PDGA vs. USGA membership: One way the barrier to entry is higher in disc golf

Saying I am a disc golf supporter and even an ardent promoter would be an understatement. Kind of like stating Labrador retrievers like to chase things and bring them back.

I write for two blogs exclusively dedicated to disc golf, and have a book in the works. My side business — School of Disc Golf — is more about spreading the word than generating income. I produce a TV show/video magazine on disc golf.

jackI have also served as an officer for my local disc golf club, helped to design and install several courses, and talk about disc golf to whoever is willing to listen. I proudly hold PDGA #9715, which nowadays marks me as old school.

However, I am not a current member of the PDGA, disc golf’s governing organization.

In the past membership was a no-brainer, as it was required if you wanted to participate in certain sanctioned events. But raising young kids and injuries have effectively halted my participation in all but local, one-day competitions, so I’m no longer compelled to be a PDGA for that reason alone.

Don’t misunderstand me. Being able to compete in sanctioned events wasn’t the only reason I joined the PDGA.

I somewhat enjoyed the magazine that comes with membership — both versions (Disc Golf World News and Disc Golfer), and was proud to do my part in supporting the main organization representing the sport I love. But right around the time I stopped playing in big events I also found myself out of work, and all superfluous expenses had to go. After 13 consecutive years of membership, my streak ended in 2010.


One year, the PDGA sent special stickers to renewing members. They obviously knew that most PDGA members were also tournament players.

Now I find myself gainfully employed once again, and would like to reinstate my PDGA membership, even though my big event days (at least for the foreseeable future) are behind me.

I want to support disc golf in every way possible, and even though I feel the reporting doesn’t come close to what we produce daily at Rattling Chains, I’d like to receive the magazine once again. But here’s the rub: I play in the “professional” Masters division, which means I’d have to pay $75.

At this point, I view the cost of PDGA membership — in my case — like the cost of a movie ticket. I can afford both, but it’s the principle of the cost (seriously- $12 to see a movie?). Why doesn’t the PDGA offer a membership level for people who simply want to support the sport’s growth — those who don’t play tournaments and don’t need all the infrastructure that manages and supports competitive play?

For a comparison, let’s look to — of all places — ball golf. In that world, the Professional Golfers’ Association is an organization for actual professional golfers and teaching pros. The USGA (United States Golf Association), on the other hand, is for everyone who plays and supports golf. In disc golf, the PDGA is a combination of the two.

Are you with me so far? Good.

Earlier in my disc golf life, I needed to belong to an organization like the PGA. I played in everything from little C-tier events to world championships and the USDGC, obsessed over my player rating once those were established, and used the PDGA site to find and register for events.

Nowadays I simply want to belong to something like the USGA. Unfortunately I don’t have that option.

A year ago, I contacted Sara Nicholson, who is the PDGA’s membership manager, and suggested the organization add a supporting membership option at a much lower cost than the $75 for pro players and $50 for amateurs. She agreed and mentioned that she hears that request often.Nothing has changed.

Personal preferences aside, I think the PDGA is missing a big opportunity. To illustrate my point, I’ll use the old iceberg analogy.

As you may know, only the tip of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water, and similarly, only a small fraction of disc golf enthusiasts will ever even consider playing in sanctioned events. As a consequence of this — and the high cost of membership — only a tiny fraction of the people who love disc golf, play regularly, and want others to learn about it’s redeeming qualities are PDGA members.

If you don’t believe $50-$75 annually is too much to support a sport you love, consider the USGA. Their lowest level of membership costs $10 per person, and it comes with quite an impressive list of benefits, besides supporting the game:

  • Member-only U.S. Open golf hat
  • Latest edition of The Rules of Golf
  • USGA Championship Preview
  • USGA Insider e-newsletter
  • Advance opportunity to purchase U.S. Open 7-day ticket packages
  • USGA bag tag and Member ID
  • Various Member-only special offers and discounts
  • Behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities

I understand the PDGA does not have the same resources USGA has, but I feel strongly that it makes sense to offer membership to those who don’t play sanctioned events and don’t need the related services.

New PDGA members get a stamped disc. The author's is now a well-worn practice putter.

New PDGA members get a stamped disc. The author’s is now a well-worn practice putter.

It should be at a low enough cost level so pretty everyone can afford it, and it should be marketed at a grassroots level everywhere the sport is played.

In more than 30 years, the amount of people that have joined the PDGA is still well below 100,000. If the PDGA were to add this new level, I think it could easily pass the half-million mark by 2015. That has to be worth something, right?

