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Disc Golf’s Popularity Exploding, For Better & For Worse

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(credit: CBS) David McCoy
David McCoy joined the WCCO-TV sports team in March 2013 as a report...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Every sport, at some point in time, goes through it — an evolution.

Whether it was baseball players wearing gloves, facemasks in football, wooden tennis rackets or dimpled golf balls, the only thing that stays the same about sports is that they’re always changing.

That’s what’s going right now in disc golf.

When Charlie Hutchinson started his business in 1994, he didn’t have a big store in Golden Valley – or any store at all.

“We were selling out of the trunks of our cars, at the local park,” Hutchinson said.

Now he’s running a multi-million dollar company in a huge warehouse, which he’s already expanded twice.

“I mean, the first years, it was 100 percent growth, 200 percent growth,” he said. “And we weren’t even trying. We’re still not even trying. And it keeps blowing up.”

Not even the recession slowed its growth. In fact, they were some of Hutchinson’s best years. Sales went up 40 percent.

“I’ve never seen a dip in 20 years of doing this,” he said.

It’s very affordable, and easy to learn. It’s also bringing in new types of people.

“It’s fun to see new people coming in who aren’t part of that crowd,” Sam McMullen said. “It’s kind of changing the sport a little bit.”

Indeed, the sport is changing — dramatically.

“People, I think, associate Frisbee with hippies, and hanging out at the park, and all of that,” Hutchinson said. “And when you go out and see who’s playing disc golf now, it’s really all walks of life … You’re starting to see more and more people take this serious as a sport and prepare for it and train for it — treating it like it’s any other pro sport.”

In fact, it now is a pro sport. There’s now a Professional Disc Golf Association, with a whole book of rules and regulations.

“It further legitimizes the sport,” McMullen said. “And it brings it more into the light of the real world. More mainstream.”

Used to be you could go to any disc golf course, whip through in an hour and a half, and play for free. Now the free ones frequently have long lines, and more and more of them are becoming pay-to-play.

“And I’ve been standing there playing this course for 30 years, and now I have to pay to play there?” Hutchinson said.

Some players point out that paying to play makes the courses better, changing the game in a good way.
Hutchinson expects that change to continue.

“I’ve been sort of ostracized at times for being the capitalist pig that took this to the next level,” Hutchinson said. “But I’m not even trying to make it happen, it’s just happening.”

McMullen sells out of his trunk, just like Hutchinson did when he got started. He’s even a business major just like Hutchinson was. You could say he’s the next generation. McMullen actually had to quit the selling-from-his trunk style as it needs a government-issued permit to do so.

The PDGA said its membership has nearly doubled in just the last six years alone, and the number of disc golf courses in the United States has more than tripled since the year 2000.

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