Disc Golf History

 

Disc Golf is Invented (1926).

pdga_canada_updatedDisc golf was first invented in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1926. Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game of throwing tin lids into 4 foot wide circles drawn into sandy patches on their school grounds. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played on a fairly regular basis. However, after they grew older and went their separate ways, the game came to an end. We don’t have the historical connecting dots from Tin Lid Golf 1926 to the beginning of modern disc golf, but it doesn’t mean that they were not there. For all we know, someone from Bladworth Tin lid Golf may have moved to the East Coast of the U.S. for whatever reason and started the pie tin tossing at Yale and other Ivy League universities, we just don’t know. 

Modern Disc Golf History in Canada (1970).

Disc golf play and competitions began in both Canada and the U.S. in the early 1970s.

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First object disc golf course. Queen’s Park, Toronto, 1970.

As of 2017, there are over 7000 disc golf courses. Before 1975 and the invention of the disc golf target called the disc pole hole, there were only a few mapped disc golf ‘object hole’ courses in the U.S. and Canada. In 1970, you could count the number of designed courses, using the Frisbee to play golf and objects as holes, on one hand. Toronto, ON, Rochester, NY, Berkeley, CA. These were the first designed object disc golf courses, all completely unaware of the other’s existence.

In Canada, beginning in 1970, newly arrived Toronto residents, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner (Discraft founder) years before the idea of disc golf courses and the forming of the DGA or the PDGA, played Frisbee golf daily on an 18 object hole course they designed in Queens Park, Toronto. Around 1973, Gail McColl (co-founder of Discraft and Women’s World Champion) and other friends became regular players at the park.

Westerfield and Kenner added disc golf to their other tournament events at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands and their Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (NAS sanctioned event) in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC.

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Toronto Island disc golf course since 1980.

Through the 1970s, Westerfield and Kenner ran disc golf object hole tournaments for the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto’s Olympic Island. This was the beginning of modern disc golf and were the first disc golf tournaments in Canada. Mike Sullivan, his Toronto Wards Island resident friends and others played disc golf on Toronto Island using natural objects. In 1980, a pole hole course was designed and installed on Wards Island. This was the first official disc golf 18 pole hole course in Canada. In the 1980s, Westerfield using Wards Island pole hole course ran many disc golf tournaments. The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, the Disc Golf Challenge (PDGA) (1984 – 1987) and the Toronto Island Open (Ken started this disc golf tournament in 1984 and it ran with several different directors until 2012. In 1987, Ken Westerfield as Tournament Director with sponsor Irwin Toy and Bob Blakely CFA (Canadian Frisbee Association), produced the PDGA World Disc Golf Championships on the Toronto Islands. This was the first and only time this championship has been held outside of the United States. 

Discraft, founded in the late 1970s by Jim Kenner and Gail McColl in London, Ontario, later moved the company from Canada to its present location in Wixom, Michigan. Discraft produces flying disc for all the disc sports including the Ultra-star for ultimate. This disc was adopted as the standard for ultimate during the 1980s. In 1991 the Ultra-star was specified as the official disc for UPA tournament play and remains in wide use. In 2011, the Discraft Ultra-star and Jim Kenner were inducted into the USA Ultimate Hall of Fame for Special Merit.

Ken Westerfield, Jim Kenner, Gail McColl and Michael Sullivan have all been inducted into the Disc Golf Hall of Fame.

The  Disc Golf Hall of Fame induction for Ken Westerfield:

“Ken Westerfield is an icon of disc golf and one of the strongest overall competitors in flying disc sports of all time. His powerful and accurate sidearm throw is widely acknowledged as one of the best the sport has ever seen. He was one of the top players at the emergence of organized disc golf competition. He pioneered the growth of disc golf across Canada. Many Canadian players trace their introduction to disc golf to being mentored by Ken. His contributions are a huge part of the foundation of our sport”.

The Disc Golf Hall of Fame induction for Discraft founder Jim Kenner:

“A modest pioneer in a sometimes flamboyant industry, Jim Kenner has proven himself to be a brilliant innovator in the pursuit of flying disc excellence. Experimenting with both new shapes and materials, Kenner’s development of a unique line of flying discs has been punctuated with the introduction of disc designs so radical and inventive that they mark a turning point in the nature of the game. Though he could easily rest on his laurels as a pivotal developer of disc technology, Jim Kenner continues to contribute to the growth of disc golf as a consistent supporter and sponsor of events and players”.