What do you think? Am I right?  Wrong? A cheap so-and-so? Or do you agree the PDGA should broaden it’s horizons and embrace the much larger group of purely recreational disc golfers?

Let us know and maybe the voices of many will help shape the future of the PDGA.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@rattlingchains.com.

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0 thoughts on “PDGA vs. USGA membership: One way the barrier to entry is higher in disc golf

  1. Great points, Jack. Those are the same reasons I’ve never become a PDGA member. Religious commitments keep me from playing any sanctioned events that run on Sunday (which, where I live, is all of them).

    As much as I’d live to support the sport, the benefits don’t justify the costs to me. I’d be more than happy to pay $10-20 a year to renew a membership on a more USGA-formatted setup, because I love the sport.


  2. I really like what you have mentioned. but another thing bothers me. i’m a rec level or intermediate player.. my rating is below 800. yet, no matter what event i enter, they want an additional 10 dollars unless i have a pdga number. while i’m all about the support, I’m not so keen on this extra fee. I do only local tournaments and just don’t understand why i should be penalized for supporting my local club tournaments/state tournaments etc. perhaps there could be a level that allows for a max number of tournaments, with a cheaper cost as well..


  3. Great article! If the PDGA was opening up courses, showing up and working on courses, paying for baskets on courses, etc etc…..I would gladly pay an even higher fee. The reality is, however, we the players are providing all these things to grow the sport ourselves…..not for money, but for gratification……..love of the game. They would like our financial support, yet there’s really no reciprocation as far as I can see. This a sport that was founded not by greed, but by passion. Greed is the root of everything wrong with our country……..let’s at least try to keep it out of this great, rapidly growing sport that we love. Disc Golf!


  4. great topic. i am current PDGA, after joining in 1976 . I too wanted to show my support, but this is probably the last year. I want to support my local club and the sport of course, but cost/benefit ratio falling off. Lots of valid points here. The old IFA had over 70,000 in its short existence. PDGA still has not met that in 30+ years. I would think some other PDGA board members besides Sarah N would seriously consider this. Otherwise, I want my USGA number to be #15 also, ok?


  5. I’m with you, Jack, and all the others. Great comments! Like you, I’ve been laid off or self-employed and belonging to an organization that requires membership fees or getting training as a self-employed individual can be tough, especially while raising a family.

    I’ve been considering joining the PDGA, as well, but not sure it’s necessary. Definitely isn’t in order to play on a recreational level. It is something to belong to something bigger but the cost can prohibit joining, for a variety of reasons, as you and others commenting point out.

    Where I live in the Midwest there are plenty of local tournaments that are sanctioned. Some you have to be a PDGA member to play, plenty of others you don’t have to be a PDGA member. The entry fee is reduced if you are a PDGA member playing a sanctioned tournament here. There are also a lot of non-sanctioned events to participate in not to mention we’ve put a very loose league together where I work, and there is a wealth of courses, 12 to be exact, within our immediate community.

    It appears that here Life Is GOOOD!!! ;-D


  6. Correction to the quote about Sara Nicholson: A supporting membership was set up in 2009 and ran through 2012 for members to receive a PDGA number and start tracking their stats. To sign up for this supporting membership all you had to do was previously play in a PDGA sanctioned event and pay the $10 non-member fee. I was quoted incorrectly because I would have never said we were looking into a Supporting Membership when one already existed.

    I love the Rattling the Chains blog and have been very supportive in sharing the blog through all my personal as well as PDGA social media outlets to get your articles out there for disc golfers to read.

    This misinterpretation of a conversation with me in regards to PDGA Membership is a huge slap in the face and I am extremely hurt to say the least.


    • Sara, you know by now that I reached out to you directly to address your issues with the article. But in this forum I’ll just point out I only paraphrased you as saying you had heard my suggestion from other people, and that you agreed that what I was proposing (which is different than the short-lived ‘non-member’ program (and who wants to be a ‘non-member of something) was a good idea. You seem to reinforce your agreement in your comment below.

      Keep up the good work, Sara, we know you have players’ best interests at heart.


  7. Come on people, a $50.00 membership a year comes out to less than $5.00 a month and $75.00 membership is a little over $10.00 a month. Wow too expensive, give me a break.


    • I knew I’d get at least one ‘cheapskate’ comment. at the time, writing a $75 check for anything other than food or mortgage was tough. And the PDGA doesn’t offer a monthly payment plan.


  8. Good article. I, too, have had to let my PDGA membership lapse (PDGA #6560). I had to choose between supporting the local disc golf club or the PDGA. I chose to support the local club. It would be nice if there was a “recreational” level (say about $20-25) that still provided you a number, but does not “qualify” you for sanctioned tournaments.

