PGA Show Endures the Age of Multi-Marketing

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PGA of AmericaThe PGA Merchandise Show, which will open for the 51st time Thursday in Orlando, Fla., has become golfs version of the old Sears, Roebuck Wish Book. It may not be the main way people buy or want to buy, but many still love it and look forward to it every year.
 
Americans of a certain age will remember the Wish Book, whose chunky pre-Christmas version featured gifts of all kinds, from louvered blinds to lingerie, plus holiday decorations. And most exciting to the cookie-crumbed hands that grabbed the bounty eagerly from the mailman, it had toys. Pages and pages of toys.
 
The Wish Book as we kids knew it was a happy holiday paean to Sears' historic foothold in the mail order business, which began in the late 19th century. But the rise of department stores, and Sears own success in that important retail genre, made the Wish Book something of an anachronism: Still prized, but more as a Christmas season tradition than for its many-lined order form. (Sears still has specialty catalogs, but search Wish Book on the Internet now, and you go straight to Sears online retail site.)
 
As golfs main toy display, the PGA Merchandise Show has in just a few years morphed from a massive, must-be-there-in-force sales floor to a meeting that many are reluctant to abandon. Nonetheless, some major golf equipment companies have departed, citing the outsized budget line items involved with moving to Orlando each January a booth the size of two or three pro shops, plus hundreds of people to support the effort, all with attendant travel and entertainment costs.
 
Alas, some of the defectors have been major players, and it has not helped the shows current owners, Reed Exhibitions, that some left with apologies for doing what the budgets compelled them to do. Acushnet, owner of the Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra and Pinnacle brands, has not attended since 2002. Ping skipped last year and is not returning this year. Adams Golf continues to stay away. Cleveland Golf will be there this year, but is making noises about this being its farewell to the show. TaylorMade-adidas Golf made a point of supporting the show when others were leaving, but it abruptly decided in December 2003 not to come in 2004, the commercial equivalent of stepping out of line just as your boarding pass is being ripped.
 
But just as newspapers did not suffer the manslaughter predicted by futurists who were high on the Internet in its early days, so has the PGA Merchandise Show survived the onslaught of multi-channel marketing, tighter budgets, and uneasiness about travel.
 
In figuring out why it has endured, its easy to say that the golf trade likes the Show because it is the only industry-wide meeting on the calendar. Others cite the weather and the opportunity for a working vacation for golf pros. But the real fascination is the well-known Toy Store Effect. Even without the absentees, the Show is the most stunning collection of golf equipment anywhere on Earth, after all these years a breathtaking annual adrenaline splash that amazes newcomers and excites veteran golf gearheads.
 
Even the vets arent immune from losing control of their jaw muscles. I am about to cover my 10th PGA Show, and Im still amazed at just how much there is to look at, learn about and absorb. Bottom line: If you like golf equipment, this Show is still fun.
 
Reed has worked hard to update the presentation, too, last year adding a pre-Show outdoor demo day that met with rave reviews. The all-day swingfest is held at the massive range at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge outside Orlando, and it promises to be a hit again. Most importantly, the chance to swing, feel, heft and roll lifts attendees from the role of mere window shoppers with tired feet to the happy position of test drivers in Softspikes.
 
In an effort to capitalize on that success, Reed has arranged a large, netted, 45-bay indoor hitting area for the four days of the show proper. This innovation will be the centerpiece of what was once just 10 miles of walk-look-walk-look-some-more exhibits.
 
Heres a brief sample of what will be on view at the Show:
 
Callaway Golf: ERC Fusion driver (already in many tour bags); new-era Big Bertha irons
 
Nike: Ignite driver, the one Nike aggressively brought to market after Tiger Woods much-publicized driver misgivings in 2003. Also, Slingshot irons, featuring a weight band across the back cavity. Theyre beginning to show up in some tour bags.
 
Cleveland Golf: Cleveland is proud of a new line of wedges made of a metal they say is revolutionary. The CG10 line features multiple bounce options and that soft metal, called Carbon Metal Matrix. A new line of game-improvement irons, the TA6s are due, as well as a new Voodoo putter from Never Compromise, the upstart putter line that Cleveland recently bought.
 
Club Car: The Precedent golf cart allegedly has none. Club Car promises sleek, updated styling, a 360-degree bumper for added impact protection, and back-friendly, ergonomic seats, plus many other features.
 
And thats just the beginning. Join us on Golf Central at 7:30 PM/ET Wednesday, Jan. 28 through Sunday, Feb. 1 for coverage, then at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a live one-hour wrap-up show on the Show.
 
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