Economy the big topic at Merchandise Show

By Adam BarrJanuary 28, 2009, 5:00 pm
2009 PGA Merchandise ShowORLANDO, Fla. ' Golf is relaxing, says the old axiom. And surrounded as we are by news of economic gloom and doom, who needs a round of golf more than us?
 
Question is, can we afford it?
 
Thats the question looming over all recreational industries, not just golf. For years, Americans have been told that they should save more and spend less. Now theyre doing it, often in response to layoffs and real privation, and in other cases just because of nervousness. And the U.S. economy, usually lubricated by the oil of consumer spending, is beginning to seize up. Were in a situation where pulling back from our old reliance on consumer activity, especially in leisure pursuits, may ultimately lengthen the recession.
 
What a time to have a trade show.
 
Nonetheless, the 56th PGA Merchandise Show is ready to roll out January 29-31 at the Orange County Convention Center (with an outdoor demo day on the 28th). Its not the first time the industry has convened in tough times, but certainly the economic challenges to golf are sterner than they have been in generations.
 
The golf industry and all of its participants are going to have to face the right sizing required by these [economic] headwinds and the expected continued short-term contraction of discretionary income spending, said Wally Uihlein, chief executive of Acushnet, whose brands include Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra. Last year at this time we discussed the idea that the U.S. golf industry GNP, that is, the U.S. golf economy, was a $62 billion dollar industry. This number will now have to be reset.
 
Acushnet has talked about reducing work force; TaylorMade has already laid off 70 ' that trend is likely just beginning. But its hard to put the brakes on the development train once it gets rolling. Titleist not only has 2009 models of its Pro V1 golf balls coming out, it also is returning to the show as an exhibitor after sitting out for six years. Cobra will have new drivers and irons. Ping will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
 
Callaways Diablo driver, in its Big Bertha series, will compete $299 price echelon. Callaway also plans to offer the iQ, the latest in the geometrically advanced FT series, which is based on a clubhead technology that fuses titanium and carbon fiber. (A more traditional shape, the FT-9, will also be coming out.) Bridgestone hopes to continue the momentum of its B330-RX ball, which is designed to offer pro-ball performance to recreational-speed swingers. Adams Golf is ready with a new driver, the Speedline. Other companies are following suit.
 
Bottom line: The economy is on everyones minds ' but new gear has an irresistible allure and companies have to keep developing to stay in the race. It remains to be seen whether the golfing public will go for the new products, or whether they will decide to make do with what they have. But in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, it will be all about whats new and cool, spread over 10 miles of aisles and a million square feet of exhibit space.
 
Some of the annual optimism that always attaches to the PGA Show, justified or not, has at least one top exec smiling already.
 
This is only January, and I dont have a crystal ball. However, given the information we have, were very positive about our position both competitively and financially, said George Fellows, president and CEO of Callaway Golf. Our companys fundamentals are quite sound. We are virtually debt-free and our relationship with both the trade and the consumer is strong. Our position within the market is likely to strengthen given the trades focus on major brands during these uncertain economic times.
 
Internationally, emerging markets such as India, Brazil and Eastern Europe will provide opportunities for additional growth when macroeconomics becomes less of a headwind. Right now, our plan is to continue to implement the best-in-class plans we have in place and operate in a prudent economic fashion. The current economic situation will not stop us from developing, manufacturing and marketing some of the worlds best golf equipment.
 
Particularly telling in Fellows remarks are the hopes for footholds overseas. Aspirations for China are still alive as the middle class grows there. Fellows reveals at least three more grounds for possible economic fertility. What does that mean for the U.S. market? Part of the answer may depend on whether the changes expected to follow the last election actually take place, and in what form.
 
Here in the United States, which happens to be the world's largest golf market, we have to hope that the incoming administration's emphasis on stimulating consumer spending will help us avoid the collective paradox of thrift potential that (at the consumer level) can paralyze discretionary income-based industries during times of economic contraction, and thus further delay the renewal of spending and recovery, said Uihlein. These are indeed challenging times and they will continue to test everyone's ability to look long term while dealing with short term adversity.
 
And for companies who might not have the cash position and market foothold of a Titleist or Callaway, there may only be a short term. Hanging on until consumer spending flows more easily, making the recreational machine hum again, could be a tall task.
 
But for four days in January, at least, shiny new equipment will breed shiny, new hopes ' as it seems to do every single year.
 
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”