2014 PGA Merchandise Show Preview
19 Jan 2014
by Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com

- photo courtesy PGA of America
- photo courtesy PGA of America
It’s Sunday and I’m sitting on an airplane, seated amongst the chief executives of Callaway, TaylorMade, and Lamkin.

Private jet you ask?

Not quite. These aren't the heads of Google and Facebook flying their individual jets to some resort for a Wall Street Journal conference. It’s the direct Alaska Airlines flight to Florida on the Sunday before the PGA Merchandise Show, the golf industry’s annual global gathering in Orlando.

That's not to say that golf (and the equipment industry) isn't important. After all, it's the one sport that many corporate CEOs, big athletes, and Hollywood stars wind up taking up at some point. Golf captures their imagination, and attempting to master it keeps the competitive juices flowing long after they retire.

Golf is a huge business, if you count the courses, resorts, professional tours and of course the athletes, sponsorships, and the associated TV revenues. Heck, the Golf Channel is now a financial juggernaut and Tiger Woods’ total earnings have just surpassed $1 Billion. But the total revenue of all the equipment companies combined is well under $10 Billion per year, less than Google alone does in 3 months.

To us, the avid golfers of the world, golf equipment companies matter. We wear their brands on our hats and we’re not even paid to do so. And we love nothing better than putting a new $400 driver in our hands, with the hope that perhaps this could be the one we’ll hit fearlessly into the 18th fairway on our way to the club championship, or qualifying for the US Amateur.
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I’ve been coming to the show for 15 years and at the beginning of that time it was largely an indoor production, filled with enormous booths from the “majors” and small and mid sized booths from component companies like Lamkin and True Temper plus endless rows of square displays from every possible golf-related company, from golf simulators, to golf university programs, to tournament trophies and tee gifts. If you can find it in a pro shop or retail outlet, you can probably find it here.

The show floor starts off with a truncated indoor range on one side – you can see about the first 100 yards of your ball's flight – with the major manufacturers on that side of the huge convention center floor and the smaller companies getting smaller as you walk to the opposite side. It’s at that point that you encounter countless apparel companies (and where you tend to find the best “after show hours” cocktail gatherings).

This the PGA of America’s show, and like the PGA Championship and all of their “grow the game” initiatives they do an awesome job with it. PGA professionals can get educational credits towards their Class A status by attending the myriad of educational workshops, and each year the show has a panel of industry luminaries open the show in a "state of the industry" type of production. This year Donald Trump and Annika Sorenstam (who they are calling "The First Lady of Golf") will be a big part of the show's “grow the game” theme. Hopefully nobody’s going to hear “you’re fired!”


What’s been added and turned up several notches in the last 10 years is the pre-show demo day at Orange County National golf course, surely the largest in the world. Held the Tuesday before the show, the entire expanse of OCN’s circular tee (with a massive 500 yard diameter) is used. Celebrity spokespeople, like the Back9Netwo rk’s Ahmad Rashad, will be there with long drive champ Jamie Sadlowski, and thousands of show attendees looking to get a crack at hitting the latest and greatest. Because, after all, you can only pick up a club and look at it for so long without wondering about that magic which we surely hope will help our members but secretly hope will help us as well.

The demo day is a spectacle unlike any other I’ve been to. And miraculously, I’ve never heard about anyone getting hurt or even hit by a ball. There’s a nice short game area, too, where I’m always looking for a solution to the impending Jan 1, 2016 anchoring prohibition. (Hopefully it will last no longer than alcohol prohibition!)

True Temper is kicking their presentation up a notch by giving everyone a chance to win a Harley, with a drawing at 4:00 p.m. at the demo day. It's a real marketing coup for the leading shaft manufacturer, and we'll provide a video of the winner's reaction on Tuesday.

Throughout the week, the amateurgolf.com team will write with some product insight and people sightings. If there is anything you us to be on the lookout for, or if you’re going to be attending and want to say hello, please drop me a line by following the contact links or using the comment box below.
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