Team flying disc games using pie tins and cake pan lids were part of Amherst College student culture for decades before plastic discs were available. A similar two-hand touch football-based game was played at Kenyon College in Ohio starting in 1942.
From 1965 or 1966 Jared Kass and fellow Amherst students Bob Fein, Richard Jacobson, Robert Marblestone, Steve Ward, Fred Hoxie, Gordon Murray, and others evolved a team frisbee game based on concepts from American football, basketball, and soccer. This game had some of the basics of modern ultimate including scoring by passing over a goal line, advancing the disc by passing, no travelling with the disc, and turnovers on interception or incomplete pass. Jared, an instructor and dorm advisor, taught this game to high school student Joel Silver during the summer of 1967 or 1968 at Mount Hermon Prep school summer camp.
Joel Silver, along with fellow students Jonny Hines, Buzzy Hellring, and others, developed ultimate beginning in 1968 at Columbia High School, Maplewood, New Jersey, USA (CHS). The first sanctioned game was played at CHS in 1968 between the student council and the student newspaper staff. Beginning the following year evening games were played in the glow of mercury-vapor lights on the school's parking lot. Initially players of ultimate frisbee (as it was known at the time) used a "Master" disc marketed by Wham-O, based on Fred Morrison's inspired "Pluto Platter" design. Hellring, Silver, and Hines developed the first and second edition of "Rules of Ultimate Frisbee". In 1970 CHS defeated Millburn High 43-10 in the first interscholastic ultimate game. CHS, Millburn, and three other New Jersey high schools made up the first conference of Ultimate teams beginning in 1971.
Alumni of that first league took the game to their colleges and universities. Rutgers defeated Princeton29-27 in 1972 in the first intercollegiate game. This game was played exactly 103 years after the first intercollegiate American football game by the same teams at precisely the same site, which had been paved as a parking lot in the interim. Rutgers won both games by an identical margin.
Rutgers also won the first ultimate frisbee tournament in 1975, hosted by Yale, with 8 college teams participating. That summer ultimate was introduced at the Second World Frisbee Championships at the Rose Bowl. This event introduced ultimate on the west coast of the USA.
In 1975, ultimate was introduced at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto as a showcase event. Ultimate League play in Canada began in Toronto in 1979. The Toronto Ultimate Club is one of ultimate's oldest leagues.
In January 1977 Wham-O introduced the World Class "80 Mold" 165 gram frisbee. This disc quickly replaced the relatively light and flimsy Master frisbee with much improved stability and consistency of throws even in windy conditions. Throws like the flick and hammer were possible with greater control and accuracy with this sturdier disc. The 80 Mold was used in ultimate tournaments even after it was discontinued in 1983.
Discraft introduced the Ultrastar 175 gram disc in 1981, with an updated mold in 1983. This disc was adopted as the standard for ultimate during the '80s, with Wham-O holdouts frustrated by the discontinuation of the 80 mold and plastic quality problems with discs made on the replacement 80e mold. Wham-O soon introduced a contending 175 gram disc, the U-Max, that also suffered from quality problems and was never widely popular for ultimate. In 1991 the Ultrastar was specified as the official disc for UPA tournament play and remains in wide use.
The popularity of the sport spread quickly, taking hold as a free-spirited alternative to traditional organized sports. In recent years college ultimate has attracted a greater number of traditional athletes, raising the level of competition and athleticism and providing a challenge to its laid back, free-spirited roots.
In Canada, organized disc sports began in the early 1970s, with promotional efforts from Irwin Toy(Frisbee distributor in Canada), the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto (1972–85) and professionals using Frisbee show tours to perform at universities, fairs and sporting events. Disc sports such as freestyle, double disc court, guts, ultimate and disc golf became this sports first events. Two sports, the team sport of disc ultimate and disc golf are very popular worldwide and are now being played semi-professionally.The World Flying Disc Federation, Professional Disc Golf Association, and the Freestyle Players Association are the rules and sanctioning organizations for flying disc sports worldwide.Ultimate Canada is the rules and sanctioning organization for disc ultimate in Canada.
In 2013, as a founding partner, the Toronto Ultimate Club presented Canada's first semi-professional Ultimate team, the Toronto Rush, to the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). They went undefeated 18-0 and won the AUDL Championships.In 2014, the Montreal Royal and the Vancouver Riptide joined the AUDL. In 2015, the Ottawa Outlaws became the fourth Canadian team to compete in the AUDL, of 26 teams in total.
In 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted full recognition to the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) for flying disc sports including Ultimate.
