How the Pandemic Has Affected Disc Golf and the Supply Chain

Nobody saw the surprises, challenges, and often bizarre events of 2020 coming. It has been a very unexpected year. On top of the obvious heartbreak of sickness, death, job losses, and disrupted lives, even a small sport like disc golf had its disappointments with the cancellation of major events. But let’s really dive into the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on disc golf in terms of growth and the marketplace.

“Skip the Course. Stay Home”

A lot of people, especially tournament directors and touring professionals, felt an acute sting when the PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association) suspended all sanctioned events starting March 14th. It felt like much of the year was ruined for competitive disc golf. And yet, many players still felt like they could enjoy recreational play to some extent, especially since many jobs were sending people home, schools were switched to online courses, and other public events were all cancelled. People had time on their hands and parks seems a safe place to socially separate while doing something fun.

Then on March 23rd, the PDGA sent out a letter to registered members to please “skip the course and stay home.” They encouraging leagues not to gather and basically requested that all players avoid their local courses. It wasn’t long before many courses in the most populated cities started pulling their baskets out, just to make sure nobody would gather to play. The request made total sense. After all, the world was in a panic, Covid-19 is very contagious, and staying away from one another is a good way to avoid the spread of disease.

But did everybody get that memo? Conditions can vary greatly in the many different parts of the country. In more rural areas, things pretty much continued as usual because cases of Covid-19 were barely present, if detected at all. More densely populated areas had to take more drastic measures. But it would be incorrect to claim that everybody everywhere was staying at home. Many disc golfers continued to play, whether in small groups, with family members, or alone. Disc golf, in many ways, it a socially distant sport when tournament and league play is removed.

 

With all that said, there are many people who know nothing about the PDGA. They aren’t members, or they play casually, or they discovered disc golf while looking for a way to pass the time. Those people obviously did not hear or head the call to stay home. How do we know? Because disc golf exploded.

A Great Way to Pass the Time

Maybe it was the number of people in forced quarantine from work, school, and other events that fed the interest in disc golf. Maybe the outdoors simply feels safer than staying pent-up in a building. Whatever it was that created the perfect storm, disc golf suddenly became a very popular way to pass the time during the pandemic.

Infinite Discs has a unique perspective into the disc golf growth and interest trends, being a seller of disc golf products. Here is a look at website traffic that hit the InfiniteDiscs.com website from the end of 2019 to the present (June 5th).

The candlestick in June is shorter than the others because the week was not over when the chart was made. We’re not sure if the apparent growth will settle to a new plateau or if it will continue in an upward trend. But the increase in traffic, even dwarfing 2019 holiday sales, shows an obvious increase in interest. The dark blue represents “organic searches,” meaning that those are people who found and visited the website through their own searches and exploration. That is where most of the increase was generated– new people looking for discs.

Disruption in the Supply Chain

While the growth and interest in disc golf and the coinciding desire to purchase discs increased, the ability to supply those discs dropped. With the declaration of a worldwide pandemic, many states in the USA mandated the complete shutdown of “non-essential” businesses and manufacturing. Disc golf apparently is non-essential, but that did not stop people from wanting discs. More people were spending more time either on the course or playing in the backyard. Most of the major manufacturers and distributors of discs and targets (baskets) were forced to shut down or operate on a skeleton crew. Suddenly, manufacturers like Innova, Discraft, MVP, Prodigy, and others were unable to feed the growing demand. Not only could they not keep up, but they were falling behind on previously scheduled manufacturing runs, meaning that the supply would take a long time to catch up, even when allowed to turn the machinery back on again.

For an visually stunning look at the conundrum of disc golf supply vs demand during the pandemic, take a look at the following graph. It shows the sales trend at Infinite Discs from October 2019 through May 2020. The red shaded area roughly designates the time period that several major manufacturers were forced to close and had very limited ability to ship restock.

So, during the steepest time of growth, the disc manufacturers were unable to continue functioning. The obvious effect of that pattern is a drastic drop in inventory levels at disc golf retailers. When new supply is unavailable, old supply drops precipitously.

Infinite Discs took up a mantra of “More the 50,000 discs in stock” in 2017 when we were able to move into a larger facility and increase our inventory levels. It was our goal to stay well above that level for the long term. We printed thousands of promo cards stating that mantra. But the supply chain challenges of 2020 made it impossible. Here is a graph showing Infinite Discs disc inventory levels starting in November of 2019 (the peak of inventory before Black Friday sales kicked in) to the present.

When we combine the sales levels with the decrease in inventory levels, you can easily see the correlation. Again, when interest and sales increase, but the ability to restock is removed, the balance of supply vs demand is broken.

Sorry, We’re Out of Stock

One easy product to discuss when pointing out the effect of the pandemic on disc golf purchases is baskets (or “targets”). With many people taking up backyard putting to pass the time, the demand for disc golf baskets sky-rocketed, quickly clearing retailers out of inventory. Much of the time, large items like baskets are drop-shipped from the manufacturers when they are ordered through online vendors. That is a logical way to avoid the issues of storage and the high shipping costs of moving heavy items around the country. A customer buys a basket, then the online retailer sends an order to the manufacturer to ship directly to the customer.

