Road Noise from the PGA Merchandise Show

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Editors Note: GOLF CHANNEL business reporter Casey Bierer hits the practice ranges, putting greens and tour trailers of professional golf to speak with company owners, tour reps and players in this series, Road Noise.
 
This week, Casey reports from the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida.
 
This will be the 55th PGA Merchandise Show. And to think, it started in a parking lot with pros exhibiting merchandise out of the trunks of their cars. Can you imagine if we went back to those days? No, I cant either. And its just as well. I mean, it would have to be one heck of a big parking lot to accommodate 10 square miles of space1 million square feetover 1,200 of golfs leading companies and more than 45,000 of golfs most dedicated professional participants. Probably more SUVs in one place at one time than ever before. Yeah, forget the parking lot thing.
 
Show buzz is always the big thing. Last year it was largely shape geometry in drivers that led to higher MOI; in short, longer, straighter drivers. I dont believe for a minute that that story is going away this show or any time in the near or even distant future. I mean, who doesnt want to hit it longer and straighter? We all do. And as such, the manufacturers will continue to mine advances in technology that allow us to do that.
 
There is semi-official show buzz this year that is louder than all the other bits of buzz. Its the prospect of adjustability through head and shaft interchangeability. And lets be clear; this is adjustability on the consumer use level not just adjustability for fitting on the range. And its not just adjustability as in moving weights; although, that was and still is considered a major evolution and revolution in the advancement of golf club design.
 
On March 30, 2005, the USGA indicated an interest in considering allowing more types of adjustable features on woods and irons. As stated at the time:
 
'The Rulebook currently states that wood and irons must not be designed to be adjustable except for weight. The USGA is considering allowing more types of adjustable features to be used in woods and irons. It is possible that a proposal to allow more types of adjustable features on woods and irons could be made in the future. An important consideration of any such proposal would be to continue to disallow any adjustments being made during a stipulated round.'
 
The USGA is now proposing to amend the current rule to permit some additional forms of adjustability of woods and irons. The USGA believes that permitting this type of technology is a change that can serve to help many golfers obtain clubs that are well suited to their needs without causing any harm to the game.
 
On February 27, 2007, the USGA followed the 2005 letter with the following information:
 
From (current rule):
 
Woods and irons must not be designed to be adjustable except for weight. Putters may be designed to be adjustable for weight and some other forms of adjustability are also permitted. All methods of adjustment permitted by the Rules require that:
 
  • the adjustment cannot be readily made;
     
  • all adjustable parts are firmly fixed and there is no reasonable likelihood of them working loose during a round; and
     
  • all configurations of adjustment conform with the Rules.
     
    The disqualification penalty for purposely changing the playing characteristics of a club during a stipulated round (Rule 4-2a) applies to all clubs including a putter.
     
    To: (proposed rule)
     
    All clubs may incorporate mechanisms for weight adjustment. Other forms of adjustability may also be permitted upon evaluation by the USGA.
     
    The following requirements apply to all permissible methods of adjustment:
     
  • the adjustment cannot be readily made;
     
  • all adjustable parts are firmly fixed and there is no reasonable likelihood of them working loose during a round; and
     
  • all configurations of adjustment conform with the Rules.
     
    The disqualification penalty for purposely changing the playing characteristics of a club during a stipulated round (Rule 4-2a) applies to all clubs including a putter.
     
    The primary buzz experienced at this years PGA Merchandise Show will go to the heart of adjustability technology. Specifically, interchangeable shaft technology.
     
    Interchangeable shaft technology has been approved by the USGA, says Jon Claffey, director of marketing for Nickent Golf. Early on, Jon continued, Nickent recognized the significance of this and what it means to our business - the commerce of golf - as well as what it means to golfers looking for ways to improve their game. We are launching the 4DX Evolver interchangeable driver shaft technology. Aside from the hybrid technology we pioneered that really put Nickent on the map, this is the biggest technology and innovation story we have had. Jon says, Nickent is a big part of the symposium at the show that is being put on by Reed Exhibitions and the PGA of America. Our chief designer, John Hoeflich, will be a featured speaker. So, considering that the theme of the show this year is shaft interchangeability and adjustability, were pretty excited to be right in the epicenter of this new technology revolution.
     
    Bill Bryant, a golf industry pubic relations veteran, has attended 11 PGA Merchandise shows. This will be his 12th. I think the show is a great time and place to recharge your batteries, says Bill. We can remind ourselves, Bill continues, of what a cool business we work in. We could be in banking or the mortgage business. But, we work in golf. And thats not bad, is it?
     
