As an amateur disc golfer, you might have the dream of someday going pro. You buy the expensive bag, the new name brand shoes and clothes, and the discs that have other peoples’ signature on them. As you develop your game, you buy a basket for your yard or just the back of your car and work on your putting every week.
You might have even taken a private lesson or attended a professional clinic to better your mechanics. You devote hundreds, even thousands, of hours at the course and play in tournaments that cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
And then the moment comes when you “cash” in your first professional PDGA sanctioned event and you start thinking, “This could be my life. This could be the thing I’ve always wanted to do.” But what happens when you can’t tour the world?
What is a Non-touring Professional Disc Golfer?
The life of a non-touring pro comes in many shapes and sizes. “Non-touring professional” has been defined as a disc golfer that “relinquishes Amateur status by registering (ie. renewing / joining) as a Professional member in the PDGA, or by competing in a Professional division at a PDGA Tour event and accepting cash based on place of finish."
Typically non-touring pros earn less than $5,000 in a year in PDGA events and usually compete at 970 rated and above for men, 900 and above for women, and cashed in an event. The 2018 guidelines for the PDGA will now be more cut and dry as a professional member or an amateur member: no jumping the fence one way or the other; no “sandbagging.”
An avid non-touring professional will sometimes make two or three National Tour appearances, paying thousands of dollars for events and travel fees out of pocket or through minimal sponsorships. These professionals usually play between 20-45 tournaments in a given year.
Some professionals are playing in the Open division at local A-tiers and B-Tiers, and are sponsored by local companies or even get discounts as “street team members” of some degree. These players are men and women that decided to make the jump up to the professional level and usually hold a part-time or full time job.
Then there is the local pro that just plays in some B-tiers and C-tiers and grows a steady stream of followers in their community, but is not sponsored by anyone and is playing purely for enjoyment, the side income, and the PDGA ratings.
So what's holding you back? Not much....
Why am I not a touring professional? There are several reasons at this point in life, but I did have a strong desire to tour after I personally met JohnE McCray. It was 2014 and I was preparing for my first PDGA event in Salem, Oregon as the tournament director and as an athlete.
An email accompanied with a phone call came from my assistant tournament director that JohnE McCray was wanting to sign up for my event. I was running a small C-Tier tournament with a field of 40 athletes max on a 9-hole ball golf course. JohnE was wanting to play before competing in the 2014 PDGA World Championships in Portland. I had never heard of his name and he signed up on the waitlist. At the time I didn’t know much about him, but I was interested in the hype.
As I walked to my computer to look him up, I was surprised to see his amazing reputation in the disc golf world and that he was travelling from Florida to Oregon! I was the program director of Canyonview Camp in Silverton, Oregon and JohnE asked if there were any areas to park his RV, so of course I offered our humble camp for the weekend.
We played an evening round together. He told me to play in the advanced division for at least one tournament, and he beat me by three strokes. He may have forgotten our private round at the course which I helped to design and build, but for me it will be hard to forget throwing side by side with one of the best players in the world and hear his passion for life and the sport, especially as it was so early on in my disc golf adventures.
Custom stamped Discmania discs for Rick Saffeels.
Reasons to stay local
Fast-forward four years and I’m working full time as a teacher and JohnE is still travelling the world. I am an ambassador/sponsored by multiple companies, teaching disc golf lessons, directed over 50 disc golf tournaments, and disc golf is still only a hobby.
I have a beautiful wife and two girls under the age of three and it’s hard to justify taking them out of the comfort of our family and friends in town to pursue a gamble at best to make enough money to make it to the next tournament and provide a future for them.
You see, you have to go all in if you are going to be a traveling, dinner-conversation, household name in this sport. So trust your instinct and go all-in and become that touring pro, or settle down and appreciate the ride that you are on. There is nothing wrong with loving the sport of disc golf and still being a professional without needing to tour the country or the world.
I certainly have days where I wish that I was out on the road, going to new courses in different states, and throwing in the elite tournaments. I am very grateful to be where I am because of the impact that I am able to make with my family and in my community. Being a full time teacher and dad has so many rewards. My life as a non-touring pro has been quite rewarding and even though I haven’t been playing disc golf for very long, I have had the privilege to meet and play with the best in the world.
Becoming an ambassador and sponsored professional in 2015 took a lot of hard work. I’ve been fortunate to work with many companies including Discmania as a Media Partner. Through my work with disc golf, I’m also an ambassador with brands outside the sport. Don’t give up on your disc golf dreams. You can help shape your path within the sport we all love.