If you’ve wanted to see disc golf grow, the last few weeks should certainly be music to your ears. During Tuesday’s SmashBoxxTV Podcast, Maple Hill Open Tournament Director and the popular face of Vibram Disc Golf, Steve Dodge, introduced the Disc Golf Pro Tour.
Dodge has partnered with a number of other tournament directors including Nate Heinold of the Ledgestone Insurance Open in Illinois and Jeff Spring of the Green Mountain Championships in Vermont to put together this five event tour that caps with a Tour Championship immediately following the Green Mountain Championships:
- June 23-26: Maple Hill Open, Leicester, MA
- July 8-10: Silver Cup, Manitowoc, WI
- July 29-31: Minnesota Majestic, East Bethel, MN
- Aug 18-21: Ledgestone Open, Peoria, IL
- Sep 15-17: Green Mountain Championship, VT
- Sep 17-18: Tour Championship, Smugglers’ Notch Resort, VT
The focus will be on this Midwest and Northeast region for 2016 with plans for a nationwide tour in 2017.
To get more details on the Disc Golf Pro Tour we talked with Dodge about how it stacks up against the PDGA National Tour and the recently announced Disc Golf World Tour.
This is certainly an exciting time for disc golf with another big tournament series announcement. The Disc Golf Pro Tour is set to begin play in summer 2016 with five events and a Tour Championship. We’ll talk about the events in a moment, but let’s start at the beginning. How long have you been working on the Disc Golf Pro Tour?
“Dreaming about it? Over a decade. Acting to make it happen? Close to three years.”
“Just like everyone, including the PDGA, I have dreamed of a disc golf pro tour for decades. Back in 2004, I remember talking with Jonathan Poole of the USDGC and discussing our mutual dream of building a template for other events to copy. These events would be the backbone of the future pro tour. This was one of the motivating factors in building the Marshall Street Disc Golf Championship (MSDGC).”
“In 2013, it became clear to me that the vision of a pro tour could use a significant nudge to get going, so I started planning how I would execute a tour.”
How is the Pro Tour different than the PDGA’s National Tour?
“When building the MSDGC, we wanted to demonstrate how a community could build a premier disc golf event while maintaining the culture of the disc. A decade later, there are many high quality events – and even more high quality venues – coming into their own. It is an exciting time and it is time for us to try to create a true pro disc golf tour. The PDGA has done a great job planting the seeds through the National Tour. Many high quality events strive to reach higher because of the NT.”
“The three key missing ingredients, in my opinion, have been consistent live coverage, a sensible tour (chronologically and geographically), and a tour championship. The former has stunted the growth of disc golf as a spectator sport, causing relationships with advertisers to be delayed as well. The timing and geography of the NT has caused many of our talented discers to not seriously contemplate touring – see Nate Sexton, who was nine holes away from winning the USDGC – which makes it difficult for fans to build an emotional relationship with our players (since they cannot stay on tour). Finally, the NT has never given fans a compelling reason to get emotionally vested in who wins the tour. There is a small NT points winner, but it is mostly ignored. This is a huge area of opportunity. We are striving to create a tour, working with the PDGA, that will solve these issues while maintaining all the things we love about the sport – high drama, disc culture, rankings and statistics, all held at quality events and venues.”
With Jussi Meresmaa’s announcement of the World Tour, it would seem that many of these concerns are now being met. How is the Pro Tour different than the World Tour?
“First I’d like to say that, long term, the World Tour and Pro Tour are in no way mutually exclusive. The goals of the DGWT are a great and dramatic step for disc golf. Jussi and I have had multiple discussions about our ideas for the past couple years and we both see significant strides forward for the sport with both of our models. He will be bringing high quality media coverage comparable to what we have been able to enjoy at European Masters and the USDGC and we plan to deliver on that front as well. He and Jamie Thomas are building something very special and I look forward to watching the shows they put on.”
“Having said that, much like the National Tour, there are some differences in the tours. The key differences that I see are divisions, tour finals, logistics, venues, and our festival.”
“Divisions: The DGPT will include a women’s division. I understand the reason to have one division, one champion but I believe we need to grow both men’s and women’s DG and are a decade away from the women being able to have their own tour. So, for the time being, our best men and women should tour and play together. The DGWT still has an opportunity, as do we, to adjust things and I hope this is one of the adjustments that they make.”
“Tour Finals: Another difference is our Tour Championship. Players will earn Tour Points based on their finishes at the five DGPT events and the top 48 will earn a spot in the quarterfinals, with the top eight getting a bye into the semifinals. We have a very exciting Championsip structure set up! Top prize at the Tour Championship is $10,000 and my goal with the Tour Championship is to have it be the single most viewed live disc golf event ever. Watch. And grow the sport.”
