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PGA Merchandise Show inspires work and play in Orlando

By Tom Spousta, Contributor

Heading to Orlando for the PGA Merchandise Show? Bring your clubs and book tee times on golf courses such as Orange County National, Shingle Creek Golf Club or Osprey Ridge at Disney.

Orlando Convention Center
The PGA Merchandise Show fills more than 10 miles of aisle space at the massive Orlando Convention Center.
Orlando Convention CenterOrange County National's Crooked Cat CourseOmni ChampionsGate Resort

Temptation to skip class tends to rise at most trade shows, which usually take place in gorgeous vacation destinations or warm-weather city settings. But when golf is your business, and you are attending the PGA Merchandise Show, held in Orlando Jan. 29-31, does cutting out for a round at one of the great area courses count as work or play?

That might stand as a quandary among the estimated 40,000 PGA Professionals, retailers, manufacturers and executives from around the world descending on the Orange County Convention Center. With the golf industry fighting the effects of an economic recession, it seems they'll all have serious work to get done once the show opens.

Industry wares must be sampled, though, and what better way than to get in the swing of things than PGA Demo Day, which kicks off Wednesday at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge. Callaway, Titleist, PING (celebrating its 50th birthday with a significant presence here), Nike, Cleveland and other major players will unveil the latest in equipment technology.

Orange County National has practice facilities that were recently named No. 1 in Golf World's Readers Choice Awards and two acclaimed golf courses, Panther Lake and Crooked Cat.

Altogether, Orlando boasts somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 golf courses, and more than a few should feel some positive impact from their visiting golf brethren.

The PGA of America reports pre-registration dropped 5 percent this year, which doesn't seem alarming at all given the state of the economy. Representatives from all sectors of golf and some 76 countries and every U.S. state are expected to attend.

"Manufacturers are introducing ground-breaking product innovation at fair prices to stimulate pent up interest by golfers," says PGA President Jim Remy, reflecting the urgent business focus of this show. "PGA Professionals are implementing diverse programs to grow participation. As an industry, we'll get through this, and when we come out the other side, golf will be strong again."

Orlando golf courses

Orange County National hopes to head in that direction as a show hub this week, offering specials for $65-$80 for select times Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. On Saturday, a shotgun start includes a buffet lunch and golf for $99. For Super Bowl Sunday, you can play for $59-$79.

Also on site Wednesday and Thursday will be Golfweek's Golfest, the largest consumer demo day. Tickets can be bought at the gate for $10.

You won't have to venture far from the convention center doors to take a break and play Shingle Creek Golf Club. Built on a wide basin, yardage to the course could easily be figured by one of the measuring devices on display inside.

Grand Cypress Resort boasts impressive golf villas, three nines designed by Jack Nicklaus and the New Course, built as an ode to the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Walt Disney World Resort has the Palm and Magnolia courses, which host a PGA Tour event in November. Osprey Ridge, a Tom Fazio layout, might be the toughest of the bunch, and includes a bunker in the shape of mouse ears.

Celebration Golf Club, one of the top 25 public courses in the country, has ample room in the fairways and large targets for greens, but be careful of its subtle twists and turns.

At the Ginn Reunion Resort, you can relive the rivalries of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The famed triumvirate held legendary battles on the golf course - and carried that competition into their architecture careers for this resort situated southwest of Orlando along Interstate 4. Each made their mark on signature designs: Independence (Watson), Legacy (Palmer) and Tradition (Nicklaus).

On the opposite side of the interstate sits ChampionsGate, headquarters to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and the International and National golf courses. The International is a links style layout, complete with gorse and pot bunkers. The National course winds through pine and oak trees for a completely different look.

Another short drive down I-4 takes you to Hawk's Landing Golf Club, which weaves around the massive Orlando World Center Marriott.

Or you can always test those new clubs and balls at Arnold Palmer's home course, Bay Hill Golf Club and Lodge, where guests can play for reasonable rates. Palmer saw the value of this area not far from the Disney gates about 40 or so merchandise shows ago, when he beat Nicklaus in an exhibition match and bought the property.

Tom SpoustaTom Spousta, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tom Spousta keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. He has covered golf and other sports for USA Today and The New York Times. Tom lives on a Donald Ross-designed golf course in Sarasota, Fla.

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