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Assessing The 2018 PDGA Board Of Directors Election Candidates

Opinions on their platforms and the direction of the sport

The 2018 election season is in high gear. Issues that will impact disc golf communities across the globe are being debated, campaigns are in full swing and the choices that voters will make this fall are likely to have ramifications and impacts beyond which we can currently imagine or foresee. There is passion and strong feelings on all sides and come September 1, 2018, there will be three new member-at-large PDGA Board Members.

There are six men who are running for three spots on the board, let’s get to know them a bit. A couple of items first:

  • Each one has described growing the women’s side of the sport as a priority.
  • Each one wants to increase youth involvement in the sport.
  • None of them is convinced that the board needs to totally “stay the course” or that “sweeping change” is needed.

Below, I take stock of each candidate and their platforms. First, I’ll summarize what they’ve said to this point based in interviews conducted with PDGA media hereand their candidate statements here, organizing the candidates in no particular order. Then I provide a few takes on the issues they addressed or avoided in their interviews, before concluding with some bigger picture takeaways.

The Candidates – Platform Summaries

Danny Voss #45698

Voss has a background in marketing. His tagline per his interview with PDGA radio and his candidate statement is: “support local, build global.” His elevator pitch for the sport, to non-disc golfers, is that the sport is, “a walk in the park, throwing frisbees with your friends.” When he was asked how he would approach PDGA membership growth and retention, he responded with a question: “what does the membership do to add value to members?” He did a /r/discgolf AMA and lays out some interesting ideas for how the PDGA can and should work with local clubs.

Robert Decker #17745

Decker has been a PDGA member since 2000 and is a Certified Public Accountant by trade. He has also been on the board since 2005 and is described as generally liked and well regarded by his peers. He is one of the more reserved and cautious sounding candidates who is hyper-aware that, despite the growth of the sport, pitfalls and danger lurks around every corner–basically, he’s attuned to potential negative externalities. In general, he comes across as fiscally astute, thoughtful, and self-effacing.

Scot Estep #77824

Estep is an Army veteran, with fundraising experience through working with nonprofit organizations that support veterans. He’s a relative newcomer to the game, only having started playing in 2015. He, like the standard “outsider” candidate, accepts his lack of experience and suggests that this deficiency might allow him to be a bit more open-minded while providing the board a fresh perspective. Scot has noted that the membership fee and structure is not appealing to the average amateur player who will play less than five tournaments per year.

Trevor Harbolt #26860

Harbolt is the current favorite of the Fake PDGA FaceBook page, and probably the best player of the bunch, for what that’s worth. His professional resume isn’t as impressive as some of the rival candidates but it is clear the man has passion and excitement for the growth of and playing the sport. He is not a particularly polished speaker, but if our country’s bigger elections have shown anything, that doesn’t matter. His hottest take: maybe split the PDGA into professional and amateur associations.

Mike Sullivan #68783

Sullivan is a polished speaker who touts his grassroots “boots on the ground” perspective of running events and clubs. His hottest take: increase member feedback via the PDGA website for rules and policy changes. He is a lawyer by trade and his /r/discgolf AMA is really enlightening. He is thoughtful, and as we will discuss below, the only candidate who has explicitly noted recruitment of minority populations as a priority.

Justin Menickelli #31347

Menickelli is the current PDGA Board president of the board and co-wrote the book (literally) on disc golf. He has been on the board for three years and sees the board as needing “professionals who can bring a level of expertise in their own unique way.” He stated that the board is currently looking at different membership levels which will make maintaining an active membership or initially becoming a member more appealing for players who play fewer tournaments than might justify the annual fee.

Hot Takes on the Issues

We have a well educated and well-informed group of candidates who all very strongly believe that their vision for the PDGA is what will best serve players at all levels. As in every campaign speech or publication, diplomacy and politicking can sometimes obscure what the candidate is actually saying. If you’re a policy nerd like I am, this can be somewhat annoying but here are some of my hot takes and takeaways.

Course Sustainability

Course sustainability, to me, means everything that surrounds installing and maintaining the existence of a course. Estep, Sullivan, and Menickelli explicitly addressed this issue during their interviews on PDGA Radio, in both environmental and, what I would call, political terms.

