By P.J. Harmer — Rattling Chains staff
Life as a professional disc golfer isn’t the most glamorous of career choices.
Especially for women.
The fields are smaller, which, in turn, makes the prize money smaller than in men’s tournaments. And that’s just in the United States. Add in being a professional women’s player in Europe and it’s even harder.
Such is the life of Ragna Bygde, one of the newest members of Prodigy Disc. A resident of Stockholm, Sweden, the 23-year-old Bygde has been playing on and off for eight years and comes from a family of disc golfers. Her father, Peter Bygde, is also a professional.
Being a professional wasn’t much of a choice for Bygde, though, as she made that move when she played in her first tournament.
“In Europe, there’s only pro for women,” she said. “So as soon as you get into the game, you are a pro.”
Though she had a father who played disc golf often, it wasn’t her first love. She did spend a lot of time with her father at Järva Discgolf Park, but it was just to hang out with her father.
“I never joined him though,” she said. “I was to busy working on my career in show jumping and synchronized swimming as most young girls did at that point.”
Something changed, however. During her teenage years, she started throwing plastic. Bygde said she saw another teen playing and wanted to give it a chance. The love of the sport didn’t take long to set in and she soon left the pool and horses behind.
Having a father who was highly involved in the sport helped Bygde improve quickly. Peter Bygde showed his daughter solid techniques from the beginning and his daughter caught on quickly.
“That definitely rushed, in a good way, my improvements and me pushing to get better,” Ragna Bygde said. “Although I have had two long periods of two years and three years where I didn’t touch a disc, I have been able to pick the game back up with ease. I thank my dad’s training for that.
“I improve every day, month and season,” she continued. “Sometimes I fall, like everybody else. But I get back up on my feet, learn my lesson and use that to my advantage.”
She won her first tournament, the Skellefteå Open, in 2007 at age 18. It was one of two PDGA tournaments she played in that year and took home $363 for the win.
“Everyone counted me out and I played great the whole tournament and won by a few strokes over the leading women of Sweden,” she said. “I was officially one of them and that felt pretty spectacular. Also, seeing my superhero of a dad get emotional and shedding a tear of pride definitely made it one of my biggest moments.”
And despite having some of her breaks, they haven’t seemed to hold her down. Heading into 2013, Bygde had 12 PDGA-sanctioned tournament wins, including winning the Swedish Championship in 2011 and 2012 and the European Championship in 2012.
Still, being a women’s golfer in Europe isn’t going to make one rich. Her top payoff in 2012 came by winning the Swedish Championship, where she cashed in $589, according to the PDGA’s site for the tournament.
“I love being a pro female disc golfer in Europe,” she said. “We are a rare breed. It’s not a walk in the park making it all come together. The journey is long, but very exciting.”
As for mentioning purses at tournaments?
“I actually giggled when reading purses,” she said. “I would love to be able to see some epic purses happening in Europe. We just aren’t there yet. This will change when we get more women to participate in competitive disc golf. More women equals bigger opportunities. Purses will grow, giving more the opportunity to gun for making disc golf a main source of income.
“With that said, one of the biggest things holding European players back, both female and male, are our ridiculously long stinking cold winter,” she continued. “Despite our unplayable winter of six or seven months and only five or six months to play, I’d say us Swedes are doing all right for ourselves.”
So if Bygde is to make disc golf her main source of income, as she’s trying to do, she may have to explore other parts of the world.
That includes the United States, where she’s visited just once — to play at Worlds in 2012. She finished mid-pack in that tournament, placing 14th out of 30 players.
This year, she’s planning on exploring more tournaments in the United States. She’s leaving Sweden on May 14 to travel with Jess Edvardsson and play six tournaments in about two months. They’ll head back across the pond for the European Open. After that, it’s back to the states for Worlds.
Her initial trip is going to take her to several top-notch events, including the Great Lakes Open (May 31-June 2), Disc Girls Gone Wild (June 8-9), Kansas City Wide Open (June 14-16), Minnesota Majestic (June 21-23) and the Beaver State Fling (June 28-30).
PDGA Worlds are Aug. 3-10, and Bygde said she hopes to be able to stick around some after to compete a bit more.
“I am hoping to be able to make a move,” she said. “I know I need to play against more women all year round to develop my game further.”
The ceiling certainly seems to be high for Bygde. She has an upbeat attitude and realizes what kind of obstacles she may have to overcome. But that doesn’t hold back the dreams and goals.
From championships to world distance records, she’s not setting the bar low for what she wants to accomplish.
“I have always wanted to be the greatest female player in Europe of all time,” she said. “I need to win a few more Swedish and European titles, along with a worlds gold, to make that happen. … When it comes to dreams, I aim high and reach for the stars.”
And at a younger age, Bygde also has the chance to be a part of an important time in women’s disc golf as the sport continues to blossom and grow.
“I watch the group of women playing our sport grow every day,” she said. “As long as we all work hard and share the love four our sport, we can do great things together. My vision is definitely for every girl to have a group of girls to play and train with. I also hope to see more women taking the step into tournaments and competitive play.”
To get that younger generation, though, it has to build. With that in mind, Bygde said girls can’t be shy and need to get out and play the game.
“I refused to play with anyone but my dad my first few years because I was afraid of what people would think of me,” she said. “What I learned was that it does not matter if you play backwards, sideways or no where near where you wanted, we love that you are trying and that you want to be a part of the massive disc golf family from all around the world. We are all eager to help, use us.”
P.J. Harmer is the founder and executive editor for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: email@example.com.