“Logistics: The DGWT is less focused on where/when the events are and is more focused on making the media experience phenomenal and showing the potential fans that disc golf coverage can be engaging and high quality. I applaud, and enjoy, their efforts. The final round of the USDGC was fun to watch and I love the graphics and statistics they are developing.”
“On the other hand, our approach will find a sustainable balance between live coverage and ease of touring for the players. It is still difficult for a large number of players to stay on the disc golf tour, so we want to make it as easy as possible for them to tour and have success. We expect to have a larger number of players attend multiple events and this participation is critical to our, and any tour’s, long term success. Our goal is a tour of 12 or more $50,000+ events with a $100,000 finals in the next few years.”
“There are a lot of great players out there and a lot of great companies supporting them. Once players are able to stay on tour for a decade rather than a couple years, fans will be able to count on their favorite players being in events and build an emotional connection with them. This will build the fan base which will build the desire of advertisers to get in front of these fans. Cart, meet horse.”
“Venues: We have purposely picked these events because of the courses and local support. Five of the six events, will be played on private courses, all of which are ranked in the top 20 on DGCourseReview.com. The Ledgestone is played on quality courses in Peoria, IL and has tremendous support from the local community. With private courses and public support, we have an amazing level of control with our venues. Lastly, I would put our courses up against the courses on any of the tours. We have the best courses in the world on the DGPT.”
“Festival: It is critical to us that these events attract not only hardcore discers that want to watch the best in the world, but that they also provide fun and entertainment for the whole family. We will have disc festival games, including radar guns, putting courses, accuracy walls, as well as face painting, disc dying, and inflatables. Food, beverages, meet the pros, and special events will round out the spectator experience. In addition to attracting an online following, it is critical to get people to come to the course, have them build a emotional bond with their favorite players, and experience a ton of fun while watching the best disc golfers on the planet.”
Are these six tournaments focused just on the Professional/Open side of things or will there be amateur sides for these events?
“The DGPT will be focused on the showcase MPO and FPO divisions. Individual tournaments may have a concurrent amateur event or age protected divisions playing, but our focus is on the MPO and FPO divisions and those will be the only divisions that qualify for the finals.”
You’re introducing a new point series for the DGPT. Competitors will accumulate points based on their finishing position with the top 48 men and 12 women qualifying for the Tour Championship. Talk about this format where the men’s winner takes home $10,000 and the women’s champion being awarded $2,000.
“The format for our Tour Championship is very different from most events. The top 48 men will make it to the Tour Championship and anyone that qualifies and plays in the Tour Championship gets paid. The field will eventually be whittled down to 16 competitors, where they will play in foursomes, with the winner of each card advancing to the finals, along with the next highest score from the foursomes. That fivesome will then compete for one of the largest first place prizes in disc golf history, with 2nd place through 5th place getting $2000. This will create an extremely exciting final round. Everyone’s scores up to that point are irrelevant – 18 holes will determine who wins the Tour Championship and the $10,000 prize. A similar format will take place on the Women’s side, and more details can be found on our website.”
“Imagine the finals! There is no reason to get any position other than first. In a standard tournament, if you play aggressively and fail, you could lose to the person behind you and that costs you prize money. Here, there is no difference between 2nd and 5th. There is no reason to play it safe. The only thing that matters is first. I can’t wait to watch that round.”
The Tour Championship runs immediately after your final event in Vermont. Is there a concern with needing to compete in basically two events in such a short time period?
“This is actually a huge positive for the DGPT. Players will be able to compete in the very lucrative Green Mountain Championships at the Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont and then have the chance to play in the Tour Championship. Once again, if players qualify and play in the Tour Championship, they get paid. We feel that more players will be inclined to attend this PDGA A-Tier because of the addition of the Tour Championship right after the tournament. With the Fall Festival they have in place in Vermont, it just made perfect sense to align with them for our finale.”
“Smugglers’ Notch Resort has the facilities and courses to make this event a big success. The week-long festival atmosphere that they provided at their most recent event sets up well to transition directly to the Tour Championship. The Green Mountain Championship will conclude Saturday morning, with the Tour Championship happening Saturday PM & Sunday. The A-Tier event will be an exciting finish to the tour. Many story lines will be developing as players will have a chance to qualify for, or be bumped out of, the finals. The festival and tournament will bring the large crowds and exciting atmosphere that the finals deserve.”
What is your relationship with the PDGA? Are they supporters of the DGPT?
“Throughout this entire process the PDGA has been supportive. All of our events, including the Tour Championship will be PDGA A-Tiers or NTs, and that is important to us. Disc golf is very small. It is critical that we all pull in the same direction and take into account the legacy events and PDGA calendar.”
