Ragna Bygde looking beyond Sweden to make her mark on the sport

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.

Ragna Bygde is one of the newest members of Prodigy Disc. (photo courtesy Ragna Bygde)

Ragna Bygde is one of the newest members of Prodigy Disc. (photo courtesy Ragna Bygde)

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.

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Poll 57: Growing the women’s game

This upcoming Sunday (May 12) is Mother’s Day.

In conjunction with that, we’re going to be doing our second Women’s Week on Rattling Chains. We’ll have a more in-depth post this weekend about what to expect and such, but it’s our way of helping to try and promote and grow women’s golf.

weekly_pollThere won’t be a poll next week, so it seems to be a good idea to run a poll that deals with women’s golf and can run throughout next week.

But, we’ll catch up with that poll in a moment.

First, let’s go back to last week’s poll, check the results and see what some people had to say.

We wanted to know what type of disc golf was your favorite? This one wasn’t even close and, honestly, we wouldn’t have expected anything different.

A good mix won easily, garnering 89 (79 percent) of the 112 votes. It’s good to see golfers want that mix and challenge of having to deal with different obstacles, terrains and everything in between.

Wooded came in second, gathering 14 votes (13 percent), followed by doesn’t matter, as long as there are baskets! (7 votes/6 percent) and open courses (2 votes/2 percent).

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Suzette Simons keeps giving back to the game

Suzette Simons at the 2011 United States Women's Disc Golf Championship in Round Rock, Texas.

Family first.

This simple edict may be a gentle reminder about one’s priorities in life, but when reflecting on bringing more women to disc golf, Suzette Simons said she thinks it might be a means to continuing the sport’s growth.

Simons is a key member of the Southern California disc golf family. Through her work as the Membership Director of the Southern California Disc Golf Association (SCDGA), as well as her employment as Customer Service and Promotions Specialist for Innova Champion Discs, she said she understands what brings all players – women included – to the course.

“It seems most women come into the sport, just like most men, through friends and family,” Simons said. “Family play brings not only more women to the sport, but junior players as well. As more families play, more women will play.”

Since first trying disc golf in 1996, Simons has dedicated herself to her local scene, be it in Iowa where she first played, or in Minnesota, where she served for two years as president of the Minnesota Frisbee Association. At each depot in her disc golf life, she has always made time to give back to the community.

“I was hooked immediately, especially to the competitive side, including league and tournament play,” Simons said of her origins with the game. “I also became active right away volunteering with local clubs and running events.

Suzette Simons at the table of the 2009 United States Masters.

“It is just my nature to volunteer.”

Her work in giving back to the game has centered mostly on attracting women and children to the sport through hosting clinics, tournaments, and league events. Simons’ desire to contribute also finds her on the PDGA Competition Committee and as a major supporter of EDGE, the Educational Disc Golf Experience that helps put the game in kids’ hands.

And while Simons is a competitive player by nature, she doesn’t necessarily see competition as a need for attracting women to the game.

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In their words: Nine secrets of the women of disc golf

The ladies who played in the advanced division at the Masters Cup this past weekend. Pictured are: Front -- Anna Caudle. Second row, from left, Victoria McCoy, Michelle Chambless, Lacey Kimbell, Cyndi Baker; and third row, from left, Christine Hernlund, Jenny Umstead, and Crissy White. (Photo by Alex Hegyi).

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.

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