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Disc golf bigger than ball golf in five or ten years?

Ball golf, stick golf, traditional golf. Call it what you want, but do not call it conventional golf. Conventional golf is the form of golf that is played by the most people. Right now that is ball golf, but I would not use this term because pretty soon – much sooner than I thought – disc golf will overtake ball golf.
The first place we will do this is the number of courses. After that, it is a quick jump to overtaking ball golf in number of players.

​Disc golf is on the rise and, in the US, the number of disc golf courses could overtake traditional golf courses in just ten years. Don’t think we are that close? We are, and here is why.

  • 15,000 – that is the number of ball golf courses the US can sustain. Ball golf has stagnated with more courses going under than going in for the last eight years, bringing the number of courses from a high of 17,000 down to the current level of 15,000.
  • 5,000 – that is the number of disc golf courses currently in the US.

Source: Wikipedia (2008 number of courses), ESPN (2015 number of courses), DGCR (DG courses)

So that is where we are now. There are just three times the number of ball golf courses as disc golf courses in the US. Just eight years ago, at the height of ball golf, there were TEN times more ball golf courses: 17,000 to 1,716. Since then, ball golf has pulled back and disc golf has continued to explode.

15,000 is where ball golf is and, if they are lucky, where they will stay. We all know the reasons. Ball golf is too expensive to play (because it is very expensive to maintain the courses), it takes too much time to play (millennials and beyond don’t have five hours to spend playing one round of golf), and with the improved environmental awareness (clearing land and use of chemicals are viewed as significant negatives), localities are much slower to approve new ball golf installation projects. The number of ball golf courses is not going to be on the rise any time soon.

So the question becomes, how soon will there be 15,000 disc golf courses in the US?

Over the last 15 years, the number of disc golf courses in the US has grown at an average of a 16% clip. Additionally, a larger percentage of these courses are private / pay-to-play. The chart below indicates that installing a disc golf course is becoming a good business model, which leads to not only sustainable growth, but unstoppable growth. Here are the percentage of private / pay-to-play courses installed in the US:

  • 2001-2005: 17%
  • 2006-2010: 20%
  • 2011-2015: 22%


Now, with the advent of more and more disc golf companies, and private disc golf courses, as well as more environmental awareness, everything is pushing towards more and faster disc golf course growth. Additionally, with the efforts of the DG Pro Tour and World Tour to bring more spectators to the game there will be a significant increase in the number of people that are aware of the game and the number of people that view the game with increased legitimacy. Lastly, with Disc Golf Park bringing the proven success in the growth of disc golf courses in Finland to the US and inevitably encouraging the creation of similar disc golf course installation companies, the growth of the number of disc golf courses would seem like it is only going to increase.

Everything is looking up for the number of disc golf courses overtaking ball golf courses sooner rather than later. If Disc Golf Park, the extra attention from the Pro Tour and World Tour, and the increased privatization of course ownership can increase the growth of disc golf, say to 20%, then we overtake ball golf courses in 2021, just five quick years. If, somehow, the growth of disc golf slows by 5% to just 11% per year, disc golf will still overtake ball golf in  2026, just ten years.
Bearing in mind that disc golf:

  • Takes about 1/3 the land of ball golf (meaning DG costs less in installation and land taxes),
  • Requires much less course maintenance (meaning it will allow for higher profit margins), and is
  • Easier to learn to play, costs less to play, requires less time to play, and is more fun to play

I think the 2020s will be the decade where disc golf is seen as conventional golf. Perhaps we will speak politely of our older cousin, traditional golf (which disc golf saved by installing baskets on ball golf courses) and appreciate all that it has done to grow the game of disc golf into national and worldwide prominence. Following that, the 2030s will be the decade when there are more disc golfers than ball golfers in the US and disc culture will overtake ball golf culture.
When do you think it will happen?