As any observer of golf marketing can attest, golf equipment advertising is full of so much hyperbole and space-age verbiage (apparently in addition to magic and pixie dust), that it should come as no surprise that the event is taking place in the magic city of Orlando, filling up one million square feet of the Orange County Convention Center.
Yet, beyond the hype there is legitimate enthusiasm on the part of the myriad of manufacturers within those walls that they really have made their products new and improved and an inbred hope, nay, expectation, that each of us wandering nomads (there are, after all, over 10 miles of exhibits to meander), will discover the one, true diamond in the rough that will light up the 2008 golf retail season.
The origins of this singular celebration of all things golf can be traced back to its humble start in Dunedin, Florida in 1954, when a dozen or so golf merchandisers touted their wares from the trunks of their cars while parked in the lot at the PGA National Golf Club. By 1957, the event was bursting at the seams with nearly 50 vendors crowding around the parking lot and it was decided to give the event more formality. So, a tent was rented and the PGA Show took on a new, more serious tone, ready to do the business of golf, rain or shine.
In 1963, it was on to the Port St. Lucie Country Club, and then in 1964 until 1973, it was hosted at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. In 1974, it went back to Port St. Lucie. All this time, still under a circus sized tent. In 1975, the PGA Show made its debut in Orlando, where the show moved indoors for the first time. Then, in 1982, the PGA Show was on the road again, heading south to the Miami Beach Convention Center, where it remained for three years. The PGA Show continued to grow and prosper in response to the growth of the game and the demands of the business of the sport.
In reaction to the ever-growing demand for exhibition space, in 1985, the PGA Show was moved to the brand new Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, establishing a marriage that endures to this day. In many ways, the building and the event grew up together.
In 1989, when the Convention Center added another 200,000 square feet, the Show quickly gobbled up this extra room and in 1996 when the Convention Center nearly doubled its size to 1.1 million square feet, the PGA Show spread its wings right along with it, setting the stage for the industrys larger manufacturers to build booths that became multi-storied, mini cities.
Veterans of the Show can remember how this time marked the onset of the golf industrys arms race, when manufacturers blasted their message over load speakers and spread out their wares like a web, waiting to capture the attention of buyers who could not otherwise ignore them. Animosity between competitors took on a new, sharper edge during these days and the entire manner and sophistication of how golf business was conducted moved from a friendly handshake to the cold stare of the corporate boardroom.
For as many who lamented the loss of the golf industrys everybody-knows-everybody innocence, others believed that massive growth can only be maintained through consolidation, mega-global holding companies and public-market funding. Something else changed during this period of rapid growth and consolidation. Golfs technological curve went into hyper drive as well.
Bigger and better became the mantra of the day as more and more golf club designers came with a pedigree of being aeronautical engineers. Everything seemed to become longer, stronger and more forgiving as exotic metals ushered in a new era. Distribution continued to change and evolve as well as the migration and product mix from green-grass pro shops, to off-course retail chains, to big-box sporting good stores redefined who sold what.
Throughout these major changes, so too did the PGA Show have to learn to adapt to a changing environment. In 1998, the PGA of America sold an equity share of its golf show to Reed Exhibitions, the worlds leading trade show organizer; with over 400 trade shows of every imaginable sort spread out around the world (Reed also manages the PGA Fall Expo in Las Vegas and the Ontario PGA Golf Merchandise Show).
The PGA Show went through a period when it needed to redefine its relevance in a rapidly changing market place as manufacturing companies began to weigh buying cycles, staffing, exhibit costs and entertainment expenses against all the rest of their marketing objectives. The PGA of America and Reed Exhibitions responded in kind by going back to the very essence of what an industry exhibition is supposed to be all about.
Ultimately, aside from the pressing demands for corporate profitability, it is in everyones best interest to promote the health and growth of the game. After some high-brow debate, it is now virtually universally accepted that it is in the interest of good business that the entire golf industry come together once every year to learn what is working (and what is not), what kind of practices can increase efficiencies and profitability and ultimately, most importantly, to grow the game. All of these challenges still exist, but at least there is a collective approach to tackling the issues.
Today, the PGA Merchandise Show attracts more than 45,000 attendees from more than 80 countries, to view the products and services of over 1,200 exhibitors. It features extensive exhibits representing all facets of the industry, merchandising seminars, an expansive education program, outdoor and indoor golf demo days, trend and economic presentations, career workshops, daily fashion shows, the PGA Play Golf America Conference, PGA and industry recognition events, the Pro-Pro Series of PGA Member tournaments, celebrity appearances and annual business meetings of the industrys leading organizations.
All told, the business side of the game of golf represents more than 60 billion dollars a year in commerce, and at the heart of this flurry of activity is the PGA Merchandise Show. And just as it has always done, with each PGA Merchandise Show comes the promise that in the coming year, the golf industry will fare better than if did in the last year.
At least thats what we keep telling ourselves.
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life) and a golf course general manager. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.