Friday, February 6, 2015

2015 PGA Merchandise Show and Demo Day

January 21, 2015
PGA Merchandise Show Outdoor Demo Day
at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge

     From the time Bubba Watson scanned our media pass at the entrance of Demo Day to the golf cart shuttle ride back to our vehicle by one of the legion of volunteers at Orange County National, this day was quite possibly the most fun we've ever had at a golf course!

     Starting at the Flightscope tent where we got a great introduction to the newest in 3D Doppler tracking technology (based here in Orlando) to our final stop 8 hours later at the Ben Hogan Golf Company that is returning to its roots, we went full circle around the 42 acre driving range where the ball retrievers never stopped!  More than 100 participating companies with names big and small filled 300 hitting bays and 4 practice greens with the newest equipment in the trade.  Added to the PGA Merchandise Show in 2003 as an opportunity for PGA professionals, invited media and merchandise buyers to experience equipment in a realistic environment, the Outdoor Demo Day is a great lead into the show days ahead.

     You would never imagine that over 6,000 people are milling around the mile-long circle of tee boxes unless you focus on the ball flights soaring out into the center - it looked like hail raining down on the ball carts!  Name badges reflected that attendees represented almost every corner of the globe.  And many young faces were not only trying out but repping equipment - very reassuring to see in a sport that some claim is losing popularity with generations X, Y and Z.

     An enthusiastic crowd watched Bubba put on a shot-making exhibition and listened to some sage advice from the shooting star:  try playing a round every so often with just one club.  Creativity begins when you step outside the box!


     Adams Golf got The Garden Variety Golfer Award for Best-Tailgating Party - giving away chicken wings, GolfBeer Brewing Company Keegan Bradley New England Style Lager, Graeme MacDowell Celtic Style Pale Ale and Freddie Jacobson Scandenavian Style Blonde Ale, brewed in Lakeland, Florida.  Oh, AND chocolate chip cookies!
 The Yamaha guys had set up a nice little obstacle course where we test-drove the new 6.7 hp
Yamaha Drive-A.C.:  very smooth transition, no hesitation, and 6-8v batteries delivering more voltage and drawing fewer amps making for more efficient usage on the course.  That translates into 3 rounds or better between charges.  And it has a great water-filling system that an amusing rep from Texas claimed can withstand even a 16-year-old cart boy's maintenance methodology!

     For those who walk the course, some innovations on display included the X9 Follow, a remote control bag cart that follows and R1 Push, a cart that folds into a suitcase-sized unit, both hand-built in Great Britain by Stewart Golf.  Non-motorized but very clever carts from Clicgear USA feature state-of-the-art design in compactness and accessories.  And for those who want a little more thrill in their ride, the electric Golfboard by Solboards, Inc. and electric ATV bike by QuietKat were getting a lot of notice!

     We really enjoyed talking with inventors and designers, many of whom we would see again at their show booths.  It's amazing how often people of diverse occupations bring innovation to the game of golf not necessarily because it is their occupation to do so but because the game they love draws it out of their occupation.  From the German metallurgist who began Dreamliner Golf to build a perfect putter that his wife could also use to one of the co-founders of the Tee Claw who was tired of the chewed-up rubber tees on artificial turf range stations, it was evident that golf was the beneficiary of inspiration.


     And speaking of ranges, those hard working folks at the Golf Range Association of America gave away the greatest hats!  Those guys really do work hard - on every range!!

     Wedges and putters were lined up at three practice greens with PGA teaching pros and manufacture reps ready to show off the details of new designs.  A few that caught our eye and felt great in hand included the Cleveland Wedges with a double score cut that had a good bite, the MLA Golf putter's beautiful clean Swiss design that really does focus the eye on the ball, and Ray Cook M Series putters for their affordable price tag and Nancy Lopez stamp of approval.

     Our final stop of the day was at Ben Hogan Golf where the conversation turned to the similarities between the new Ft. Worth 15 irons and the set of Apex we still have in our attic, the clubs so many of our generation grew up with.  And with the recent return of the company to the Hogan family, a return to its design roots resonates with many golfers.  Familiarity might be its greatest marketing tool.

