Women’s Global Event- Boosting Female Participation

How to gain more female disc golfers remains to be a tough question, but the PDGA Women’s Global Event along with other all-women events and leagues are helping to bridge the gulf between the number of male and female disc golfers.

In what has become one of the PDGA’s most visible tools to promote female disc golf participation, women and girls will join together on May 10th at the 2014 WGE through dozens of participating tournaments across the U.S. and several countries. Participants of all ages and skill levels will earn a ‘global score’ from the first two rounds of their local tournament so they can see how they compare to females across the globe.

It’s a rare chance to see so many females from so many divisions gather all at once in a sport that sees so few women during regular co-ed tournaments.
”I think it’s really cool – for especially new girls – to go to a tournament that gives them a place to start and see where they fit in the world as far as their game,” said Erin Oakley, of Lansing, Mich., who is organizing a WGE tournament in Michigan.

The inaugural WGE in 2012 saw 636 registered players and broke history as the largest PDGA event for a single demographic. PDGA Women’s Committee Chair Valarie Jenkins, whose website Discgolf4women.com has been instrumental in WGE communication, said the 2012 WGE boosted female participation in disc golf and inspired female event directors to push forward.
”I considered it a success when I was getting emails from players that had never played in a tournament – and some that never played disc golf – looking for more info and wanting to sign up,” said Jenkins in an email.

Taking a page from the first Global Event in 2011 (co-ed), the WGE (run every other year) was organized by the PDGA’s Women’s Committee, which aims to attract and retain females to organized disc golf events.

Innova is offering WGE TDs the option to purchase StarLite Tern, StarLite Valkyrie, and either the StarLite Wraith or Roadrunner so that all competitors may get a disc.

WGE Tournament Director Karolyn O’Cull’s goal is to run a smooth event and increase turnout. Her team is off to a good start. Current registration has already well surpassed last year’s registrants.
When asked if the WGE would reach 1,000 players this year, O’Cull replied in an email, ”Of course, but I think it is a more reasonable goal for 2016.”

The more WGE participants, the better. Disc golf can use the exposure to boost female participation. Of the 8,304 active PDGA members in 2003, 625 or 7.5 % were females. Flash forward 10 years and of the active 20,587 members in 2013, the female percentage is virtually the same at 7.4%. Total up every member to sign up since 1976 (more than 62,000), females still account for only 7%.
”We’re growing rapidly, but the number of men compared to the number of women is not changing at all,” said PDGA Memberships Manager Sara Nicholson, who also acts as the PDGA staff representative to the Women’s Committee.

So what’s keeping more females from playing disc golf?
”This is a great question and I am not sure there is one right answer,” wrote O’Cull, who is on the PDGA Board of Directors and acts as the board’s liaison to the Women’s Committee.
Many feel the same way, but there are recurring clues as to why females aren’t playing including:

  • A sport with so few females isn’t initially attractive.
  • It can be intimidating to play alongside men, especially for beginner females.
  • Women are generally the caregivers of children, so it’s challenging for mothers to find the time.

Though Nicholson agrees there’s no magic answer, she does find female growth in areas like Michigan that develop women’s leagues and clinics that foster female camaraderie and support.

Erin Oakley, also a Women’s Committee member, has had an average total of about 40 females the last few years in her female disc golf league in Lansing and she believes more should take the plunge.
”I hear so many times that girls don’t want to play in a women’s league because they’re not good enough. That’s not the case,” said Oakley, later adding that once women join they find that they’re actually better than they thought.

Genevieve Belanger, a member of the Charlotte Disc Golf Club Womens League, says she enjoys playing with women because they’re encouraging and they play at her speed. Plus, it’s not hyper-competitive says Belanger.
”It’s all about getting together and having a good time and improving your game,” said Belanger.

Though female golfers are the minority in regular PDGA events, given the right circumstances they become much more visible. By playing in their local WGE tournament, many of which are all-female, it’s easier for women to participate and feel they’re a part of something bigger.
”You can use the Women’s Global (Event) to grow the sport in so many ways,” said Nicholson, who is leading a WGE tourney at the International Disc Golf Center in Appling, Ga.

