Is The Hand-Wringing Over ‘Frolf’ Worth The Worry?

Pros, other disc golf stakeholders weigh in on the sport’s lesser monikers

"Seinfeld" character George Costanza famously referred to disc golf as "frolf," but the debate rages on to this day.
“Seinfeld” character George Costanza famously referred to disc golf as “frolf,” but the debate rages on to this day.

When disc golf goes viral, it’s always cause for celebration. The exposure of this relatively niche sport to new eyeballs brings hope for growth, increased legitimacy of the Professional Disc Golf Association, and general good vibes when players’ friends and family see those plastic discs flying through the air on well-known, respected news outlets.

It’s all sunshine and rainbows, until one of the mainstream publications insists on calling the sport “frolf” or “Frisbee golf,” which brings out any number of responses from disc golf’s supporters:

“Ugh, he called it frolf.”

“It’s a disc, not a Frisbee.”

“Except when they ruined it by calling it frolf.”

Is it that big a deal if ESPN or Fox Sports or Bleacher Report or where ever calls our favorite pastime “frolf,” when our favorite pastime is getting the publicity we all crave on ESPN or Fox Sports or Bleacher Report or where ever? Does the sport’s evolution from tossing Frisbees at trees to discs at baskets warrant all of the hand-wringing? After all, if it was good enough for George Costanza, maybe it should be good enough for us.

To take the pulse on the situation, Ultiworld Disc Golf surveyed 21 of the game’s top movers and shakers – touring professionals and other disc golf stakeholders – to find out how they really felt about the moniker, asking every one of them the same question: “Do you care if people refer to disc golf as ‘frolf,’ ‘Frisbee golf,’ or anything else?”

The results were as mixed as those takes coming out of the comments section.

Of those surveyed, 10 – including Paul McBeth, the current PDGA World Champion – answered “no,” or that it did not bother them if the sport was referred to as frolf or Frisbee golf. Also in that camp? Simon Lizotte, Paige Bjerkaas, and 2010 PDGA World Champion Eric McCabe.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” McCabe said. “I mean, that is where we originated from, after all.”

And even if the sport’s origins aren’t being taken into account, having more than one name for disc golf puts it on par with other activities, according to Paul Ulibarri.

“Basketball is called b-ball, hooping,” Ulibarri said. “Golf has other terms for going out to play. Metal play, hitting the links.”

Even the subject of the viral video that spawned the latest conversation on the topic, Philo Brathwaite, didn’t mind if his highlight wasn’t specifically referred to as disc golf.

“No, because at the end of the day, they’re seeing a person throw a disc, and I think people understand the difference between a Frisbee and a disc, you know?” Brathwaite said. “At least I would hope they do. When they see that thing move through the air like that, they’ve got be like, ‘That’s not a Frisbee, right?’ I don’t really care, it’s really the visual is what’s important, that people are getting their eyes on it and it’s impacting them in some kind of positive way. Something that makes them go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know about that,’ or, ‘Wow, that was amazing!’ or whatever.”

And if people do not understand the distinction between a golf disc and a Frisbee, quite a few of the subjects surveyed said that they would use it as a jumping off point to start a larger, more educational discussion.

Of the remaining 11 responses, four players – Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins, Jennifer Allen, and Eagle McMahon – specifically mentioned using the term Frisbee golf to capture the attention of people who are new to the sport, before then explaining the nuances between the two flying objects.

“When Frisbee golf is used, it doesn’t bother me at all,” Allen said. “I’m excited they have at least heard about the game in some way, then I usually explain to them a little more about disc golf.”

Plus, it could always be worse.

“You forgot ‘folf,’ or ‘dolf,’ of which I think are the two worst ones out there,” Jenkins said. “I usually relate to our sport by saying disc golf, and then I say Frisbee golf if they have a blank stare on their face. If they still have a blank stare, I go into the whole explanation. In many clinics we have taught lately, we show the difference between a Frisbee – size and shape – and then say, ‘A Frisbee is for playing catch,’ and ‘a disc is for disc golf.’”

Still, even if pros were using the terms to reach out to new players, it doesn’t mean that they wanted that terminology to stick.

“I prefer when it is disc golf,” McMahon said. “I use Frisbee golf when I am explaining the game to someone who might not know about it. If we are talking what the masses call it, I would love if they would call it by disc golf because it is respectful to the community and it’s the proper term.”

McMahon’s comments point to an overriding sentiment among those who were asked about the topic: Seven respondents specifically stated that they were not offended or bothered by the sport’s lesser monikers, but that they prefer disc golf.

In fact, only a few of those surveyed truly were against any of the terminology, and that negativity was reserved for one term only: Frolf.

“Frolf actually does bother me,” Disc Golf Pro Tour Director Steve Dodge said. “Frisbee golf is fine. I guess I feel that people who say frolf are simply making fun.”

That idea – that saying frolf is somehow derogatory toward the sport – seems to be the crux of the matter.

“Frolf, for some reason, seems a little more insulting,” Allen said. “[Users of that term are] likely just uninformed about the game, however I feel it takes away from allowing it to be its own sport.”

Disc Golf World Tour Director Jussi Meresmaa was another stakeholder in the pro-Frisbee golf, anti-frolf column.

“Disc golf is officially called ‘Frisbeegolf’ in Finland,” Meresmaa said. “I have never liked the frolf term. My personal opinion is that if Wham-O would have let Innova [Discs] and other ‘disc golf’ companies call the sport Frisbee golf from the start – and not threaten them because of their Frisbee trademark – the sport could be bigger now.”

Regardless of which side of the debate pros and other influential figures are on, though, the exposure that Brathwaite’s shot brought to the sport – frolf or not – is undeniable. In fact, Innova Discs co-founder Dave Dunipace, the inventor of the modern golf disc, summed up the impact of the situation pretty succinctly in an email.

“1. It was on ESPN. Great publicity I did not have to pay for.

2. They were not making fun of it. Quite the opposite. They were giving it credibility.

3. Though I would prefer it be called disc golf, I am not going to complain because of 1 and 2.”

That’s what the issue boils down to, more than anything. Much like Costanza was presented with his golden opportunity to live life to its fullest during the “summer of George,” disc golfers are in position to embrace the exposure instead of shunning it over choices in terminology. Taste the fruit and let the juices roll down your chin. It’s a delicious time for the sport.

  1. Steve Hill
    Steve Hill

    Steve Hill is the editor of Ultiworld Disc Golf. He provides reviews from the perspective of a low-powered player at Noodle Arm Disc Golf, and in the past served as the associate editor for Rattling Chains. Contact him at steve.hill@ultiworld.com or on Twitter.

TAGGED: , , , , , , ,

More from Ultiworld
Comments on "Is The Hand-Wringing Over ‘Frolf’ Worth The Worry?"

Find us on Twitter

Recent Comments

Find us on Facebook