“Disc Golf” as it is known today began with “Steady” Ed Headrick, the father of disc golf, modern day disc sports and the driving force responsible for the modern era of Frisbee sports.
Disc Golf Association, (DGA) was established in 1976 by Ed Headrick to form a new international sport and to promote the installation and use of disc golf courses around the world.
Headrick coined and trademarked the term “Disc Golf” after inventing and patenting the original Disc Pole Hole. Headrick had originally wanted to call his invention a Frisbee Pole Hole but ran into issues over the Frisbee trademarked belonging to Wham-O where he had served as Vice President. Later after founding Disc Golf Association and the Professional Disc Golf Association, Ed released the term disc golf from trademark restrictions in order to help grow the sport.
More about “Steady” Ed Headrick >>
Prior to DGA, a precursor to the game of disc golf was played by a few devoted Frisbee players throwing Frisbees at carefully chosen “golf holes”… usually drinking fountains, fire hydrants, garbage cans and light poles and the rules were made up on the spot. It was during this time that competitive freestyle had reached a critical mass with frisbee tournaments composed of distinct freestyle skill events. Frisbee golf made its début at a couple of these events in 1974 and 1975 as side activities to the main events comprising of competitive freestyle, focused on trick throws and acrobatic catches. The huge potential of disc golf as a formal sport and recognized recreational activity did not become apparent until after Headrick installed the first permanent Disc Pole Hole course and disc golf moved from a fringe of the Frisbee Freestyle movement and into the mainstream and the disc golf revolution.
In 1974, Headrick approached the county of Los Angeles Park and Recreation Department with the idea of a permanent Disc Golf Course. Sy Greben, Director of the Park Planning Division saw the potential and Oak Grove Park was selected and approval was given to install the world’s first Disc Golf Course. Headrick and Mary Becker from the Park Planning Division designed and constructed the course with the county.
In 1976 Ed replaced his Pole Holes which were just poles cemented into the ground with the first DGA Disc Pole Hole that where the first disc golf targets to use chains to stop a disc.
From a Niche Game to One of Today’s Fastest Growing Sports
Modern day disc golf started in the late 60’s. The early frisbee golf courses were “object courses”, using anything from trees, trash cans, light poles, chicken wire baskets, pipes to fire hydrants as targets. The roots of the sport begin when “Steady” Ed Headrick designed the modern day Frisbee (US Patent 3,359,678, issued 1966) while working for Wham-O Toys back in the 60’s. Captivated by the flight and feeling of control he could master with the Frisbee, Ed saw potential for the disc well beyond what anyone had envisioned or imagined.
Ed Headrick was one of the main driving forces of early Frisbee sports. Headrick founded the International Frisbee Association, established the Junior Frisbee Championships, established and organized the World Frisbee Championship and went on to create and standardize the sport of Disc Golf.
The game was formalized when Headrick invented the first Disc Pole Hole™ catching device, consisting of 10 chains hanging in a parabolic shape over an upward opening basket, (US Patent 4,039,189, issued 1975). The Disc Pole Hole™ became the equivalent to ball golf’s “hole” and was installed in the first standardized target course (what was then known as Oak Grove Park Pasadena, California). Ed had said one of his many inspirations for the “Disc Pole Hole™” invention was so he and his buddies could get on with playing instead of arguing over whether someone actually had hit one of the objects in their make shift object courses.
An excerpt from “revelation, “Frisbee Golf” by Ed Headrick
“Then an amazing revelation, all my buddies, all my staff at Wham-O, and most of my cult members and I were playing the game I was looking for. Frisbee Golf was right under my nose! Great marketing man right? A game where people would throw an expensive Frisbee into the ground every throw on purpose? Wow! What a market potential!It seems so easy, but what could be better than walking through a beautiful park and throwing at trees, drinking fountains, open car windows and an occasional coed?
Back to the drawing boards and 56 models later a contraption was born. Shazam! Chain! Like Moses and his cracked rules, chains without black leather and a whip. Chain, indestructible, flexible, a pleasant sound. I wish I had invented it, but chain was my answer. Hence the Mach I, II, III and twenty years of blood, sweat and tears.”
An Abbreviated History of Disc Golf
By "Steady" Ed Headrick
Disc golf in one form or another has been with us since the beginning of time. The early cavemen in their search for weapons to extend their ability to slay food probably found rocks before clubs. If they could kill something from a safe distance it would be much safer than a club or a sharp stick.
