OK, maybe the title is a little misleading. Calling them “secrets” is overdoing it a bit, and this is about much more than that.
I spent some time last weekend talking to female competitors at the Amateur Masters Cup presented by DGA in Santa Cruz, Calif., and some of their answers might be new and useful information to the guys who play disc golf.
But are they secrets?
What’s definitely not a secret is the fact that disc golf is, and always has been, a sport played predominately by males. The breakdown of competitors in this A-Tier PDGA sanctioned event illustrates this point perfectly, as only 11 of the 158 registered participants were in female divisions. That’s less than 10 percent.
The eyeball test anytime you’re playing a recreational round on your local course will tell you that that ratio holds true in non-tournament settings as well.
So what’s the deal?
After watching the sport grow and develop over the past 25 years, I’ve got my own theories. For instance, in the early days of DeLaveaga — back in the late 1980s and early 1990s — seeing a woman on the course was rare enough to stop a guy mid-throw to ask a playing partner if he saw her, too. They had to make sure she wasn’t a mirage (or an hallucination, depending on the player). I later learned from the first female DeLa pioneers that a main deterrent was the lack of a restroom on site at the time — not even a porta-potty. Not a big deal for the average guy, but enough to keep many women away.
While not all courses are as remote and facility-less as DeLa, back then plenty of them were similarly in open spaces. And besides the lack of basic facilities, there was also an non-policed “Wild West” feel to many courses. I have a notion that many women felt these courses were just unsafe enough — or at least could be — to discourage them from giving disc golf a try.
Finally, according to golfsolutions.com (part of the Golf Channel empire), only 22 percent of ball golfers worldwide are female. So disc golf seems to be repeating the pattern of its older and more venerable ancestor.
These points add up to the fact that although disc golf may be different now than it was two decades ago, when a lopsided male/female ratio was firmly established, it self-perpetuates (the heavy guy-majority keep bringing mostly their guy friends out to play) over time.
In short, changing an established trend is hard to do, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Just look at ball golf.
As stated earlier, disc golfers have ambitious goals for growing a sport that is better in every other way possible, so the question for today is how do we get more women playing disc golf?
In searching for solutions, I sought out women who are already hooked — the female competitors of this year’s Amateur Master’s Cup.
Suzie Weigand, a local who won the Women’s Masters division by six strokes, has played disc golf for five years. She said she primarily goes out with her husband but is playing more now because of the organized “ladies days” in Santa Cruz.
Weigand said gaining momentum is important for getting more women in the game.
“When more women start playing, it’ll mushroom because it’s such an accessible activity,” she said.
As for accelerating momentum, Weigand offered the common sense strategy of “starting when they’re younger, with youth programs and high school and college leagues.”
Chrissy White, originally from Nebraska and now living in Kingsville, Calif., is a relatively new player and has put that approach into action. Her seven-year-old daughter Haley tagged along during the first round of the Masters Cup. Haley said she, too, plays disc golf.
“A lot of women that have children don’t have a sitter to watch them while they play with their husbands or boyfriends,” White said. “Bring the kids along and not only do you get to play, but the kids are going to pick it up too.”
As Victoria McCoy, of Concord, Calif., walked to the first tee, she said a key is also organizing more events that focus on women and support women. Her husband was with her for this event, carrying her bag.
This idea seems like a good one as it’s one thing to tell women they are welcome to join the sport that has, historically, only considered the needs and interests of male participants. It’s a different approach to take the sport we lover and tweak things to produce and experience that appeals particularly to women.
That’s why this Saturday’s PDGA Women’s Global Event is so special. It could mark a seminal moment in women’s disc golf.
The Daisy Chains tournament, which is one of 41 scheduled as part of the Women’s Global Event, will be run in Santa Cruz and is headed by Christine Hernlund. She reiterated the approach and stressed the intention to give the event a decidedly female feel.
“We are trying to build a tournament experience that not only avoids the common flaws of other tournaments but also has so many extras and attention to detail that the women will expect more from tournaments in the future,” Hernlund said. “The artistic and creative energy our local women have poured into this event will showcase what is possible when we women unite our strengths in a collaborative effort.”
This is all great and it’s nice to know about getting more women in disc golf, but what about those nine secrets of the women of disc golf?
Also know that these tie in directly with the main theme — increasing the numbers. You see, the last question posed to each woman was “what is the thing male disc golfers do or don’t do — on purpose or, more likely, out of ignorance — that ticks you off the most?”
Maybe if guys know what these items are, we can stop doing them and hopefully increase the odds of more women getting hooked on the game.
The nine items are:
- They give us, especially beginners, heavy discs.
- They get intimidated when we out-drive them, even if it’s once every 100 throws, and will often say something stupid.
- Some of them use really foul language and can’t keep their temper in check.
- They say “nice shot” when I know it was a really crappy shot.
- I hate bad attitudes. Have fun with the game.
- Stop coaching us all the time — we know what we’re doing.
- Give credit for the good shorter shots and congratulate women when we’re doing our best.
- Appreciate the women that come out and enjoy the sport with the men.
- Stop looking at our butts!
That last reply was followed by much laughter as the group headed to their drives after teeing off hole one.
It would seem women do have more fun with disc golf.
Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and is a writer for RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.