Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this discussion, let’s first define the “Grandfathered” clause that some may need bringing up to speed on. As defined by Black Law’s Dictionary, the “Grandfather clause” is an exception to a restriction that allows all those already doing something to continue doing it even if they would be stopped by the new restriction.
“Grandfathering” is a term that is very common in the world of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning as there are dozens of examples of it in each jurisdiction. For a better explanation of the definition, let’s imagine a log cabin on a lake that is only 25 feet from the shoreline. Every other home on the lake is set back 200 feet from the water’s edge as per state and federal guidelines, but the log cabin still remains only 25 feet away. Why? Because it is “grandfathered in” as it was built and zoned in a time when the setback regulations weren’t applicable. Anyone now building a home next to water has to follow the guidelines set in place, but the log cabin can remain as is.
While using the term “grandfathered in” doesn’t follow the exact definition we use in Landscape Architecture world, we use it in this article since we believe it paints a good picture of some pay-to-play courses, most namely in Maine. This article is going to take a look at some comparisons between pay-to-play courses in different states to help gain a better understanding of what may be helping, or hurting disc golf.
Don’t get me wrong, we think pay-to-play is the way of the future in disc golf and it’s great way to help legitimize the sport — both in terms of attracting larger sponsorships and creating revenue. Disc golf, in the past, has been a labor of love. People simply wanted to promote the sport and get it out to the masses for all to enjoy. While this is all well and good, for it to be a practical business, it needs to generate revenue. For it to gain more mainstream exposure, courses need to have better amenities, proper signage and to continue to attract players both old and new through tournaments and leagues — all things only possible through revenue creation. We don’t believe that ALL courses need to be pay-to-play, however. There will always need to be the free, local park where players can go and learn the technique required, play a cheap round of disc golf, and bring friends along with them that are new to the sport.
Born and raised in Maine, I know reside in Western Massachusetts where I play at a plethora of courses, both free and pay-to-play. While there are some incredible courses out here, pay-to-play courses are few and far between until you start getting closer to Worcester where pay-to-play staples like Pyramids and Maple Hill offer the best amenities and disc golf in the region. While there are several courses nearby that have terrific tee pads, signage and disc golf course design, they are seldom pay-to-play as they are in public parks with little infrastructure to support such an undertaking.
Now let’s look at Maine, where the vast majority of courses in the state are pay-to-play. This is where I use the term “grandfathered in” as many of the courses, who really have no right being pay-to-play, are doing so just because everyone else in the state that already has a disc golf courses is charging. In our experiences, if the course doesn’t provide nice tee pads, signage and a unique challenge, disc golfers aren’t willing to pay. Yet in Maine — while, yes, the majority of courses are privately owned — have many courses with unsafe tee pads, no signage and mixed baskets that are charging $5 to play. It makes us think, is this really actually good for the sport? If we were a beginner, would we continue playing on these courses, or search out for a free, local park?
While these courses do create revenue for the business owner — hopefully encouraging them to put more funds back into the course (or better yet, create more courses) — poorly maintained pay-to-play courses set a poor example for the sport as being the standard. If a course is rated 3.5 or above on Disc Golf Course Review, I’ll pay all day, but if it’s a flat farm with no tee pads, poor signage and a 2.0 rating, why would anyone want to pay $5? While we understand that creating and installing, and paying insurance and tax on the land does take money, we don’t think that every course should be pay-to-play, especially if owners are doing it just because everyone else is.
Pay-to-play courses and the private sector are the future of disc golf, but they both need to be addressed properly. There should be a fair blend of pay-to-play and free disc golf courses, as not every beginner is going to want to pay money to learn the sport, especially on a sub-par course. These beginners — discouraged by having to constantly pay just to learn the sport — are the ones we are concerned about in asking the question “Are ‘Grandfathered In’ Pay-To-Play Courses Bad for Disc Golf?” as one of the benefits of the sport is its inexpensive nature and accessibility to all ages and skill levels. If someone new to the sport has to shell out $5-10 each round, in addition to buying all their discs to learn the sport, will they continue to pursue this incredibly exciting outdoor activity? We sure hope so — but we’d love to see a better mix of free courses for them to learn on (using Maine as an example in this article), and then when they are ready and willing to play a top-notch facility like Sabattus Disc Golf or Maple Hill, they are more than happy to shell out money to experience the best of the best!