By: Auguste Smith
People often use the term ‘frolf’ or ‘frisbee golf’ when talking about the sport of disc golf. This is fine and dandy, I do it myself sometimes, but it is technically incorrect. Frisbee is actually a trademarked name for a flying disc made by the toy company Wham-O. When you play disc golf you use disc golf discs, not Frisbees. I will describe the distinction between Frisbees (as well as other Frisbee-shaped flying discs) and disc golf discs later in this article.
The origins of the Frisbee and mass-produced plastic toy flying discs stem from a WWII pilot, Walter Frederick Morrison, his wife, Lucile, and his business partner, Warren Franscioni. Before the war, Walter and his wife would sell cake pans to toss on the beaches of Los Angeles. After making a prototype they began producing their plastic flying discs, called the Whirlo-Way in 1948. The toy was later renamed the Flyin’ Saucer based upon the recent mania of UFOs at the time. Morrison and Franscioni ended their partnership in 1950. Morrison created his own company in 1954 and created a new flying disc which he named the Pluto Platter. Morrison then sold the rights of the Pluto Platter to Wham-O in 1957. The co-founders of Wham-O changed the name of the Pluto Platter to Frisbee after learning that college kids had already been calling them by that name, based on a local pie manufacturer called the Frisbie Pie Company.
Walter Frederick Morrison with his Pluto Platter
In 1964 Wham-O hired Ed Headrick as general manager and vice president of marketing. Headrick redesigned the Frisbee by reworking the mold to remove the names of the planets and increased the thickness of the rim and mass of the disc, resulting in a more controllable and accurate disc. The professional model also included raised circular ridges on the top of the disc. Through the leadership of Headrick (known as the father of disc sports), Wham-O helped change the public view of flying discs from being seen as toys to being seen as sports equipment.
Headrick founded the International Frisbee Association and appointed Dan Roddick as its head. Roddick established North American Series tournament standards for various frisbee sports. Over the years there have been multiple flying disc sports invented and many different companies have made their own version of the flying discs, although technically they can’t be called ‘Frisbees’.
Professional Model Frisbee
The list of flying disc sports includes: Double Disc Court, Freestyle, Guts, Polish Horseshoes, KanJam, Disc Dog, Ultimate, and Disc Golf. Ultimate and most of these other sports use the more traditionally shaped flying discs like the Frisbee. Except for Disc Golf.
Ultimate, one of the most popular flying disc sports, is often called ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ and uses large flying discs, much larger than disc golf discs. Ultimate is played almost similarly to football or rugby.
Ed Headrick was also one of the pioneers of disc golf. Disc golf was originally played with Frisbees but as the sport progressed the discs became more aerodynamic and specialized with beveled rims. A beveled rim is one where the rim is wedge-shaped rather than pointing straight down. The modern disc golf disc has size, weight, and shape limits that are standardized by the sports governing body, the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA).
Disc golf discs are also expertly shaped depending on the type of shot the player needs. Similar to how ball golf utilizes different categories of golf clubs for different distances to the pin, disc golf uses different categories of discs. The four main types of disc golf discs are distance drivers, fairway drivers, midrange, and putters. There are also approach discs which are a sort of hybrid between midrange and putters. The differences between these categories is highly dependent on the thickness and shape of the discs' rims.
Discs are also categorized as overstable, stable, and understandable, depending on the direction and amount of turn and fade the player wants his disc's flight path to have. The explanation of disc golf disc shapes deserves its own blog post and I will not attempt to complete that task in this post. In general, disc golf discs are much smaller than Frisbee style discs and have some degree of beveling to the rim.
Now you have some sort of understanding of the history of the word Frisbee and why ‘Frisbee Golf’ and ‘Frolf’ are sort of misnomers for ‘Disc Golf’ or at least antiquated terms.