At Johnny Roberts Disc Golf Course in Memorial Park, just north of Olde Town Arvada, a long line of people snakes back toward the skate park from the first tee pad. There are families with little kids, groups of twentysomething dudes and thirtysomething dudes and sixtysomething dudes, and young couples with their dogs. Holes one through eight reopened in June after a two-month closure to let the grass grow back on that portion of the 18-hole, par-3 course, which was the fourth most popular place to play a round in America in 2021.
“I started playing [in Memorial Park] in ’77,” says 72-year-old John Bird, whose PDGA membership number of 387 would give away his status as one of the sport’s pioneers, even if you didn’t know that he’s in both the Colorado and national disc golf halls of fame. “We were throwing at trees, light posts, garbage cans.” Next came wooden posts and finally, in 1993, targets of the sort you see in many Denver-area green spaces today: metal posts with wire baskets that sit beneath a cascade of chains meant to help catch specially designed plastic discs.
During those intervening decades, Bird and other early devotees (including his friend and Arvada high school teacher Johnny Roberts, PDGA number 115, who died in 1994) were teaching anyone who wanted to learn and organizing small, regional tournaments. In 2013, the evangelizing paid off when the city of Arvada built an upgraded, Bird-designed course in Memorial Park—named to honor Roberts—whose beginner-friendly setup and picturesque creek crossings now draw crowds year-round.
1,120: The number of new members the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) gained in the Centennial State between 2020 and 2021, an increase of 62 percent. The global governing body for the sport calculates ratings for amateur and pro players who pay the $50 annual membership fee and participate in PDGA-sanctioned tournaments. Of U.S. states, Colorado has the eighth-highest PDGA membership.
That plodding evolution is a stark contrast to the explosive growth the sport has seen during the pandemic, when its outdoor, socially distant, and inexpensive nature made it especially appealing. (Public courses are generally free, and rounds on Colorado’s private courses rarely cost more than $10.) PDGA and local disc golf club membership numbers skyrocketed, particularly among youth and women; Colorado tournaments were filling up in minutes; and more interest in and eyes on the pro circuit meant the sport’s best players began signing multiyear, multimillion-dollar sponsorship contracts. The state even landed its first Disc Golf Pro Tour event, at Bailey Disc Golf Course, in June.
Bird and his contemporaries “laid the groundwork,” says Boulder’s 24-year-old Eagle McMahon (PDGA number 37,817, of 225,000 and counting), for what he’s now able to do: make very good money playing professionally. Although we can’t guarantee the tips in the stories below will turn you into a full-time disc golfer, we do hope they inspire you to give this rapidly growing pastime a try—and have fun doing it.