Test of skill were a necessary pastime, closest to the target sounds familiar! Flat rocks had a different flight and flew further than round objects, skipping flat stones on the water, throwing shields, Eureka! Then came the discus that Discoblus threw which certainly resembled a Frisbee.
In the early steel age sharpened rings were thrown with devastating effect. They flew with accuracy, caused serious injury and looked like the modern Aerobie. Then came the ancient word “scaling” (to throw a thin flat object so that its edge cuts through the air). Pie pans, film can lids and toy flying saucers were the recent predecessors of the modern Frisbee which was invented in 1964 by Ed Headrick, US Patent 3,359,678. He also formed the International Frisbee Association which had over 112,000 members by 1972.
Early Frisbee Targets
Since that time disc golf evolved from man’s natural competitive nature. Early games used targets of trees, trash cans, light poles, chicken wire baskets, pipes, and coeds. The game was formalized when Headrick invented the first Disc Pole Hole catching device, consisting of 10 chains hanging in a parabolic shape over an upward opening basket, US Patent 4,039,189, issued 1975.
The First Disc Golf Course
The first formal disc golf course was built in Oak Grove Park, (Pasadena, California), by Headrick in 1975 and was an instant success.By the time of his death, Ed has designed over 200 courses.
The First Disc Golf Basket
Evolution of the Disc Pole Hole™ catching device.
The Disc Pole Hole has evolved continuously since the first Mach I. For the past two decades our products have been established and accepted worldwide as the industry standard for the sport of Disc Golf. All of our hardware is hot-dipped galvanized from head to toe and guaranteed for 20 years against rust and corrosion. To protect your discs, all of our chains are hot-dipped galvanized and hand polished. Accept no copies or imitations. Let he who is without stone, cast the first disc.
The First Disc Golf Basket Designs
Early DGA Disc Golf Basket Patents
33 Years With The Frisbee
Tom Schlueter from DISC GOLF JOURNAL has asked me to write an editorial reflecting upon my 33rd anniversary with the Frisbee, with the sport I love, with my worldwide family and some thoughts about the future. I am both honored and humbled. Over the years literally thousands of people have asked me for an interview and they were freely given. With your indulgence, I’ll take you back 33 years and allow you to look to the future from my prospective, through my eyes which by the way border on 20/15.
1964, President Kennedy had been assassinated, I had a good job as VP/GM of a water heater manufacturing company. Pioneer, a nice home, a very understanding and loving wife, three handsome strong boys and a beautiful daughter. I also had several patents and a great desire to develop new products and new marketing techniques. I brought new life to an industry that was still locked up with the dark ages. Sears had blazed the way for what we used to call DTU. Direct To You merchandising, also known as discount stores. My DTU’s helped create stores like Builders Emporium, a giant in the LA market and in a way the forerunner to super stores like Builders Emporium all over the country.
Sears and water heaters
My plan was to tap the vast water heater replacement market. Pioneer already had 45% of the new construction business, but that was almost a non profit bidding for jobs. Sears had the cream with the profitable replacement market. Every water heater ever built was built to die in five years, 10 years, or even longer, but die they did, and still do. I built an organization of putty truck plumbers in southern California that could install a water heater within 24 hours and sold the service and my top-of-the-line product to every retail outlet in town and soon sold more product than Sears plus over a million dollars in profitable sales for my company the first year.
Flush with my accomplishments and restless for a new challenge, I took one of my inventions, a hydrofoil water ski to Wham-O, who was not just a toy company but sold sling shots, blow guns, cross bows and throwing knives. Sporting Goods, Right?Wham-O had a large warehouse full of Hula Hoop tubing they were stuck with and they were spending thousands of dollars per month trying to develop a product to use the tubing. It was like a millstone around their neck. I offered to quit my job and take over R & D (marketing) for them for a little more money than the water heater company paid. They said they couldn’t afford that much, and I offered to work for free for three months, and if they wanted me after that time they would have to pay me what I required retroactively to the start (creative marketing?) They accepted and my first marketing/R & D project was to haul a warehouse full of useless tubing to a meltdown company.
