First, I want to thank MRK for the great post that broached this subject. Great stuff, my friend.
For my part, I have played three courses that are pay-to-play and another couple that had a suggested donation. The first one was a course in Orlando, Florida (forget the name) in January of 2006. The reason it was pay-to-play was that it was a part of a state park that required an entrance fee. They did not charge directly for the course, only for entrance to the park. I feel this is what pay-to-play has been in the past for the most part. Beautiful course, by the way. The one I played in New York was similar to the park in Orlando. I payed to get into the park; playing the course was merely a part of the park.
The third pay-to-play was Blue Ribbon Pines, an amazing course located on a sod farm in East Bethel, MN. The fee was (if I remember correctly) $5 for the whole day on a 27 hole course. URBWes, MRK and myself played through it twice, giving us a fair assessment of what the course had to offer. Verdict: Sweet!
As far as the free-to-play courses, I've played a couple dozen or so. The game grew up around free courses. It owes its success to it being primarily free-to-play. Living in Omaha, I've come across an interesting fact about our local course. It is the most used park in the area by far, owing a great deal of interest to the disc course. The pay-to-play model will drastically change the economy of the sport, both financial and functional aspects.
In attempting to approach this question, we must first look at the demographic of the affected group. Most discers land in the 15-25 age range, a group that tends to have less funds, though tends to have a much larger percentage of disposable income. Needless to say, an increase in cost of the sport will hinder its growth.
But we also seem to have hit a critical mass here. We have 151 registered courses in Iowa right now, 148 in Minnesota. We have a great number of courses, but I question the quality. Most of these courses are of simple design and offer little more than a family-style putt putt course. Other courses (such as Seymour Smith here in Omaha) represent the sole accessible source of disc golf in an area. With a burgeoning community, it is replete with golfers constantly. This creates a great deal of course degradation and litter. And I believe we are all familiar with the more disrespectful of our ilk who show poor etiquette. All these are exacerbated by the immense population these courses see.
The reason I bring up these two points in relation to critical mass is this: How is the sport to progress? We have courses; we don't have many good ones. Good courses are becoming deteriorated and are dependant upon infrequent upkeep by parks and rec staff. As fortunate as we are to have them for upkeep, the amount of maintenance these courses require is beyond their capacity. A critical mass has been reached. We have maxed out our capacity with the state of the sport. We must move on. We must become more sophisticated. In order to get beyond beginner level courses and explore the possibilities of what our sport could be, we must invest the time and money towards that end, an endeavor that exceeds public possiblities.
This lends credence towards the pay-to-play option. These courses will benefit from proper upkeep and development (ala BRP or even the course development of a Renny in Charlotte). A nice side effect is the muting of those who are disrespectful towards the game.
For my own part, a reasonable (and I stress reasonable) cost is worthwhile and could only serve to deepen my appreciation of the sport. Yet, this is personal in scope. For those of us greatly invested in disc golf, this makes a great deal of sense. A problem arises when we compare these with the rest of the disc golf population, a large percentage of whom would be dissuaded by a rise in cost. Furthermore, our sport, while growing, is not self-sustaining. We would reduce our attraction for newcomers if pay-to-plays ruled the roost.
A nice compromise has recently been struck in the Twin Cities. I number of the nicer, more technical courses have gone to a pay-to-play format, increasing their value. Yet, most area courses remain open to the public.
Three areas of concern remain.
First, the governing bodies better put a great deal of thought into which courses they turn to pay-to-play and how they do it. While turning a course to pay-to-play will increase that course's value, this also means an increase in traffic at neighboring courses, lessening the experiences they can offer. We must be comfortable with such transitive possibilities.
Prices cannot be unfeasible for a typical patron. If a college kid can't afford it, it is too expensive! And we can't ignore this rule of thumb as the pay-to-play model evolves.
Finally, this model is context related. Not all markets are appropriate for the pay-to-play model. For instance, any area that has just one or only a couple courses, should ignore this as an option. To turn all possibilities for an entire area to pay-to-play would be digressive for the proliferation of the sport. Only those areas with a vibrant community, having several course options, should look towards this option. Perhaps a suggested donation could be appropriate in these instances to increase the quality of these courses.
This is enough for now. It's 2:30 a.m. I'm tired. I'm going to bed.
Song of the Week: "Crane Wife 1 & 2" and "Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists. Appropriate for the conversation me thinks.