Ultimate frisbee and disc golf are two sports that often enter the discussion when it’s a warm Saturday afternoon and your friend says “It’s awesome outside, let’s go do something.” They’re considered to be recreational sports or even leisure activities, just something to do when it’s nice out and you want to do something fun and relaxing. Yet, there is a competitive side to these sports and, while it’s often tossed by the wayside, the popularity of ultimate and disc golf are rapidly increasing in the competitive sports world. Still, ultimate and disc golf lack the large competitive leagues of the “major” sports (soccer, baseball, basketball, football, cricket) and until these leagues become legitimate contenders in the sports world, frisbee sports will continue to be thought of as recreational sports and not competitive sports.

Ultimate frisbee, while there are professional leagues (USA Ultimate), has become a predominantly college sport in America. Colleges all over the country have ultimate frisbee teams, often even two or more teams (mens, womens, A & B teams), and their has been a rapid growth over the past decade. According to a USA Today article from 2013, USA Ultimate reported that from 2004 to 2011 the number of colleges with registered ultimate frisbee programs grew from just under 10,000 to just over 16,000. The numbers have only increased since then and now there are extensive divisions, tournaments and rankings in college ultimate. ESPN has even begun to broadcast the USA Ultimate College Championships on ESPN3 due to the surge in popularity of college ultimate. While college ultimate has gained popularity on the national scale, professional ultimate hasn’t had the same surge. While there are teams, leagues, and tournament for professional ultimate, there is not enough popularity to generate substantial revenue for teams and for players so that ultimate frisbee can actually be someone’s job or career. Until professional ultimate becomes more mainstream, it will be hard for the sport to be considered a competitive sport as opposed to a leisure sport.


Disc golf is a similar story. While there has been a tremendous increase in popularity of the sport in recent years, the surge has been in the recreational direction. College membership and public membership of the Disc Golf Association (DGA) has increased rapidly over the last ten years but a legitimate professional league still seems very far off. Disc golf is different than ultimate in that there must be a specific disc golf course set up while ultimate frisbee games can be played on any regulation soccer or football field or for that matter just any large patch of grass. This is one of the reasons that ultimate likely has more players worldwide; it’s simply more convenient to play and doesn’t require the same amount of space and equipment that disc golf does. Nonetheless, disc golf courses are beginning to “pop up all over the place” according to local disc golfer Mike Tentilucci as more and more interest is being generated in the sport.


Until ultimate frisbee and disc golf make the transition from recreational sports to competitive sports, it seems unlikely that legitimate professional leagues will develop and take hold of the sports market as the “major” sports have. However, this doesn’t diminish or take away from the sports or from their growing popularity. As two of the most popular recreational sports in the world among golf and others, ultimate frisbee and disc golf are enjoyable and relaxing to play and include a competitive component for those truly passionate about the games. With growing levels of competition professionally and particularly on the college level, ultimate and disc golf are on the rise and will continue to make their impact on the sports world in years to come.