    As the man behind the name of Bryant Marketing Communications, Bill has a number of key clients at this years show. U.S. Kids Golf has a new golf ball, says Bill Bryant. It is designed for kids and as we know most kids have a slower swing speed. So it makes sense that as the golf industry gets more and more serious about fitting golfers, young golfers shouldnt get left out of that equation. So these golf balls take in to account ranges of swing speed. 90 mph down to 70 mph and then another ball for swing speeds 70 mph and less. This is an indication of the commitment that U.S. Kids golf is making to help kids learn golf with a proper swing rather than having to learn to swing by making forced compensations because the equipment isnt right.
     
    Another of Bills clients, Club Car, is launching what is essentially a new golf car. In 2004 the company came out with the Precedent; a platform that represented an extreme makeover for the company. From the outside, says Bill Bryant, the golf car doesnt look that much different. But from what we call under the hood it is dramatically different with a new charging system and a new electronic drive system. So it represents a major step forward for Club Car in creating efficiencies in golf car design and operation.
     
    Another rules change by the USGA, this one regarding distance measuring devices used on the golf course during tournament play, was adopted in the beginning of 2006. It has benefited companies like Bushnell. A world wide leader in laser guided optics, Bushnell has leveraged its brand and advanced engineering to carve out a big chunk of the golf industrys distance measuring product category. If there has been a knock on Bushnell devices in the past, its that they can be a bit cumbersome to use because of the size.
     
    Jen Messelt, public relations specialist for Bushnell Outdoor Products, tells me that downsizing the newest unit while building in more features than ever is giving golfers just what theyve been asking for. Were debuting the TOUR V2, Jen says. It is a single hand, vertical configuration laser range finder with PinSeeker technology. Its the first model we have offered that has all of the features and benefits of our larger units, but, it is vertical in nature. Golfers have been asking for this model for quite some time and we are very pleased to be able to offer it to them now. This is also the first unit that we are going to offer in other than the graphite color. We are also going to offer it in orange and in blue in limited quantities.
     
    Wowhappy color laser range finders. Now youll be able to think happy thoughts as your learn you are 195 yards from the pin with 6-yards of elevation on a treacherous par-4.
     
    What about thoughts on the economy as they relate to the golf industry and the 2008 PGA Merchandise Show? Bill Bryant believes it could potentially be a factor. I think the economy is the wildcard in this years show, says Bill. Certainly, more so than it has been in the last several years. If the economy continues to tighten up the question will be what the effect it is going to have on discretionary spending. After all, were talking about a game that people dont necessarily have to play. They can choose to use their money for golf or for other more necessary things. This has to be on the minds of people in the golf industry; attendees, exhibitors, manufacturers and the like. So, Ill be interested to see if the economy has an impact, directly or indirectly, on the show this year.
     
    Jon Claffey, at least from Nickents point of view, is bullish on their position in the golf industry regardless of the state of the economy. Golf as a sport is stagnant, says Jon. We gain two million golfers a year and we lose two million golfers a year. Thats what the experts say. Yet, Nickent has grown 30 percent every year since weve been in business. Weve been doing our thing which is kind of off the charts compared to what other companies have been doing as far as growth. So, I dont know if I subscribe to the accepted theorem of golf is down, business is down. Our business is up sharply. You know, we view golf as a way people have to go out and forget about their money troubles, or business or life problems. We know that there are a lot of people out there with money and these people are hooked on golf and we just make it our business at Nickent to reach as many of these people with our exciting message as possible.
     
    So, another PGA Merchandise Show is upon us. Number 55 as I stated at the beginning of this column. Last year at the show I spoke with a man and his wife who were attending their 44th PGA Merchandise Show. They were all smiles; like kids in a candy store. This will be my fifth PGA Merchandise Show. Im a newcomer by many standards. Personally, I really enjoy the show. Im a kid in the candy store as well; an equipment junkie. So, whats not to like? Its more than just the equipment, however. I agree with Bill Bryant. I enjoy the people; people I dont get to see very often and people I am just meeting for the first time. Golf folk on the whole, I think youll agree, are a classy bunch; interesting if nothing else. Some people get rich in golf. Thats only normal. But many if not most people are involved in the golf business because they love the game of golf. And getting rich or not, they probably wouldnt have it any other way.
     
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