The history of disc golf is closely tied to the history of the recreational flying disc (especially as popularized by the trademarked Frisbee). The first known instance of anyone playing golf with a flying disc occurred in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1926. Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game throwing tin plates at targets such as trees and fence posts. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played on a fairly regular basis on a disc golf course they laid out on their school grounds. But, after they grew older and went their separate ways, the game came to an end.It wasn't until the 1970s that disc golf would be reintroduced to Canadians at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto.
Modern disc golf started in the early 1960s, when it seems to have been invented in many places and by many people independently. Students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, for example, held tournaments with trees as targets as early as 1964, and in the early 1960s, players in Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Georgia would toss Frisbees in 50-gallon barrel trash cans designated as targets.
A true pioneer of the sport of Frisbee Golf is Kevin Donnelly, who, until 2011, was unknown for his accomplishment. Kevin began playing a form of Frisbee golf in 1959 called Street Frisbee Golf. In 1961, while a Recreation Leader and then Recreation Supervisor for the City of Newport Beach, California, he formulated and then began organizing Frisbee golf tournaments at nine of the city's playgrounds he supervised. This culminated in 1965 with a fully documented, Wham-O sponsored, city-wide Frisbee Golf tournament. This highly publicized tournament included hula hoops as holes, with published rules, hole lengths, pars, and penalties, Wham-O prizes and, an event in which Fred Morrison, the Frisbee inventor, was in attendance.In 1967, two years after conducting the first-ever organized Frisbee Golf Tournament, Kevin, then the Coordinator of the Parks and Recreation Section at Fresno State College, California, organized and then taught the first ever college level Frisbee Golf activity course, in which George Sappenfield was registered.
Two of the best-known figures in the sport are "Steady Ed" Headrick, who introduced the first formal disc golf target with chains and a basket, and Dave Dunipace who invented the modern golf disc in 1983, with his revolutionary change to add a beveled edge rim, this gave the disc a greater distance and accuracy. Dave was one of the founders of Innova, a well-known disc manufacturer. In 1976, Headrick formed the DGA, then later the PDGA and the RDGA. Ted Smethers took over the PDGA in 1982 to be run independently and to officiate the standard rules of play for the sport. The sport has grown at a rate of 12-15 percent annually for more than the past decade, with nearly 4000 courses in the US and about 5000 globally.The game is now played in more than 40 countries worldwide, primarily in the United States, Canada, Central and Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.
George Sappenfield and early object courses
In 1965, George Sappenfield, from Fresno California, was a recreation counselor during summer break from college. While playing golf one afternoon he realized that it might be fun for the kids on his playground if they played "golf" with frisbees. He set up an object course for his kids to play on. Other early courses were also of this type, using anything from lamp poles to fire hydrants as targets. When he finished college in 1968, Sappenfield became the Parks and Recreation Supervisor for Conejo Recreation and Park District in Thousand Oaks, California. George introduced the game to many adults by planning a disc golf tournament as part of a recreation project. He contacted Wham-O Manufacturing and asked them for help with the event. Wham-O supplied frisbees for throwing, and hula hoops for use as targets. However, it would not be until the early 1970s that courses began to crop up in various places in the Midwest and the East Coast (some perhaps through Sappenfield's promotion efforts, others probably independently envisioned). Some of Sappenfield's acquaintances are known to have brought the game to UC Berkeley. It quickly became popular on campus, with a permanent course laid out in 1970.
"Steady Ed" Headrick began thinking about the sport during his time at Wham-O toys where he designed and patented the modern day Frisbee. Headrick, who is now regarded as the "Father of Disc Golf," designed and installed the first standardized target course in what was then known as Oak Grove Park in La Cañada Flintridge, California. (Today the park is known as Hahamongna Watershed Park). The park is immediately south of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which supplied at least a few of the earliest players. Ed worked for the San Gabriel, California-based Wham-O Corporation and is credited for pioneering the modern era of disc sports. While at Wham-O, Headrick redesigned the Pluto Platter reworking the rim height, disc shape, diameter, weight and plastics, creating a controllable disc that could be thrown accurately. Headrick marketed and pushed the professional model Frisbee and "Frisbee" as a sport. Ed Founded "The International Frisbee Association (IFA)" and began establishing standards for various sports using the Frisbee such as Distance, Flying disc freestyle and Guts.
Headrick coined and trademarked the term "Disc Golf" when formalizing the sport and patented the Disc Pole Hole, the first disc golf target to incorporate chains and a basket on a pole. He started designing the target because he was tired of arguing over what counted as a scoring disc with his friends.
Headrick founded the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) and Recreational Disc Golf Association (RDGA) for competitive and family-oriented play, respectively, and worked on standardizing the rules and the equipment for the growing sport. Headrick abandoned his trademark on the term "Disc Golf," and turned over control and administration of the PDGA to the growing body of disc golf players in order to focus on his passion for building and inventing equipment for the sport.