McBeth Interview: European Disc Golf
Jonathan Poole and I had talked about the development of disc golf in the Scandinavian and European countries. Paul is highly regarded across the globe in our sport, and not just in the United States. Top disc golf athletes hold a vaulted spot in those countries. McBeth has played there in major tournaments for many years and is highly familiar with that market. He is well-positioned to compare disc golf over there with the state of the sport here.
“Disc golf is developing much more quickly in European and Scandinavian countries than in the states. In those countries, it was first introduced on a professional level, with the best players in tournaments. They saw disc golf at its best, and the sport became popular quickly. They have only seen top disc golf, and that is what they know.
“When a young player in Finland wants to start, his parents look at it like playing any other major sport, such as we see youth baseball or basketball. They buy the discs, bag, and equipment and start, as we do in other sports here. It’s an entirely different perspective.
“Our disc golf was how it all started, but it started casually, as hippie disc golf with a laid-back culture and image, not at the top pro level, as it started overseas. Parents here do not see it the same as parents over there, and most here still see it as a casual pastime. We are trying to change that image, and we are making some progress. It is a big difference, though.
“In Finland, when you go into a sports equipment store, often the first display through the front doors and usually one of the largest displays, will be for disc golf. They will have more discs in an average store than a well-stocked pro shop over here. In our typical sports stores, you have to hunt for the small stock of discs.
“There, when you see a teenager at a course playing disc golf, you’ll see a whole foursome or group playing. Here, you’ll only see one or maybe two. As we change the image, we need to attract participation by having disc golf recognized as a sport and a casual game.”
There is a certain irony to all of that. Disc golf started here. It was about fun and playing casually. Over the decades it gradually became more serious among the serious players, but the image remained as something casual. When we exported disc golf, we packaged and sent the more serious, professional version, rather than the casual side. That is the version now competing with us.
In our conversation, Jonathan had mentioned that there was a perception the European players were outworking the American players, especially at the junior level. They are not only learning, they are actively pushing the sport forward in their countries. I asked Paul how he saw that. Was the perception correct?
“I definitely agree. Most of the serious, young, European and Scandinavian players are in their mid-teens or slightly younger. They are dedicated to the game and are playing good disc golf. They are getting better quickly, and more are starting in the sport. I see them play when I’m there.
“When they move up a few years, there will be a large group of strong players hitting the tournaments. We have excellent young players here, and some of them look like they should become top players. But the numbers of dedicated young players are much higher there than over here.
“Finland is currently ahead in the development of disc golf. They are growing quickly. Estonia and the Czech Republic are also developing quickly and will be there with Finland in about two years, maybe three at the most.”