By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff
The previous excerpt of my upcoming book hopefully accurately captured the essence of golf, what makes it such a singular sporting activity, and why both versions of golf share the remarkable qualities.
Next up is a point-by-point discussion of where the two sports are starkly different, and why those differences position disc golf as the golf of the future. Today the discussion focuses on the economics of golf and disc golf.
The Economics of Golf
For all but maybe five percent of the world’s population, cost alone is a nearly insurmountable barrier. Even leaving out of the discussion those hundreds of millions in developing and/or impoverished countries for whom any leisure activity will never be a consideration during their lifetimes, golf simply costs too much.
In a 2008 report written for Yahoo! Sports titled “The cost of public golf,” Sam Weinman wrote “The average cost of greens fees for a course built before 1970, according to the National Golf Foundation, is $42.70. The average, however, for one that was constructed between 1970 and 1990 is $48.33, and $60.55 for those after 1990.”
In the same article, former USGA president Sandy Tatum is quoted as saying “The question is do you have affordable access to golf, and on too many fronts, the answer is no.”
Even in the most prosperous countries, $50 for an afternoon of recreation is too expensive for an average member of the population. In countries like Thailand, where total average annual income in U.S. dollars is less than $5,000, it’s not even an option for anyone but the richest of the rich.
Golf equipment is an additional, but no less insurmountable, part of the economic roadblock for those who may wish to play. A new set of clubs today runs from $150 on the low end to thousands of dollars for a top name brand set, and possibly tens of thousands for a set that is custom-fitted to the player. Then there is the ongoing cost of balls, which averages about $20-$25 per dozen. Even the most skilled players need to replenish their stock over time, and for the majority of players (whose frequent errant shots are often never found or end up in water) balls are a big part of the ongoing price tag of golf.
And then there are the little extras. Things that are not absolutely necessary to play the game but which most players end up purchasing at some point. Golf shoes, which many would say are necessary, cost anywhere from $40 to $250. Gloves are another $10-$40 each.
The list could go on, with rangefinders costing $200, and pricey golf attire so a player can”look the part” and fit in playing a sport with opportunities to demonstrate one’s financial status are numerous. But right now, we’re talking about what a person needs to pay out to take up and play the game.
For some perspective, consider a question asked and answered on the Yahoo! Answers website.
The question was: “What’s the cost for clubs, membership, clothes etc? Just mid-range gear, but not second hand. And how much would it cost to continue to play fairly often (twice a week)?”
The best answer, as chosen by voters on the site:
I started in July 2007, between games and equipment, I spent $1300 plus. I play on public courses, I bought what is called a Trail Pass in our area which gives a reduced rate at different courses. I bought a starter set of clubs which were the last set at a small golf store. I got them for half price. If there is an Academy in your area, you can get 75 reload golf balls for less than $20. You will (lose) a lot of balls in the (beginning) so don’t pay a lot for them.
You can save on lessons if you get a friend to take them with you. The pros usually have a group rate. As for clothes, wear collared shirts and non-denim shorts you may already have.
Last year, I upgraded my clubs, bought another trail pass and a promotion offer at another course, played about 60 times and spent around $2550.
Another answer, with a little less editorializing:
Mid-range clubs: about $700. Mid-range golf balls: $25 per box. Greens fees $60 per round, $15 for cart if you want one. Clothing, $60-80 for collared shirt and pants/shorts.
Memberships to private clubs cost a lot, it could be (more than) $10,000 just to join ,plus monthly fees, but public courses are charged per round.
While these totals don’t completely price everyone out of the option to play golf — especially in the United States — they are high enough to be prohibitive for a large majority and at least a major consideration for nearly all of us.
The Economics of Disc Golf
When it comes to the monetary cost of playing a sport, traditional golf is at the high end of the spectrum and disc golf is at the opposite end. In fact, disc golf is not only inexpensive in comparison to ball golf, but in comparison to nearly all other sports as well. Pretty much anyone that wants to play disc golf can find a way to cover the minimal cost.
One of the big reasons is the majority of disc golf courses around the world are free to play. No charge whatsoever. According to online course directory Disc Golf Course Review, as of August 2012, 3,420 of the 3,951 courses listed have no fees. That’s 87 percent.
Of the courses that do have a fee associated with access, many (usually in city, county, or state park land) simply charge a vehicle parking fee of $2-$5. Courses that do charge a per-player fee (known as pay-to-play courses in disc golf because they are the exception and not the rule) usually charge somewhere between $3-$10 to play an entire day — as many rounds as the player feels like playing. The most expensive disc golf courses, naturally, are those that were installed on existing ball golf courses. In these cases the course usually charges disc golfers the same green fees as the ball golfers. (As a side note, the growing number of instances where golf courses open their venues to disc golf speaks volumes about the opposite trends of the respective sports, and the ball golf course owners’ recognition of those trends.)
The comparison between the cost to play the average disc golf course and the typical golf course is obviously no comparison. But how does disc golf rank with other popular recreational sports?
It’s hard to beat free.
Public tennis courts are usually free but limited. Team sports normally require seasonal fees to cover the costs of field maintenance, officiating, and administration. Pick-up basketball is a notable exception — but like tennis — supply can be quite limited. Ever hear the term “I got next?” Downhill skiing is right up there with ball golf in terms of both the cost to use the facility and the equipment cost — and it requires a snow-covered mountain.
It’s hard to think of any sport that is more affordable than disc golf in terms of course costs. And unlike ball golf, certainly, and most other sports as well, even the equipment is within practically everyone’s budget.
Aside from the course, the only specialized equipment one needs is a few discs. Disc golf discs — quite different from the Frisbee-style flying discs used for playing catch — cost between $8 and $20 new, but used discs can be purchased for even less than that.
As far as the money it takes to play disc golf, that’s all that’s required. Certainly the rise in popularity for disc golf has spawned specialized disc golf bags, apparel, and various accessories, but none are required to be able to play the game. You can wear whatever you want on any course you play, use whichever pair of shoes suit the terrain best, and use whatever carrying case is handy to hold your discs.
Coming soon: Time requirements, level of difficulty and environmental impact.
Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional editor at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.