Disc golf backpacks come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. Every bag stands out on its own. One bag that that stands out is the Golf Mahal from Mystery Ranch. The Golf Mahal will turn heads when people see it for the first time. You can carry as little as 15 discs or as many as 35-40.
In mid-April, Mystery Ranch released the latest version of the Golf Mahal. The new release came in three new colors (pictured above) and had updated feature based on customer feedback. We talked to the designer of the Golf Mahal, Levi Buckingham, to get all the details on how the Golf Mahal went from concept to reality.
All Things Disc Golf: The Golf Mahal bag has been around for a few years now. What made Mystery Ranch want to get into the disc golf bag market? Are you a disc golfer yourself?
Levi Buckingham: The answer to these questions is actually one and the same – I am in fact a disc golfer and was the driving force behind the Golf Mahal. I’ve been with the Mystery Ranch on and off since 2002 and I grew up with [Mystery Ranch founder] Dana Gleason’s sons, so I was around Dana Designs in the 90’s and the Mystery Ranch since its inception. I’ve been playing disc golf for 15 years, but was a one-disc wonder until I was in college.
The first bag I carried was an ammo pouch that held about 5-6 discs. When I started getting more serious I took the plastic insert out of a soft case cooler and put it in a Sweet Pea (one of our 3-Zip bags). This combo held more like 12 discs but didn’t stand up very well, so I started modifying an existing bag called the Gunfighter. It worked relatively well, but still wasn’t a bag designed specifically for disc golf from the bottom up. So I started teaching myself how to design in order to make a bag that truly had everything a disc golfer might need. With help from my then-girlfriend (who was sewing floor supervisor) I would go home after work and draft for hours. We were doing it old school then so when I say draft I literally mean drawing on heavy weight construction paper with a pencil, L-square, ruler, and compass.
The result was a monstrosity, and the first prototype of the Golf Mahal. I remember showing that first bag to Dana right after I had finished it and calling it the Taj Mahal because of its palace-like size and shape. I also remember the look on his face – he was dumbfounded. However, Dana has always been into weirdo niches (one of the sticker/ad campaigns for Dana Designs was “Weird Load”), so he was stoked on the project. We took five prototypes to the USDGC that year (2009) and sold them instantly, generating a lot of excitement for the bag.
All Things Disc Golf: How do you use the Mahal? Max capacity or do you pull in the sides?
Levi Buckingham: It depends. The Golf Mahal was created with versatility in mind. Hence, the collapsible side pockets, elasticized bottle pockets, hydration compatibility, Futura Yoke system, and the insane amount of organizational potential. With the side compartments collapsed the bag is incredibly streamlined both in terms of size and function. And when in use, they can push the disc capacity of the bag to well over 30 or be used for other gear.
I carry 15-18 discs when I play. I use one of the side compartments for a 2 liter hydration bladder, on top of which usually sits a light shell or rain jacket. I use the other side compartment for a range of things depending on the weather and the course: extra discs, snacks, extra rags, gloves, hat, etc. In one of the bottle pockets I put a rag for easy access so that I can clean discs off while I’m walking and wearing the bag, and my sunglasses case goes in the other. I use the detail pockets for my keys, wallet, bag tag, birdy bag, extra mini, sunscreen, and chapstick. Finally, I put 2 golf pencils, 2 sharpies, my cell phone, and scorecards in the scorecard/pencil pocket. And of course when it’s raining I’m rocking the umbrella fully deployed while I wear the bag, utilizing the standard stool to keep the bag off the ground and so I can hide beneath the umbrella.
All Things Disc Golf: You just released the latest version of the Golf Mahal. Is this the third version? Take us through the new features…
Levi Buckingham: It’s more like the fifth or sixth version. But honestly, the Golf Mahal has undergone only minor improvements since its inception and, from a design perspective, has remained functionally very much the same. However, this year we have made 3 significant changes. Firstly, we really beefed up the rain gutters (the piece of fabric between the main lid and the putter flap), adding another inch of width for better coverage over the main compartment. Secondly, we made the waist belt removable. Playing mountain courses in Montana often means hiking, so the waist belt is a real benefit in terms of comfort and reducing strain throughout the day. However, there are a lot more golfers in milder climates playing park courses than there are mountain golfers, and even mountain golfers make it down to sea level to play, so making the bag more versatile was important to me. Thirdly, we made the putter pocket slightly larger, pushing the capacity to 3.
