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Starting a Club

How To Start a Disc Golf Club
By Tim Engstrom (PDGA #41882)
Flying Lea Disc Golf Club (Albert Lea, Minnesota)

Sure, big cities have disc golf clubs. They have guys who have been playing for decades and know everything about calculating handicaps, running leagues and getting club sponsors.

But you don’t live in a big city. You live two or three hours from a metro area in a mid-size city or small town that just got its first disc golf course. A lot of folks are playing that new course, and you think your town ought to start a club so there will be a league. But you have a wife and a baby and responsibilities and don’t visit that big city often. Where do you get information?

Fear not. I have been there. I am the founder of the Flying Lea Disc Golf Club in Albert Lea, Minn., population 18,000. Seven people attended our first meeting back in 2009. We ended the season with about 40 members. Last year, we ended with 90.
These are the keys to starting a disc golf club:

• Start off as a benevolent dictatorship. In that first year, someone needs to be in charge and lead the way. Listen to the players, seek the general consensus, always be honest, smooth over disagreements (or else avoid getting stuck in them) and generally be the level-headed person — but be the person who makes the hard decisions people are often afraid to make. Your goal that first year is just to exist.

• Open a bank account just for the club, and make everything cheap. The first year we charged $5 to join — which went to the club’s coffers — and $2 to play — which went to prize payouts. The second year was also $5 to join, but we charged $3 to play, of which $1 went to the club and $2 to prizes. For $2 more, players were eligible for the four closest-to-pin prizes. At $3 a person a week, it adds up fast. Plus, our random doubles league brought in more cash.

• Brand yourself. Come up with a name and a logo. The golf course across the street from our park was Green Lea Golf Course, so I dreamed up Flying Lea Disc Golf Club, which sort of sounds like flying leap. If you can’t make a logo, ask a new member.

• Post information often. I had the skills to create and update a website. If you don’t have that, at least have a place at the course to post information. We had a kiosk. Players could go online or go to the kiosk.

• Have bag tags. Joining entitled members to a bag tag, and some players seemed to join just to get one. The first year, we made them with drug-store keychains for photos. We printed off numbers and logos and inserted them where the photos go. The second year, we had a local company make foam-core tags that withstood the weather. And our overall sponsor footed the bill. Luggage loops connect the tags to the bags well.

• Build a league that rewards improvement. Good players can come out and beat novice players any old time, but it is much more of an accomplishment for a novice player to knock seven throws off her score. Our club set up a handicap league based on  shaky information that we were lucky to discover later was right. (See sidebar on handicap league.) If you don’t want to do the math handicaps require, offer players skill levels of advanced and intermediate. They should gravitate to the division they belong in. If they sandbag, you can divide the players who show up in half based on average scores.

• Set up a league for women. A lot of times, women will actively recruit other women players.

• Ask for sponsorships. The first year, we had one sponsor approach us. Her business is now our overall sponsor. The second year, I sold seven. It’s because I was surprised to learn that other sports — hockey, baseball, etc. — ask for thousands of dollars from businesses. We made sponsorship cheap because disc golf was cheap: $165. Companies didn’t say no because it was the right price for a recession. They got an ad on our website, a spot on our scorecards and a laminated sign in our kiosk at the park. We used that money to raise more money. Good CTP prizes get people to participate. Many businesses will want a form to keep on file, so make one that is really simple, explains what they get for their money, and have lines for signatures.

• Set goals. All clubs have goals. It gives people a purpose. The first year, our humble goal was to exist. The second year, we formed a rather informal board of seven people and decided we wanted to replace our homemade baskets with good ones from a manufacturer. We raised about $2,500, applied for a state health-improvement grant. Our fundraising impressed the officials, and we garnered the city a $5,000 grant to replace our baskets. We donated the old baskets for a new course at a local community college.

• Consider ideas to bolster league attendance. The first year, I noticed some of the best players stopped showing up for league. The second year, we began a points race that rewarded performance and attendance. Every club sets up their own points structure. I made mine really simple so I didn’t screw up the math. The points race kept players coming.

• Hold a tournament. Even if you don’t do everything exactly like in the big city, people understand when a place has a new course. The main thing is to try. The simplest way to charge a fee, play 36 holes, give back most of the money to the top places, keep the rest for the club goal. Even better, just go play in a few tourneys before holding your own. You’ll see different types of tourneys. Or you might be lucky enough to be in a part of the country with a regional tour or series (each stop usually is set up just the same). If you ask for your course to be in the tour, the other tournament directors will be happy to show you how to do your tournament just like theirs.

• Hold a season-ending event. Either make a big deal out of the prizes handed out the last day of league play or even hold a club-members-only tournament. Most of all, end the season with a bang somehow so they come back next year.
That’s how you start a club. I remember one night at doubles when attendance was way low and one player argued why bother with the $1 for the club per player. “Just throw our money for the prize tonight,” he demanded.
I told him that $7 more for the club is still $7 closer to our goal of new baskets. Every dollar counts. The other players right away threw down extra dollars. People love this sport, but they need leaders willing to organize the fun.

How handicaps are calculated:
In our club in 2010, handicaps were recalculated after every third week of play.  It’s easier than doing it every week. Add three raw scores, then divide by 3 to find a mean average. Subtract 50 from the mean average, then multiply it by .80 (i.e. 80 percent). The product is rounded off to the nearest whole number.

You’ll probably get a positive result, but the handicap is expressed as a negative because, after a round, you subtract it from the raw score to get an adjusted score. If your handicap is -7 and you shoot a 59 that day, your adjusted score is 52. Joe B. Goode might shoot a 53, but his handicap is -1. You just tied him. Good job!

Newcomers for the first week compete with a raw score. In the second week, we would calculate a handicap based on two raw scores. In the third, it’s three, just like everyone else.

We had a rule that no one’s handicap could get worse, only better. We don’t reward getting worse.

Do the math and you’ll notice if you get really good, your handicap goes from negative to positive. As the league coordinator, judge the skill level of your players, the difficulty of your course and select a good cutoff your handicaps. Players in our league who reached an even handicap (±0) stayed there. There were no +1 handicaps. This kept our top players coming back, yet the novice and intermediates came, too.

We awarded to four places, with losers of tie-breakers not getting anything. (If you lost the tiebreaker for third place, you didn’t get fourth place.) This brought more people into prize contention. Our tie-breaker was spectator-friendly from the picnic table: Play Hole 1. If they remained tied, they had a CTP contest back to Hole 18.

Art Schorn

Photo Credits:
Above: Flying Lea Disc Golf Club member Art Schorn tees off on Hole 5 at Bancroft Bay Park in Albert Lea, Minn., during a season-ending tournament he won. (photo by Buck Monson)

Cover: Flying Lea Disc Golf Club member Derreck Walk cans a long putt from tall grass near Bancroft Bay during a season-ending tournament in Albert Lea, Minn. (photo by Buck Monson)