PGA Show Whats That Annoying Non-Buzz

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ORLANDO ' Before a morning coffee encased in fine Styrofoam, before comfortable shoes for all-day walking, before even a parking space, the first thing people coming to the PGA Merchandise Show look for is The Buzz. What, oh what, they ask, will be the big product this year, the one everyone talks about with either wonder (buyers) or chagrin (competitors)?
 
And over the last few editions of the industrys January extravaganza, faces assume perplexed looks by 10:30 a.m. the first day. No Buzz. No white-hot product. Everyones socks are still on, having resisted being knocked off.
 
Thats not to say there werent interesting products at the 51st PGA Merchandise Show, which ended here in time for Super Bowl parties to begin Sunday afternoon. Callaways ERC Fusion driver raised armies of eyebrows, and hybrid irons from many companies bolstered the argument that 2- and 3-irons are simply not the proper tools for anyone anymore.
 
But there was no one item, no Great Big Bertha, no Pro V1, no Bubble Shaft that made everyone giddy in a Ben-and-J. Lo-are-back-on kind of way.
 
Theres innovation aplenty in golf equipment, so the manufacturers arent slacking off. But about five years ago, the PGA Show began to lose its status as the premier stage for product introductions. The ERC Fusion, for instance, had been in tour bags, on television and in magazines since last summer. There are few surprises left, and we have become a golf nation that is difficult to surprise. As knowledge grows, childlike wonder ebbs, it seems.
 
Maybe not, though. Everyone in golf agrees that the games equipment consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before. Perhaps manufacturers and consumers will begin to communicate on a deeper level, right down to the size of the muscleback on new irons and the sole width on wedges. More golf gearheads could be good for the industry.
 
And it may be necessary to talk that way, now that premium equipment list prices in some cases exceed the cost of a top-of-the-line refrigerator. Still, for those willing to invest some shoe leather, there were lower-cost options across the show floor. Dunlop, MacGregor, Tour Edge and others continued their traditions of offering good gear for the common man, as Northwestern Golf patriarch Nat Rosasco put it.
 
In the premium segment, one got the firm impression that innovation in golf club design has hit the fine-tuning stage. The Fusion and the MP001 from Mizuno are examples of drivers that combine forged titanium faces with carbon fiber composite bodies or body parts, all in an effort to move weight to the place on the clubhead where it will do the most good. Industry veteran Dick De La Cruz developed a driver design that marries a forged titanium face to a magnesium body, then incorporates weight plugs in as many as seven locations to optimize ball flight.
 
These innovative tweaks may be the wave of the future now that clubhead size and face coefficient of restitution are regulated once and for all. We may all be driving it as well as we can pretty soon.
 
Or well be hitting the new hybrid irons, with their classic faces backed up by teardrop-shaped masses behind the topline. At the outdoor demo party the day before the show, and in the 45-bay indoor hitting area during the show proper, more and more players of all skill levels convinced themselves that theres no longer any reason to white-knuckle a 3-iron when you can get the ball airborne with a hybrid. Tour pros are beginning to take note as well. Look for these clubs, which last year began to be called generally by the name Rescue, TaylorMade-adidas brand name for them, to get into a lot of bags this spring.
 
Speaking of TaylorMade, and Titleist, and Ping and a number of others who said no thanks to the show, the reaction was much the same as last year: Concern beforehand, forgotten once the curtain went up. There was enough to look at without these heavy hitters, who decided to spend their marketing millions in other ways. But the ease with which one could get down the main aisle even on the first day, hardly rubbing a shoulder in what is usually a Times Square scene, has some 2004 exhibitors reconsidering whether they should return.
 
Ideas spouted over cocktails include moving the show to the fall, doing it every two years instead of annually, and allowing consumers in (perhaps for two of the four days, to give the trade some time to do business). In a time when trade show expenses come under serious scrutiny, dont be surprised if Reed Exhibition, the shows owner, gets pretty innovative itself in an effort to return that Buzz.
 
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