Although the vast majority of people regard disc golf as a recreational, leisurely activity, it has become much more than that over the years. From its casual inception in the 1920s to a formalized, competitive sport about 50 years later, disc golf is increasing in popularity, as well as professionalism.
Is Disc Golf a Professional Sport?
Disc golf is a professional, rapidly-growing, and competitive sport played by both novices and experts. The global disc golf community, comprised of fans and players, is also deeply devoted and loyal to the sport.
To illustrate the depth of disc golf, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of the professional side of the sport, such as the top players, major tournaments, and its rising exposure to the masses.
Professional Disc Golf Members, Rankings, and Salaries
According to the PDGA’s 2020 Year-End Demographics Report, there are 71,016 active members, of which 17% (12,024) are classified as professional. In 2019, there were 10,677 professional members, marking a 12% uptick in just a year. This is pretty incredible, considering a worldwide pandemic was happening during this time.
As of 2020, the PDGA reported 4,752 total female members, of which 752 are professional. For men, there are 66,264 members – 11,272 of them are ranked as professional. These figures, along with the pros’ earnings, continue swelling with each passing year, proof that disc golf is growing in popularity and professionalism.
Paul McBeth, one of the best disc golfers ever, has earned over $520,000 in his career; for reference, in 2020, he competed in 14 tournaments and earned a little over $32,000, which includes sponsorships. Paige Pierce, the top-ranked female professional player, has acquired approximately $255,000 since going pro in 2009, and made $28,000 during the 2020 season. Professional disc golfers ranked lower earn less than these two players. Sure, these numbers might seem extremely meager compared to the salaries of NFL or NBA players, but the fact that they’re even this high (and that they continue growing every year) demonstrates the monetary investments poured into the sport of disc golf through sponsorships, tournaments, and the community as a whole.
Speaking of Paul and Paige, let’s take a look at some of disc golf’s top performers.
Professional Disc Golfers
Due to COVID-19 and the associated travel restrictions, the 2020 PDGA World Championships were cancelled, so PDGA World Rankings were not assigned for 2020. Thus, the information below for professional female and male players is based on the 2019 World Rankings.
- Paige Pierce. Born in Plano, Texas, Paige began playing disc golf at the ripe age of four, when her father introduced her to the sport. At 18 years old, she turned pro and has consistently been ranked among the top professional women since 2011. In her career, Paige has won five World Championships (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019) and 12 Majors. She was named PDGA Female Player of the Year in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Incredibly, she achieved the highest player rating for a woman – 978 – in 2018. Paige is sponsored by Dynamic Discs and KEEN.
- Catrina Allen. Catrina’s interest in disc golf was sparked in 2009, when she caddied for a friend at a nearby tournament. She won the South Dakota Amateur Championships and the US Women’s Disc Golf Championship (Amateur Division) in 2010. She turned professional in 2011; during that same year, she won 15 disc golf events and received the PDGA Female Rookie of the Year Award. Catrina is sponsored by Prodigy Discs.
- Henna Blomroos. Henna, the young Finnish player, turned pro in 2013. She has competed in 77 events, boasts 36 career wins (nearly half of events she participated in), and has career earnings totaling over $23,000. She’s currently the highest-rated woman on Team Innova, with a rating of 966. Henna won the 2018 European Championships and came in second at the 2019 European Open. She’s sponsored by Innova.
And now for the men…
- Paul McBeth. Paul, known also as “McBeast”, started playing disc golf during high school. He played his first tournament, The Amateur World Championships, in Flagstaff in 2005, and hasn’t stopped. He’s been a member of the PDGA since 2005 and turned pro in 2008. He’s a five-time champion, having won the PDGA World Championships four times in a row (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) and in 2019. Paul has competed in 347 events and has won 131 of them. As previously mentioned, his earnings total well over $520,000. Paul is considered to be one of the best disc golfers of all time, receiving the PDGA Male Player of the Year in 2013, 2014, and 2015. He’s sponsored by Discraft.
- Richard Wysocki. Ricky grew up in Medina, Ohio, across the street from the Roscoe Ewing Park Disc Golf Course. He began playing the course in 2009 and dedicated his after-school hours to practicing the sport – so much that he turned pro the following year. He won the PDGA Rookie of the Year Award in 2011 and the Male Player of the Year Award in 2012, making him the only male player to win the titles back to back. Ricky is currently ranked second worldwide by the PDGA and his career earnings total over $438,000. He has won 116 of the 343 events he competed in. Ricky is sponsored by Innova Champion Discs.
