Phoenix Metro is a Disc Golf Desert – Why is That?

By Tim Peeler

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Disc golf, often referred to as frisbee golf or frolf (to the dismay of hardcore players) is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. I picked up the sport roughly eight years ago and have been enjoying it ever since. Some of the positive aspects of disc golf are that it is extremely accessible, it’s a great activity to implement into a workout routine, and it’s an awesome way to connect with nature and view wildlife.

All of these benefits, along with warm weather year-round would lead one to believe that Phoenix would be a hotbed for great disc golf courses. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. According to UDisc (the preeminent disc golf app), the greater Phoenix metropolitan area only has 15 courses that are ranked four stars or higher. Contrast this with the metro area I moved  here from, Minneapolis-St. Paul, which has thirty-seven courses ranked four stars or higher. So what gives? What could explain this disparity between the two major cities?

So why is this discrepancy so puzzling? The first reason that the Twin Cities’ edge over Phoenix in the disc golf scene is so confusing is the population difference. The Phoenix metropolitan area has almost 1.5 million more people than the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Common sense would lead one to believe that if there’s that many more people, there’s probably more disc golfers, and more disc golfers petitioning for new or better courses. But as I stated earlier, this logic doesn’t hold up for this example.

Secondly, it is perplexing because of the differences in weather. How can the coldest major city in the U.S., which often has snow on the ground for half of the year, have more quality disc golf courses than a place that has warm weather year-round? Could it be that Minnesotans take extra advantage of the warmer months since they’re stuck inside freezing for a good chunk of the year? Could Arizonians just be taking the weather for granted? Or do the oppressive summer temperatures in Phoenix essentially create the same duration of disc golf season here?

Two figures stick out to me as potential explanations for the gap in first-rate courses. These factors are landscape/course design, and course maintenance. The landscape between Minneapolis and Phoenix is very different. Minneapolis is largely characterized by dense and expansive deciduous forests, as well as innumerable bodies of water. Compare this to Phoenix which is characterized by numerous low-growing shrubs, scattered trees, and very few bodies of water.

Landscape, and especially tree coverage, plays a major part in how a course can be designed. When someone is designing a course through a wooded area, they can remove any trees or plants in order to shape a hole exactly how they want. Course designers in areas with sparse tree cover do not have this luxury. For example if a designer in a wooded area wanted to create a C-shaped hole, all they would need to do is clear the trees in the shape of a C. On the flip-side, it’s essentially impossible for a designer in an area with scattered trees to create a C-shaped hole. This is because without obstacles like trees, there is nothing forcing a player to throw in a C-shaped line instead of in a straight diagonal line. This might seem like a benefit to some people who brand new players or casual observers, but it is generally not the case. Courses that demand more precise, specific shots, provide more variety to a course overall. Among the disc golfers I’ve conversed with, variety is one of the key ingredients to a great course.

The other issue that I’ve encountered with Phoenix courses is course maintenance/upkeep. Unlike the landscape, the conditions of the courses can most definitely be improved. The best courses in the area like Buffalo Ridge Park and Red Mountain are consistently clean and have no maintenance issues. But there are many courses such as Papago Park, Thunderbird-Paseo, Skunk Creek, and Cave Creek Sweetwater that have all the potential in the world to be four star courses but are essentially ruined by their condition. All of these courses suffer from some combination of excessive trash, overgrown grasses, poor teepads, and sometimes homeless people. If Phoenix and the other cities within its metropolitan area just maintained some of these parks a little bit, we would see huge improvements in the quality of courses in The Valley.

I want to have access to more high caliber courses in The Valley, just like I’m sure every other disc golfer here does. It’s the job of a city to maintain the parks within its boundaries, but if they are not going to then it’s up to disc golfers to demand that they do. In addition to that, disc golfers can also organize course clean-ups, create petitions for new courses, and collaborate with top-level course designers when an existing course is renovated, or when a new course is created. Maybe I will take my own advice and take the initiative to make improvements, or maybe I’ll just continue to complain about how crappy the courses are. For the sake of my fellow disc-golfers, let’s hope I take some initiative.