Black & white Striped Shirted Referee standing next to a disc golf basket

Why Should Disc Golf Have Officials?

I’m going to start this blog with a little preface. I appreciate all the hard work done by the PDGA rules committee and by all tournament directors, from unsanctioned all the way up to DGPT events. The job that they do is admirable, difficult, and appreciated by players and fans alike. I just think there’s an additional step that needs to be taken in the sport.

I think one major step that disc golf needs to go mainstream is full time officials. In every major sport there’s an umpire or judge or referee who is impartial. The problem for disc golf currently is rules aren’t always clear to the players. Calling a rules violation is up to the players, who don’t always want to call it on their fellow players.

You may be saying, “Streeter, isn’t this blog a little knee jerky? Every disc golf tournament has a new situation pop up and Maple Hill has had a few. I mean Simon doesn’t call provisional and loses 3 strokes, GG turns in a scorecard wrong and loses 2 strokes, and Paul plays an OB differently and so he’s penalized then given his stroke back after appeal? (I personally believe Paul’s appeal had merit.) Aren’t you just being reactionary with this blog?”

Nope, I believe Maple Hill isn’t the last time we’ll have folks arguing over the rules. I’m of the opinion that officials are important to the world of sports. Disc golf relying on our competitors is asking for either failure to follow the rules, or someone abusing the rules to raise an opponents score. I know golf is a “gentleman's game” but people may be tempted to bend the rules if money is on the line. For example what if you’re tied with someone and their disc lands where there’s no consensus if it has missed the mando or gone OB. If you’re the deciding vote, are you going to penalize that player and move up a few hundred dollars in cash? It’s an ethical problem that the players don’t need to face.

I’d like to see a rules official on each hole at these big events (Majors and DGPT events) so players don’t have to determine OB. And if they do a foot fault, the official can call it. There are many rules to follow in disc golf, and players should be focusing on themselves, not trying to police their competitors. Imagine the NFL without officials, are you going to trust a QB who gets sacked and calls the CB for lining up offside? No that would be ridiculous. We have officials for that sort of thing, so that players can play and not worry about others. Disc golf is a sport, it needs officials. Now in baseball if you think someone is cheating you can tell the umpire and they can look for it, that’s fine! But players shouldn’t be the umpires in this situation.

Self policing is what disc golf has at the moment. Competitors who should be focusing on their own game calling, or not calling violations on their friends. Having an official for each hole would mean consistent calls on that hole. I wouldn’t want 1 official to accompany a card all the way through a round because what if one official allows a disc flying through a mando tree as okay and another official doesn’t? Keeping them on a specific hole would lead to more consistent calls and make things fairer.

Now there’s a slew of reasons why this would be difficult to accomplish.
  1. People who are officials want to be playing in these large tournaments, no one is just an official in disc golf. They’re usually also players who compete at a high level. Next time you see someone volunteering at an event make sure you thank them, they’d probably rather be playing.
  2. You’d need to find 18 officials for MPO, and if FPO is playing a different course you’d need an additional 18 officials. And they’d have to train for multiple holes in case someone was sick or unable to attend the event for some reason. You’d need 20-40 officials per event and that’s a lot of highly skilled people.
  3. Officials would have to be with a group from the time they tee off on a hole, until they hole out. Then they may have to walk a long way back to the tee. Think Hole 13 at Ledgestone, it’s already a beast to play at 1,080 feet. It can cause a backup, and if the official has to walk back to the tee it’s probably an extra few minutes walk leading to a longer backup for players. If you play tournaments, sometimes you can be 3-4 cards deep waiting at a hole and that’s a real round killer. You could add multiple officials, but that’s more people you need to sign up as officials.
  4. We’d have to compensate the officials. Volunteers are difficult enough to find, but getting people to give up their day to be walking rulebooks would probably require paying them. The PGA pays their officials a salary. Jeff Hall, the Managing Director of the Rules committee for USGA earns $316,196. I couldn’t find what the officials make, but they are required to spend 25-30 weeks on the road each year so it’s probably a decent salary.
  5. Unless you’re paying these officials to fly all over the country like MLB and the NFL do, you’re going to have to train multiple new officials for each event. You’ll likely only have 1 week to find 18-36 people who have passed the officials exam, then go over a course with them to show them how you want certain things officiated. A TD would have to add a very long meeting with officials right before the event to their schedule.
  6. Officials are humans too, they will make mistakes. I’ve refereed soccer games and umpired softball before. I took a class in school on refereeing; it’s hard. No matter how much you train them, give them time to make decisions, and have a good rapport with players, they’ll blow calls the same way that officials do in other sports. There’s plenty of compilations on YouTube of referees getting a call wrong. I worry about this especially because as a small community. It’s going to hurt even more when someone online says something tactless about your friend who got a call wrong.
  7. The Officials would have to have officiating be their only disc golf job. It can’t be a tournament director for another event or a person who works for one of the disc companies. We’d need to find people who don’t have ties so they can be free to make the right call without being influenced by a player, or the company they work for. Any hint of impropriety is wrong for officials, so I don’t want to see them with ties to others in disc golf.

I don’t see the PDGA addressing these issues at this time (pure speculation by me). The sport isn’t quite there yet, maybe in a few years they’ll come up with something that blows my ideas out of the water. I just want to see a world where disc golfers don’t have to worry about calling others for foot faults, dramatic outbursts, or have a rules question they can’t answer, resulting in strokes. They can focus solely on their game, and officials can call the sport fairly for everyone.

Do you have any ideas about what you’d like to see from rules officials? Should video evidence be allowed the way it is in baseball, football, basketball, and hockey? Or are you in the casual players camp and you don’t really mind?

No matter what I’d love to hear from you if you have any ideas about the rules of this sport.

May your discs miss all the trees,
Andrew Streeter #70397

Streeter (PGDA #70397 )

He started disc golfing in 2011 and instantly fell in love with the flight of a disc. He has a degree in Sports Management from the university of Southern Maine and has been blogging for SDG since 2020, He writes about informational disc golf content editorials, and disc golf entertainment.

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