January 21-23, 2015
PGA Merchandise Show
Orange County Convention Center
Orlando, Florida
     With one million square feet of display and 10 miles of aisles that are all about golf, walking through the doors of the PGA Merchandise Show is nothing short of amazing.  Golf equipment, products and services, apparel, forums, workshop sessions and travel are represented with flair and fanfare.  Where Demo Day had given us a taste of new equipment and products, the days of the Merchandise Show are where business really gets done.

     Meeting rooms that surrounded the main entry hall of the huge West Concourse at the Orange County Convention Center were filled to capacity and the doors at the top of the staircase opened to a thrilling amusement park that catered to every corner of golf business.
Always entertaining, Bridgestone paired up with BMW up to show off not just hot golf gear but the new electric BMW i8 - a very hot ride! 

     Having done a little welding in our day, we really enjoyed talking metalcraft at the MLA booth when we stopped to thank them for the Demo Day putting pointers.  Izulu Golf, whose entire club-fitters case is no larger than a 4-drawer tool chest, attains changes in their 2-piece irons by increasing or decreasing interior weights rather than shaft length and lie angles are adjusted by hosel changes instead of bending. 

     Clubface thinness is the name of the game now.  With advancements in metallurgy and ever-more-cutting-edge technology, clubmakers are able to get spring effects that are truly recognizable, especially with the surge of tracking devices that can measure every nuance in a golfer's swing.  They run the gambit of size and price from the affordable Swami Sport by Izzo Golf to the feature rich golf bands and watches of GolfBuddy , the automatic analytics and performance tracking of Arccos Golf and precision range finders of Leupold.  With teaching tools as simple as the RedZone Golf Combine app and as portable as the ES 14 Launch Monitor from Ernest Sports, there is an improvement vehicle for every player out there.

     And from futuristic to nostalgic, Ben Hogan Golf took us back in time with historic exhibits of Hogan's own equipment and we appreciated the time they took to explain the company's plans for addressing player's individual needs with one club fitting at a time rather than packaging entire sets.

     Another icon who is returning to his roots would be the Shark himself, Greg Norman.  At a press conference for Cobra Puma that included CEO Robert Philion and brand ambassadors Holly Sonders, Jesper Parnevik, Lexi Thompson and Curtis Thompson, it was evident that Norman was proud of the company he had helped bring into being years ago and is excited to be involved in the research and development of the company's products again.

     At the Travel Pavillion we had a great time visiting with the guys from Ireland at Emerald Golf Travel and encouraged them to get one more round in before heading home, recommending they give Orange County National a try since they really only got an introduction to it on Demo Day.  They encouraged us to come give their "wee island" a try in the near future - Aye, and we will!

     We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a significant event.  We found common ground even in our hotel lobby where we happened to meet Jeff Aubery, a Dunlop Sport rep and co-author of Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul, a book we have sitting on our shelf! 

     But probably the most significant booths that we visited were the Folds of Honor and Salute Military Golf Association, both of which are working very hard to bring a sense of inclusion to military veterans of recent conflicts who have given so much and often lost even more.  Founded by former PGA Professional and F-16 pilot Major Dan Rooney, Folds of Honor provides scholarships for families of  U. S. Military who have been disabled or killed in recent conflicts through fundraisers that include the nationwide Patriot Golf Championship held annually during the month of May.
     Sgt. T. J. Brooks, USMC Ret., caught our attention at Salute Military Golf Association primarily because of his partner, a huge soft-eyed shepherd who took up most of the aisle in front of the booth.  We didn't get his name because emotion was welling up and we found it difficult to start the conversation to begin with.  SMGA provides rehabilitative golf experiences and opportunities to post-9/11 wounded war veterans and we were looking for information to give to Dad, a retired Navy Captain with an above-the-knee amputation who is working on his prosthetic rehab and hoping to move from a cane to a seven iron this summer.  Sgt. Brooks is also an amputee.  And also retired, although he is considerably younger than Dad.  Considerably younger than us.  He was very dear and waited for the questions to come.  How can Dad be of help to you guys?  Would we be able to participate in any way that  might be of service?  On the back of his business card he wrote the e-mail address for Bob Buck, founder of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association, a resource for our own family, because without another word he understood what we were trying to say.  By supporting golf, golf supports us all.

2016 PGA Merchandise Show and Demo Day