By Ed Travis
The golf industry kicks off the new year in Orlando with the PGA Merchandise Show, promoted as the “Major of Golf Business” or to some, “Disney World for golf nuts.” Open to only PGA Professionals, LPGA Professionals and golf industry members this year’s attendance figures have not been released but longtime participants from the media felt the number was in the range of 40,000 about the same as 2019.
As always, the primary draw for club pros is the PGA of America continuing education classes and this year there were 95 sessions with the emphasis on the topics needed for running our game day to day. The list ran the gamut from more effective merchandise display techniques to coaching of junior players to a session on how to read financial statements.
The week started Tuesday at Demo Day held on Orange County National Golf Center’s 42-acre circular practice area with more than 100 companies arrayed around the range’s mile-long circumference. Though it was sunny the combination of wind and lower than normal temperatures made it more like North Dakota than Orlando and attendance for the day suffered.
Wednesday through Friday more than 900 exhibitors competed for attention along the almost 10 miles of aisles and approximately one million square feet in the Orange County Convention Center located not far from the afore mentioned Walt Disney World. As always there were plenty of opportunities to “test drive” the latest and greatest clubs at the indoor driving range aptly called the Equipment Test Center.
A new Show feature reflecting the business reality at many golf facilities was the concurrent Racquet & Paddle Sports Show at one end of the exhibit floor. Covering not only the traditional tennis, squash and badminton this group of exhibitors attracted golf professionals wanting more information about newer games like padel and pickleball.
The axion in golf equipment is “distance sells” or perhaps more accurately, the hope of more distance sells, so every maker in the club and ball category was showing product design to help golfers get more yards. Made from ever more sophisticated materials, the latest and greatest are designed by computers and software barely imagined even five years ago. One continuing trend is very lightweight clubs especially drivers since lighter means slow to moderate swing speed players can swing faster for higher trajectory and most importantly more yards. Missing from the Show floor were premium club makers PXG and Honma while the former leader in metalwoods TaylorMade Golf also chose to avoid the expense of exhibiting.
On Thursday the International Network of Golf Industry Honors were presented. This 26th annual competition recognizes the outstanding achievements in 12 categories and for 2020 among the winners were Topgolf Executive Chairman Erik Anderson for Business Achievement, Callaway Golf’s Epic Flash Driver for Product Ingenuity Market Leaders-Golf Equipment and Snell Golf’s MTB-X Golf Balls for Product Ingenuity Emerging Companies-Golf Equipment. Additionally, the U.S. Adaptive Golf Alliance took the top spot in Player Development.
Also, of significance and with perhaps a peek into the future were the new product awards presented by the PGA of America. The winners were CoolNES a two-in-one neck and face mask of UPF 50+ to help prevent damage and skin cancer. Tour Striker in the instructional and training aids category with their Tour Striker Clubs, Educator, Smart Bag, Smart Ball, and Plane Station. A top of the line golf bag with premium 3D sound capability from WizPak Golf also was recognized.
On an encouraging note the opinion that seemed to be shared amongst the professional critics inhabiting the media center and by attendees we asked was though not without problems the golf industry is in reasonably good shape and they were looking forward to 2020.