TAYLORSVILLE — It only took 35 years, but professional disc golfers are finally making a living.
Yup, what was once viewed as a slacker alternative to golf, disc golf (or "Frolf" — combining the words Frisbee and golf — as Seinfeld called it) has arrived — well sort of.
Top touring professionals — and yes, there are some — are earning $30,000-$40,000 per year.
Admittedly, Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera can make that much with a single pitch, depending on how many he throws in a night.
Problem is, that kind of haul is only reserved for the best of the best. The Jack Nicklauses and Roger Federers of disc golf.
The vast majority of professional disc golfers don't even make enough to cover travel costs, says Martin Bohn of Provo, one of Utah's few touring professionals.
"An average professional disc golfer is not endorsed and makes $500 to $2,500 annually," says Bohn. "Endorsed players are in the top 1 percent of all players, and even some of them make only $5,000 a year."
There's such a wade gap in earnings because crowds aren't lining up to watch live disc golf.
"The term 'professional' is used a bit loosely here and just indicates that a person plays for money and not prizes or trophies," local disk golf promoter Steven Sharp says. "It doesn't mean that they earn a living playing disc golf."
He should know. The Salt Lake native is father to one of Utah's best professionals, Cory Sharp.
After placing ninth at the 2006 Amateur Worlds in Oklahoma, Cory turned pro, his father says. The following year he was named rookie of the year by the Professional Disc Golf Association. Since then, he's earned additional accolades and nice weekend money. But not enough to keep him actively touring, especially after starting a family.
Cory took first place in the men's open division at the 2011 Creekside Open held in Salt Lake this April, his father says. His total take for that event was $740, including a $100 bonus after the event from his sponsor, Innova Disc Golf.
"There's not a great deal of money in disc golf," Steven Sharp said.
Only Ken Climo of Florida or Avery Jenkins of Ohio, two of the game's most successful and marketable professionals to date, are the kind of players making the big bucks.
But might there be room for Cory Sharp-caliber players in the future? And will disc golf ever go mainstream?
Officials say the sport still has a ways to go.
"Our sport is where traditional golf was in the '30s and '40s," says Brian Graham, executive director of the PDGA, in an interview with ESPN. "Those guys lived out of the trunks of their cars, driving from tournament to tournament and barely making it."
Adds Bohn: "Not for another 20 to 40 years, if at all. It has grown considerably, at all levels from recreational to nearly 3,000 playable courses. But disc golf will never be on equal footing as traditional golf.
"Disc golf is still considered a counter-culture activity, and players are generally viewed as being a bit hippie-ish," Sharp says. "Although I play, and I'm a banking executive. Not that that means much."