But if the manufacturers are closed…then drop-ship orders are no longer available. So even if the baskets are technically in a warehouse, they aren’t accessible. Infinite Discs tried to battle that problem as things started to shut down and immediately ordered large shipments of baskets that in some cases took weeks to arrive. Suppliers were basically piling baskets on pallets and shipping them out before having to lock up and go home for an indefinite period of time.

So in many cases, the choices were few when it came to obtaining portable baskets at a time when people most wanted portable baskets. That lack of supply existed with other products as well.

Where Are the Popular Discs?

For many years, Innova has been the highest-selling brand at Infinite Discs. Without making detailed comparisons through the years, it is safe to say that they represent a large portion of the disc golf market. Innova’s manufacturing facilities are located in California, and that was one of the first states to shut down businesses because of the pandemic. If the discs in highest demand were not being manufactured for a couple of months, then how do you think things are looking for Innova now that they are back in business and trying to catch up?

Once again, here at Infinite Discs, we can share a little bit of insight into that problem. We have an algorithm which calculates the number of discs we need for each disc model and in each plastic type based on 30-day vs 90-day sales vs discs in stock. That way we can restock based on the sales trends in an attempt to keep the right quantities in stock for every disc. We recently placed a restock order with Innova for nearly 16,000 discs based on that algorithm because the demand was so high and the inventory levels so low after the shutdown. At the time of this blog post, our current inventory level for all Innova discs in stock is 3,975 discs. That means that the shipment that we’re still awaiting should have four times our current inventory, just in restock! But Innova is struggling to meet those quantities as they have spent days putting the shipment together, because they have many more retailers making similar demands, and they too are at very low inventory levels after having a couple of months without manufacturing.

Take a look at popular Discraft disc models. In the case of Discraft, where signature Paul McBeth discs are a huge boon to the brand, keeping certain discs in stock at all is a challenge for the same reasons. Last week, Infinite Discs had these totals available for certain models:

Luna = 0
Malta = 0
Anax = 0
Zeus = 0
Zone = 0

Those are some of the hottest discs in the current Discraft line-up, aside from the Buzzz. None of them were in stock. Not a single disc in any kind of plastic. After a small restock, we’re back to zero again this week.

In May the new Paul McBeth Hades was announces as soon as Discraft was able to open up their operations again, along with a slew of other signature discs. With nearly 1,000 Hades in stock at midnight of the release day, Infinite Discs was sold out by morning. One of the most hotly anticipated signature releases, the Paul McBeth Tour Z Swirly Luna, was one that we’d asked for 1,200, but received just short of 100. To this day, we’ve still received no more than 300 total of the disc after two small, follow-up shipments. Why? It is Discraft’s fault? Nope. They also cannot keep up with the new demand and the depletion of inventory when they too are trying to make up for lost time.

When Will Things Turn Around?

Basically, the Pandemic caused a huge increase in interest, when it comes to Disc Golf. The cancellation of tournaments and the plea not to assemble in groups didn’t stop new players from picking up the game. The new increase in demand has drained the market of discs and other supplies. How long will it take for the market to catch up to the new demand and eventually normalize? We don’t know. We’re struggling to keep discs in stock, but people won’t stop buying them. Will there be an eventual shortage? Will it take months or years for disc makers to meet a new surge that was never anticipated or expected?

What are your thoughts on the pandemic and it’s effects on disc golf? Did you see an increase in interest in the game? Are more people on your local courses now? Share your experiences in the comments below.

State of Disc Golf 2019 – Growth

I loved writing this topic about The 2019 State of Disc Golf Growth because I myself am new to the sport of disc golf. I have heard of disc golf before, but never actually had gone out and played disc golf. I decided to see how the sport has grown from 2018 to 2019. As a newcomer to the sport, I think this article was helpful to me to know what I can do as a new disc golf player to help generate more popularity of the sport. disc Most of us are familiar with the popular hashtag #GrowDiscGolf). The shared belief behind the rallying cry began with the first disc golf pioneers and became an integral part of the sport’s very personality as it spread to the next generation of new players, and then the next. The conviction that we have a duty to share the sport is encoded in the DNA of every die-hard player and has been for decades, long before the advent of social media.

The 2019 State of Disc Golf survey asked several questions that sought to measure and identify the details of this most singular aspect of the sport – a topic which is finally attracting some well-deserved attention. Disc golf’s continuous and quick growth is obvious as we had more responses than the year before. Disc golfers across the globe are doing their part to grow the sport and with an increase of almost 10% in responses in our survey, you let us know what you’re doing to grow disc golf.

GROWTH

In just the past three years we saw that nearly 14% of respondents had heard about disc golf for the first time. Compare that to when respondents actually played disc golf for the first time and that number is up to over 53%! We did see a slight dip in growth from 2017 (19.2%) to 2018 (17.4%).

