Wearing a journalist hat makes one think differently when at an event. But at a recent disc golf clinic, I was just really excited that my wife and daughters had not only agreed to attend, but were even looking forward to it. Being in dad mode, I at least snapped a lot of photos.
The event, a women’s disc golf clinic led by Prodigy Disc team members Sarah Hokom and Paige Pierce, was held in in Santa Cruz, Calif., three days before the Masters Cup National Tour event.
My excitement came because I had waited a long time for my wife and daugters to show interest in my favorite sport (or activity, hobby or obsession). My wife used to play many years ago, before the kids came along, but it was always more about wanting to share something I loved. The kids have played a few times, but hadn’t gotten hooked yet.
Scheduled for 5 p.m., the clinic was held on a particularly windy (and cold, for Santa Cruz) day in April. As a disc golf instructor, I assure you that these are not ideal conditions for teaching or learning the basics of flying disc sports.
We arrived a little before 5 and, aside from one lady, were the first on the scene. Slipping into journalist mode, I asked her what brought her there. She told me she was from San Francisco (a 1- or 2-hour drive, depending on traffic), and had played a week earlier in the amateur Masters Cup event. The clinic was promoted during that week and during the Daisy Chains women’s tourney, held in Santa Cruz County the week between the amateur and professional Masters Cup weekends.
Clearly this clinic had been well planned.
I caught up with Hokom after she had already made it to Georgia for the Hall of Fame Classic. She was understandably busy during the clinic and I had been more focused on watching my wife and kids. Hokom said the clinic was the fourth she had conducted with Pierce and “at least a dozen” more are planned to take place. She said each event has had about 10-15 participants. I didn’t count in Santa Cruz, but I thought it was between 15-20.
Pierce and Hokom had a table with some Prodigy discs and shirts and asked participants to fill out a short form with their contact info and some other questions. A former high school teacher, Hokom said she’s working on a survey for more formal feedback.
“So far, many of the attendees have reached out to me with positive responses,” she said.
As for the typical attendees at these clinics?
“I get all types of players,” Hokom said. “There have been new players at each one, seasoned players and all types in between.”
The clinic began by having the participants pair up to play catch and warm up. A good idea, especially on a chilly day. My younger daughter paired up with Pierce and took the assignment very seriously. After warming up, they broke into two groups. One was with Pierce, who taught the basics of backhand throws. The other was Hokom, who shared the secrets of her sidearm technique.
As a disc golf instructor, I was impressed with the lesson in a couple of different ways. First, it was clear to me pretty quickly that some women are, for whatever reason, more receptive to instruction by other women. My wife and girls, for instance, made some advances that afternoon that were really encouraging. And I don’t attribute that just to the female connection thing — although that is significant.
Hokom and Pierce made some great points that stuck with my older girl in particular, like Pierce telling her to snap her backhand at the point of release. It’s not something I teach, but really helped my daughter throw with more arm speed.
We had to leave early as the girls got cold and it was a school night. But the lesson inspired my oldest and she insisted we go out on the weekend to watch the women’s lead card of Pierce, Hokom, Val Jenkins and Catrina Ulibarri.
I had figured on watching about an hour or so of the action. But my daughter — who at first rooted for Pierce after the lesson, but then switched allegiance to Jenkins once she realized that Val and I were in Discmasters together — insisted on sticking it out for the full round, which lasted about 4 hours, 30 minutes.
She was wearing a thin cotton tank-top, and obviously cold (blame that one on Dad), but she was hooked on the action. And she got the full experience. All the women in the group signed a disc for her, she got to hold the leader board for short intervals, and Val in particular was gracious enough to acknowledge her repeated compliments and commiserations.
The clinic encouraged my wife and both daughters because they experienced noticeable progress in throwing straighter and farther than in the past.
My older daughter had stars in her eyes after getting to see Pierce, Hokom, Ulibarri and Jenkins in action up close. I’m not sure which (participating in clinics or seeing top pros competing at National Tour event) has more potential to increase female participation in disc golf, but both seemed to be well-received by the women and girls that showed up.
The trick is getting them there. Will disc golf ever be as popular among women as it is among men?
“The nature of sports and the nature of women conflict more often than for men, so no” said Hokom. “Its not that women don’t enjoy it, its just that fewer women enjoy it than men.”
Hokom said she’s promoting the formation of women’s leagues.
“I think they are helping the growth of women in the sport and provide a supportive and fun environment for more women to play,” she said.
Based on what I saw unfold in April, as well as what the local female disc golfing population says, it seems like she’s right. Hopefully the trend toward women’s clinics, leagues and tournaments continues.
I know at least one young girl who plans to show up.
Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.