PGA Merchandise Show: Speed-dating with golf equipment companies
Once again, a hurricane of stainless steel, titanium, graphite and surlyn has swept through Orlando. This storm, the 60th Annual PGA Merchandise Show, is where everybody who is anybody in the golf equipment, travel, and apparel world meets and mingles once a year to show off their wares. Thousands of exhibitors hawking everything from tees to tour buses to Hello Kitty golf accessories were there. And those of us in the media who were also there are still recovering.
Hello Kitty Golf?
Of course, the belles of the ball were the “big name” equipment companies, which we can all count on two hands: Titleist, TaylorMade, Nike, Ping, Callaway, Cobra, Mizuno, Cleveland, Wilson, Bridgestone.
Attendees of the show are immersed in the respective worlds of each of these behemoths, in a way that is not possible simply sampling from television commercials or meandering through their sections in your local pro shop. Walking around the Show floor, you feel like you’re speed-dating these manufacturers, trying to get a feel for which one will complete you as a golfer.
Drafting between the various companies’ practice areas on Demo Day or their booths during the Show itself, it becomes obvious which niche of the golfing world each is focusing on. Gone are the days when even the biggest company can be everything to everyone. Instead, even forged stainless steel becomes suffused with a certain aura, nurtured by each company to appeal to their specific, target demographic.
These companies cater to Serious Golfers (which is always capitalized).
In the Titleist booth, whose plushness reminded me of a jewelry store with cases of clubheads and racks of polished irons and metal woods, you find a staff bedecked in ivory blazers and ties. The stuffed-collar, country-club Serious Golfer find a natural home here.
In the Callaway booth, there were low leather chairs reminiscent of a posh 19th hole bar and the walls were covered with over-sized quotes in Wall Street Journal-esque font. These are Serious Golfers who are serious about their games but equally serious, it seems, about their stock portfolios.
Ping is also pitched toward the “Serious Golfer,” and their booth looked like it had been overrun with Secret Service agents, what with their black suits and dress shoes. I may have imagined it, but I think a few had earpieces, even.
Hipsters & Euro-chic
Cobra teamed up with European and Asian sport apparel Puma a couple of years ago, and now Cobra’s clubheads are as vibrant as Puma’s shirts and shoes. At Demo Day in the Cobra/Puma area, music was blasting, mixed by a DJ in a RedBull Humvee, visitors were encouraged to hit balls at targets on the range, and free beer and vodka and Red Bull was flowing like a Spring Break beach party.
The Cobra area at the PGA Show Demo Day felt like a spring break beach party, minus the beach.
The Cobra-Puma booth also had music blasting and a dancing video game.
TaylorMade is doing its level best to expand from the “Serious Golfer” to a younger, hipper crowd, but they just can’t bring themselves to stage-dive into the demographic like Cobra. They had a huge room off the main floor of the Show, which you entered through an inflated, glowing tunnel. Once inside, there were 30-foot-high displays for products like RocketBladez and RocketBallz ï¿½ because everyone over 40 knowz that all the kidz these dayz are tots cra ’bout the plural z. Most of the folks milling about, however, were more “pager” than “Twitter.”
TaylorMade’s giant room off the main Show floor felt like when the old folks in “Cocoon” went off into space.
The athlete golfer
Nike is the hands-down leader in catering to the athlete golfer ï¿½ players who consider themselves as athletes who golf, rather than pure “golfers.” Nike staff were in slacks and golf shirts, looking sleek and fit, and at Demo Day, Ken Griffey, Jr., and athlete who also happen to golf, was on hand to hit the new clubs.
Nike’s tee at Demo Day featured athletes who also golf, like Ken Griffey, Jr.
Wilson, another large, multi-sport company, is working hard to once again be relevant in the golf world. Wilson equipment has won more majors than any other company, but it’s been a while since money has been put into R&D. This has changed, now, so look out for Wilson to make overtures to the “athletes who golf” crowd.
Arts and craftsmanship
These companies are known primarily for one thing, and for good reason: they do them as well or better than anyone.
Mizuno’s irons are, without question, some of, if not the, best in the game. Consistent quality, consistent performance. They are not flashy, but in the right hands, they are like Japanese chef’s knives and can be used to carve up a course. Naturally, Mizuno makes woods too, but the irons are the stars.
Cleveland produces arguably the best wedges in the game, and this year they are introducing a wedge-centric fitting cart that can help dial in those scoring clubs. Of course, Cleveland’s irons and woods are popular, too, but it is the wedges that you first think of when you think of Cleveland.
Cleveland is introducing fitting carts around the globe, focusing on precision wedge fitting.
Lost in the shuffle
At the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show, a couple of larger companies just seemed to get lost in the shuffle.
Bridgestone ï¿½ had a big booth, but for some reason, there didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to visit. Never got a sense of the vibe they were trying to project. Maybe “golfers who like to drive cars"?
Adams Golf ï¿½ never really saw them, aside from a big sign inside the large, glowing TaylorMade-dominated room off the show floor. Worst of all, I didn’t notice their practical absence until just now.
And of course, no PGA Show would be complete without the innovators and new kids on the block.
Sun Mountain, a leader in golf bags, push carts, and outerwear, showed off te engineering marvel that is an all-in-one push cart.
Sun Mountain’s new cart is bag, cart, cooler, and chair all in one.
The just-unveiled Faldo by Edel brought in a selection of hand-crafted irons designed in part and promoted in full by Sir Nick Faldo.
Faldo irons by Edel are gorgeous, and pricey.
Finally, the court-jester of golf, BogeyPro, showed off its line of satirical golf accessories, including shirts that diagram the best way to throw your clubs and beer pints extolling the virtues of four-putting the 19th hole. The Minnesota company is endorsed by Minnesotan Tim “Lumpy” Herron, and, with a staff composed largely of former Onion editors and writers, has expanded into a sort of performance art with the exploits of BogeyPro Staff Pro, Chance Manning.
The every-man physique of Tim “Lumpy” Herron towered over the BogeyPro booth.
BogeyPro’s Chance Manning strutted his considerable stuff on the PGA Show floor.
Oh, and there was beer. At BogeyPro, at Cobra, at receptions hosted by Ireland Golf and Malaysian tourism and… well, let’s just say there was lots of beer. This is why, as I mentioned earlier, we in the media are still recovering. I may need a mulligan for my liver.
|« Streamsong: The Bandon Dunes of Florida||Rory McIlroy swooshes into the Nike Golf stable »|