Disc Golf History

“I saw something flying towards me, I couldn’t see what it was, then it hits me.” – Frisbee joke.

Disc Golf is First Played in 1926.

According to The Complete Book of Frisbee, disc golf’s earliest recorded history was 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 ended. 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. 

Frisbee Golf History in the U.S. 

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 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 for children 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 and First Courses 1970.

“Winning always comes with some luck. The more you practice, the luckier you get.”

No one invented disc golf, like ultimate Frisbee, disc golf evolved from ball-minded athletes slightly altering rules and the play of similar ball sports that replaced the ball with a flying disc.

john_and_jim_palmeri (2)
John and Jim Palmeri, disc golf pioneers. Rochester, NY, 1970s.

This historic account is about early disc golf pioneers and their recorded first events that began organized competitions and modern disc golf. None of these disc sports pioneers knew each other or were aware of each other’s disc golf courses until a few years later. 

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 John, and a small group of people from Rochester, NY, had been playing disc golf as a competitive sport regularly since August 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.

Jim Kenner (Discraft founder) and Ken Westerfield, even before the idea of disc golf played some random object hole Frisbee golf in Michigan parks. After moving to Canada in 1970, they developed and played on an object disc golf course they designed in Queen’s Park, Toronto. During this period, Ken and Jim would add disc golf events to the other events at their Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto and Vancouver, BC.

In 1970, the Berkeley Frisbee Group, after attending and participating in the first disc golf event at the All-Comers Meet in Brookside Park, Pasadena, established their own object disc golf course on the UC Berkeley Campus in California.  

Juliana Korver, Hall of Fame, World Disc Golf Champion.

In 1976, the standardized disc golf target was introduced with the first players association. Ed Headrick of Wham-O wasn’t the first disc golfer and disc golf competitions were already being promoted and played by others, but he became one of the most significant figures in modern disc golf history. Ed 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 Canada, national disc golf competitions began with object courses in the mid-1970s at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto and Vancouver. In 1980, the first 18 Disc Pole Hole course in Canada is installed on Toronto Islands. (See: History of Disc Golf in Canada).

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 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.

Ed Headrick, Hall of Fame, Disc Golf and Frisbee Pioneer.

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.

1970–The first “Frisbee Club” is formed in Rochester, New York. Object disc golf is played regularly on the first object courses, in Rochester, NY, Berkeley UC campus in California, and Queen’s Park, Toronto.
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. (For a more complete timeline of disc golf in the U.S.)

Disc Golf Hall of Fame, Appling, GA.

The 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.

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
2018 George Sappenfield | Andi Lehmann Young | Jay “Yeti” Reading
2019 Eric Marx | Mitch McClellan

Next Articles:

Tom Monroe, Hall of Fame and disc golf legend.

History of Disc Golf in Canada
Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
History of Frisbee and 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 linked crediting is permitted (discsportshistory.com). For more information, contact: discsports@hotmail.com

Top featured photo: Golden Gate Disc Golf Park, San Francisco, California.

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