There are two distinct areas involved in disc golf history. there is the first time the sport was played, and when did the organized sport of disc golf get started?
Who First Played Disc Golf? Sorry, but this turns out to be near impossible to answer. There are many historical accounts of people playing golf with a flying disc, some of which pre-date the advent of the plastic flying discs by many years. Each account was an isolated instance of recreational disc golf play, and none of the participants knew of anyone else playing organized disc golf. Most of these games were played in small towns and private land, but through time they began to learn about each other.
The first known instance of anyone playing golf with a flying disc occurred in Vancouver BC in 1926. A group of school age kids played a game with tin pie lids, which they dubbed Tin Lid Golf. They played on a regular basis on a disc golf course they laid out on their school grounds.
As they got older and into the more standard school sports, the Tin Lid Golf play faded out of the picture, only to be remembered many years later by one of the participants when they heard of the organized disc golf play of today.
Other similar accounts, both before and after the evolution of plastic flying discs, occurred in the 1930’s, 40’s 50’s, and 60’s, each ending in a similar way. One 1960 instance of disc golf was even a commercial attempt to market a packaged game of Sky Golf by the Copar Plastics company in Chicago. However, the Frisbee culture was just in its infancy at that time and the Copar game just didn’t catch on.
The most interesting discovery of disc golf that fizzed out came right at the point when the modern day Frisbee culture started to mushroom into its current state of being. It is somewhat of a mystery why it didn’t catch on at that time, especially when you learn of the people involved in that account.
In 1965 George Sappenfeld was a recreation counselor during summer break from college. While playing golf one afternoon, he realized that the kids on his playground could play the golf game with Frisbee discs. He remembered his idea when in 1968 he finished college and became the Parks and Recreation supervisor for the Thousand Oaks, CA Parks and Recreation Department.
George contacted the Wham-O MFG Company about his idea and asked if they could help out with his plan to hold a Frisbee golf contest for his recreation program. They sent Frisbees and Hula Hoops to use as targets. The next year, he talked Ed Headrick of Wham-O into including a Frisbee golf event in the big All Comers Frisbee meet that Ed Headrick and Wham-O was planning to hold at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl fields. But that was the last that Frisbee golf was heard of from Wham-O for seven years. Even Goldy Norton’s Official Frisbee Handbook of 1972, in which is listed all the activities and events that could be played with a Frisbee, there is not one iota of information or acknowledgment about disc or Frisbee golf throughout the entire book! It was if the concept didn’t even exist!
Apparently disc golf didn’t fit into the promotional plans that Wham-O had for its Frisbee brand flying discs at that time.
But the game of disc golf did indeed exist. A small group of people from Rochester, NY who had never heard of the IFA or Goldy Norton’s Handbook of Frisbee had been playing disc golf as a competitive sport on a regular basis; tournaments, league play and all. They had started in August of 1970, and by 1972 had promoted the Second Annual City of Rochester Disc Golf Championship.
In 1973, this group of avid disc golfers found out about the IFA newsletter, and was amazed to hear of the Frisbee culture that existed beyond their little sphere of disc golf activity. They decided to make their annual City of Rochester Disc Golf Championship a big national tournament to see just how many other people were playing disc golf or would be interested in trying the game. They called the event the American Flying Disc Open put up a brand new 1974 Automobile to be awarded to the winner so as to attract the attention of the Frisbee community.
The same Ed Headrick took another look at disc golf as he assessed the burgeoning interest in the game as it was played at the 1974 American Flying Disc Open. After observing the explosive growth in disc golf for about 9 months after the event, Ed Headrick hired the winner of that 1974 AFDO, Dan Roddick, to head up Wham-O’s new Sports Promotion Department. Upon Dan Roddick’s urging, and feedback from the fledgling but rapidly growing disc golf community, Ed Headrick decided to include Disc Golf as an event in his upcoming 1975 World Frisbee Championships.
Ed became so convinced that disc golf could be big, resigned from his position at the Wham-O MFG Company and start up his Disc Golf Association Company in 1976.
One of Dan Roddick’s first moves as director of the IFA Sports Promotion Department of Wham-O was to incorporate disc golf as an event in the national tour of qualifying tournaments for the big World Frisbee Championship event that Wham-O was continuing to sponsor on a yearly basis. This move introduced the concept of disc golf to thousands of Frisbee players all in one fell swoop. It also opened up many big markets for Ed Headrick’s Disc Golf Association to sell disc golf courses all over the country.
The popularity of disc golf grew with unparalleled rapidity. Each new course spawned more courses in nearby towns and cities.
Many players shared the dream of national tournaments and organized play. They got together and formed the PDGA to help oversee and guide the rapid growth of the sport. The game grew too fast to call it evolution; it was a revolution! The PDGA is now a worldwide force and is growing faster than ever. The sport of disc golf is becoming every bit as professional as its older brother the PGA and its traditional ball and club golf.
— Jim Palmeri, PDGA #23
Disc Golf History
The history of “Disc Golf” as it is known today began with “Steady” Ed Headrick, the father of disc golf and modern day disc sports and the driving force responsible for the modern era of Frisbee sports.
Ed founded the International Frisbee Association, established the Junior Frisbee Championship, established and organized the World Frisbee Championship and went on to create and standardize the sport of Disc Golf.
Disc Golf Association, (DGA) of disc golf was established in 1976 by Ed Headrick in order to form a new international sport and to promote the installation and use of disc golf courses around the world.
The name Disc Golf Association (DGA) was established when Headrick coined the term “Disc Golf” after inventing and patenting the original Disc Pole Hole to be installed in the first formal disc golf course. Headrick had originally wanted to call the device a Frisbee Pole Hole but ran into issues over the Frisbee trademarked belonging to Wham-O.
