow pace that you’ll need a chair to sit in while you wait for other players to complete their endless putting rituals and celebratory dances. It means you’re one of the guys in the group of 8 I get stuck behind who stretch a 90 minute round into 4 hours and never let anyone play through.
What makes Disc Golf appealing is that it’s faster paced and less sedentary than traditional golf. It’s got the same appealing mechanics, but it’s more exercise in less time. The courses are shorter, you move yourself around and you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars on hardware and the right clothing. Slowly that’s changing. When you have to carry so many discs you need a bag with a harness or a wheeled bag cart or when you need a chair to sit in between shots, the game has lost a lot of its charm. I’m all for improving the game, but a billion discs, a rolling bag and a chair doesn’t make you a better player.
It’s just a matter of time before someone starts producing rolling disc golf bags commercially and then they’ll be everywhere. The next step after that is bound to be some sort of golf cart equivalent. A chair or a stool and a rolling disc bag isn’t enough – we’re going to have to have vehicles on the courses just like traditional golf. Not having to walk is the the next logical step after we abandon standing up between shots. Perhaps those little cars the Shriners use can be adapted as disc golf carts, or even better one of those battery-powered Barbie cars for kids.
Don’t get me wrong. At its heart the sport is still great, but it’s maturing and maturity doesn’t always bring dignity with it. Sometimes it brings gimmickry, self-indulgence and excess and I’m seeing more and more of that on the disc golf courses these days. I’m going to stick with my shoulder bag and a dozen essential discs, and keep walking the course and standing up between shots and enjoying the exercise and being out in nature without being loaded down with a lot of hardware.