A Brief Disc Golf History: From Metal Pie Lids to Recycled Plastic Discs

The origins of disc golf are often traced back to Ed Headrick, who is credited with inventing the frisbee in 1966, and the disc golf pole hole in 1975.

However, disc golf history began much earlier than the 1960s and has an intricate past that has led to the sport we know today.

When was Disc Golf Invented?

To answer the question, “how long has disc golf been around?” We need to travel WAY back in time.

Since the dawn of time, humans have competed. I’m almost certain one of the first competitions was to see who could throw a rock the furthest, probably between two brothers who quickly got into a fight about one of them cheating.

As humans became more sophisticated, so did our sports.

Fast forward millennia, and we see discus in the ancient Olympics. While it’s a far cry from today’s rendition of disc golf, we know throwing discs is nothing new to the human race.

Skip another couple thousand years or so to the late 1800s, and people are playing catch with pie tins and inevitably seeing who could throw them the most accurately and furthest.

Many accounts are scattered throughout history of kids and adults throwing a disc (pie tin) into a circle or at a target from a specified distance.

But do we count this as disc golf?

After all, they didn’t call it disc golf, and the rules were definitely different.

We finally reach the mid-1900s, and disc golf begins to take shape into the form we know it.

In 1966 while working for Wham-O, “Steady” Ed Headrick patented the frisbee, a plastic flying disc used to play catch.

In the early 1970s, some frisbee players began creating unique “frisbee golf holes,” aiming at targets such as Hula Hoops, light poles, drinking fountains, trash cans, and fire hydrants.

However, the rules were made up on the spot, and frisbee golf was still very much on the fringe of frisbee sports.

Jim and John Palmeri began playing disc golf as a competitive sport as early as 1970. However, they didn’t call it disc golf, nor did they know that Ed Headrick had established the International Frisbee Association on the other side of the country.

Jim Kenner (Founder of Discraft) and Ken Westerfield created Canada’s first object disc golf course in the early 1970s.

In 1975, “Steady Ed” struck again with the Disc Golf Pole Hole invention, which became the standard for disc golf holes worldwide.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Dave Dunipace (Founder of Innova Disc Golf) invented disc golf discs. Players had always used a catch frisbee that resembles today’s putters.

Dave developed the Eagle, the first beveled-edge disc that was more aerodynamic than other discs of the time.

This invention went on to change the game of disc golf forever.

In just a few short decades, frisbee golf went from a niche frisbee sport to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Millions of people play disc golf today, and to think it all got started by two brothers competing to see who could throw a rock the furthest.

Okay, that can’t be scientifically proven, but it’s a reasonable theory!

We can reliably state that modern-day disc golf began in the 1960s, though it looked much different than it does today.

Today there are many disc golf companies and accessories that help increase the popularity of this incredible sport.

Where Was Disc Golf Invented?

The location of where disc golf was invented is as convoluted as answering who invented disc golf.

There’s no straightforward answer, but we can point to a few significant places that contributed significantly to the creation of disc golf.

Do we begin disc golf history in ancient Greece, when they would hold discus throwing competitions at the Olympics?

Maybe we should give credit to Connecticut, where the Frisbie Pie Company was located, which is the company that manufactured the pie lids with which so many kids played a form of disc golf.

Or should we credit New York, where John and Jim Palmeri began playing disc golf tournaments and weekly league play in the 1970s?

I believe California has a good shot of claiming it’s where disc golf was invented since the first permanent official disc golf course was installed in 1975, here.

The honest answer is disc golf wasn’t invented in a singular location, just as one person didn’t create it.

Throughout disc golf history, we have accounts of frisbee golf being played in multiple places at once by people who couldn’t have known each other.

All locations mentioned above contributed in some way or another to disc golf in one form.

History of Disc Golf Timeline

Unknown- Rock throwing competition between competitive brothers.

76 B.C.– Discus throwing at the Greek Olympics is one of the Pentathlon events.

1871- The W.R. Fribie Pie Bakery is founded in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

1903- Joseph P. Frisbie becomes president of W.R. Frisbie bakery and expands production from a few hundred pies a day into a bustling enterprise with routes across much of New England, setting the stage for “Frisbie” to become a widely known term that will lend its name to a developing pastime.

1905- The W.R. Frisbie Pie Bakery is renamed, The Frisbie Pie Co.

1920- Yale gets credit for starting the Frisbie craze. This might have been a PR stunt by Wham-O to relate its Pluto Platter Flying Saucer with higher learning or to steer people away from Princeton University’s first-use claim.

1922- Kids in Sweetwater, Texas, play flying disc games with metal can covers.

1924- Edward Early Headrick was born on June 28, 1924, and grew up in Pasadena, California.

1926- Classmates at Bladworth Elementary School in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, play a casual game they call Tin Lid Golf. They modify the metal can cover to be easily thrown for distance with a backhanded throw.

1936- Albert Einstein stops to admire a disc throw-and-catch game conducted with a round metal can cover at Princeton University. He is quoted as saying, “Very beautiful!”

1946- Walter (Fred) Morrison drew the first plastic disc design, called the “Whirlo Way.” Morrison’s disc design became the 1948 Flyin’ Saucer.

The Early 1950s- Bill Robs markets the Space Saucer in college campus bookstores on the east coast.

1954- The first “Frisbie Match” is held at Dartmouth College. Morrison improved his invention with the Pluto Platter and the famous phrase “PLAY CATCH – INVENT GAMES” engraved on the back.

