Another January, another PGA Merchandise Show, another gathering of the golf industry's movers, shakers, giants, start-ups, titans and dreamers. The layout is similar but the vibe changes every year (this is my 8th, making me a virtual rookie compared to many who've been coming for many decades.)
"My first show was at Disney World in the basement of a hotel," recalls Leigh Bader, co-owner of Pine Oaks Golf Course in South Easton, Mass. and president of the PGA Trade-In Network and 3balls.com. "They didn't have a convention center. It was more like a flea market under a roof. Now we're talking a million square feet of golf toys."
But even in my "brief" tenure at this convention, I've seen a lot of change and learned a lot of lessons. I've attended through years of explosive growth for golf, I've been here through recession-led down years where the feeling in each booth was palatably desperate. The "boom" years are more fun, trust me.
So what was this year? Well, let's look at what we learned.
1.) Technology is thriving: Yes, rocket scientists, physicists and brilliant engineers are taking part in creating these incredible golf clubs. But from having body mapping motion sensors to improve your swing to having the latest in moisture wicking fabric on your clothes, everything about golf is getting more high tech. Trackman and similar software can tell you virtually infinite amounts of data about your swing and the flight of your golf ball. The PGA of America recently announced a partnership with Game Golf, a method, using GPS, to track each shot of a golfer throughout the round. The information available to golfers now is so refined and immediate, you'd think you were launching a shuttle mission, not trying to hit three more fairways per round. You can't argue physics or facts. And the numbers don't lie.
Watch: Improve your putting with the Putter Wheel
2.) Fitness is more important than ever before: For years, the Titlest Performance Institute seemed to be the dominant purveyor of fitness and golf here at the Show. And they are certainly still the biggest, but from apps for your phone, to new lightweight carry bags to encourage walking to new training aids designed for nothing other than strengthening or increasing flexibility in the core golf muscles, getting fit now means more than having your clubs at the right lie and loft.
3.) Golf is getting more social: There were several seminars and panels (one led by ...me) that showed how golf companies, golf courses and the golf community were using social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to connect the entire golf world. The overarching message was that the information exchanged in these networks will only do more to empower and enhance the enjoyment of the everyday golfer. Says Callaway's Senior Vice President of Marketing Harry Arnett, "Just by simply opting in, the golfer has instant access to every facet of the game, many of which had previously been the purview of insiders. This truly is the most dynamic and powerful force available to today to link together golfers everywhere."
Watch: Best new products
4.) There's as much activity off the show floor as on it: We've already mentioned the social media seminar(s), there are actually dozens of educational opportunities for all manners of golf professionals while here at the show. It seems those offerings are expanding. Even more, the innovation needed in golf isn't restricted to merchandise, but also to ideas that will help the game in future years. From the Hackgolf.org announcement to several roundtables and panels - the best and brightest minds in golf continued to pour over thoughts on how to sustain and grow this great sport. Oh, and there were dozens of parties after hours. (All I'm saying about that.)
5.) Golf is Fun: Playing golf is great. But so is talking golf. And shopping golf. And trying on new clothes, or testing new putters, or finding the perfect pair of sunglasses. COBRA PUMA Golf always has a party of a booth. (Booth is a loose term here, some companies have huge real estate on the floor). Travis Matthew had a truck. Donald Trump was here. Golf Channel was filming live. Callaway Golf had a tank! (yes, an actual tank). One of the things that this year re-emphasized in my mind was that smiling, laughter, pictures, hugs - they are a critical part of the golf industry. This game is about having fun and this convention promotes that fun.
One thing I've seen in a fairly short time at PGA.com, is that golfers love their golf pants. On Facebook, or on the PGA.com website, readers have flocked to recent stories of John Daly wearing those Loudmouth pants in a way, that seemingly, only he can.
So at my first PGA Merchandise Show, I took my trusty iPhone linked to the PGA.com Instagram account and tried to capture as many looks as I could. Some photos were simply from designers on models, some were worn by folks working their booths and others simply from those in attendance. (Also: We'd like to see yours. Tag your favorites #pgagolfpants on social media).
The full gallery shows a variety from traditional, to fashion forward to wild. But first, some more on some of the pants.
"You stay classy, San Diego."