All Things Disc Golf: How many of those changes were due to customer feedback? How important is the feedback you get from users?
Levi Buckingham: Customer feedback is incredibly important to us and almost all of the changes we’ve made to date have been a direct result of that interaction. In fact, the initial prototype had foam in the side compartments, so the idea to make them collapsible came from my friend Steve in Missoula. After I went to the Memorial in 2010 we added buckles to the bottom of the putter flap because people had complained that when traveling it didn’t protect the putters. We added the scorecard/pencil pocket last year after countless requests to do so. Though beefing up the rain gutters and making the waist belt removable was something we took upon ourselves, the increased putter capacity came from criticism that the pocket was a little tight for 2 putters. Also, when a stool and/or umbrella were in the front compression straps it was putting too much pressure on the putters. Now there’s plenty of room for 2 with the compressions in use and for 3 otherwise. True innovation comes about only when you set your ego aside and open up to the possibility that other people’s ideas are just as valid as your own. Granted, everyone knows the saying about opinions, so as a designer it’s my job to filter these ideas into useful features.
All Things Disc Golf: If someone has an older Golf Mahal, is there any trade in plan?
Levi Buckingham: Unfortunately, there isn’t a trade in plan – it just wouldn’t be a good business model. If innovation was fraught with the prospect of losing money rather than improving the product for the customer, businesses would simply opt out and products would stagnate. In the long run this would be detrimental for both the customer and the business. I can assure you that if someone wants the new model they’ll have no trouble finding someone to buy their old one.
All Things Disc Golf: In your words, what sets the Mahal apart from the rest of the disc golf backpack field?
Levi Buckingham: First and foremost is the fact that Mystery Ranch is not a disc golf company – it is a backpack company. Unlike most other backpack companies whose designs are related more to fashion than gear, the Mystery Ranch is focused on making the best load bearing backpacks in the world for professionals who depend on our products. Dana Gleason has been building backpacks for over 35 years and has been the leader in countless innovations in the industry. The Golf Mahal, and all of our products for that matter, is infused with this knowledge. That means we don’t do gimmicks like plastic rails on the bottoms or using “ballistic nylon” (which in reality isn’t nearly as durable as 1000 denier Cordura). We’ve also developed construction techniques that are labor intensive but result in a bag that will outlive its counterparts for years.
Above all, what makes us stand out is our unwavering commitment to quality as we inspect, and repair, every bag that we make before it goes out. Our Lifetime Warranty actually means LIFETIME WARRANTY – we have a repair department solely for this purpose.
As far as the Golf Mahal itself is concerned, it has a different format for the user. The storage capacity and comfort are the most distinguishing features of the bag, hence the Futura Yoke System. Having the ability to carry over 30 discs plus other items means that the framing of the bag needs to be sufficient to carry that kind of load comfortably (30 max weight discs alone would be 11.5 lbs.). And the adjustability of the Futura Yoke means that the bag fits any size torso, distributing that weight evenly over the back and carrying comfortably. The bag is also a top loader (versus a front panel loader), meaning that you don’t have to bend over quite as much to get your discs in and out. Rather than having a separate rain fly, the Golf Mahal was the first bag designed to carry a deployed umbrella. However, if you get caught out in the rain without an umbrella there’s a rain fly that covers the main compartment and putters, and Uretech (waterproof) zippers that cover all the other pockets.
All Things Disc Golf: What else do you want to make sure we cover?
Levi Buckingham: I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview and for the contribution you’re making to the disc golf world.
Thanks to Buckingham and the rest of the Mystery Ranch staff for sharing the history of the Golf Mahal. You can order a Golf Mahal online for $259. Mystery Ranch’s website has full ordering details.
Do you use a Golf Mahal? What do you think?