- Eagle Wynne McMahon. A Colorado native, Eagle stumbled onto disc golf in 2007 when he was nine years old and grieving the loss of his mother. As a means of healing, he and his father spent their free time playing and learning the game together. He started playing more and found himself competing in smaller, local tournaments. Two years later, Eagle won his first tournament and continued racking up wins. After playing for four years, he turned pro at 13 and has been playing in open divisions ever since. Out of 175 career events, he’s won 46, and has earned $180,000. In 2018, he received his first Major tournament win at the Konopiste Open in Czech Republic, beating Paul McBeth and Simon Lizotte. Eagle is sponsored by Discmania.
As you can see, most of the pros listed here began informally playing disc golf with their friends or parents, and ended up loving the game so much, they seized the opportunity to achieve more for themselves and for the sport overall.
Professional Disc Golf Tournaments
During the mid-70s, disc golf was still in its infancy. In April 1976, “Steady” Ed Headrick – often referred to as the “Father of Disc Golf” – started the Disc Golf Association (DGA) to promote all things disc golf. He traveled across the country, spreading the word, selling disc golf baskets, and designing courses. Shortly thereafter, he founded the Professional Disc Golf Association, a membership-based organization that serves as the governing body for the sport. The PDGA is also responsible for rating players, determining pars for courses, communicating event results, and endorsing competitive events, such as the first PDGA World Championship Tournament in 1982.
Because disc golf is played globally by individuals of different ages, skill levels, and genders, there are numerous tournaments to accommodate for these variances. The PDGA offers international, professional, amateur, junior, and doubles events. Within the United States, tournaments are held nationwide and during all seasons, depending on the locale, of course. There are five tournament tiers – Major, National Tour, A-Tier, B-Tier, and C-Tier – each of which comes with its own requirements and set forth by the PDGA. Professional disc golf players compete for money, while amateurs and juniors vie for trophies and prizes.
Currently, there are three Majors events: the World Championship, US Championship, and the European Major (which includes the European Open, Konopiste Open, and the European Masters). However, because there are no Majors on the books between February and June, and due to the ever-increasing number of players, the PDGA Majors Committee has been working on adding a fourth Pro Major for the 2022 season.
Exposure to Professional Disc Golf
Relatively speaking, the game of disc golf (as we know it) is fairly new. That said, it steadily continues to rise in popularity, mainly due to its widespread accessibility and the significant role technology has played in advancing the sport. Because people are becoming more interested in watching, playing, and learning about disc golf, technology has had to evolve to keep up with the growing demand.
With the help of platforms like YouTube and Jomez Productions, people are able to watch live coverage of disc golf tournaments and other events at no cost. The coverage of the 2019 World Championships received over three million views on YouTube alone. According to an article posted on Ultiworld Disc Golf, ESPN2 broadcasted the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship Finals on November 24, 2020, which drew 225,000 viewers. On that day, it was the most-watched show on ESPN2 and the 78th most-watched broadcast on cable television. When you think about the number of programs that air on any given day, this feat is amazing.
If you’re interested in streaming live tournaments and events, studying the recaps, or watching tutorial videos from the pros, check out these sources:
- Jomez Productions (YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UCmGyCEbHfY91NFwHgioNLMQ)
- Disc Golf Pro Tour (YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UCw0WzNn6m2Na6ZW7rKqWI3g)
- Gatekeeper Media (YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/c/GatekeeperMedia/featured)
- GK Pro Discs (YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UC96v9uB8ZKe1TFdYzBOGnpw)
- Disc Golf Network (There’s a monthly subscription fee of $9.99. Active PDGA members receive a 50% discount)
Disc Golf Tournaments and Events
Does playing in a disc golf tournament (or catching one in person) strike your fancy? You’re in luck! There’s an abundance of local, regional, national, and international events available for all skill levels, such as:
- PDGA Major Disc Golf Events: https://www.pdga.com/major-disc-golf-events
- All Upcoming Disc Golf Tournaments (United States): https://www.discgolfscene.com/tournaments
Over the years, disc golf has evolved from a recreational activity in the woods to the organized, professional sport we know and play today. With the development of the PDGA; the thriving, tight-knit player and fan community; and the increasing exposure of the game to the masses, disc golf will continue blossoming in its professionalism while embracing the concept of fun. That’s really what it’s all about, right?