It’s been about 6 days since word of the Bradley Willams suspension was posted all over social media and the like. An 18 month suspension was handed down by the PDGA from an incident at the Ledgestone Insurance Open between Matt Dollar and Williams. We’re not going to get into the Bradley Williams situation in detail. If you’ve been keeping up, you’re aware of the Paul McBeth protest, the PDGA’s response and the unsanctioning of the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship by Steve Dodge.
Average Disc Golf doesn’t try to be a news outlet. To be honest, this site wasn’t designed from the beginning to report the “drama” in disc golf. I wanted to have a site that visitors would come to for videos, reviews, unique articles, etc. Jamie Thomas called Average Disc Golf the “Bleacher Report” of disc golf websites. That sounds good to me. Do I try to report major happenings? Of course. But this site does not primarily focus on disc golf news and often times don’t report or catch everything that probably should be reported. I want to share my experiences and thoughts about the sport and I want to help get the word out about this awesome sport. That’s it.
With that in mind, I see the Bradley Willams debacle as evidence that the sport is growing, and growing rapidly. The PDGA may have finally outgrown its ability to handle the explosion of the sport by itself. The PDGA is the governing body of the sport. They handle the rules, the majors, the National Tour, memberships and so on. They have done this pretty well in my opinion. After almost a week of reading articles, opinions, social media posts, and watching interviews, I’ve reached the conclusion that things need to change. The PDGA simply cannot keep up with the growth of the sport. In my opinion it’s is falling behind in many ways. I want to break this down in segments.
Player Representation and Punishment
As far as I can tell, there is no resource for players to be represented. There is no players union/organization. The players follow the PDGA rules, guidelines, etc. When you step out of line, you get a punishment. That’s pretty straight forward. What isn’t very clear is how punishments are determined handed out. There isn’t a system in place to determine which offenses are worse than others and what action is taken for each offense. Let me try to explain. Bear with me.
If you get caught being drunk in public and are convicted, then you have a “misdemeanor” on your record. If you steal a vehicle and are convicted, you would then have a “felony” on your record. Where in the PDGA guidelines does it classify offenses as a “misdemeanor” or a “felony”. How can players be aware (ahead of time) of the consequences of their actions. Sure, every player should know that if you do something wrong, you will be punished, but what level of punishment is equated with which action? How are offenses classified and how are punishments tiered for those offenses? I read the release from the PDGA on determining punishment, but I feel as though they are basically the Roger Goodell of disc golf. Sure, Roger will speak with advisers and get opinions, but what he decides is final and the players have to deal with it. That’s it. A player can be levied a punishment and have no recourse. If an NFL player is handed out a punishment, they can appeal… to Roger Goodell. If a player in the PDGA is punished and wants to appeal, they appeal to the same people, right? How does this make sense. There needs to be a 3rd party to mediate on behalf of the players.
The DGPT and DGWT
2016 saw the launch of additional disc golf “tours”. The National Tour has been around for several years, but this year saw the launch of the the Disc Golf World Tour, the Disc Golf Pro Tour and the American Disc Gol… wait… never mind. Anyhow, the launch of two tours is not only an obvious sign of growth but a signal that the PDGA isn’t alone anymore. The PDGA will need to work with and collaborate with the DGPT and DGWT if the explosion of disc golf is going to continue. In the normal viewers eyes, this has happened in 2016, but to those behind the scenes it may not have been as friendly as we thought. Steve Dodge of the DGPT alluded to this in his recent post over at dgpt.com stating “The PDGA’s actions have consistently demonstrated that there is no desire to work with the DGPT, which is viewed simply as a series of PDGA events.” In my opinion, if this is year one and the PDGA is already not being very cooperative, then we have some serious issues headed our way. Whether the PDGA likes it or not, the Pro Tour and World Tour are the future of disc golf. They are working to provide professional disc golf in a way similar to that of the PGA Tour. Here is an interesting quote from our recent interview with Jamie Thomas, “I don’t expect all 3 of these tours to still be in operation by 2020, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.”. Will the PDGA back out of handling NT’s and focus on promoting the spirit of the game and growing it that way? Who knows, but I’d be confident that the DGPT and the DGWT will be sticking around for quite some time.
So Who Handles What?
This is a bit tricky. Currently, most events are PDGA sanctioned. But as long as there is insurance covering the event, do they really need to be? Everyone has an opinion on the PDGA Rating System, does it really matter? Can the PDGA focus on gaining members, approving discs/baskets, establishing/enforcing rules and promoting the spirit of the sport while letting the tours handle the major events and players that are playing? Is there a future where being a PDGA member is optional and players still have the ability to play in the major events throughout the season? I don’t think so. In my opinion, players should continue to be members of the PDGA. The PDGA should coordinate and run a few events per year. I can see the PDGA handling the Pro and AM Worlds, all of the USDGC (men, women, AM) and the US Masters. After that, things get more difficult. I help run a few events per year. Thinking about it, I don’t see the necessity in having them PDGA sanctioned. Beyond the insurance and ratings, the tournament will play the same. The turnout would probably be the same and the payout would be the same. There are a slew of other options to handle player registration, tournament results, etc. Sponsored players may have a bit of a situation trying to meet their requirements, but if the DGPT and DGWT get more involved (which they will), sponsor requirements are destined to change as well. Going forward this will be interesting to see play out.
I obviously don’t have a solution, but I am excited to see the growth that the sport continues to show. The PDGA has some thinking to do and in that same light, so does the DGPT and the DGWT. How can they come together to put the players first, and their prospective ideals second while continuing to grow their own brands and the sport?