History Of Disc Golf: Everything You Want to Know

History of disc golf can be categorized into two aspects; first who was the first person who played this sport, and second, when did the game convert into a full-fledged organized sport.

Who Played the First Disc Golf Game

It was in the Bladworth Elementary School in Bladworth Saskatchewan, Canada, the year was 1927. Ronald Franklin Gibson and a bunch of his buddies regularly played the game they called “The Tin Lid Golf”. The boys used to draw 4-foot-wide circular sandy patches in sand and throw tin lids into them.

Fast forward a bit and Disc golf started forming around the 1960s and 1970s. The idea of developing a game into its current shape can be attributed to a continuous evolutionary growth and development. Following are some of the instances that briefly define evolution of the history of disc golf through the ‘60s.

·     In the early 1960s, players in Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Georgia, used to toss Frisbees into 50-gallon barrel trash cans designated as targets.

· In 1964, Students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, held tournaments with trees as targets.

· In 1968 Frisbee Golf was played in Alameda Park in Santa Barbara, California. Teenagers in the Anacapa and Sola Street areas used Gazebos, water fountains, lamp posts, and trees as targets and the whole area was a part of the course. This practice went on for a long time, there is an Alameda Park collector’s edition disc, and is considered very rare as only a few were made. Clifford Towne from this group went on to hold a National Time Aloft record.

·     In the 1970s disc golf was introduced to Canadians at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Father of the Modern-Day Disc Golf: Ed Headrick (June 28, 1924 – August 12, 2002)

History of disc golf is the history of Ed Headrick, he is known as the father of the modern-day Frisbee and of the disc golf sport as it is known today. Headrick was a war veteran, he had served in WWII combat and had also served as a deep-sea welder. He started his job at Wham-O who hired him (without any pay), to find an alternative way of using leftover Hula Hoops stock as the nation was no longer interested in twisting rings around their waists. Headrick was now tasked to come up with the new toy ideas and to rebrand the old and obsolete toys into popular and bigger ones.

History of Disc Golf: The Flying Saucer

American inventor Walter Frederick Morrison came up with the idea of a flat flying disc (inspired by a craze of space and flying saucers), he sold the idea to Wham-O in 1955. In 1957 Wham-O patented the idea, and later on tasked Headrick to come up with something better and bigger as it was not doing as good as expected. Here comes the US Patent No. 3,359,678 the Frisbee design that we know today.

History of Disc the Golf: The Professional Frisbee and The Tricks, Throws and Game We Play Today

Headrick called the Frisbee “The Professional Flying Saucer”. After successfully getting the patent, he went on to market and promote frisbee as something much bigger than the flat flaying child toy originally envisioned. There was a dedicated marketing and advertising campaign for Frisbee games and Frisbee Sports Events. They showed tricks and throws that could be played (and are still being played and used as a base for Disc Golf). During this time Headrick’s career rose to new heights. He was the Executive Vice President at Wham-O and had founded the IFA (International Frisbee Association) that grew to over 85,000 members, to help in the promotion of Frisbee sports.

Frisbee and The Target Shooting: The Rise of Disc Golf

In his extensive campaign of making Frisbee popular, Ed along with his friends and son used to play Frisbee tournaments where the entire gang went ahead shooting Frisbees at pre-selected targets. The course was spread throughout the city, around the parks and other designated spaces, and the targets were trees, poles, trashcans, signs etc. They used to sneak into the golf courses to play rounds of golf with discs. Ed’s hand was so steady with the disc that he was nicknamed “Steady”.

Target shooting with Frisbees showed him immense potential of the game as a legitimate sport with dedicated courses that regular people could play in and can even compete in organized tournaments. His vision for the Frisbee Golf Tournament was not shared by Wham-O who were not that enthusiastic about a sport built around Frisbee. In 1975, Ed Headrick left Wham-O and started patenting disc golf and disc golf target baskets.

History of Disc Golf: As It Is Today

The ‘70s was an era when Ed developed Disc Golf into a full fledged sport. He coined and patented the term “Disc Golf” and in 1976 he and his son Ken Headrick started their first Disc Golf company DGA (Disc Golf Association). The purpose of DGA was to manufacture discs and targets and to formalize the game for disc golf. The first disc golf target was Ed’s pole hole design which basically consisted of a pole sticking out of the ground.

History of Disc Golf Target: Disc Golf Disc Pole Hole

In 1977, DGA applied for a patent of a basic target basket for disc golf, trademarked “Disc Pole Hole”. The patent was issued with a US Patent No. 4,039,189 titled “Flying Disc Entrapment Device”.  The standardized catching device had a chain-hanger holding the vertical hanging rows of chain out and away from a center pole. The vertical rows of chains came together forming a parabolic shape above and angling down towards a metal basket that attaches to and surrounds the center pole. The design was made in such a way that it could catch a disc from all directions. Today there are over 7,000-disc golf courses installed throughout the world, the majority of them are DGA Disc Pole Hole baskets that Headrick designed.

History of Disc Golf Rules and Standards of the Sport

PDGA, the Professional Disc Golf Association was created by Ed in order to come up with dues-paying membership and for creating rules and standards for disc golf sport. The rules created through PDGA under the vision of Headrick and veteran disc golfers like Victor Malafronte were distributed in the form of small binders and are religiously followed in the sport.

Ed Headrick was PDGA member number 001, today there are over 103,000 PDGA members, over 40,000 active dues paying members, and PDGA continues to be the overseeing body for the sport of disc golf, with an elected board of directors.

In 2002, Ed Headrick suffered a stroke during a tournament, and later that year died peacefully surrounded by his family and friends. As per his wishes, his ashes were incorporated into a limited number of discs. Some of the discs were given to friends and family and the remaining discs are for sale with all proceeds going to a 501 c(3) nonprofit to fund the “Steady” Ed Memorial Disc Golf Museum at the PDGA International Disc Golf Center in Columbia County, Georgia.

Disc Golf in Recent Times

Disc golf’s popularity has increased tremendously in recent times. During Covid the sport spread into the length and breath of the world with many people following trends and participating in disc golf challenges. In the past three years, the number of disc golfers has increased by 15%. The Ultimate Players Association has over 20,000 members, estimated 100,000 players and 40+ nations participating in the sport.

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