1955- Wham-O takes an interest in this flying disc and begins marketing the Pluto Platter after acquiring the rights from Morrison about a year later.

1957- The name is changed to the “Wham-O Frisbee.” after the company learned of “Frisbie-ing,” the pie tin game on the east coast.

1958- The first International Frisbee Tournament is held in Eagle Harbor, Michigan. Wham-O applies to trademark the word “Frisbee.”

1959- Frisbee receives Registered Trademark No. 679186.

The Early 1960s- Copar Company of Chicago markets the Sky Saucer with a rulebook for the game of “Sky Golf,” which looks like Frisbee croquet.

1964- Wham-O launches the “Official Pro Model,” which will be used for all disc sports, including disc golf.

1965- Modern Frisbee patent was applied based on the design by “Steady” Ed Headrick of Wham-O, known as the “Father of Disc Golf.”

1967- Ed Headrick founded International Frisbee Association (IFA) and established standard rules for disc sports such as Distance, Freestyle, and Guts.

1969- The first official disc golf tournament is held at Brookside Park in Pasadena, California. The holes were objects marked with a ribbon.

“Object Courses” using anything from light poles to fire hydrants as targets begin to pop up in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

1970- An 18-hole Frisbee golf course is established on the campus of U.C. Berkeley.

The first “Frisbee Club” is formed in Rochester, New York, and disc golf is regularly played.

1971- Bill Schneider teaches the first accredited Frisbee course at Sacramento State University in California.

1972- Rochester, New York, is the first city to hold an Annual City Disc Golf Championship.

1973- Flying Disc World is the first magazine for disc sports. Dan Roddick wins a 1974 Datsun B-210 at the disc golf portion of the American Flying Disc Open in Rochester, New York.

1974-  Brothers Jim and John Palmeri opened the first Frisbee retail store called “The Flying Disc and Chess Shop” in Rochester, N.Y.

1975- Oak Grove Disc Golf Course, located within Hahamonga Watershed Park in Pasadena, California, is the world’s first permanent disc golf course. Nearly 5,000 people play disc golf during the week in its first year of operation.

Later, Wham-O introduced the World Class 119G disc, an improvement for competitive disc sports.

Ed Headrick founded the Disc Golf Association (DGA) and marketed the first golf disc, the “Night Flyer.”

“Steady Ed” and his son Ken invent and patent a frisbee catcher named “Disc Pole Hole,” “a catching device, consisting of 10 chains hanging in a parabolic shape over an upward opening basket.”

1977- The first PDGA tournaments are held in Mobile, AL, and northern New Jersey. Initiating the modern era of disc golf competitions.

1978- The Whamo World Overall Championships are held from 1978-1981. The winner of the disc golf division was recognized as the World Champion disc golfer.

1979- The Disc Golf Association and Wham-O sponsor a $50,000 Frisbee Disc Golf Tournament at Huntington Beach, Calif. Tom Kennedy beats John Connolly in sudden death.

1982- Harold Duvall won the first Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) World Championships held at La Mirada, Sylmar, Oak Grove, and Huntington Beach, CA.

1983- Innova Champion Disc Golf markets the Eagle, the first beveled edge golf disc. The new design allows for greater throwing distances than ever before, drastically shifting disc golf competition.

Innova disc golf brand

1983- Dave Dunipace invents and patents the triangle-rimmed disc, bringing the advantage of distance and accuracy to disc golf for amateurs and professionals. As a result, courses become more challenging and longer.

1984- The first magazine for disc golf, Disc Golf World News, begins publication. The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) is established to promote worldwide disc golf and Ultimate Frisbee events.

Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., awards the first bachelor’s degree in Frisbee to John Dwork.

1985- Players from 21 countries attend the first “World Championships held outside of the United States in Helsingborg, Sweden, organized by the World Flying Disc Federation. Players continue to lobby parks departments and college campuses for more disc golf courses worldwide.

By the end of the decade, permanent disc golf courses will be installed in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States.

1993- Flying disc sports are accepted by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness as a new category for the Presidential Sports Award.

The PDGA begins to chronicle the history of disc golf as Lavonne Wolfe establishes the PDGA Hall of Fame.

2002- The father of disc golf, “Steady” Ed Headrick, dies from two strokes at age 78.

2006- Ken Climo becomes a 12-time Disc Golf World Champion.

2007- Wham-O celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Frisbee, reissuing the original Pluto Platter in gold. The 50th Anniversary 3-disc boxed set includes a replica of the 1957 patent for the Original Frisbee.

2012– 3,873 disc golf courses established worldwide.

2022- Trash Panda releases the first disc made from 100% recycled plastic.

2023- 14,048 disc golf courses worldwide.

Final Putt: History of Disc Golf

While we would prefer it to be, disc golf history is anything but clearcut. It seems to have evolved in multiple places at similar times until finally culminating in the 1970s and 80s into the sport we recognize today.

One thing is sure, “Steady” Ed Headrick is the father of disc golf for many reasons, but countless others have been instrumental in developing disc golf into the growing sport that it is.

Don’t forget to leave your favorite moment in disc golf history in the comment section!

References

https://www.morleyfield.com/blog/2009/10/08/a-history-of-disc-golf

https://discgolfunited.com/blog/post/history-of-disc-golf

https://www.pdga.com/history

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