Web Resources:

Discgolf4women.com and its Facebook page – provides articles, tips, and a resource for women leagues.
PDGA.com/women and its Facebook page also has a wealth of information, updates, and links regarding female disc golf.

Glancing at the current WGE registered players there are all skill levels including many recreational and novice players. Plus, once you pay your local tourney entry fee, this year there’s no further cost to participate in the WGE.

Belanger, of Concord, NC, hadn’t been playing long before she played in the 2012 WGE in nearby Charlotte, which she said was a great experience. At the tournament, she was able to play with similarly skilled women, learn tips, and give advice to younger females. She’s playing again this year and helped encourage a woman new to disc golf to join her.

The WGE, which includes junior divisions, could also be that first step for school-aged girls since many are unaware of disc golf.

Can you imagine the PDGA without 3-time World Champ Valarie Jenkins? When asked if she would’ve found disc golf if her parents hadn’t been so involved in the sport Jenkins replied:
”I don’t know. In the town that I lived in, it (disc golf) wasn’t a huge influence. My parents were the ones driving the sport. I don’t think I would if my parents weren’t so involved and so much of a driving force,” said Jenkins.

You can see why O’Cull believes disc golf has to find girls much sooner through early education. Through a grant, the PDGA supports the EDGE program, which incorporates disc golf into the school curriculum. Disc golf can also find girls through Girl Scouts, homeschooling groups, and clinics, says O’Cull.

Females 25 through 39 years old make up 52% of the PDGA’s female membership, but there’s plenty of room for growth. Women only events like Oakley’s Disc Girls Gone Wild (in its 8th year) with its friendly atmosphere, sweet player’s pack, and female camaraderie have become a yearly female destination and help new women get hooked on the sport.

Sometimes women’s leagues fizzle-out because of low turnout, but Oakley urges league directors to be patient. She said it took two years for her league (with an average age of 30-ish) to show life and it took four years for her main event, Disc Girls Gone Wild to get going.

Stephanie Vincent, who co-directs Women Throwing Frisbees – a Central Texas women’s league, says she’s struggled to maintain strong weekly attendance since a lot of her members are mothers and find it difficult to play regularly.

Although league attendance is important, Vincent’s main goal is just to get females to meet and play whenever they can, and posting informal tee times on the Women Throwing Frisbee’s Facebook page is great for that.

”I’m basically just acting as a link for women to get up and talk to each other,” said Vincent, another Women’s Committee member.

Vincent encourages mothers to bring their children along to disc golf outings if they’re able. ”We’re trying to make it kid friendly,” said Vincent, who hopes disc golf promoters look closer into child care at events as a way to attract more females.

To find even more adult female disc golfers, promoters will likely have to go beyond the course. Oakley plans on passing out free disc golf promo bags to female strangers this year, while Vincent’s league Facebook page and websites like Discgolf4women.com as well as PDGA.com/women and their Facebook pages continue to reel-in new females from the web.

The effects of this year’s WGE will most likely add to the ranks of female disc golfers and may encourage others to play more seriously. It did for Belanger, who said she sought out more tournaments after her 2012 experience.

The emergence of all-female event series like the Poppy Series in Northern California and Oakley’s new Michigan series this year could be the competitive atmosphere more women need to take disc golf a step further.
Jenkins thinks these women’s series, which she says statistically get more women competitors than co-ed events, could be the look of the future.

Right now, though, the focus is on this year’s WGE. Who knows how many females will find the love for disc golf after playing the event? A more gender balanced disc golf won’t happen overnight, but the WGE is making steps toward that.
”It’s a great introduction to try a new sport,” said Jenkins.


The Throw Pink initiative, which Sara Nicholson founded, will raise money for breast cancer charities through participating disc golf tournaments from March through October. Part of the Throw Pink appeal, she said, is garnering attention from non-disc golfing women, which she said is already happening.

Todd Harrell – Innova Disc Golf