The younger generation is key to growing the women’s game

Three-time world champion Val Jenkins is the chairperson of the PDGA's Women's Committee and is working to expand the women's game.

If one took a peek at last year’s PDGA National Elite Tour women’s standings, they’d see a list of ladies who participated in the nine-event series throughout the season.

However, looking at it closer, just one player — Sarah Hokom — played in all nine events. Three others — Val Jenkins, Paige Pierce and Catrina Allen played in eight apiece.

Liz Lopez played in seven and after that, it dwindles to five points and below. Of the 57 players who competed in an NT event, 40 played in just one event.

In comparison, the men’s National Elite Tour had 200 players, with 12 players competing in seven or more events. More than a handful played in five or six events, which made the fields larger.

So what gives?

As with many sports, the purse for the winners is usually smaller when it comes to women. And though the ladies may not be the main draw, there is star power when talking about players such as three-time world champion Jenkins, 2011 world champion Pierce and Hokom, who placed second in last year’s NT standings to Jenkins.

Still, it seems whenever Open players on the women’s circuit travel, they play the same people on the top cards. In men’s action, you can find different standouts regionally who can sometimes get in with the top touring pros.

Sarah Hokom, who left her job as a teacher to tour full time, is trying to help expand the women's game.

The top female amateur divisions sometimes lack players, too. Hokom said while she was still an am, she sometimes had to play in a men’s division.

“I’ve been trying to figure this out for a while,” Hokom said. “That’s why I played Open. There were no women in the Midwest to play against as an amateur. Places I went, sometimes you played against yourself. That’s no fun.”

Hokom, a former high school biology teacher, opted to become a full-time touring pro a couple of years ago. Sponsored by Discraft, she said has to watch where she tours because she needs to make sure there’s a decent Women’s Open division. If there’s only one or two others in the tournament, it’s not financially worth traveling to the events.

What can be done?

“That’s a question we keep asking ourselves year after year,” said Jenkins, the chairperson of the PDGA’s Women’s Committee. “The fields don’t seem to be getting much bigger.”

The answer is likely in getting the game to other women and younger girls, be it through community projects or clubs.

The Women’s Global Event, which is slated for this Saturday, has nearly 600 females registered for events around the world.

The odds are many of these players are not top players. But to expand the game among women, the casual player is going to be a huge part of it. So getting them involved with this event and beyond could be a huge step — especially if many of these women go back and tell friends how fun the game can be.

Women’s disc golf sites are starting to pop up on the Internet, which is another big step. If female disc golfers have a place to go to find tutorials, tips or a community aimed at fellow women players, it could be a huge addition to the disc golf community.

That’s part of one of the projects Jenkins has worked on — the website DiscGolf4Women.com. This is a spot where ladies can come to get all sorts of information on women’s disc golf — from women’s leagues to instruction to information about the Women’s Global Event.

“I don’t think it’s going to be one solo effort,” Jenkins said. “I think all the women need to come out and come together.”

According to the website, just seven percent of the PDGA’s membership — which has issued more than 50,000 membership numbers — are women. That proves the sport is male dominated and it’s something that will take time to build for women.

So what kind of things can be done to push this game with women?

Hokom has several ideas on how to get younger girls playing, including having programs through park and recreation groups or schools.

“It’s starting to get into high schools and that’s huge,” she said. “A lot of parks I’m seeing are near high schools or in an elementary school yard. It’s part of some elementary school curriculum, so it’s getting into high schools.”

Paige Pierce, the 2011 world champion, was born in 1991 -- so one of the younger players on tour and one who can definitely help the women's game grow.

The key, too, might be to show this game is fun or positive for other reasons.

“It may need to be centered on other women’s groups outside of disc golf,” Hokom said, pointing out that seniors or health fitness centers could be important to having the women’s game grow.

The future of the game — at all levels — is likely with the next generation, however. So getting younger girls involved is a big thing as well.

Today’s kids, however, seem to focus a lot on one sport, be it soccer, basketball, softball or something else. With travel teams, all-year leagues and camps, many young athletes focus on one thing.

Disc golf doesn’t have to be a full focus, however. In fact, it could be an activity a young girl could do with their friends to go out and have fun. If the girls develop into stronger players over time, they may consider looking to push further in the sport.

“I think the most important thing about the women’s field is that we have more of a camaraderie and we’re not quite as competitive, although we’re highly competitive at large events,” Jenkins said. “But I think the thing that keeps more women into it is being around other women and enjoying a sport and being competitive at the same time.”

Still, the game has to be marketed to the younger generation. What kind of tips could a couple of the top women’s disc golfers have for younger players?

“Find a good group to play with,” Hokom said. “Have fun, support each other and don’t take it too seriously. Know the rules and have people help nurture them.”

Another key, she said, is to make sure the girls play other sports. As they grow older, they’ll be able to choose which route they go, and hopefully some will decide disc golf is the way they want to go.

Jenkins said girls shouldn’t get discouraged.

“Keep at it,” she said. “I think that’s the first thing that gets in the way with anybody learning a new sport.

“A lot of times, these girls are learning and they’re playing with guys and, it seems, right off the bat that guys have more arm, more muscles in the upper half of their body and they can throw the disc without a lot of technique.”

With the muscle and arm, guys tend to throw farther right away. Jenkins said some girls might think they are not throwing as far and are holding the guys back.

“Then they end up walking half the round,” she said. “Keep playing. You’ll get better at throwing and more accurate and eventually catch up to those guys.”

Having other women along could also be key, so invite friends to have people to learn with, Jenkins said.

“I think an edge that women have is our short game and our putting,” she said. “Maybe we don’t throw as far as a lot of guys out there, but if a woman focuses on the up shots and the short game, that would keep her more encouraged to know she has that slight edge. She doesn’t have the power but she has more accuracy, and a more mental game when she gets around the basket.”

In regard to discs, Jenkins said a beginner should work with more understable or lighter discs. She said a lot of women she knows throw 150-gram discs.

“You’re still developing that speed so you can get it behind the disc and make it fly straight,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who go out there and they get the biggest, fastest disc that they can and they’re not really learning the correct way to throw.”

The technical stuff can come, however, if the interest is built up. Whether it’s a group of teenage girls going out with a couple of discs having some fun, seniors walking and tossing a disc or a 20-something player who is looking to jump from amateur status to professional, the reality is if you don’t have fun, it won’t work out.

After all, enjoying what you do is key.

“Always have fun,” Hokom said. “Don’t get discouraged and try to do your best.”

If that fun happens and this generation has several girls looking to be the next Jenkins, Hokom or someone else, the women’s fields could continue to blossom and grow. With the nearly 600 ladies signed up for this weekend’s Global Event, it appears the growth is going in the right direction.

Women’s disc golf on the web:

P.J. Harmer is the lead blogger for Rattling Chains. If you have any comments, questions, thoughts, ideas or anything else, feel free to e-mail me and the crew at: pj [at] rattlingchains.com. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

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