Our survey also showed that disc golfers are doing an amazing job at sharing the sport with others. 85% of our disc golfers have shared equipment, ran a disc golf league, or helped install a course physically. Last year, this number was at 88%, so again a slight dip in growth, but players are doing an amazing job at sharing the sport with their friends and family.

DISC GOLF COURSES

Disc Golfers still have trouble growing the sport because the lack of courses available made to us. In our survey 63% said there were no permanent courses added to their area, and 30% said only one course was added to their local area. The number of courses added from last year to this year in our survey dropped about 10%! There is still growth being made but with well over half our respondents not having a new course built in their area means there’s still room to grow.

Most of our disc golfers do have access to multiple courses. 63% of our respondents said they have between 3-6 courses in their local area. The lack of new courses built
could help explain why disc golf didn’t grow as much in 2018 as in 2017. What improvements do you all want to see in the growth of the sport in the year 2019? What are you going to do to continue to help Grow Disc Golf? Comment below and let us know.

What improvements do you all want to see in the growth of the sport in the year 2019? What are you going to do to continue to help Grow Disc Golf? Comment below and let us know.

 


 

 

2018 State of Disc Golf Survey: Disc Golf Growth

Disc golfers have been purposeful and proactive about growing their sport since Steady Ed Headrick installed the first permanent ‘Pole Hole’ course in Pasadena, California more than 40 years ago.

Most of us are familiar with the hashtag #GrowTheSport (and the more recent #GrowDiscGolf). The shared belief behind the rallying cry began with the first disc golf pioneers and became an integral part of the sport’s very personality as it spread to the next generation of new players, and then the next. The conviction that we have a duty to share the sport is encoded in the DNA of every diehard player and has been for decades, long before the advent of social media.

The 2018 State of Disc Golf survey asked several questions that sought to measure and identify the details of this most singular aspect of the sport— a topic which is finally attracting some well-deserved attention. Disc golf’s unstoppable and organic grassroots growth machine is empirically obvious, observable in thousands of communities around the world. In my new book, The Disc Golf Revolution, I dedicate an entire chapter to it and provide numerous examples from around the world. Answers to one question posed in the survey add a degree of quantification to one of the book’s main assertions: disc golfers do more than talk the talk.

When asked “In 2017, which did you do to grow the sport,” 88 percent of the 5,952 who responded said they had introduced at least one new person to the game, and 83 percent said they had given discs or other equipment to a prospective or new disc golfer. More than 20 percent said they had participated in local government affairs in support of disc golf. That is 1,260 people from this small sampling alone who are attending city council meetings and calling their representatives at minimum, with many also dedicating countless hours to work hands-on in partnership with civic leaders. Aside from its broad appeal and accessibility, this is the main reason disc golf enjoys such robust growth and can look forward to more of the same. Other impressive results included:

  • Helped physically install a new course (16 percent)
  • Ran a tournament or similar event (15.9 percent)
  • Ran a disc golf league (14.4 percent)
  • Ran an event or clinic aimed at attracting new players (11.6 percent)
  • Designed a disc golf course (9.8 percent)

If we were forced to identify from these responses something the disc golf community might do better in the future, I would point to the fact that the responses are lower for running an event to bring in new players than for running disc golf leagues and tournaments. The latter are aimed mostly at players who are already enamored with the sport, whereas the former seeks to bring new people into the fold.

Tipping Point?

Other survey questions sought to determine the rate of growth in disc golf, and whether it is accelerating in recent years (Spoiler Alert: the answer is ‘Yes’). The answers corroborate player and course growth data that is already available from the Professional Disc Golf Association and DGCourseReview.com, and I believe they also indicate an important shift in the public perception of disc golf. Whereas growth in the past was almost entirely due to the unceasing efforts of those early disc golf pioneers — steady progress despite stiff headwinds — today the efforts of an even greater number of disc golf diehards are bolstered rather than buffeted by external forces. They are more often welcomed now, if not summoned, by local governments and school officials.
Infinite received more than 11,000 replies to the survey question ‘When did you begin playing golf?’ Nearly 75 percent named a year between 2006 and 2018, and less than 20 percent selected 2000 or earlier.

A closer examination of the more recent years helps us to nail down when the shift I mentioned began. 2006-2010 accounts for 16.5 percent, while nearly half of all respondents indicated a year between 2013 and 2017.

Another question asked disc golfers how many permanent courses within a 10-mile radius of their homes had been added and deleted in 2017, and the responses unsurprisingly reflected growth across the board. 20 percent of the 6,230 survey takers reported one new course, and 5 percent reported 2 or more. Less than one in 10 reported a course closure near them in 2017, a figure that looks strong compared to the ‘courses added’ responses. But that number will likely fall even lower as the sport’s popularity continues to rise and less courses are installed on a provisional basis.

All the available data from Infinite and elsewhere confirm that disc golf has entered a new phase of growth. The world is noticeably more receptive to and knowledgeable about the game, and the pace of its expansion is ratcheting higher and higher. The foundation of organic, grassroots support? It’s alive and well, bigger and stronger than ever.