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By: Pro From Dover
A kid in a candy store? A hungry dog with a pork chop? Tiger walking into the Foxy Lady?
Your humble Pro in the Professional Golfers Association of America 57th Annual Merchandise Show? Call it euphoria!
We’ve heard about the show and have been curious about it for years so we traveled to Orlando to check it out. It was definitely worth the trip. The industry considers this the kick-off of a new golf year.
The show is an extravagant display of goods and services from almost 1000 vendors with anything directly or even remotely connected to the golf industry. It’s open only to PGA professionals, members of the golf industry in general and the media. And, as they say in Texas, a lot of “bidness” is transacted.
Where to begin? The first of the three and one half days of the show is conducted at Orange County National Golf Center outside of Orlando. The facility has three courses but the nexus of the place is the practice range.
There aren’t many vacant spaces near a big city you could build this thing. It’s a one-mile in circumference circle with a diameter of about 450 yards. There are some permanent structures in spots to shield players from the elements along with a couple of putting greens on the perimeter. It has targets set throughout the center field area.
The equipment companies set up tents and stalls and provide samples of their latest and greatest technologically advanced new clubs. Eager sales and marketing people give their spiel about what their particular design will do to make your game sooooo much improved.
Even a lowly writer was accorded first class treatment. Clearly we weren’t a buyer but time was taken to chat and, we presume, plant the notion of a positive mention in a future column.
So, as a consumer/buyer one can do the entire loop and test everything new including putters and sand wedges on three or four putting greens scattered about. We sat on the grass and just gazed at the assemblage more than a couple of times.
Massachusetts based Titleist had the largest display area teeming with associates eager to explain what the mad scientists have come up with to improve players’ games. We’ll write about interesting things we found in a future column.
Adding to the sizzle was a sprinkling of tour professionals who signed autographs, gave pep talks and hit some balls at their respective sponsors’ locales. Justin Leonard and Suzann Pettersen were two that we saw. The players were accessible and relaxed most likely because they were comfortable in the knowledge they were amidst industry professionals.
Thursday through Saturday the focus switched to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
To give you a sense of the size of this place, it appears it could be the crate that Boston’s brand new convention center was shipped in. It is immense and we were in only one of the three buildings comprising the entity.
According to the PGA of America, there were about 40,000 attendees and ten miles of aisles. We’re not sure about the number of people but our feet pretty much confirmed the ten miles. After the first day we felt we had walked 36 holes.
It is said there are so many restaurants in New York city, that combined with openings and closings, you could not visit them all in a lifetime. One got that feeling in the OCCC.
Being a rookie, we set out eagerly and diligently working our way from one vendor to another up the first few aisles. We felt a tinge of guilt when an enthusiastic rep went into their pitch since we knew it wasn’t gong to lead to a sale and they had neglected to closely examine our credential.
That sense wore off after being physically accosted and dragged to a booth for the umpteenth time in the first couple of hours. One surprise was that you could buy single units of certain things like sun glasses, club shafts, putters and distance measuring devices. So, there were folks wandering about laden with bags full of things they just couldn’t live without.
Thank the lord for the media center and several scheduled press conferences. Those gave us a chance to retreat from the exhibit floor and crash for a while.
Although not thoroughly consistent, the floor is arranged by category so club manufacturers are in one general section, clothing and soft goods in another, travel destinations in a third and so on. It didn’t take long to decide that each particular sortie should be programmed to cover a particular grouping.
At one end of the hall was a stage and seating area where the PGA of America hosted presentations of awards and key note addresses from an assortment of folks including the Governor of the Florida, Charlie Crist.
Governor Crist ain’t no dummy. At length he laid out just how important golf is to his domain starting with the 1287 facilities and 1.7 million in-state golfers.
In the evenings there were invite only cocktail parties presented by top drawer equipment and apparel manufacturers as well as destination countries like Ireland and Wales, the latter being the host country for the Ryder Cup this year.
Friday and Saturday brought the same drill and one approached sensory overload as time passed. The veterans of the march note they go to the show with very specific objectives and, once accomplished, head for the course or the bar.
The PGA of America issued a release after the show quoting a number of exhibitors as saying business was better than last year and better than they expected. That having been said, most of the veterans we spoke with said albeit big, the show is a mere shadow of its former self.
For this reporter, it was just the right size and a good way to celebrate the new year.