The 55th edition of the PGA Merchandise Show begins in Orlando Wednesday with a demo day on the huge 360-degree range at nearby Orange County National Golf complex. The traditional convention part of the Show then runs Thursday through Saturday at the massive Orange County Convention Center. Its a multi-faceted exhibition and meeting that brings together pretty much the entire golf industry to get ready for the new season.
But the products to be shown ' and the ways exhibitors will use the Show ' will readjust the boundaries of tradition.
Sure, there will be plenty of new stuff to look at. I lost count of the new premium irons that are on the way, and of course there will be bags full of new drivers, putters and wedges. There will be innovative bags, golf balls with the latest that aerodynamic science has to offer (even a new ball for kids), and shafts galore.
But what everyone is looking at is'well, how the industry will adjust.
I think there will be a great deal of discussion surrounding the [U.S. Golf Associations] recent ruling on club adjustability, says Dan Murphy, senior director of marketing, Bridgestone Golf. From what I gather, PGA professionals and retailers are eager to see how OEMs will be integrating those design properties into their product line-ups.
Last year, the USGA told manufacturers they could make clubs that are adjustable for more than just weight, as long as the adjustment couldnt be easily made during a round. And the effective date, January 1, 2008, came up fast. So manufacturers have scrambled to bring out adjustable gear, some of which was already in the developmental pipeline. And the first frontier of adjustment: fitting.
So what well see is some innovative product mixes ' such as Callaways I-MIX system, which allows clubheads and shafts to be purchased separately. Players can get a driver head and multiple shafts to try ' or change out round to round, depending on conditions. Nickent has an interchangeable shaft system called Evolver that uses its large, stable 4DX head. Other manufacturers are planning innovation on a similar level, all supported by space age connection systems and wrenches that work at the tip end of the shaft.
Look also for moveable weights in hybrids and putters ' not exactly a new development, but due for a bigger push. Thats true for much of the fitting and customization technology, some of which has been around for years but not promoted vigorously. The tour van in a box concept ' giving consumers the kind of adjustability in their equipment that tour players have enjoyed for years ' is the focus of the recreational side of the industry and the intent of the new USGA rule.
And fitting isnt just a matter of screwing shafts in and out of heads. Some manufacturers are going deep with technology ' including Ping, who returns to the Show for the first time since 2003.
Our main objective is to introduce our nFlight fitting software, as well as our fitting system, which includes interchangeable fitting clubs, says Pete Samuels, director of communications for Ping.
The software, which arises out of a lot of hours and sweat by Ping engineers, can be used indoors or out. It provides a 3-D ball flight readout, and can process more than a million fitting combinations from a support database that includes 20,000 equipment tests and the performance characteristics of 30,000 shafts. Sophisticated modeling engines make precise fitting recommendations.
But as novel as Pings new technology is the way the company has decided to use the Show. Rather than have a traditional booth, Ping will present more of an education center right next to the hall-wide indoor test range, the Equipment Testing Center. The company will have its gear there, but the main idea, concocted in conjunction with the PGA of America, is to invite pros, club fitters and others in to learn about the new approach to fitting from Pings experts in the field. There will even be a special section on the unique task of properly fitting golf clubs for women.
Its one of six stations, so that doesnt necessarily mean its the main focus, says Samuels. But it will highlight what were doing with our Rhapsody equipment line. And fitting women is different from fitting men, Samuels said, noting that Ping wants to take custom fitting to the next level for all kinds of golfers.
But dont forget ' the PGA Merchandise Show is not just a product platform, but also a huge industry meeting. For some people, the meeting function is paramount. Bridgestone is the official golf ball fitter of this years show, but the meeting will also help its execs take the pulse of the industry.
The Show has become much less of a launching pad for new products and much more about having an opportunity for collaboration with key audiences such as media, vendors and retailers, says Bridgestones Murphy. I value these opportunities as I believe each plays an important role in better serving the end-user. The show is a great source for generating ideas, whether theyre R&D related or marketing/sales focused.
Another thing you can usually get out of the Show is the general mood of the industry for the coming year. By speaking with retailers and taking a close look at all the product offerings you can typically gauge what type of year this will be for golf. The Show is a great barometer for what opportunities or challenges the new season holds.
And the Show tends to have a lasting effect on manufacturer mindsets ' even those who have been in a position to see it all.
I cant say that Ive seen a lot of truly unusual things at the Show over the past handful of years, but Ive definitely seen lots of interesting trends develop, Murphy says. Probably the most significant is the fact that the Show and industry as a whole has become a lot less about hype and more about substance. Consumers are taking on much more a show me mindset rather than being satisfied just being told what is good. That mindset is forcing some changes; it is forcing some myths to be dispelled and some truths to be revealed.
What will be revealed this week will set the tone for the golf industry, certainly for this year and perhaps beyond. One thing is for sure every year ' whatever the economic health of the game may be, theres always something interesting at the PGA Show. For the 55th version, theres no reason to believe things will be any less exciting.