    If my financial situation improves, I may still renew my PDGA membership. But until then, I will support the sport at the local level.


  9. After thinking about it for a little bit I don’t really think there needs to be a lesser membership. The primary reason for having a PDGA membership is the rating. If that isn’t something you are interested in you can still support the PDGA in other ways. You can still subscribe the the magazine, donate money, purchase items from their store etc. $50-$75 really isn’t that much when you know you have that expense every year. I do think the $10 fee should be reduced, to $5 perhaps, for players that have a PDGA # but are not current, just in case they want to do that one or two special tournament(s) each year, but have no need for a constant rating update. There are other ways the PDGA can grow as an organization that doesn’t involve having more members. Supporting your local club grows the sport, and that is what matters most.


  10. The PDGA recently suspended the Supporting Membership program, but the $10 discount on a new membership for competitors who paid a $10 non-member fee in a tournament in the same calendar year will remain in effect.
    The original Supporting Membership (which was in place from 2009-2012) did not really provide the value we were hoping to provide to our membership.
    We are currently performing an in-depth organizational analysis in an effort to develop a long-term strategic plan. One of the recommendations we expect to come out of this process is a plan to offer a new and improved supporting level membership.

    The fact is, we know it’s needed. We want to create something of value for all disc golfers and we are working hard to make it happen.


  11. Hopefully the thoughts expressed will be read, thought over, and used to stimulate discussion among PDGA Staff, PDGA Members, and Non-Members in how to best add value and interest in PDGA membership.

    An idea that might help increase new memberships and encourage renewals is a “true” Limited Edition Collector Disc. Not simply an existing disc model with a PDGA foil stamp, but something players and collectors would want. Disc golf companies know how to do this. Look at the demand Innova created with their Champion Roc3 Protos, Big Bird Roc3’s, Glow Gators, etc. Collectors paid hefty premiums for these in clear, smoke, and Rootbeer colors. Latitude 64 creates demand with their swirly Gold Line designs and redish colorshift discs.

    Large quantities of discs are cheap. Why not offer a sponsor opportunity to the various disc manufacturers to have the exclusive right to produce a Limited Edition disc and stamp for a given year. The disc must have the year included in the stamp to help drive collect-demand to collect these Limited Edition discs each year.

    If this was done creatively, there could be a Limited Edition Disc and matching Limited Edition Mini for those who renew prior to Dec. 31st or Jan. 15th or whatever date makes sense. The idea is to create a sense of urgency and fear of loss. High demand and low supply stimulate buying activity.

    After the first deadline passes, a second deadline could kick in where those who join the PDGA or renew their PDGA membership prior to Feb. 28th or Mar. 31st would still receive a collector disc. It wouldn’t be as premium as the early bird Limited Edition Disc and Mini, but still a step above what will be given to those who join or renew after this second deadline. Throughout the remaining months of the year there can be a basic disc given out to those who join or renew.

    Value in being a new PDGA Member or a renewing Member must be evaluated every year. This is only one simple idea that could possibly help with new memberships and renewals. Having an annual Limited Edition PDGA Membership Disc could stimulate some competition between manufacturers to secure the disc sponsorship in upcoming years.

    Whether it’s this idea or others that come up, kudos to Jack Trageser for bringing up this subject and stimulating ideas and conversation. I’ll renew in December 2013 if offered a Limited Edition Disc and Mini as incentive for being an early renewer. Let’s hear some other ideas on how the PDGA can stimulate more interest and create more value in the membership they offer.


  12. I just started playing this year. If I were to join the PDGA, I would play in the “Senior Grandmaster” division. Most tournaments simply have Masters; so I would end up competing against people 20 or more years younger than I (with much more playing experience). So I’m not sure what benefit I would see with a membership. Oh, and there’s no senior discount, though there is a student discount.

    As a side note, I have asked the PDGA about these issues by email — no reply.


  13. I joined the PDGA shortly before playing in my first sanctioned event. After coming in dead last, I didn’t play much after that, and allowed my membership to expire. I’ve been bitten by the disc golf bug again, and my handicap has improved from -20 to -15. Now my home course is planning its first PDGA sanctioned tournament, and I can’t see paying the registration fee plus an extra $10 (or the registration fee plus $50) to play on my home course.

    I am glad for the organization that manages the course that they can get a PDGA event. The course’s development is really coming together. I just don’t get the feeling that the PDGA really values me as a member. If they offered a low price membership option for recreational players, that could change.


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