You cant kill it, he said with a smile. The 1994 strike, the 1919 Black Sox scandal, everything in between: No matter what happens with the pro game, someone somewhere will still play baseball.
I always enjoyed that hopeful notion. And while the state of the golf industry is perhaps not as dramatic as the state of baseball when ONeill spoke (the early 1990s), I like to think that no matter what happens with equipment sales, the number of golfers, the pro game, and any number of other variables, golfs allure is eternal.
This years PGA Merchandise Show and Convention, which wrapped up Sunday, supported my hope. Yes, certain large equipment companies have decided that trade shows are not for them. Yes, you can point to statistics tending to show that golf in the United States may not be growing as we would like it to. But every January, when the show begins, the Orange County Convention Center seems full of hope and anticipation for the season about to start.
Its hard not to be hopeful in the midst of all that shiny new gear. Here, it is not considered boring to dive into driver minutiae. That new laser weld saves how much weight in the driver head? The sweet spot is how big? Ill hit it how far? Lemme at it. (MacGregor offered its MacTec NVG2 driver, which has no welds on the back of the face, thereby expanding the effective hitting area, says MacG.)
Its not just the equipment (although that would be enough). Walk down the aisle and you could run into anyone ' Greg Norman (his apparel labels booth had a tank with two sharks in it), Donna Andrews, Lorie Kane, Jim Furyk, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, Fred Funk and others came by, signed autographs, shook hands, and communed.
I got stopped many times by Canadian golf pros and their guests. Never have I seen in more eyes a desire for green to emerge through the snow, for the tee to be clear, for the ball to get flyin. Never have I seen so much golf hope.
And in an industry that trades in hope, there was stock in trade aplenty. Odyssey hopes its Tri-Ball putter captures as much imagination as the 2-Ball did. Bridgestone has a lot of hope behind its e5 and e6 golf balls, as well as Creamer in a Precept ball on tour. Mizuno has MX900 irons designed by master craftsman Harry Taylor, who has gotten very good at working game-enhancement elements into forgings. And Clay Long, his design rival and colleague, has done some very nice thin-faced irons for Nicklaus, the High CTs.
These are just examples of the many things to be seen at the Show. At one end of the massive hall, stall upon hitting stall of pros and guests tried a forest of sticks. It was wonderfully hard to get a spot as player after player peeled off winters rust.
So the Show, which has been criticized in some circles in recent years, was a success as far as I can see. It sharpened the industrys anticipation of another year, uttered another prayer for a good spring, took another shot at making the grandest game a broader stripe in the American (and world) fabric.
Could the show be improved? Anything can, and I know the folks at trade-show master Reed Exhibitions, which puts on the PGA Show, are always looking for an edge. One suggestion that circulated briskly: Expand the pre-Show demo day (it filled the massive range at Orlandos Orange County National Golf Resort) to two days, then have two days for the trade only ' and then throw open the doors to golf consumers for a couple days. I guarantee, people will travel from all coasts for a look inside this show, enough to require a big security contingent to keep traffic flowing. And what better way to pump consumer interest? Let club pros choose a few members to bring along. Hold sweepstakes for tickets. Build travel packages. Have fun.
Because not only can you not kill it ' you can definitely grow it.
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