The Disc Golf Hall of Fame induction for Gail McColl:

“As co-founder and co-owner of Discraft Inc., Gail McColl has been involved from the very birth of the sport and blazed a trail for women in disc sports. With multiple world disc titles to her credit – including the 1978 Women’s World Disc Golf Champion – Gail is recognized as an original pioneer in helping to break the flying disc out of its culturally established role as a toy and into the high-performance sports equipment of today”.

The  Disc Golf Hall of Fame induction for Michael Sullivan:

“Michael Sullivan grew up on Toronto Island where he discovered flying disc sports in 1978. By age sixteen, he was the overall Canadian Open Champion. Driven to win, “Sully” was renowned for using superb driving form and power to master a disc golf course. His record includes several World’s top five finishes, World Doubles titles, and the World Games silver medal. As an athlete and as a successful businessman, he exemplifies professionalism. Michael’s love of the game is reflected in his generous contributions towards disc sports in Ontario. He will always be a great player and friend of disc golf”.

Disc Golf Events, Awards and Timeline in Canada (1926 -).

1926 –  Disc golf was first invented in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada.
1970 –  Queen’s Park, Toronto. Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner design their first object disc golf course.
1972-1985 –  Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto and Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships introduced Frisbee and the beginning of competitive disc sports.
1976-1977 –  The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Vancouver, BC, NAS event in Stanley Park, presents the first disc golf tournaments in Canada. First as an object course, then using disc golf pole holes.
1979 –  Discraft Company begins in London, Ontario. Today’s largest disc manufacturer for all disc sports, including disc golf.
1980 – The first 18 disc golf pole hole course is designed and installed on Wards Island, Toronto, ON. Next course, 9 holes on Pender Island, BC. In 1976, Winskill Park, Tsawwassen, BC, installed a 9 hole disc golf course with disc golf holes that were homemade by locals. In the 1990s they were replaced with official Mach II pole holes.
1984-1985 –  Ken Westerfield produced disc golf tournaments in the 1980s on the Toronto Island course including the Disc Golf Challenge (1984-1987) and Toronto Island Open (1984 and under several more directors ran until 2012).
1987 –  World Disc Golf Championships (PDGA), Toronto Islands. This is the only time this annual championship has been played outside of the U.S.

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Gail McColl, Woman’s World Disc Golf Champion and Discraft co-founder.

Frisbee Golf History in the U.S. (1960s) 

Two early coordinators of the sport are George Sappenfield and Kevin Donnelly, who, through similar backgrounds and the help of Wham-O, were able to individually spread the sport in their California cities. Donnelly began playing a form of Frisbee golf in 1959 called Street Frisbee Golf. In 1961, while a recreation leader and then recreation supervisor for the City of Newport Beach, California, he formulated and then began organizing Frisbee golf tournaments at nine of the city’s playgrounds he supervised. This culminated in 1965 with a fully documented, Wham-O sponsored, citywide Frisbee golf tournament. This highly publicized tournament included hula hoops as holes, with published rules, hole lengths, pars, and prizes; an event in which Walter Frederick Morrison, Frisbee inventor, attended.

Modern Disc Golf History in the U.S. (1970).

Despite having never heard of the International Frisbee Association (IFA) that Ed Headrick and Wham-O had put together, or even seeing a copy of the IFA Newsletter, Jim Palmeri, his brother, and a small group of people from Rochester, NY, had been playing disc golf as a competitive sport on a regular basis since August of 1970, including tournaments and weekly league play. By 1973, they had even promoted two City of Rochester Disc Frisbee Championship events which featured disc golf as the main event. In 1970, the Berkeley Frisbee Group established a standardized 18 hole object course on the Berkeley campus in California. Also in 1970, North of the border in Canada, an object disc golf course in Queens Park, Toronto. 

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Juliana Kovar, Women’s World Disc Golf Champion

1976, the introduction of the standardized disc golf target and the first players association. Ed Headrick of Wham-O introduced the formal disc golf target with chains and a basket called the disc pole hole. Also in 1976, Headrick formed the Disc Golf Association (DGA), then later the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA). Headrick abandoned his trademark on the term “Disc Golf,” and turned over control and administration of the PDGA to the growing body of disc golf players. “Steady Ed” Headrick began thinking about the sport during his time at Wham-O Toys where he designed and patented the modern day Frisbee. Headrick designed and installed the first standardized target course in what was then known as Oak Grove Park in La Cañada Flintridge, California. (Today the park is known as Hahamongna Watershed Park). Ed founded “The International Frisbee Association (IFA)”. Headrick coined and trademarked the term “Disc Golf” when formalizing the sport and patented the Disc Pole Hole, the first disc golf target to incorporate chains and a basket on a pole.

