Tuesday, December 23, 2014

OPP: How well did Duesler predict the future of disc golf?

The following is a brief look back at the Five Trends Shaping the Future of Disc Golf by John G. Duesler Jr., principal of DiscGolfPlanet.tv, published July 30, 2012.

"TREND #1: Grassroots vs. Top-Down

Though disc golf comes from an incredible “grassroots” movement, the dilemma now facing its leaders is whether to support play at the highest levels of competition or whether to continue to attract youths and newcomers. Many believe there is room for both approaches to continue growing the sport, yet limited resources for tournament directors and media managers and even the players themselves is forcing disc golfers to choose. Will the approach that has lead to the slow-and-steady growth over the last five decades prevail? Or will showing our best events, courses, and athletes at the highest levels fast-track disc golf’s breakthrough moment? The sport’s leadership will have to decide."

View from 2015: The sport continues to wrestle with how resources are utilized in promoting the sport. From redefined national tour tournament standards to local event directing and promotion, leadership at the highest-levels of the sport have yet to find consensus on what a breakthrough moment looks like, and what the roadmap to achieving it would be. See Year-end awards and beyond.

"TREND #2: Innovate vs. Collaborate

There is no shortage of creative talent in disc golf. Ideas for getting the sport to the “next level” flow freely. You just need to spend an evening with a few disc golfers after their Friday afternoon round, and you will quickly realize that there are many well-thought out ideas available to advance the sport. The question then becomes one of implementation. True that 90% of those ideas end up simply in the ether and never gain any real traction. Yet, it seems that whenever disc golf’s leadership decides to act upon an idea, it’s implementation takes place from an innovative stance, rather than a collaborative one. More disc golf manufacturers are seemingly jumping into the marketplace every month. Those discs are finding their way into a growing selection of targets. And we have never had more bags to put those discs in. Innovation is on the march in disc golf, but it no longer has to go it alone. Innovators are beginning to understand that collaboration may be the path of least resistance and offer greater return when it comes to growing the sport. The SpinTV and Innova (media), Dynamic Discs and Latitude64 (products), Vibram and DiscNation (events)…all provide powerful examples of how rowing in the same boat gets us further than rowing in separate lanes."

View from 2015: The trend of innovation and collaboration among disc golf industry enterprises remains a major presence. All the examples given in 2012 continue or have expanded throughout all of 2014. New examples can also be found, see Reptilian debuts putter.

"TREND #3:  Growth vs. Capacity

By any metric, disc golf is growing at a significant pace. Courses, tournament purses, PDGA membership…all are expanding steadily and impressively. The question is whether the sport can handle this magnitude of growth. Reports from the field suggest over-crowding plagues many courses around the nation. Tournaments saturate every weekend throughout the calendar. The PDGA staff is pushed to the brink, as they work tirelessly to handle the demands of the association. Strategically, the disc golf leadership must decide whether to target its resources towards continuing the rapid expansion of the sport, or whether to develop a stronger foundation upon which to handle the the floods of players and new innovations that are poised to enter this attractive, yet suddenly inadequate, sporting space."

View from 2015: Same as trend #1. Although steady growth is occurring, changes to support the development of a national professional class of players continues to allude the sport's leadership, and haven't resulted in major tournament sponsorship growth beyond a few forceful grassroots cases such as the Ledgestone Insurance Open and Glass Blown Open. Payouts to players remain unsustainably small for the talents preformed and entertainment value consumed.

"TREND #4: Worlds vs. USDGC

So what does disc golf look like at the highest level? Is it a gathering of 100s of players at a rotating venue that crowns as many as 12 world champions? Or is it as little as 100 of the highest rated disc golfers who play one world-class course year-in and year-out celebrating just one champion? The PDGA’s crown jewel event is the world championships. The title of “world champion” is arguably the most coveted in the sport. And it still attracts a huge number of participants every year, who come to compete, yes. But they also come to cavort with their friends they may only see once a year. The United States Disc Golf Championship, though modified over the last few years, has maintained much of its original look and feel. A more narrow focus on top performers results in many only able to imagine participating in disc golf’s fall classic in Rock Hill, which, in a way, makes demand for the event somewhat greater. But the lure of becoming world champion still holds sway with a much wider audience. The trend may not be as much about the whether the World Championships or the USDGC is a superior event. The debate is about whether event managers should be dedicating their efforts towards casting a wide net that encompasses many or an event that narrows the focus to make the most of available resources."

View from 2015: After returning to a traditional format, the USDGC is again equally matched against the World Championship in stature and appeal. Both appear to have a significant place in disc golf in 2015, and carry meaning to the players who hold the title of champion and to their sponsors. Disc golf would be less if one were perceived as superior to the other.

"TREND #5:  Free Parks vs. Pay-to-Play

Emerging as a backyard game, disc golf has transcended its humble roots to gain access to venues like the Nasu Highlands Golf Club in Tochigi, Japan, the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont, and state parks throughout the United States. Thanks to hard-working volunteers and advocates, our sport is finding its way to some of the most valuable real-estate around. But with budgets being squeezed and land developers fighting for ever-shrinking open space, disc golf must answer to park boards, resorts, and private land owners, “What’s in it for us?” Clearly, there are soft financials that are attractive to course venue managers, including the number of volunteer hours donated to course maintenance, bringing “heads to beds” during tournament weekend, and food drives that benefit nearby neighborhoods. Yet, a growing number of disc golf courses are generating real revenues through their adoption of pay-to-play models. And, if the courses are worthy, disc golfers are more willing to pay these days. There is an old adage…money changes everything. We’ll see if that’s true in the disc golf course designer and developer space very soon."

View from 2015: Money hasn't changed anything just yet. While many more courses, both free and pay-to-play, have been built since 2012, and some municipal park systems such as Milwaukee County have chosen to move towards annual admissions passes, and others such as park districts in the Twin Cities continue pay-to-play policies, the sport is generally in the same place and same trend.

You can view more information on John G. Duesler Jr.'s 2012 article titled, "Five Trends Shaping the Future of Disc Golf", at discgolfplanet.com.

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