At Granville Golfland, a Golf Digest Top 100 club fitter 30 minutes east of Columbus, Ohio, custom-fit clubs used to take about 7 to 10 days to arrive. Now, customers are being told it may take as long as 12 weeks. At American Golf locations in the U.K., they’re telling clients they might not come until December.

Irons, drivers, putters, even grips have been hard to find because of global supply chain shortages that have delayed everything from semiconductors to chlorine tablets.

For golf, the timing couldn’t be worse. The sport enjoyed renewed popularity amid the pandemic: The National Golf Foundation estimates that a record 3 million people played on a golf course for the first time in 2020. More golfers led to additional equipment sales. Industry behemoth Callaway reported a record fourth quarter 2020, with consolidated net sales of US$375 million and a 20 per cent increase, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

But combined with ongoing pandemic problems, including shutdowns of factories in Vietnam over concerns around the Delta variant, delays have become the norm for both sellers and buyers.

During a call with investors on Aug. 5, David Maher, chief executive officer of Titleist’s parent company Acushnet, announced second-quarter net sales of US$624.9 million, up 108.3 per cent year over year, but warned that, “While we expect golfer engagement to remain healthy, we do expect to face various levels of disruption within our supply chain.” Mizuno, long known as a leader for its golf irons, used to turn custom orders around in two business days. Now they’re quoting up to seven weeks—and that’s if the components are available.

“The industry saw a turnaround that no one could possibly see coming,” says Jeff Crawford, associate marketing manager of Mizuno’s golf division. “We went from thinking we’d have massive amounts of leftover inventory to practically having no inventory at all, within a matter of weeks. It’s a challenging time for the industry with the demand being at an all-time high, and our valued partners are navigating all sorts of obstacles to try to supply the globe with the necessary products.” 

Dean Snell, who runs an eponymous direct-to-market golf ball manufacturer, says smaller companies like his are in an uphill fight against larger companies with more buying power for both raw materials and manufacturing processes. “We didn’t get any shipments in for the first five or six months of this year.” That issue then was “compounded when shipping costs went crazy,” he says: Water shipping is six times the regular cost, and air shipping can be as much as eight times more. He is currently limiting customers to two boxes per order.

“It’s been an absolute mess,” says Chad Evans, master fitter at True Spec, which has more than 25 locations around the world. “You just don’t know what you’re going to get and when you’re going to get it.” The company has been able to weather the storm, in part because it loads up inventory using the previous years’ numbers to know what they will need more of.

Evans says they can get it done in a little as two weeks, but its flexibility isn’t just based on inventory alone. “We can turn the high-end custom stuff around very fast, but you’ve got to pay for it.” Part of paying for it would include expedited shipping to “move up the line.” True Spec charges US$350 for a full bag-fitting, and while expedited fees vary, it usually requires an additional US$125 for overnight shipping, plus US$125 for the first club and US$25 for each additional club.