In 1979, Wham-O’s $50,000 Disc Golf Tournament was a significant turning point for disc golf. Held in Huntington Beach, California. The tournament was groundbreaking, first and foremost because of the cash involved, its massive payout right in the title, but also because the competitors had to qualify for an invitation. 72 qualifying events were established around the country, bringing in the best disc golfers from across the United States.

Ted Smethers took over the PDGA in 1982 to be run independently and to officiate the standard rules of play for the sport.

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Ed Headrick

Ed Headrick died in 2002 at the age of 78. As per Ed’s wishes, his ashes were incorporated into a limited number of discs. The discs were given to friends and family and the limited remaining discs are for sale with all proceeds going to fund the “Steady” Ed Memorial Disc Golf Museum at the PDGA International Disc Golf Center in Columbia County, Georgia.

Disc Golf Events and Timeline in the U.S. (1970-).

1970 – The first “Frisbee Club” is formed in Rochester, New York and disc golf is played on a regular basis on one of the first object courses.
1972 – Rochester, New York becomes the first municipality in the world to hold an Annual City Disc Golf Championship.
1974 – Dan Roddick wins a brand new 1974 Datsun B-210 at the disc golf portion of the American Flying Disc Open in Rochester.
1975 – Oak Grove Disc Golf Course located within Hahamonga Watershed Park in Pasadena, California becomes the world’s first permanent disc golf course.
1976 – Ed Headrick patents the modern chain style target he called the “Disc Pole Hole” and organizes the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA).
1977 – The first PDGA tournaments are held in Mobile, AL and Northern New Jersey. The modern era of disc golf competition begins.
1982 – The PDGA becomes a player-run organization to schedule tournaments and formalize the rules of play.

disc-golf-hofThe Disc Golf Hall Of Fame is an independent organization dedicated to the promotion of disc golf, its premier pioneers, and players. It was founded in 1993 by Lavonne Wolfe of Huntsville, AL. Lavonne also created what is now known as the Headrick Memorial Museum, a collection of memorabilia that help describe the history of our sport, now housed at the International Disc Golf Center in Appling, GA.

Disc Golf Hall of Fame.

Inductees:
1993 Vanessa Chambers | Dave Dunipace | Ed Headrick | Tom Monroe | Jim Palmeri | Dan Roddick | Ted Smethers
1994 Harold Duvall | Nobuya Kobayashi | Darrell Lynn | Dan Mangone | Doug Newland | Snapper Pierson | Lavone Wolfe
1995 Ken Climo | John David | David Greenwell | Johnny Roberts | Dr. Rick Voakes
1996 Mike Conger | Patti Kunkle | Rick Rothstein
1997 Steve Slasor | Elaine King | Jim Kenner
1998 Gregg Hosfeld | John Houck | Carlton Howard
1999 Sam Ferrans | Steve Wisecup | Tim Selinske
2000 Tom Schot | Royce Racinowski
2001 Stan McDaniel | Johnny Sias
2002 Alan Beaver | Gary Lewis
2003 Mark Horn | Brian Hoeniger | Dr. Stancil Johnson,
2004 Derek Robins | Geoff Lissaman | Johnny Lissaman | Marty Hapner
2005 Mats Bengtsson | Sylvia Voakes
2006 Chuck Kennedy | Kozo Shimbo
2007 Fred Salaz | Michael Travers
2008 Dan Ginnelly | Juliana Korver
2009 Crazy John Brooks | Lynne Warren | Michael Sullivan
2010 Charlie Callahan | Tomas Ekstrom | Brian Cummings
2011 Don Hoffman | Joe Feidt | Brent Hambrick
2012 Tim Willis | Jeff Homburg | Bob Gentil (New Zealand)
2013 Barry Schultz | Becky Zallek | Jim Challas | Ken Westerfield
2014 Don Wilchek | Jim Oates | Italian Victor Parra
2015 Gail McColl | Anni Kreml | J Gary Dropcho
2016 Joseph Mela | Ace Mason | Tita Ugalde
2017 John Bird | Des Reading | Brian Graham

Next Articles:

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Tom Monroe, disc golf legend.

Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
History of Disc Sports in Canada
History of Ultimate Frisbee
Ultimate Frisbee History in Canada
Home Page: The History of Frisbee and Disc Sports

Note: This information was referenced and time-lined from disc sport historical and biographical articles including U.S. and Canadian Disc Sports Hall of Fame inductions, Disc Sports Player Federations and other historical resources. This article was researched, written and compiled by Frisbee and disc sports historians. The history in this document may change as events and people are added. Linking or reproduction in whole or part with proper accrediting is permitted. For more information contact: discsports@hotmail.com

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