2016 has been a good year for disc golf in Europe.
This summer, the European Championships in Oulu, Finland were a spectacular event that saw the best disc golfers rise to the occasion. The trend that had started started in 2014, where Finland was the strongest country after years of Swedish domination, was continued, with Finland picking up 9 out of 21 medals (including 2 clean sweeps in MPO and MJ1), and a not-even 16 year-old Eveliina Salonen (FI) winning the FPO division.
We’ll never know what would have happened at that event, had Simon Lizotte (DE) – winner in 2012, runner-up in 2014 – not injured his knee demonstrating his impressive skills, cutting short what was maybe his best season to date. How many of you saw him reach the Konopiště Open 3-way sudden death (which he ended up winning) with his spectacular eagle at hole 17. (Eat your heart out, Philo! 😉 )
Finland, already boasting some of Europe’s or even the world’s finest events, unleashed another monster in the disc golf arena; the Disc Golf World Tour. A Global tour that saw the world’s best players battling it out across two continents in 5 events (3 of which were held in Europe; Konopiště Open, European Masters, and the European Open).
The EuroTour saw a fierce battle for the overall win in MPO, where Juho Parviainen (FI) and Seppo Paju (FI) ended up tied, and Juho edging out Seppo on head-to-head results. In FPO, Eveliina Salonen (FI) ran away from the competition early on, and never looked back. 8 out of 11 top 3 places were seized by the Finns.
Was everything about Finland, then?
We saw the very impressive tied 5th spot by Katka Bodova (SK) at the PDGA Pro Worlds, as one of the leading players from the Central European region (the region showing its strong ties by organising its first Central European Disc Golf Championships), and we witnessed Michael Kobella (DE) winning the Advanced Masters world title, and there were honorary mentions for PDGA Pro or AM Worlds finishes for Hans Tegebäck (SE) fifth in Pro Grandmasters, Christine Hellstern (DE), fourth in Women Pro Grandmasters, and yes, another Finn, Mikael Hakala (FI) second in Junior Boys II. So, it may very well have been.
Data does support that. Over 40% of Europe’s PDGA members are Finns, it goes to reason then, that in a country where there’s disc golf education in schools, indoor training during the winter months, rules classes, and a near-endless supply of courses (more data to follow on courses in Europe), the best players are also Finns.
Below is a break down of PDGA membership and sanctioned events per country, which shows the incredible force that Finland is in the European arena, but it also shows the relentless pace at which Europe as a continent embraces the sport. For the third consecutive year, total membership increases by 30%+.
Sweden used to be where disc golf reigned supreme in both quality and quantity, but while Sweden keeps a steady growth pace (+16% this year), it is now roughly 3 times as small as Finland (now seeing a 3rd consecutive year of 40%+ growth in membership).
And actually, if Estonia keeps on growing the way it does (more than doubling in size for three years in a row), it might very well overtake Sweden as second-largest disc golf nation in Europe.
Scandinavia (NO, SE, DK, FI) as a whole remains the largest block in disc golf, but it seems that the Baltic states (FI, EE, LV, LT, PL) may be where the momentum is largest; with Latvia and Poland both seeing 100%+ growth in membership.
A special mention should be made for “new” (in disc golf terms) countries Serbia (now 3 members) and the Ukraine, celebrating its first PDGA member, as result of a Russian innovation grant-winning disc golf project to promote the sport in the Ukraine.
It should come as no surprise that Finland also hosted the largest number, 37% of all European events, in 2016.
Across the board, the number of events grows at a healthy +26%, but what is extremely pleasant to see, is that the smaller countries all see very strong growth in the number of sanctioned events; Poland being the country seeing the largest growth, having grown 400%, from 1 to 5 events.
Other countries with 50%+ growth are: Croatia (hosting 10 events for its 21 members! Including the already internationally beloved Drava Forester), the UK, Austria, Denmark, The Netherlands, Estonia, and Slovenia.