Getting on the train, at 8.00 on a Sunday it dawned in me that l was off to my Mecca of golf. No not St Andrews or Augusta l was flying out to Orlando Florida for the PGA Merchandise Show. 1000 exhibitors showing off the latest hardware, apparel, accessories, and anything and everything golf related you possibly think of. And a load of stuff you wouldn’t have!
The PGA Show first started in 1954 out of the back of a few cars in the car park at PGA National Golf Club, with just a few representatives from different dub manufacturers. Now the event takes place over four days (including the demo) in the; 1.1 Million Square Feet Orange County Convention Centre West Concourse.
Coming at the end of January it’s the perfect time for the golf trade to worldwide to kick start their year. While traditionally an event for professionals to see products for the first time and sign orders for their store for the year, release timings have evolved to the point where it has become a showcase for the big brands to define themselves and for smaller brands to be found.
Tour Edge Demo Day
Now before the events of the week kick off proper, every year Tour Edge hold a multi manufacturer demo day and this year it was held at the world famous Lake Nona. Showcasing their latest products, they bring partners from around the world to show off their products. So as well as trying the latest CBX “spin killer” woods from Tour Edge, we had presentations by Lamkin Grips, SuperSpeed Golf, and Oncore golf, as well as a presence from ShotScope and Sun Mountain among other.
A great chance to blow out the cobwebs l used it as a chance to try the a Ping G400 Max driver (very easy to hit) TaylorMade M3 three wood (looks great but wrong shaft made it hard to get a feel for) Wilson C300 Forged irons (best set of Irons I’ve ever hit from Wilson, forgiving and long) and Bettinardi putters and wedges (hit the best flop shot of my life off pine needles!).
In some ways, I’d argue Demo Day is the most important part of the show. Held at orange County National, the demo day has over 100 manufacturers trying to coerce you into trying their wares. TaylorMade, Callaway, Ping, and Titleist have the biggest areas. Cobra Puma Golf bring an inflatable nightclub. Walking around casually you’ll see legend of the game such as Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jesper Parnevik and Blair O’Neal, while Scotland’s own Carly Booth was also on site for Cobra Puma Golf. Outside of the queues to try Rogue and M3, or hit the ridiculously forgiving Ping G700 irons, other brands try and make an impression. Noticeable this year Wilson who had a massive presence at the demo day with a secretive closed off area for filming their Driver vs Driver TV show. With Nike pulling out of golf hardware still affecting the market it was interesting to see the impact Wilson were having at the Demo Day. On the back of their strongest product line in years it feels like they are making a serious run at the market.
Located amongst the myriad selection of shaft manufacturers, and boutique high-end Japanese brands, there was a real buzz around Vertical Groove Golf demo bays. The big launch was their first fairway wood. releasing both a standard three wood and a low spinning tour three wood. With no warm up. I was quickly hitting great shots off the deck which would suggest that they are super easy to hit.
Anything and everything you could ever think of golf related will be at the show in some form or another. From the obvious new golf equipment. and the seemingly hundreds of apparel brands you’ve never heard of, and at least the same amount that you have. all the way to golf bag shaped pint glasses and super fast one man golf carts.
The general buzz coming from the show was positive. and footfall on the first two days definitely seemed higher than in recent years. The apparel hall seemed more progressive than in recent years, with fantastic collections from G/FORE. adidas and Galvin Green, while US centric brands such as Dunning, TravisMathew and RLX all targeted the modem progressive golfer.
The separation of TaylorMade from Adidas at last seemed real. The two brands booths were as physically far apart from one another as possible in the Convention Centre. Symbolically meant or just a coincidence, we don’t know, but these industry giants have separate paths to go down. Adidas were showing off their new lines and you can read about the apparel later in the issue. However their new footwear lines cover nearly every base, with the Ultra Boost inspired models and the adipure with more than a passing resemblance to the classic Stan Smith, really catching the eye. The TaylorMade stand took some serious inspiration from their latest twist face drivers and the crazy entranceway was arguably the most eye catching stand at the show.
Previously when attending the show I would always be amazed how many wannabe engineers had time to produce the latest and greatest putter designs. For the most part these guys have been squeezed out of the show. It’s expensive to exhibit at the show and with the online world we live in now, for guys like this the show is probably a unnecessary expenditure when they can find their audience through targeted social media. In the same vein there are far fewer mid tier and entry leVel brands exhibiting at the show. Tour Edge look to have identified that is a space they can own yet currently they don’t have even have any UK distribution. On the flip side there seems to be a general trend with the cost of golf gear rising in price. Call it the PXG effect, or simply retailer the retailer looking for ways to make more profit by selling more expensive products with higher margins than ever before. Niche brands such as Miura and ltobori exhibited at the show for the first time with their stunning blades and wedges that don’t seem quite as expensive as they might have in the past. Graphite shaft brands TPT from Switzerland and Seven Dreamers were marketing Shafts at £500 and $1,200 respectively. Serious chunks of change. FootJoy used the event to launch their 1857 range of upscale apparel and footwear. With cashmere sweaters and shoes channeling the spirit of the Classics, the line which won’t reach the UK until 2019, will have shoes starting around the $500 mark.
From a UK brand perspective, it was a huge week for Lynx golf having recently acquired the trademarks for the brand globally. The PGA Merchandise Show marked their first appearance on the World stage by taking a sizeable floor presence and their stand featured a large illuminated brand wall that grabbed the attention of anyone walking by.
By the time the show had ended and we were on the flight back, my colleague laughed at me at when I complained I hadn‘t actually seen the show. And of course I had. But running in and out of meetings from one end of the hall all the way to the other, zig-zagging across the show floor trying to spot that really unique product that you may have missed, makes me long for the days it was a four-day show. The final day of the show is a washout, and exhibitors start packing up by 12. But with so much golf gear to see, l’m the one person who would happily stay until the end and lock up the show on my out the door. GR