All three noted that in order for the sport to grow and courses to be installed, designers, clubs, and, importantly, the PDGA, must be active in ensuring that courses are environmentally friendly — that they work with the landscape, not against it. The PDGA should be taking an active role in educating players, clubs, towns, states, and agencies about how to be effective stewards of the land. Doing so will make course installation a more appealing land use project.

All three also noted that all it takes for a course to get shut down and the sport’s reputation to be severely damaged is for a non-disc golfer at a multi-use park to take a beveled edged, high-speed driver to the head and be seriously injured. This must be a consideration for the PDGA in how they guide clubs in developing courses and in how they determine host courses for large tournaments. I’ll say it: I’m looking at you, Memorial Championship.

Membership Growth and Retention

In the interest of full disclosure and speaking directly: I do not have a PDGA membership. Why not? Because I don’t play in enough tournaments to see the membership savings and the “for the good of the sport” argument doesn’t change the math of my budget. What’s more, aside from the magazine, the disc, and “doing my part” I don’t see any direct benefit to me for signing up.

I strongly suspect that I am in the majority of people who play disc golf: the unregistered and (officially, at least) unaccounted for. I also strongly suspect that if the membership fee and benefit structure were revised and made more appealing to the ‘me’s’ of the world, the PDGA would see membership rise and retention rates improve.

Each candidate mentioned this issue and they each posited various proposals for how to address the problem. To me, Voss and Estep have spoken the most frankly about the problem and have provided the most compelling and innovative solutions.

Women! Children! Diversity!

To put it bluntly, that women still make up a scant 7-10% of the disc golfing population does not bode well for the sport. Research shows that having a diverse workforce (and let’s be real, the sport’s player-base can be synonymous with a workforce given all the volunteer hours put in on courses, clubs and the PDGA itself annually, all over the world), membership base, or just active participants generally, leads to better profits, better growth, and all around better results for any organization.

Each candidate says it is a priority, but aside from running more women’s only events, there hasn’t been any real description of how this will be done by any of the candidates. At least not that I have seen or heard in the publicly available information on their respective candidacies.

Again, all the candidates are enthusiastic about getting young people more involved in the game. One line that specifically resonated with me was from Decker. He noted that over 20 years ago, soccer in much of the U.S. was a sideshow and primarily viewed as a youth sport, but look at it now! As in all things, the children are the future, but again I haven’t seen or heard any specific plans for how the PDGA will increase youth involvement in the game — at least given what they have presented in their candidacy to this point.

In terms of increasing the organization’s diversity, Sullivan was the only candidate who made any mention of increasing the participation of minority populations. In case you had noticed the theme, he hasn’t shared any concrete strategies or proposals on this subject, but at least he made it a point of emphasis and his conviction was evident.

Takeaways

When deciding how to vote, I would encourage those of you who are PDGA members and have yet to vote to consider a couple items and questions:

  • The current board members have overseen the most significant period of growth in the sport’s history and the 100,000 member milestone. But crucially, how is the organization preparing to try to retain these growing numbers?
  • The “outsider” candidates have some pretty interesting and innovative ideas for how the PDGA can do a better job supporting clubs and players. Even if they aren’t successful in their candidacy, will the current board incorporate some of their messages nonetheless?
  • What do you see as the role of the PDGA? Should they be placing more emphasis on growing the pro scene, or supporting the growth of the amateur side? Can it do both, and do both well?

Being a member with voting ability in the governing body for a sport or activity you enjoy is an immense privilege. It gives you an opportunity to make a difference and steer the direction of not just the organization but the sport as a whole. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be 100-percent turnout in all PDGA elections — the online ballot is simple and straightforward, and PDGA Media provided a wealth of information on the candidates. Go vote and have a say. I may just go get my own number now that I think of it.

  1. Christopher Wiklund
    Christopher Wiklund

    Chris is a contributor at Ultiworld Disc Golf. He lives and works on Cape Cod in Massachusetts where he plays as much disc golf as he can, and reminds people he lives on Cape Cod. He likes spending time outside when he isn't playing video games and watching TV.

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