Now they were ready to listen to my ideas. In the first three months I developed and filed a mechanical patent (the first by the way) on my version of what a flying saucer ought to look like. During the same period, I formulated the marketing plan and made the first test mold out of an old disc mold that Wham-O had acquired. The greatness of my invention was simplicity, and I quickly learned that there was a hard core of people in their 20’s perhaps 100 people in the world, A CULT that were playing with a child’s toy, a flying saucer, and loving it. All I did was offer them a “Pro” model, white with a black flame painted ring, a gold foil label that said 108 grams, as if anyone cared, and the Olympic rings upside down. It looked like an early night football, with class, and the saucer cult loved it. Hence my claim to have invented the modern Frisbee.
IFA – International Frisbee Association
I also formed the International Frisbee Association during that time period and started shooting the first real television commercial called “What’s a Frisbee.”In my spare time, I took a blob of synthetic rubber developed by the tire industry to dissipate the heat generated by the flexing of a tire. This blob had an amazing coefficient of friction and restitution but was not practical for a tire in that it lost all of its friction when the surface was wet. It was difficult to mold, sometimes shattered upon impact, but magically bounced forever. In that first three months, the Modern Frisbee and the Super Ball were both born and became two of the top ten fads in the world. I got the job plus $10 for valuable consideration and licensed my patent on the Modern Frisbee to Wham-O as required by my contract.
The best $10 ever earned
Since that time the Frisbee, made under the teachings of my patent with the “Lines of Headrick”, has sold over 200,000,000 a stack to New York and back to California 6.3 times (with end to end). Super Bowl was named after Super Ball and the rest is history, my history. The IFA had over 112,000 members who all shared one thing: the love, the companionship, and the camaraderie of a piece of plastic. I am wealthy beyond my dreams with a family of millions. It was the best $10 I ever earned. I was CEO and sales exceeded 18 million with earnings in the millions. It was with a heavy heart and empty wallet that I left Wham-O.
The first Masters Competition
I rented the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to shoot a television commercial (The first Masters competition), hung the bunting all over the field, bought referee shirts for the football coaches of La Canada High, invited all my Frisbee friends from Hollywood through Goldy Norton and Irv Landers and never shot a picture of the stands, which were of course empty! This event eventually became the Worlds Frisbee Championships held at the Rose Bowl for many years with a max. audience of 50,000 people (estimated by Pasadena Police Department) a marketing mans dream, but beneath it all, a desire to find a game that would become the future of Frisbee when the glamour wore out. I failed. Ultimate, 30 or 40 people playing catch with one Frisbee! Fun, but a ridiculous market. Guts, ten crazy people trying to kill each other again with one disc. Distance, Freestyle, MTA, TRC, nothing worked.
A Revelation, “Frisbee Golf”
Then an amazing revelation, all my buddies, all my staff at Wham-O, and most of my cult members and I were playing the game I was looking for. Frisbee Golf was right under my nose! Great marketing man right? A game where people would throw an expensive Frisbee into the ground every throw on purpose? Wow! What a market potential!It seems so easy, but what could possibly be better than walking through a beautiful park and throwing at trees, drinking fountains, open car windows and an occasional coed? Back to the drawing boards and 56 models later a contraption was born. Shazam! Chain! Like Moses and his cracked rules, chains without black leather and a whip. Chain, indestructible, flexible, a pleasant sound. I wish I had invented it, but chain was my answer. Hence the MACH I, II, III and twenty years of blood, sweat and tears.
On the Eve of the future
Millions of people are now having fun destroying discs playing our game Disc Golf. If you think it was fun recruiting the new members of the PDGA, you’re right. I did it by sheer willpower, an understanding wife and secretary, and establishing a personal relationship to 10,000 members. In 1983 I felt that I had done enough for the sport to make it permanent, and I turned it over to the players to run. Great marketing man, Right? Wrong, I missed the point! ALL DISC GOLFERS WANT TO DO IS PLAY GOLF! NOT BE DIRECTORS OF A NEW WORLDWIDE ORGANIZATION.
We still have that problem. The Board of Directors at our recent meeting would have much preferred to be playing Disc Golf than listening to this old man pontificate about the future and so would I. So perhaps now you are beginning to see the world through my eyes. We are on the eve of an exponential growth in our sport. As with Super Ball and Frisbee, we have to think big or we won’t get big. We need to get some sophisticated management with business ideas and capabilities. They don’t need to know our sport, only their job. Then we can all go play. Perhaps the world can find peace through the communication of a piece of plastic and chains, my dream. I wonder what Moses would have thought?