A chance to appreciate the foundation of pro disc golf.
March 25, 2021 by Charlie Eisenhood in Analysis with 0 comments
In 2003, the Professional Disc Golf Association launched the inaugural National Tour as the organization looked to develop a more professionalized product for the top players in the sport.
“The National Tour’s mission is to deliver on our membership’s top requests of increasing sponsorship and publicity surrounding the sport of Disc Golf,” read the now defunct PDGATour.com in 2003. “The National Tour is the exclusive disc golf tour in the world providing 12 events holding competitions in a two and three-day format from February through August. As the sport of disc golf continues to grow, the National Tour will continue to increase in popularity and exposure and become the top forum for showcasing the best disc golf professionals in the world.”
The National Tour gave structure to the season and set the foundation for the wider Elite Series we see today. There were sponsor activations with Clif Bar and a weekly television program called DiscTV about the tour. And the PDGA worked with a sports marketing company, SportsLoop, to try to start developing bigger sponsorships.
But disc golf wasn’t anywhere close to the size it is today. Ultimately, the PDGA was ahead of its time with the push towards television and advertising. Decade-old threads on PDGA forums feature complaints about the PDGA’s “waste of money” paying for Sportsloop’s services.
Now, almost 20 years later, the National Tour is set to begin its 18th season with the sport in a far different position. The Disc Golf Pro Tour, whose aims closely mirror the ones set out by the National Tour in ’03, thrived in 2020 amidst a leadership change and a huge burst in interest in the sport during the pandemic. Outside money has begun to flow into the sport, as brands like Bushnell and Grip6 are finding value marketing to the disc golf demographic.
And in a way that nobody could have anticipated, the PDGA fulfilled Steve Dodge’s wish for the National Tour to step aside and let the DGPT find its footing. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the full cancellation of the 2020 National Tour, leaving all eyes on the DGPT for almost the entire year. And now the two organizations are working more closely together than ever before, as the DGPT’s livestreaming arm — the Disc Golf Network — is set to broadcast Texas States, many of the other NT events, and the biggest PDGA Majors.
And so it’s entirely understandable why the future of the National Tour is now in question. The PDGA has big (but good!) challenges to face — a huge influx of new members, spiking tournament demand, a push to reach new demographics, and the operation of its wide slate of amateur and professional majors. And while the organization’s support for the professional side of the game will always be a component of its mission, the pro game has never been healthier: the sport’s top athletes are now earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in endorsement deals and more players than ever are touring full-time. The DGPT is also raising the standards of what a professional event looks like and managing a large team of event and media personnel whose singular focus is developing the professional game.
This time next year, perhaps there will be no National Tour, at least as we have known it for the last two decades. The Elite Series is already morphing into a more-or-less homogenous sequence, where the classification of NT or DGPT hardly seems to matter, except in the points earning structures of the two Tours and the end-of-year bonuses. But that is a good thing. It is becoming easier to follow the pro game. There are certain YouTube channels on which to follow the coverage, regardless of the Tour you’re watching. It is a logical next step to fully merge the tours, with the PDGA handing off time-consuming and often expensive management of the NTs to the DGPT.
So if this is the last hurrah of the Tour that laid the groundwork for the DGPT over the last 18 years, enjoy it. Enjoy the treacherous woods of Dogwood. Enjoy returning to Delaveaga, where the National Tour kicked off for the very first time in 2003. Enjoy the majesty of Milo McIver.
These courses and tournaments aren’t going anywhere, of course, but their roles may change as time marches on. And so as the 2021 National Tour gets underway this weekend, it is a chance to step back and appreciate the success that the sport is having as it enters a pivotal decade, success that has been facilitated by the professionalization that the National Tour began to establish nearly 20 years ago.