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July 22, 2021 4 Comments

I’m from Maine and that’s where I’ve learned to play disc golf. So my geographic upbringing in disc golf has led me to have certain opinions and it’s influenced my game.

  • I don’t like wide open courses. To me if there aren’t trees to avoid on almost every hole, it’s not as difficult to play disc golf. I get bummed out watching tournaments on YouTube that are on ball golf courses. It’s probably why I don’t believe people need to throw more than 350 feet to be good.
  • I don’t mind playing in the snow. I remember the first 5 or 6 winters where I would put my basket and discs away until March/April. Now as long as it’s not a blizzard I’m getting out there. Oh yeah, and I’ll be in shorts.
  • And probably the most important is that I love pay-to-play disc golf.

I’m a sports management student at USM and for the most part I don’t like pay-to-play sports. I’d argue that they’re detrimental to the growth of the sport, target rich people, and ruin the fun nature of sports.

But disc golf is different.

In Maine you’re going to find that the price to play a disc golf course ranges between $5 and $9 dollars for a round.

At SDG we charge $8/round on weekends and $12/ weekend day pass. With the military discounted to $5/day pass every day of the week. It’s affordable fun when you compare it to nearly any other activity.

Especially when SDG offers the Stamp Me app for your phone. Which allows folks who play regularly to pay 5 times and get the 6th round free. That’s a 20% discount on rounds!

But Andrew, have you played outside of Maine? It’s free.

Yeah, I have. I always get confused when I don’t find an honor box on a course. I’m sure that’s common for some Mainers when we travel to play some disc.

Pay to play courses cost money, so they have more amenities. They have to, otherwise people would just go to the free course down the road.

The courses at Sabattus Disc Golf are maintained by full time staff. The outdoors team mow 3.5 courses, empty trash/bottles, pick up debris, lay down fresh wood chips, weed whack, work on creating a patio, rake leaves, take down dangerous branches, and take care of everything else outdoors. You’ll find them outside working mostly Monday-Friday because the weekends are full of disc golfers out on the courses.

The outdoors team is awesome. I can’t stress enough how hard they work keeping this place immaculate, and they deserve to be paid for it. Sabattus Disc Golf wouldn’t be the same if the outdoors team stopped and we relied on volunteers.

But Andrew the town could employ a few people to do this work.

A public course absolutely could do this. The town could pay for the workers, or a club could. But they’d also have to invest in the equipment, and pay for the gas, and pay for insurance. It adds up quickly, and taxpayers who don’t play disc golf might not be as interested in you having a clean course as you think. The town meetings on Parks & Recreation aren’t far off in how much people hate taxes.

Greens fees, the food, and the discs we sell cover all of that. It pays for us to have someone in the shop 7 days a week as well, and a couple other staff as well. There’s always someone knowledgeable in disc golf to help you out behind the counter.

I’ve played for over a decade now, and I’ve thrown dozens of molds. I try to make a point to have thrown a disc a few times before I recommend it to people. Chris (the cool guy who opens the shop in the mornings) has been playing for longer and has thrown even more molds. We play regularly so we know what folks are looking for out of a disc. That experience is often helpful for newer players, or folks who are looking to switch between brands.

All of this works out as a benefit for everyone. I know I reference it frequently but the UDisc Top 100 courses in the world has 3 of our courses on that list. It’s because disc golfers appreciate the way it works and what we do.

In fact, we’re not the only pay-to-play on that list. Maple Hill, Smugglers Notch, Blue Ribbon Pines, a majority of the Top 10 are pay-to-play. I don’t think it’s an accident.

Another thing I like is that it’s only disc golfers who are out on our courses. I don’t have to worry about joggers with headphones, dogs (who poop), or families having a picnic on hole 2. I see on r/discgolf at least once a week that someone has decided to do something disc golfers consider dumb, like using a teepad as a parking space or a basket as a BBQ grill. Both of those are real examples by the way.

There are backups of course, but when I played a public course it took me 4+ hours to play a round. I had to wait for lots of other park goers to get out of the way before throwing. Always wait until it’s safe to throw. A 4 hour round has never happened on a private course to me (no matter how badly I’m shooting).

So how has Maine become the pay to play state and when there are so many other free places?

I think one major reason is the woods. Maine is the most forested state in America and disc golf courses don’t just pop up with fairways premade. They take long hours of cutting trees, stump grinding, rock removal, and lots of other labor to get started.

You know how you’re driving along the road and you see a nice field with trees all around it? You see a little raised spot near a tree and you think to yourself “man that would be a great spot for a disc golf basket?”

If you drive through Maine you will see some fields that are on old farms. But you don’t see open land unless it’s covered by a river or pond.  One of the things that shocked me as I drove through the Midwest a couple years ago was that I could see the sky all around me. In Maine I’m constantly surrounded by trees.

Another thing that has led Maine creating private courses is the lack of public land. 94.3% of the state is privately owned, that means that on the 5.7% that’s public it’s used for things other than disc golf. So it’s heavily forested and there’s not much of it for people to use. But people still wanted to play the sport, so it grew as businesses rather than as public parks.

If you’re “from away” and you’re skeptical about pay-to-play, I suggest you either come here or go to any of the other courses I’ve listed as pay to play. The difference really is there, because businesses put time and energy into making the courses special.

We get folks from all over the country every week who come to play and they don’t leave disappointed by our courses. I love hearing about the places they come from, how different disc golf is in Texas and Colorado, and even in Florida.

That’s how pay-to-play became the norm in Maine. With lots of trees and not a lot of public land. If you’re thinking of visiting and trying out some pay-to-play courses I can’t wait to see you.

May your discs miss all the trees,

Andrew Streeter #70397




4 Responses

Andrew Streeter
Andrew Streeter

August 10, 2021

Hey folks thanks for reading and commenting!
Jon, from what I’ve played in other states it’s fairly common to have public courses on public property that are free. Thanks for the comment
Alex, I don’t actually know the answer to that question. I do know that it is a labor of love, but we really do love disc golf. It’s awesome to hear comments from folks who come in and appreciate all the changes we do. 20 dollars would be a 66% increase in price. I don’t think that’s going to be happening here anytime soon.
Lincoln, glad to hear it. Try to get over to VT and MA if you can. They’ve got some real gems as well.

Andrew Streeter

Jon Mennealy
Jon Mennealy

August 05, 2021

Very interesting write-up. I have never heard of free public courses. Anywhere. And I’ve been to several states in the U.S. — not looking for disc golf, but still, I’ve never seen nor heard of any free courses. In ball-golf, a public course simply means you don’t have to be a member, as you do to play a private course. You do, however, still have to pay. Keep up the great work, SDG.

Alex
Alex

August 05, 2021

Does the pay-to-play model generate enough revenue to cover the expenses of a maintenance crew, equipment, and property taxes? Or are any of those expenses propped up by Sabattus’s retail business? $12 for all-day play is a great value for the customer but I’ve always thought the business must be limping by in order to provide it. Running a private disc golf course always seems like a labor of love than a viable business model. I wouldn’t mind seeing $20 for an all-day pass become the new norm if that was able to motivate more peope/business to open their own courses.

Lincoln C Denison
Lincoln C Denison

August 05, 2021

Totally agree. I have only played in NH and ME (I have been playing disc golf less than a year) and pay to play is the way to go. I love the courses I have played!!!

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