Physical Health & Well-being
Disc golf has been described by the New Zealand Heart Foundation as “the perfect gentle exercise for sedentary adults”. It is an aerobic and low impact sport that can be played at practically any age and level of fitness. It is as vigorous as the fitness and inclination of each player allows. The whole body is used, and the sport is good for mobility and flexibility.
Throwing a disc is a natural motion, the sort of thing for which the body is designed. It feels good. Motivation to play is high, and the sport scores high for seemingly effortless exercise. Just spending more time out of doors is known to be beneficial to physical health.
Disc golf can be played by some people who are physical impaired (e.g. lacking some fingers, or with only one arm). It can be played by otherwise fit people who are confined to wheelchairs (provided they have a companion to help retrieve discs). In the USA, the sport is played by disabled army veterans.
Disc golf works for players who have retired from other sports through injury, illness, or simply age. Being low impact, and with the degree of physical effort being in each player’s control, it can help with the rehabilitation of soft tissue injuries (e.g. knee cartilage).
The more you get involved in the sport, the more your fitness will be challenged and extended. Without making any conscious effort to get fit.
Mental Health & Well-being
Fascination with the flight of the disc takes one’s mind away from current stresses and worries. The game is easy to learn, but hard to master. Players keep coming back for the never-ending challenges. Disc golf connects people to their natural environment - trees, grass, wind and sky. The perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life.
We are aware of players with mental health issues (e.g. depression), who credit disc golf with turning their lives around. We attribute this to:
Accessibility (you can play the game when you want, you can also play alone),
A feeling of mastery and satisfaction (improvement is rapid and noticeable), and
The easy and informal social aspects of the game (see below).
The game can be played at any level of social participation, from a casual round for one player, family, or group of friends, to organised leagues and tournaments. The game is quite sociable, as with other shared hobbies and pastimes, and is noted for its informality. It is easy to meet other players on a casual basis. Disc golfers are typically very welcoming towards new players and curious bystanders - it is part of the culture of the sport.
The game is unusual, in that it can be played by a group of individuals of differing abilities. All members of a family can happily play disc golf together, regardless of age, strength and fitness. How many such shared pastimes are still possible for whole families in our internet age? Teenagers will ask to play disc golf with their parents.
Likewise, a disc golf tournament can happily include players of all standards, making the social aspects of the event more enjoyable. All members of a family can participate as players in the same tournament.
Disc golf can be popular with parents and children in families where child custody is shared, being a common pastime over which to bond.
The easy and informal social aspects of disc golf in an active outdoor setting can work well for people with impaired hearing or who are on the autism spectrum.
Disc golf is classless, players come from all levels of wealth, education and social background. It is part of the attraction of the sport.
Parks and Environment
Some of the very best places to install disc golf courses are in the partly wooded multi-use areas of public parks. Quite often these areas are under-utilised. By the rules of the game, other park users (e.g. dog walkers, joggers, picnickers) take higher priority than disc golf. Thus, by design, the game is well suited for sharing space with other park users.
Parks which install disc golf courses see a drop in littering, loitering, vandalism and other anti-social activities. As low-traffic areas of the park become used for disc golf, the park becomes safer for all park users.
Disc golf can be used to revitalise parkland that has fallen into disuse. An example is QE2 (Ascot) Park in Christchurch.
One of the aims of the creator of disc golf (Ed Headrick) was to design a recreational pastime suitable for delinquent youths of the 1970s California counter-culture. Because of its seemingly casual nature and informality, the sport can appeal to rebellious and disaffected youngsters who have little taste for more formally organised sports.
Keen disc golfers like to play when on holiday. New Zealand courses are already known to attract both local and overseas tourists. A town or city with a number of courses is an even better tourist draw (leading to extended stays).
Cost, Accessibility and Reach
The above benefits are achieved at remarkably low cost. The capital cost of a disc golf course is as little as $25 per active user. Course equipment is robust, lasts for many years and is low maintenance.
For players, equipment is simple and low cost (discs, mainly). A starter pack of 3 beginner-friendly discs can be obtained for as little as $40. Players and clubs will lend discs to players who are getting started. And no special clothing is required (just casual loose clothing and training shoes). No pre-booking of facilities is required, so it is easy to play whenever it suits you. As more disc golf courses are installed, it becomes more likely that there will be one near to where you live, work, or study.
Based on what has happened overseas (e.g. in Scandinavia and North America), disc golf in New Zealand has the potential to reach as much as 2% to 4% of the population (say 100,000 to 300,000 active players). Should this happen, the health and other benefits to individuals, families and communities would be correspondingly large.
Disc Golf and Other Sports
In the main, disc golf does not compete directly with other sports. For most players, disc golf is their only sport.
For children (and adults) who play other sports, disc golf is mostly played at times that do not compete with other scheduled sports activity. This is made easier by the lack of need to book or schedule tee times. You play whenever you want.
Disc golf imposes little strain on children’s bodies. It is low impact, aerobic, and the easy motions (e.g spinal rotation) are good for keeping the body flexible and limber.