Next up in our Q & A series is an interview with Steve Dodge. Steve Dodge is a long time disc promoter and is the founder of the Disc Golf Pro Tour. Steve is currently working on a disc golf board game titled BIRDIE that will be released this year.
Steve Dodge (left) pictured with Joe Chargualaf
1 - Your disc golf resume is too long to list here, but it includes everything from a disc golf retailer, a disc golf manufacturer, a professional disc golf tour and a disc golf board game. Whoa. Did we miss anything?
Disc golf player and TD and now, happily, a disc golf spectator.
2 - For a long time you had a vision to create a professional tour, and that came to fruition in 2016. Was there ever a moment when you almost gave up?
There were probably close to a dozen. The support I received personally, as well as the support the business received was overwhelming. Clearly the 2019 season was intended to be our breakout year, media wise, and we did not succeed as we had hoped. The fans' aggravation and passion was evident and, after some processing time, genuinely appreciated. But to your question, yes. There were financial, personal, personnel, event, and organizational issues which at times pushed in that direction. Frankly, without the amazing support of Seth Fendley, Miles Parkhill, Pat Govang, Jeff Spring, Nate Heinold, Terry and Jonny, Sean Jack, Pete Johnson, Todd Rainwater, Craig Gustafson, Danielle Charlier, Bruce Kinnee, Steve Holloway and many many others, the tour would have failed a dozen times over. And that is not hyperbole. The burden these people shared to make this happen was amazing, all to chase a dream and create something bigger than us for the sport we love.
3 - Who was instrumental early on helping you get the DGPT off the ground?
My direct boss at Vibram would be pretty important. When he told me that I could not split time between Virginia (where my daughters live) and Massachusetts (where Maple Hill and the embodiment of my love of disc golf are), the wheels started turning as to what's next for me. The PDGA Board helped me develop a plan for success. Nate Heinold was the one that kicked me in the butt and said, "Go for it. Ledgestone has your back. Let's talk to Jeff Spring and see if GMC wants in." Jeff said yes and it felt like we had a solid foundation for a tour (Ledgestone, GMC, Maple Hill). Miles Parkhill put his heart and soul into making the DGPT a brand. Terry and Jonny of Smashboxx TV made the live happen for every freaking event. That was, IMO, what made the DGPT special. Bringing the best disc golf events to the growing numbers of fans, live, every event. Michael Sullivan at Prodigy saw the value of the media and supported us early by paying for the media rights in 2016. Sean Jack helped get some of our first corporate sponsors, including ZUCA. Pat Govang was my financial guide. My girlfriend helped keep me pointed in the right direction while trying to juggle way too many balls. And then there was Pete Johnson. A friend for more than a decade. He believed in me. He believed in what we wanted to build. He was the first person, besides me, to commit substantial financial backing. I'm sure there are dozens that I'm forgetting and my apologies to each of them. When you bear in mind the lack of money that any of us saw, or expected to see, for our efforts, these people are held in my highest pantheon.
4 - How often do you actually get to play disc golf?
During the Winter, I played every time Rob Durant would remind me that we had a New England Team Challenge. I routinely forgot to make food and the guys still let me play. Stork Roddick mentioned to me over a decade ago that team disc golf is the way to go. I think he may be on to something. It is crazy fun. During the 2019 season, I played a bit more due to Joey Temali. That kid loves this sport so much. We would break down the DGPT assets from the course and I would tell him, if we finished by 4:00, I'd play. He busted his butt to make that happen and happily, I got to play quite a bit more. Thanks Joey.
5 - How did you get into disc golf?
Kevin Tiernan introduced my college roommate, Jay Boller, and me to the sport. After a few throws, my first run Aero flew straight between two trees on the Mary Washington College campus, and I was hooked. Jay and I would play the Feelies out the back of the dorm window and play catch all afternoon. Then we would play the course we made around the campus, several times getting in trouble with the administration. Pratt Park was the first real course I ever played and it holds a special place in my heart, as do the Fredericksburg Mothers, who taught me the culture of the disc, which is why my heart will always remain with disc sports.
6 - Our head just spins when trying to think about how we would create a board game. How did you come about to create a disc golf board game? Do you have a background in mathematics?
I've always loved games. My brother and I would probably invent a new game every month. In retrospect, the amount of patience my mom had with us should get her to sainthood pretty easily. She would play the games, tell us we did good, and then let us move on to the next one. I was in fact a Math major at Mary Wash so perhaps that helps. I've got no real idea how the idea for BIRDIE! germinated. I remember working out statistical models with my daughter Audrey in Google Sheets. Once we had those models, it was just a matter of applying the odds of the dice and the concept of risk/reward (by choosing different types of dice). UDisc had all the stats we needed. Dustin Juliano had created great maps. We just put it all together. When you love doing something, it's amazing how many times you are willing to redo it to get it right.
7 - The MVP Open has become synonymous with Maple Hill, and it’s now one of the most famous courses in the World. What's it like hosting the best disc golfers in the World on a course that is clearly very special to you?
Maple Hill is an amazing piece of land. I've been told many times that I'm a great designer to which I often reply, "Every once in a while, even a blind squirrel finds a nut." I am an average designer at best. Between the land, the dozens of ideas that people bring to Maple, and the effort of Tom Southwick, Dave Jackson, Gage Benson, Rob Durant and probably literally hundreds of others, Maple Hill has become what it is. But the real magic is in the land. Those hills that are just big enough and just gentle enough. The centuries old cart paths through the woods. The man made ponds, back when we were allowed to make ponds. The majesty of the Christmas trees. The love that emanates out of the land is palpable. There is no way that a course could exist there and not be one of the best courses in the world. Hosting the best players in the world, as well as all of the players that come play the course each week, is truly special. My Grandma (Ann) loved the fact that so many people loved Maple Hill. Her spirit still flows through these hills and smiles at all the people that love Maple Hill.
8 - For several years you pushed for disc golf events to go to a flatter payout to help keep more people on tour. Do you still feel that way?
I do. In my opinion, until we have 100+ MPO AND 50+ FPO players on tour full time, I think the events' payouts should focus on the next dozen players beyond the touring players. The players that are playing now, with the exception of a handful at the top, simply love the sport so much that they have to take the opportunity to give a professional touring life a try. We need to grow the sport, the spectator base, such that it can support these players. Living in your van may seem great, but I'd invite anyone to give it a try for a week. Then 30 more. The top players will get their rewards from disc sales, appearances and clinics because of the name they make for themselves by winning the biggest events. Paying them the lion's share will simply reduce the number of players that are able to take the next step and tour. Until we can sustain a reasonable number of pros, keep the payouts as flat as we can. And just to be clear, this is simply my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the PDGA or DGPT.
9 - Our world and sport are currently facing an unprecedented challenge with COVID-19. Do you feel that disc golf is "safer" than other sports in terms of our exposure to this virus?
Yes. I also believe disc golf heals our souls and gets us outside in nature, both of which likely boost our immune system!
10 - What is next on the agenda for Steve Dodge?
Boda Brothers has some pretty fun announcements in the coming months and we think it would be cool to create another disc golf game, perhaps one that travels even easier than a 10x10x3 box full of Maple Hill maps, cards and dice. Other plans involve continuing to improve Maple Hill, the MVP Open, and visiting with my daughters and family as much as they can stand.
Thank you to Steve for answering our questions. Be on the lookout for our final Q & A article this coming Monday with Dan “Stork” Roddick!