The news last November of a million-dollar sponsorship contract a disc golf champion was at the same time an outlier and an indication.
Paul McBeth’s reported four-year deal was an anomaly for the burgeoning sport, but also showed disc golf is trending in the direction that similar deals might be available down the road.
“It’s been estimated that about 2 million people play disc golf,” said Steve Hill, media coordinator for the Professional Disc Golf Association. “It’s really catching on worldwide.”
The PDGA held one of its top tournaments at Wildhorse Golf Club in Henderson in mid-February. It drew an elite field of players, including the world’s top-ranked woman.
Paige Pierce, 27, earned nearly $30,000 in prize winnings last season and roughly doubled her income through sponsorship and tournament bonuses. She even competes internationally, recently traveling to Spain, Croatia and Iceland, and will play in Finland in July.
Between tournaments and sponsorship demands, Pierce is away from her Plano, Texas, home all but about three weeks each year. She began playing the sport at 4 and competed in her first tournament at 8. As a young teenager, Pierce began to compete against adults and gradually worked her way to defeating them before turning pro in 2010 and finishing second in her first national event.
“That was the moment I knew I could make a career out of this,” Pierce said. “This is something I’m super passionate about. I’ve been playing my whole life. I enjoy just watching the discs fly, but also the competitive nature that goes along with it and the community that we have. So it’s amazing to have all my favorite things combined together and being able to do it every single day traveling the world.”
Hers is not the lavish lifestyle of NBA and NFL athletes staying at five-star hotels. She lives in a sprinter van, a sort of apartment on wheels.
“You have to be consistently at the top to make a comfortable living, but every year, it’s better and better,” Pierce said.
A.J. Risley said he often sleeps in friends’ homes on the road to help save expenses. He earned about $14,000 in prize money last year, and his sponsor helped cover travel expenses.
Like Pierce, he fell in love with disc golf at a young age, picking it up at 12. Risley, who is from San Marcos, California, then began to realize he could be pretty good at it.
“It took a little bit of patience at first for a young kid, but then I quickly fell in love with it and fell in love with traveling to play courses,” said Risley, who is ranked 78th worldwide. “That was something I had no idea was part of the sport, that there were different courses all over the place that were all unique. So I latched on to that pretty quickly as well.”