The Wham-O Frisbee, patented in 1966, paved the way for the ultimate in frisbee and disc golf. The PDGA was founded in 1976, although disc golf as an organized sport is a few years older. The concept is simple and has not changed: Throw a disc into a basket with as few tosses of tea as possible.
Much like its club counterpart, disc golf is a big deal in Michigan, home to more than 250 golf courses – ranked among the top five states in the country. In contrast to “stick golf”, as disc golfers often speak of traditional golf, the number of disc golf courses is growing. The main capital investments in a disc golf course are cement tees, chain baskets, and maintenance, making it an inexpensive and effective way to activate parkland.
Disc golf is also much cheaper to play, with discs starting at around $ 15. Most courses are free to play or cost no more than a few dollars, although many are part of the state, county, or metropark system that requires annual passes.
That’s not to say that serious gamers don’t do big bills for their passion. There are a variety of different types of discs that are categorized similar to regular golf with drivers, midranges and putters. Each is rated for speed, glide, twist, and fade, which determine how far a disc will fly and its natural trajectory. A science to be sure. There are also disc backpacks, carts and other accessories as well as a growing market for high-priced collector’s discs.
Discraft was founded in 1979 by husband and wife Jim Kenner and Gail McColl, who were among the first to take up the sport. McColl died in 2017. Kenner still owns the company but has retired from day-to-day operations.
“We have grown consistently by 10 or 15 percent since the late 1970s,” said Wagner. “In the past five years we’ve seen bigger gains.”
The company designs and manufactures all of its discs – mostly for disc golf, but also some for Ultimate Frisbee – at the 50,000-square-foot facility in Wixom, which will soon be 80,000 square feet when expanded by October. It also sells baskets and accessories, including bags and clothing, much of which is made overseas.
It employs more than 70 people, mostly machine operators in light industry, compared to fewer than 50 before the pandemic. The company is still hiring but struggling to find enough people, Wagner said.
The company makes the disks by injection molding with synthetic resin sourced from companies in Metro Detroit that Wagner didn’t want to name. He said it was also a headache to secure enough plastic to meet demand.
“All manufacturers are struggling to get products due to demand,” Wagner said, adding that the shutdown forced by the pandemic made the backlog worse.
Discraft sells its products to major retailers such as Dunham’s Sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as to gas stations and Ma and Pa shops near golf courses. An estimated 20 percent of sales are outside of the United States, mostly in Europe, Wagner said. Disc golf is one of the most popular sports in Finland and Sweden.
As spring approaches, Discraft prepares for another surge in demand. The pros returned this week to play for the 2021 Las Vegas Challenge presented by Innova, which ushered in the new season. Discraft sponsors hundreds of events each year, including 40-50 in Michigan. The company also has some new discs in the works, but catching up with regular production is a priority.
“We owe it to the sport to catch up and get things back to normal,” said Julio.