Amateur Sports: In the Midst of the Pandemic, One Sport Thrived

When the pandemic first hit, most organized sports were forced to stop. There were questions about safety when sports came back, but not for disc golf. 

Disc golf is a sport where players try to throw their disc into a basket in as few throws as possible. The sport thrived during the pandemic because of the ability to maintain a safe distance between players and the ability to play while masked.

According to the Professional Disc Golf Association, membership in 2020 increased 33% which was the largest yearly increase they have ever seen in the sport. 

UDisc, an app that tracks scores of individuals who play, recorded a new round being started every 1.6 seconds during August of 2020. 

This explosion highlighted some of the issues that the disc golf community faced. One is the lack of stores to purchase discs.

“I had the wrong disc in my hand and I only have a few Innova discs in my bag because Dick’s Sporting Goods was the only place that you can go and find a disc,” David Gralnick said “And this has been a problem for years since I’ve been playing. I was like, ‘Alright, enough of this. Something has to be done. I’m doing it myself. That’s it.’”

Gralnick, 52, is from Cherry Hill and had taken it upon himself to solve this problem by opening a new store in New Jersey. His business, Cosmic Disc Golf, is more than just a business opportunity. 

“I’m in this for so much more than just the actual sport of disc golf, ” Gralnick explained. “I value disc golf for so many other things. I’ve seen it change people’s lives, including my own. I’ve seen a cure for depression. I’ve seen people lose weight. I’ve seen people make friends and change their entire outlook on life through disc golf. So I feel like any uptick in disc golf activity is a positive for the world.”

Down the road from Cosmic is Stafford Woods Disc Golf Course. This is the home of South Jersey Disc Golf, a club looking to promote and grow the sport in the area. 

Beginning of Hole 1 at Stafford Woods.

“They have a really good community here in South Jersey,” Dan Hamilton said. “Honestly, anywhere in the nation you can really come across fantastic disc golf communities. Like Delaware disc golf. I’ve met many great guys in Maryland and Virginia. But South Jersey disc golf has a real good foundation.”

Hamilton, 31, is currently out of work due to COVID but recently had a child, who he hopes wants to play disc golf in the future.

“I’m not going to be the dad that forces it upon them,” he said. “If they want to, then yeah, I’m going to fully support it. I’m going to try to drive it heavy. I would love to see my child involved in a sport that cannot only be better them physically, and health wise. It can be fantastic for their mental strength and their drive to be successful, as a human being and to be productive.”

Gralnick hopes to give back to the disc golf community with the help of SJDG through a number of programs, including Cosmic Kids. 

“I want it to be introduced to kids in schools, at the very least, and get kids at least exposed to it,” Gralnick said. “Not every kid is good at throwing a baseball or kicking a soccer ball or whatever, but I feel like everybody can play disc golf.”

Gralnick is also looking to start Cosmic Causes. The main idea behind it is to promote disc, grow the sport, and give back with the help of tournaments.

“You get 70-72 people in a tournament, and each one of them posts a picture and that spreads,” Gralnick said. “It can have a really good impact. I will be donating all the money from that, even the net proceeds that Cosmic would normally see from a tournament, to the sponsor charity.” 

Tournaments are extremely popular in disc golf. There are tournaments of all skill levels, from professional to amateur. Stafford Woods and SJDG are hosting a number of tournaments, but the most notable is the Stafford Open, which is a part of the Disc Golf Pro Tour Silver Series. 

Brandon Beck, 49, is the current tournament organizer for Cosmic and is a member of the SJDG board of directors. 

“I’m a detail person, and that’s why I pride myself on the tournament’s that I run,” Beck said. “So it’s just a little something every night. An hour or two every night and not everybody knows it or appreciates it.”

With the help of Beck, Gralnick and Cosmic are creating tournaments for the public. The union of Cosmic and SJDG will allow for the growth of the community in the area. 

“I’ve sat out front of Stafford Woods, greeting all our new players, and they come up with their Walmart bags of their discs,” Beck said. “I try to educate them. Cosmic will create an anchor for disc golf knowledge and disc golf paraphernalia that you have to buy in our area. So it was a long time and coming, and Dave has done the right thing by starting a store.”

Cosmic and SJDG working together for the same goal presents a promising future for disc golf in the area.

“My first tournament went on sale the other night, and it sold out in 42 seconds,” Gralnick said. “I’m a startup out of nowhere, but it just shows how much demand there is out there. And I intend on helping to fill that demand by creating tournaments, leagues and an overall presence in disc golf.”

Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com.