When alum Nevada Schultz started the Disc Golf Club at Cal Poly in 2018, the club routinely drew in two or three members every meeting.
Now, the club just finished its first championship event with members finishing in the top 20 in the nation.
“We went to CSU Monterey Bay and played in a tournament there. We beat everyone there by about ten strokes,” electrical engineering sophomore Eli Haushalter, a member of the team, said. “That allowed us to qualify for D1 Nationals.”
Even though the sport is not sanctioned by any college in the nation, teams come from all corners of the country. In the past decade, more and more college campuses have had disc golf clubs formed by students and professors.
Part of that can be attributed to the spike in popularity that disc golf saw outside of college campuses.
“Things kind of lined up nicely for the pandemic and disc golf — it was a strange thing,” Schultz said.
Much like normal golf, disc golf was relatively safe for COVID-19 restrictions, as it promoted distancing and limited contamination.
The other main attribute to the spike in disc golf’s popularity is the “Holy Shot.” At the end of June 2021, the PDGA World Championships were held in Ogden, Utah. There, James Conrad threw in a tournament-tying shot from 247 feet away and would go on to win the tournament.
The shot made its way into the mainstream media, with SB Nation and Jomboy Media picking it up, and SportsCenter selected it as the No. 1 play that night.
It wasn’t the first time that disc golf had shown up on SportsCenter or the mainstream, but this time it felt like it would be around to stay.
The pay of players soared in the wake of the boom in popularity. Players have seen sponsorship contracts enter the seven-figure range, and event payouts have seen a rise.
The winner of the 2018 World Championships, the same year the disc golf club was formed on campus, received $10,000. In 2022, that number doubled to $20,000.
The sport is a global one, with many of its established stars and rookies coming from European countries.
As of the beginning of 2023, there are more than 14,000 courses worldwide, with 1,500 courses built in 2022 alone.
Disc golf courses still are vastly outnumbered by normal golf courses, although they have a similar number of places to play as pickleball, another recently popular sport.
Disc golf on the Cal Poly campus has been an idea floating around since the beginning of the sport.
In fact, in 1984 a student designed a disc golf course behind Tenaya Hall, where the current Fremont Hall stands today.
More recently, Schultz and others have tried to get the sport on campus.
“We were trying to build a course in Poly Canyon for quite a while,” Schultz said. “We were really starting to get some traction…but it got shut down.”
Other variations of a course near the Architecture Graveyard have also been proposed.
Currently, the only disc golf courts on campus are baskets behind the Sierra Madre towers, with equipment checkout available at the residence hall.
“We don’t know who will be the president of the club yet,” Haushalter said. “We want to have a solid eight people; you can bring two teams to nationals.”
In San Luis Obispo, there are three courses within five miles of campus, and the local club SLO Throwers hosts weekly events every Tuesday and Saturday.
The sport of disc golf has a long history in the background of the sporting world — but with the help of Cal Poly students, disc golf may be making a name for itself in mainstream sports.