Follow the link to view the 1978 Disc Golf Catalog
Prior to DGA, a precurser to the game of disc golf was played by a few devoted Frisbee players throwing Frisbees at carefully chosen “golf holes”… usually drinking fountains, fire hydrants, garbage cans and light poles and the rules were made up on the spot. It was during this time that competitive freestyle had reached a critical mass with frisbee tournaments comprised of distinct freestyle skill events. Frisbee golf made it’s debut at a couple of these events in 1974 and 1975 as side activities to the main events comprising of competitive freestyle, focused on trick throws and acrobatic catches. The huge potential of disc golf as a formal sport and recognized recreational activity did not become apparent until after Headrick installed the first permanent Disc Pole Hole course and disc golf moved from a fringe of the Frisbee Freestyle movement and into the mainstream and the disc golf revolution.
Ed and Ken Headrick with their Friz Pole Hole installed in Oak Grove Park March 19, 1976
In 1974, Headrick approached the county of Los Angeles Park and Recreation Department with the idea of a permanent Disc Golf Course. Sy Greben, Director of the Park Planning Division saw the potential and Oak Grove Park was selected and approval was given to install the world’s first Disc Golf Course. Headrick and Mary Becker from the Park Planning Division designed and constructed the course with the county. In 1976 Ed replaced his Pole Holes which were just poles cemented into the ground with the first DGA Disc Pole Hole that where the first disc golf targets to use chains to stop a disc.
Today disc golf has become incredibly popular and is one of the fastest growing games. There are over 3000 formal courses in the United States and many courses around the world.
From a Niche Game to One of Today’s Fastest Growing Sports
Modern day disc golf started in the late 60′s. The early frisbee golf courses were “object courses”, using anything from trees, trash cans, light poles, chicken wire baskets, pipes to fire hydrants as targets.
The roots of the sport began when “Steady” Ed Headrick designed the modern day Frisbee (US Patent 3,359,678, issued 1966) while working for Wham-O Toys back in the 60′s. Captivated by the flight and feeling of control he could master with the Frisbee, Ed saw potential for the disc well beyond what anyone had envisioned or imagined.
The game was formalized when Headrick invented the first Disc Pole Hole™ catching device, consisting of 10 chains hanging in a parabolic shape over an upward opening basket, (US Patent 4,039,189, issued 1975). The Disc Pole Hole™ became the equivalent to ball golf’s “hole” and was installed in the first standardized target course (what was then known as Oak Grove Park Pasadena, California). Ed had said one of his many inspirations for the “Disc Pole Hole™” invention was so he and his buddies could get on with playing instead of arguing over whether or not someone actually had hit one of the objects in their make shift object courses.
An excerpt from “revelation, “Frisbee Golf”by Ed Headrick
“Then an amazing revelation, all my buddies, all my staff at Wham-O, and most of my cult members and I were playing the game I was looking for. Frisbee Golf was right under my nose! Great marketing man right? A game where people would throw an expensive Frisbee into the ground every throw on purpose? Wow! What a market potential!It seems so easy, but what could possibly be better than walking through a beautiful park and throwing at trees, drinking fountains, open car windows and an occasional coed?
Ed with a Mach 3 Disc Pole Hole Prototype
Back to the drawing boards and 56 models later a contraption was born. Shazam! Chain! Like Moses and his cracked rules, chains without black leather and a whip. Chain, indestructible, flexible, a pleasant sound. I wish I had invented it, but chain was my answer. Hence the Mach I, II, III and twenty years of blood, sweat and tears.”
An Abbreviated Disc Golf History written by Ed Headrick
1 million B.C. E. to Present Day – by “Steady” Ed Headrick
Disc golf in one form or another has been with us since the beginning of time. The early cavemen in their search for weapons to extend their ability to slay food probably found rocks before clubs. If they could kill something from a safe distance it would be much safer than a club or a sharp stick.
Test of skill were a necessary pastime, closest to the target sounds familiar! Flat rocks had a different flight and flew further than round objects, skipping flat stones on the water, throwing shields, Eureka! Then came the discus that Discoblus threw which certainly resembled a Frisbee.
In the early steel age sharpened rings were thrown with devastating effect. They flew with accuracy, caused serious injury and looked like the modern Aerobie. Then came the ancient word “scaling” (to throw a thin flat object so that its edge cuts through the air). Pie pans, film can lids and toy flying saucers were the recent predecessors of the modern Frisbee which was invented in 1964 by Ed Headrick, US Patent 3,359,678. He also formed the International Frisbee Association which had over 112,000 members by 1972.
Early Frisbee Targets
Since that time disc golf evolved from man’s natural competitive nature. Early games used targets of trees, trash cans, light poles, chicken wire baskets, pipes, and coeds. The game was formalized when Headrick invented the first Disc Pole Hole catching device, consisting of 10 chains hanging in a parabolic shape over an upward opening basket, US Patent 4,039,189, issued 1975.
The First Disc Golf Course
The first formal disc golf course was designed and installed that same year in Oak Grove Park, (Pasadena, California), by Headrick and was an instant success. He also founded the Professional Disc Golf Association in 1975, which he turned over to the players in 1983.By the time of his death, Ed has designed over 200 courses.
The First Disc Golf Basket
Evolution of the Disc Pole Hole™ catching device.
The Disc Pole Hole has evolved continuously since the first Mach I. For the past two decades our products have been established and accepted worldwide as the industry standard for the sport of Disc Golf. All of our hardware is hot-dipped galvanized from head to toe and guaranteed for 20 years against rust and corrosion. To protect your discs, all of our chains are hot-dipped galvanized and hand polished. Accept no copies or imitations. Let he who is without stone, cast the first disc.
All information above is provided by the PDGA and DGA companies.