Brief History of Disc Golf

History of Disc Golf, in a nutshell*

In the late 60’s and early 70’s Frisbee throwing had become a popular pastime throughout the U.S.  Many people had become enamored with developing the skill of making this plastic toy obey their attempts to make it fly as they wished.  A popular way to play most often involved two throwers (sometimes 3 or 4) tossing the Frisbee back and forth, like in baseball this was referred to as catch.  Seemingly endless hours of catch allowed the participants to hone their piloting skills, making the disc go right to left, left to right and then straight.  It was a natural outcome to test these skills with stationary objects.  Perhaps one player challenged the other to see who could come closer to a tree off in the distance.  Then that player challenging the first to reach another tree, post, lite pole, etc. off in the distance.  This often repeated itself for hours, until a light went off in someone’s head that this was like golf and they could mark off 18 holes and play the new game anytime they wanted.  The new courses were sometimes marked with paint dots or bands or ribbons or were just etched in the minds of the designers.  By the early ‘70’s most large universities in the U.S. had a frisbee disc golf course.  If you happened to know one of the local players, you to could learn the layout by playing along. It was about this time that a group of players in California were avidly playing their group designed object courses.  Among this group was a player named Ed Headrick.  Ed was among those who first thought of replacing trees with metal poles as targets.  Ed observed a problem with this idea.  Poles allowed the players to custom design a course by placing the target in places where there were no trees.  They could also layout permanent courses without marking up the trees.  But it was difficult to tell whether a player’s disc contacted the pole from a  distance.  There were often disagreements over holes-in-one.  This motivated Ed to create this first permanent disc golf target which he called a “polehole”.  He installed these targets in a park (in California near L.A.) called “Oak Grove” in 1975 and modern disc golf, as we now know it, was born. 

It so happens that Ed Headrick was an executive of a toy company called  Wham-O and had secured a patent on the Frisbee on behalf of that company.  He was also instrumental in forming the sports division within Wham-O which has been accredited with transforming Frisbee throwing from a hobby into a sport.  So, you might say Ed was the ultimate Frisbee insider.  Ed realized the amazing potential of this new sport, known at the time as “Frisbee Golf” or "Frolf" as some called it.  So soon after leaving Wham-O Ed formed a brand-new company.  Since Frisbee was a registered Trade Mark of the Wham-O company, he coined the more generic term “Disc Golf” and called his new company “The Professional Disc Golf Association”.  He later gifted that name to a newly formed player organization and changed his company’s name to simply the Disc Golf Association.

*This is a recollection of one man’s observations and talks with Ed Headrick

**Frisbee is a registered Trade Mark of Wham-o Corp.