Paul Arden – A Chat With Australia’s Longest Serving ADG Board Member.

He was there right at the beginning and he remains the calm, wise voice on ADG Skype meetings every month. We spoke recently with the longest serving administrator in disc golf in Australia, about his time on the board and his ever-changing relationship with the sport.

1) Take us back to your first involvement with the organisation of disc golf in Australia. Before the ADG. How did you get involved?

When I started playing back in 2004, information wasn’t as easy to come by as it is today. It took months after I started playing before I even encountered another player on our local course (a now removed course that was installed on the Whittlesea Golf Course). Lucky for me, that player was Ian Whitehead, who was around for the first big wave of Disc Golf through Australia in the 80’s and 90’s. Speaking with Ian it became clear that Disc Golf had once been much bigger in Australia, there was an entire history I was not aware of having just discovered the sport.

Slowly I encountered more players and Ian started to spread word that people were starting to play again. This quickly led to a desire to play more regularly. Even though there was just a handful of us, it was clear very early that if we wanted to play, we needed to put in the work to organise things ourselves. After getting interested in playing a part in rebuilding the popularity Disc Golf in Australia I started to learn that other efforts were already underway.

There were some false starts and a few heated discussions about how things should be organised back then, and I started to become aware of the key players interstate who were facing similar issues to us in Victoria. There was a latent community out there that were all looking for each other. Of course, this is before Facebook was a thing.

Ian had frequently mentioned the name Chris Himing to me when we spoke while playing. To me he was a mysterious figure in a far-off land but one that came from the heyday of the sport in Australia and successfully made the transition to organising large scale Disc Golf events in the US. At the 2006 PDGA Am Worlds in Tulsa I finally meet Chris and we had a chance to chat about Disc Golf in Australia and the types of events he had been running over in the states. It was a whole other level, something to aspire to in the future.

Chris was coming back to Australia at the time of the World Ultimate Championships in Perth in 2006 and wanted to put on a small Disc Golf demonstration at the event. I got a flight over to Perth to be on hand to man the Disc Golf display and was able to spend a lot more time talking to Chris.

In the meantime, in the background I had met Harvey Yarnell, Richard Sampson, Albert Munoz, Tim Marchbank and Dave Bandy (and I am sure others I am not remembering) and we were all discussing how to bring together a national body to help promote and grow the sport; and of course, selfishly, to ensure there were new events we could all play at.

I wasn’t sure what my role would be in the organisation at the time. My recollection is that Chris was the first to take on the president role and we all then looked for some way to contribute on our own. I was most interested in events, getting more of them and having some structure to them, so I took on the Director of Competitions role which I still hold today.

Our first achievements seem mundane now but were fundamental in getting events running. Insurance for example, not the most exciting topic but it had to be sorted out to run events. Others focused on getting this up and running while we also started working on the concept of the ADG Tour which really kicked off in 2007. This is the point at which I would say I was now well and truly involved.

2) What drew you to helping with the organisation of the sport, as opposed to just playing?

Necessity. Back then, if you didn’t help with the organising of the sport, then nothing got organised. There was no one else to do it, you couldn’t show up to an event, play and leave, because if you didn’t run it, it didn’t happen.

My goals back then for being involved the organisational side were 100% selfish, I wanted to continue playing and not just socially, so there really wasn’t any choice but to pitch in. This only changed once we started to get results and we started to see we were actually making a difference.

3) What has kept you involved, when so many of the volunteers seem to burn out, what do you think has kept you involved as the longest continually serving board member?

I really don’t know to be honest. I must admit I feel a certain sense of obligation, I’ve made a lot of close friends playing disc golf and been fortunate to play at many events over the last decade. I want to ensure others have the same opportunity. I don’t think it’s a sport people do by halves. Usually you’re either obsessed or you stop playing. It still feels surreal to see baskets installed in public parks that were not there a few years ago. There is still lots to do.

4) Which aspect of the ADG, have you noticed, the disc golfers understand the least? People who aren’t close to the workings of the board form all sorts of impressions, which is the one they get wrong the most?

While I think in general there is some degree of taking the ADG for granted these days, I also think that is something of a good thing. The work we do well goes unnoticed, as it should be, players shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than playing in an ideal world.

Insurance is one thing I think people often undervalue. The arrangement that ADG has been able to secure with AFDA is essentially what has enabled Disc Golf events to be run on such a large scale in Australia. Without insurance events would be on precarious legal ground and many councils would simply refuse to allow the events to run.

I think TD’s also have the same problem as the ADG in that if you’re doing your job well people don’t see it. One thing we have tried to do as much of as possible is support TDs and make sure if they have questions there are people that can help them, particularly those who are running their first event. There is a lot to organise in an A-Tier event and we field a lot of questions from first time TDs.

Balancing the differing demands of the different states is also a continuing challenge. Different states always seem to have different issues at different times, so there are competing demands on ADG resources for attention and often and approach that works in one state doesn’t work in another. Each of the states are in various phases of growth with unique challenges.

I hope we are making a difference. While at times we are dealing with many issues and problems, I also have the benefit of being able to look back in my mind to a time when there were just a handful of us playing and even less organising. The numbers show that we are having an effect, not the least of which –  that there is actually someone around to measure those numbers so we know we are growing, even if the daily tribulations of running events and working through issues can sometimes make it feel otherwise.

5) How did you find the sport in the beginning?

My friend Ian Bycroft had heard about Disc Golf through the Victorian Flying Disc Association. They had a map for an object course in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne to lamp posts to be played with Ultrastars. We grabbed some discs and went down and played. It was so cool we had to have more, so hunting around the Internet we found out there was a course installed in Whittlesea on a regular golf course. We decided to head up and check it out.

This was an eye-opening experience. The pro shop had a few discs for sale, and they were completely different to the Ultrastar style discs we had so we grabbed some. I think I just had the one disc, an Innova XD (which I still have) which I played the entire round with. I didn’t realise there was such a thing as a driver until we came back from the round so we grabbed some more discs from the pro shop and set out again. I was instantly hooked.

6) Any thoughts on what your long term involvement with the sport might be? As a player and an administrator?

If the community will have me then I have no plans to change my involvement and hope to continue to serve as Director of Competitions and PDGA Country Coordinator. I think having been around from the start of what I often refer to as the second wave of Disc Golf in Australia helps give me a little perspective on the issues that come up.

As a player I am much less active in competition these days, mainly as I don’t travel to as many events but I still play most of the local events and most ADGCs. I do miss the days where I would play every event in the country I could possibly get to, but looking at the calendar today, I can see even if I wanted to it would barely be possible. It’s such a nice problem to have after barely being able to fill the calendar in those first few years.

I suspect I may put my hand up as TD again for an even in the future but it’s been great to see so many new organizers getting involved with running events.


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