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Will the Golf Industry Abandon the PGA Show

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This is the last great PGA Merchandise Show.
 
That was the pronouncement of a 30-year industry veteran over dinner Saturday. His experience drapes him in rich, solid credentials, the kind you get and maintain by not making such statements lightly.
 
And as he said it, his voice blended sadness and realism. He echoed the suspicion of many who believe that the golf industry has evolved past trade shows, or soon will.
 
Nothing about the outward appearance of this years show, the 49th of its kind, betrayed a hint of obsolescence. There were aisles and aisles of shiny clubs, spanking new balls, desirable bags, handsome clothing, and more. Smiles and handshakes passed freely between old friends and new. There was energy in the air and a spring in many steps, even those who said attendance felt off compared to other years.
 
Full Coverage of the 2002 PGA Merchandise Show
 
Nike introduced new clubs that quickened the pulse of anyone who loves the classic look of forged irons. Titleist showed us Son of Pro V1, along with some forgings of its own. Golf writers spent the early part of the week clobbering drives with Pings TiSi Tec, Clevelands Launcher, TaylorMade-adidas 200 Series, and a number of other drivers. True Temper showed off a new BiMatrx and a very light steel shaft, the TX90.
 
But before the show even began, the industry knew that Ping had decided to be absent starting next year. Ping executives explained privately that they had no quarrel with Reed Exposition, the company that bought the show from the PGA of America in 1998. They simply did a cost-benefit analysis and decided that their marketing dollars could be better used (deployed is the fashionable marketing-speak word for it) on other programs.
Its a hard decision to argue with. Ping has for years brought retail accounts and clubfitters to its facilities in Phoenix to show them the operation from top to bottom. They share the stage with no one, and everyone leaves with a clear and comprehensive understanding of how Ping approaches the golf business.
 
They also leave with new or solidified relationships with the Solheims and other Ping staffers. Thats what Ping execs are referring to when they say their show decision involved more cost effectiveness than can be measured in dollars. Callaway executives, who in 2000 started inviting press and retailers to a major company event in October, agreed.
 
The difficulty of finding quality time at the PGA Show for relationship building has been a topic of evening conversation at the last four or five shows, and it all stems from a kind of embarrassment of riches. There are so many good people in this little industry, and so many interesting products to see, that it seems as if there is an average of 38 seconds per person an attendee wants to see. That sentiment is nearly universal now, from sales force to manufacturers to golf pros to press.
 
Pings determination earned the praise of top competitors such as Titleist and Callaway, each of whom turned up the volume on perennial cries for examination of show strategy. Wally Uihlein, president of The Acushnet Co. (which owns the Titleist, Pinnacle, FootJoy and Cobra brands), promised an evaluation of his empires plans within three to six months.
 
Smaller exhibitors, some of whom nonetheless cover 10,000 square feet of booth space, renewed the annual complaints about being nickel-and-dimed to death by elevated fees for space rental, drayage, and even vacuuming of the carpets. They also reported ' although none wanted to be quoted ' that Reed executives are already talking about rebates as a tactic to try to avoid a rapid exodus from the show.
 
That threat is real. When manufacturers began to abandon the Las Vegas PGA Show after 1999, those who still attended compared the atmosphere to a flea market, or at least a setting not worthy of the premium golf equipment industry.
 
In a world banded by bundles of communications cables, books full of scheduled flights, and wireless backtalk, perhaps trade shows dont work well for small industries. Golf equipment will certainly be popular, subject to economic cycles. By this time next year, well see if Orlando is still the industrys Broadway.