“The PDGA spent the last 8 months discussing the idea with me and determining how and when to implement it. We ended at a point where the Board of Directors did not want to supplant the NT, and several board members asked me to try running some proof of concept events. When Nate Heinold of the Ledgestone Open and Jeff Spring of the Green Mountain Championships expressed an interest in making this test tour happen, I knew we were on to something special. The addition of the Silver Cup and Minnesota Majestic, both of which are played on top 10 courses in the world, makes the inaugural Pro Tour genuinely special.”
Will tournament formats and payouts be standardized across the Disc Golf Pro Tour?
“The goal for 2017 is to have more standardized payouts and formats across all events. For 2016 we are giving our tournament directors more leeway while still making recommendations to them. We are trying to limit the amount of courses the Pros are playing while increasing their payouts. The events will have a minimum of $10,000 added cash and our goal for the tour payout is $300,000.”
On your website you talk about the idea of the DGPT “legitimizing our sport” and list grander media coverage, getting kids to see the “coolness” of disc golf, and expanded advertising. What efforts are already underway in these areas? Do you have any lead advertisers lined up?
“Each event has committed to spending a minimum of $1500 towards regional advertising of their events. There are no restrictions on how this money is spent. At the end of the year, we will review how the money was spent and what expenditures were most effective.”
“Great things are happening regarding getting kids into the sport. One of my concerns is that I want to make sure these kids have someone “cool” to look up to and say to themselves, ‘I want to play disc golf too.’ It is great for them to learn about the game, but to keep their attention and get them motivated to make it a lifetime sport, I believe it is critical to have the cool factor too. These two must work together.”
2015 saw just the PDGA National Tour and Major events as the marquee events for disc golfers, mainly the professionals. As we head into 2016 we now have the PDGA National Tour and Majors along with the DGPT and Disc Golf World Tour. What are your thoughts on this growth?
“The sport has been growing rapidly the last few years. It was only a matter of time before a larger pro tour became a reality. With the explosion of growth in the sport, we have not seen growth in the spectators or payouts at our top events. It’s time for that to change.”
“Clearly 2016 is going to be an exciting year for disc golf. First, we have the PDGA National Tour continuing to push the top tier of the sport forward, sort of as a placeholder saying we will not fall back beyond this level of success. Next, we have the World Tour. If Jussi succeeds, he will demonstrate to advertisers that disc golf is a sport to put money into, the payouts will increase quickly, players will be able to travel to the events and we will be a part of mainstream within a few years. And finally, we have the Pro Tour, which takes a middle ground between the NT and the WT, putting live coverage and stats at every event, executing a cohesive tour, and adding in a Tour Championship. If we succeed, advertisers will flock to us, payouts and media coverage will increase quickly, and the Pro Tour will spread across North America. These are exciting times.”
You have your schedule set for 2016 with plans still up in the air for 2017. If someone has a tournament they’d like to have be a part of the DGPT, what requirements do you have and what do they need to do to take steps toward making that happen?
“We actually have a webpage dedicated to this great question.”
“Basically, we are looking for high quality venues and tournament directors with scenic championship courses that share our vision for growing the sport. That vision includes having a disc golf festival, which the tour can provide, at each event, which is one of the most unique things about our tour. We also are looking for tournaments who work with Visitor Bureaus or their Chamber of Commerce to help promote the event. Most importantly we are looking for clubs or tournament directors who have a passion for disc golf and believe in our vision of giving the spectators and touring players the best pro tour possible.”
While the PDGA tour begins its schedule around February, you’re not in action until July. You’ll certainly be busy between now and then. After today’s announcement, what is planned next for you guys?
“In addition to developing sponsorships, we will be fine tuning the video coverage, provided by Smashboxx TV and others, developing video assets, and finalizing live scoring and statistics tools. Also, we will be putting finishing touches on a mini version of the disc golf festival, which is a centerpiece of the Pro Tour concept. We have a lot of preparation to do and we look forward to seeing tons of spectators and exciting disc golf at these events.”
How can people follow the latest news about the DGPT?
- Through our website, DiscGolfProTour.com and our social media:
- Email Newsletter
Is there anything else you want to include?
“Please check out the website, give us feedback, let us know what we are missing and what we are doing well. Disc is a community and brings joy to so many people. We want to spread the sport to the world.
Watch. And grow the sport.”
Thanks to Dodge for the great insight into this new Disc Golf Pro Tour. We’ll continue to remain in touch with Dodge and the Disc Golf Pro Tour organizers to bring you more news and information as it happens.
Dodge was a busy guy and talked with Terry Miller and Jonny V of SmashBoxxTV on their podcast Tuesday night about much of what we’ve talked about and went into even more detail about the upcoming DGPT.