Åland — Tiny island region going all in with Disc Golf
In Finland there is a small, autonomous region called Åland. These tiny islands rely heavily on tourism and in 2020 Åland announced a plan to increase it. The plan was something that sounds odd to those who don’t play disc golf, but for disc golfers – it sounds like a dream come true! Åland announced that in just over a year they would build a total of 16 disc golf courses. Though not all of the 16 courses were completed within the announced time frame, more than 10 were playable throughout the 2021 tourism season. Currently Åland is the home for 14 out of the 16 planned disc golf courses!
World’s first Disc Golf stamp
Disc golf arrived to Åland in the 80’s, first course being built in 1982. The guy behind all this back in the day was Lasse Hellsten, a Californian exchange student for the 1978-1979 semester. He was the man who brought disc golf with him to Åland islands. Lasse Hellsten got the honor of being the person featured in a disc golf postage stamp. The stamp was released by Åland’s post office and it is believed to be the world’s first disc golf stamp!
Disc Golf to save the islands
The COVID epidemic impacted Åland’s tourism significantly and the island officials called together local leaders to discuss on how to help the struggling local businesses and Åland’s economy. The islands had lots of free beautiful outdoor spaces, and disc golf courses aren’t too expensive to build and to maintain. With disc golf countries like Finland, Sweden and Estonia being very close, the sport had a great chance of being successful in the islands. The idea was to build a big number of courses to ensure project’s success. It was part of the plan to encourage tourists to stay for a longer period of time. This would lead to increased income for local businesses.
The concept won over local leaders, and both government and private funding was quickly secured and a contract was made with DiscGolfPark to design the course layouts. The hope was that the density of quality disc golf courses would attract disc golfers from Finland and also other international travelers, thus extending the tourism season from only two weeks in July to start in March and end in October.
Economy grows as discs hit the chains
After one year, it is clear that Åland’s decision on turning into a must-visit disc golf destination was the correct choice. The courses are in heavy use and local businesses have noticed a significant difference after the courses were installed. Disc golf seems to have done exactly what it was meant to do on the islands – it has drawn a significant number of tourists to Åland.
In UDisc app alone, the courses on Åland islands have almost 35 000 rounds of disc golf recorded so far in 2021. That number is larger than the islands’ total population and the number is nowhere near the overall rounds played in Åland. Mats Azamczak, a data scientist in Åland, measured that disc golf brought in about 3 000 tourists in 2021 who accounted for 12 000 overnight stays on the islands. On average a tourist in Åland adds 85€/$99 per day to the local economy. Adamczak believes disc golf added over 1 million €/$1,16 million to Åland’s tourism earnings in 2021.
Åland’s bright future
There are still some courses in the works, and resources for future upgrades, maintenance and addressing enviromental concerns need to be taken care of but Adamczak strongly believes this is the beginning of a long-lasting success story. Adamczak predicts that disc golf will be the biggest reason tourists stay the night in Åland by 2025, generating around 100 000 overnight stays. If that happens, the Åland islands would have a new tourism sector bringing in millions each year.
Åland is planning on arranging some international competitions and having Avery Jenkins on a combined Sportsfishing / Disc golf video trip next summer. Make sure to visit Åland’s disc golf courses next summer!