That's the famous sign off of Southern California's most famous fictional news anchor, Ron Burgundy, played brilliantly by Will Ferrell in the hit comedy "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."
With the PGA Tour in San Diego this week for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, second-year PGA Tour pro Morgan Hoffmann decided it was the perfect locale to pay tribute to Anchorman -- and Hoffmann sure chose a creative way to do so.
Earlier this week, Hoffmann tweeted out the photo below. Check out the stamps on those wedges -- three notable quotes from the "Anchorman" movie.
— Morgan Hoffmann (@Morgan_Hoffmann) January 22, 2014
In the words of Burgundy, "Don't act like you're not impressed."
We particularly enjoyed the stamp on the 62-degree wedge -- "THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY" -- since that club is most likely used for a trouble shot close to the green.
Through the first round of the tournament, Hoffmann is tied for 63rd at even par. It's too early to tell if Hoffmann, "immediately regrets the decision," to have those quotes stamped on his wedges.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
By nature, I'm a scientist golfer. I tinker, I experiment, I even invent from time to time. I have good days and I still change and tweak. I have bad days and I alter everything. I go through clubs, training aids & accessories like some people go through socks. So this PGA Show is the ultimate fun house for me. It's also the ultimate torture. I can't afford everything here. There's 1000+ exhibitors, each displaying thousands of items - and I NEED all of them to become the ultimate golfer. I'm almost serious.
So instead of coveting all of them, I'm on mission to narrow the list of "must have's" down to five. These are five items I will purchase at some point this year to help me either become a better golfer (important) or enjoy the game a little more (more important). There are some amazing items here - the simulators, the golf board, new drivers, etc...I encourage you to check out the PGA Merchandise Show website to see them all. But as for me, I'm writing about what I'll be getting and staying within my limited budget. So, in no particular order:
1.) Bridgestone True Balance putter: My putting's a mess. I'm striking the ball pretty well and I'm very impressed with my newest irons (Callaway Apex - great birthday gift), but my putting is horrendous. My last round (this week in fact), I had a 20 foot birdie putt on the first hole. I three-putted. Same at No. 3. Almost did it at No. 2. I needed real change - not cosmetic, but something very different. The idea behind the True Balance putter is that the grip and shaft are super light, and the weight is virtually all in the head. It's supposed to enhance feel, give a better control of speed. I took a few practice putts with it. Got to admit, I'm impressed. Gotta try one.
2.) The Orange Whip Trainer: Stopped by the very crowded booth today and overheard several PGA Professionals saying they couldn't keep them in stock. What looks like an actual orange on a black fishing rod is actually one of the most coveted and effective training/fitness tools on the market. Several Tour and elite players use them to warm up, get in shape and groove their swing. As much as these are popular with the world's top players, I'd have to think they'd be most effective for the struggling and unfit player (hey, that's me!)
3.) Bobby Jones clubs and apparel: I am a fan of the brand, the man and the dog (disclaimer, my dog's name is Bobby Jones). But famous club designer Jesse Ortiz showed me their line of clubs today and how can you not be impressed with their look and their innovative design. I can't get all technical on the specs, but his logic seemed sound and in particular, the women's line of clubs seemed exactly what beginner lady golfers would find appealing (in performance and aesthetics). But the biggest impression was their apparel - particularly the 1930 Collection. Classic, classy and really sharp. Definitely need all the help I can get to be any of those.
4.) Bushnell Tour Z6 JOLT range finder: Love my rangefinder, but I think that it's 1.) on it's last legs and 2.) using outdated technology. So I was definitely in the market for a replacement. I leaned on a few PGA Professionals to ask what they preferred - considering ease of use, durability and most of all, accuracy. All three included the Bushnell Tour z6 JOLT among their answers. Good enough for me.
5.) PROTECT by FusionIonz: This may have been my most interesting find. It's a small sheet of sorts you put on the back of your smart phone to virtually reduce all radiation emitting from your phone. They had a radiation/ion detecter there to show the ions that were emitted by a phone and how the readings changed to virtually zero with the use of the sleeve. If you believe that holding these small computers near your head for hours a day (or in your pocket, etc) could potentially be harmful, this could be a perfect item for you. Is it golf related? As the owner of the company told me, "All golfers use these phones. That's why we're at a golf show." I can't argue with that. And now, I'm not taking chances with my phone.