Let me start out by saying that the correct term for the sport is in fact disc golf. Frisbee golf is mostly a colloquialism, reserved for casual communication.
But to truly understand the significance of this distinction (disc golf vs frisbee golf) one must do a little research into the background. After which, I think you’ll understand why a disc golf veteran may feel the need to correct your usage of the term frisbee golf.
In my experience
Before I became more heavily involved in disc golf, I occasionally referred to the sport as frisbee golf. It seemed reasonable because I grew up throwing a traditional toy frisbee with family and friends. And this would be the same for most people out there I imagine.
Really, the modern game of disc golf as we know it today hasn’t been around for that long in relation to other sports. It takes time for language to evolve.
The first time I saw someone playing disc golf, my mind immediately went back to my experiences growing up and throwing a toy frisbee. Drawing on past experience, the term frisbee golf felt right.
It wasn’t until I started researching equipment to purchase for the sport that I realized virtually no sellers out there were utilizing the expression frisbee golf. This was generally enough authority for me at the time to ditch the term frisbee golf from my vocabulary, though not entirely (more on that later).
However, I did come across one seller that was advertising a mini frisbee golf set… Wham-O?
This piqued my interest.
Early days of disc golf
After doing my research, I noticed that Wham-O was involved right from the beginning of disc golf. The man known as the Father of Disc Golf, Edward Headwick (known as Steady Ed), actually worked for Wham-O.
While working at Wham-O, Headwick designed what is known as the modern today frisbee and became interested in organizing a sport called Frisbee Golf.
It seems that Wham-O did not share the same vision. Headwick left Wham-O in 1975, coining the term Disc Golf and pursuing a standardized set of rules for the sport.
Hold on though. Why did Headwick decide to switch over to the term Disc Golf instead of what he proposed to Wham-O as Frisbee Golf? Wham-O trademarks Frisbee. I wasn’t able to find out much about Headwick’s departure from Wham-O, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a smooth transition.
Given the facts of the situation, it seems that Wham-O had no interest in allowing an ex-employee (regardless of how much that ex-employee helped the company) to utilize their registered trademark to setup a new sport.
Similarly, Ultimate Frisbee’s actual name is just, Ultimate. Same deal. Wham-O seemingly isn’t willing to give anyone permission to use their trademarked term.
Its sad to think about, since Headwick was so pivotal at Wham-O in extending the popularity of the frisbee to a wider audience. Alas, I believe most people that are familiar with the situation have moved on.
Although don’t be sad for long, because Disc Golf has seen sizable growth since it was officially organized. In 1976, Headrick founded the PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association).
Since that time, there are thousands and thousands of disc golf courses worldwide. I think we can chalk this up to a bad business decision by Wham-O.
Disc golf purists
Disc golfers are a passionate group.
Given the forgoing explanation about disc golf vs. frisbee golf, one can understand why a disc golf purist would be mildly irritated when they hear a casual player (or non-player) refer to a sport they love as frisbee golf. It feels like a downgrading.
Also, as I had mentioned previously about my personal experience growing up, frisbees are typically thought of as a trivial toy that you play with as a kid.
Disc golf has evolved from a backyard pass-time activity of throwing a frisbee at a target tree into an international sport of no small significance.
Not to mention, branding is a huge part of it. If you’re like me and you want to see the sport continue to grow in prominence, having uniformity in our speech about the sport is important.
So, let me just say if you’re guilty of referring to disc golf as frisbee golf (as I myself have in the past), have no fear. You are forgiven.
To the disc golf veterans out there, I encourage leniency to those unfamiliar with the sport of disc golf and its roots. Most people that play the game don’t really care if disc and frisbee are used interchangeably, but if you do, be kind to new players starting out.
As I mentioned previously, when I first started out playing disc golf I was researching what gear I was going to buy which is when I noticed most sellers were not using frisbee golf to describe their products.
Out of habit, I sometimes still used the term. Somewhere along the way I was mildly berated by a veteran player that my use of the term frisbee golf was just “dumb”. His approach to the situation was off very distasteful, which momentarily made me reconsider my decision to even approach the game.
Luckily, I persistent. And I’m glad I did. Most people I have met in the sport are great.
Frisbee is generally used to describe any flying disc
So really, in any official capacity no one is legally allowed to use the word Frisbee except for Wham-O since they have the registered trademark.
Edward (Steady Ed) Headwick came up with the term disc golf after he left Wham-O. Soon after that he began setting up the sport in a standardized fashion.
People are going to continue to use the term frisbee golf for years to come since frisbee is used so generally in describing all flying discs. Most agree that frisbee golf sounds like a kid’s game, while disc golf sounds like an adult’s game.
This has led to some controversy in the community over the proper usage of these terms.
Most people you interact with in the community are not going to care either way.
Recently, I even heard the game referred to as frolf, which was actually kind of hilarious to me. In a good way. I’m just glad to see the game continuing to find new audiences and players. Everyone deserves to play the game in the way they enjoy.