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An optimistic opening

Thursday's first day of the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show brought more crowds and a better outlook for the business of golf. From the Equipment Test Center to the New Product Center and the Fashion Gallery, the length of the Show floor was filled with attendees who came ready to place orders.

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Even before the doors opened on Thursday, the PGA Show was packed with people. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

ORLANDO, Fla -- Bigger. Busier.  More optimism.  More buzz.  These were the words that attendees and exhibitors alike used repeatedly to describe the mood and the level of activity during the first day of the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show.  With more companies exhibiting, and more PGA Professionals and golf shop merchandisers shopping, the Orange County Convention Center was abuzz with hope for a bounceback season.

"We are definitely seeing some optimism building at our club -- play has picked up, members are spending more, and that seems to be the buzz here at the Show as well," said Walter Newell, PGA head professional at Dunes Golf Club in Brookesville, Fla.  "The Show is a lot busier than last year, and you can see all the important companies are here.  Hopefully this energy and progress can keep growing through the year."

The energy on the floor of the 58th PGA Merchandise Show was apparent from the beginning of the day, when Grammy award-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis (pictured) treated attendees to a jazz set prior to the official opening of the Show.  Following a heartfelt rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from Marsalis and a ceremonial tee shot from 2010 Vardon Trophy winner Matt Kuchar, PGA President Allen Wronowski proclaimed, "The 58th PGA Merchandise Show is officially open for the business of golf."

The businesses of golf were well represented among the nearly 1,000 plus exhibitors at this year's Show. 

Nearly every significant name in the equipment, apparel and products and services segments greeted steady streams of foot traffic throughout the day.  From the Equipment Test Center to the New Product Center and the Fashion Gallery, the length of the Show floor was filled with attendees who came ready to place orders.

"This is my fourth Show, and this is busier than I've ever seen the traffic on the first day," said James Thompson, director of marketing for Pukka Headwear.  "We've tracked our booth traffic as being 25 percent higher than last year, and people aren't just looking; they're here to buy.  There's a real buzz this year."

Added Tom Preece, director of Cobra research and development for Cobra-Puma Golf: "The Show is off to a really impressive start.  It's great to see the excitement in the aisles this year."

In addition to writing orders, the business of golf was also brisk in terms of major announcements on the first day of the PGA Merchandise Show.  PGA CEO Joe Steranka and a group of industry leaders unveiled a new partnership between the PGA World Alliance, China Golf Association and PGA Worldwide Golf Exhibitions to produce the China Golf Show and a new Asia Golf Show in southern China with PGA Merchandise Show branding.  The new PGA Merchandise Show-China will be held March 18-20 in Beijing, while the PGA Merchandise Show-Asia will be held Oct. 20-22 in Guangzhou.

Throughout the day, dozens of PGA Professionals offered instruction tips over the phone and Internet for the PGA/USA Today Golf Tips Hotline 2.0, using Facebook, Twitter and Skype to communicate with golfers around the world.  The busy first day of the Show concluded with the annual PGA Awards ceremony in the Linda W. Chapin Theater, as The PGA of America paid tribute to the winners of the Association's 2010 national awards.
 
Reed to stage PGA-supported merchandise shows in China

The next great golf frontier?  Look no further than China.  In an announcement that led off the 58th PGA Merchandise Show Thursday and underscores the global growth of golf, PGA Worldwide Golf Exhibitions and The PGA of America announced a historic agreement with the PGA World Alliance and China Golf Association to conduct the PGA Merchandise Show-China in Beijing March 18-20, and the PGA Merchandise Show-Asia in Guangzhou, China's third-largest city, Oct. 20-22, 2011.

"The potential for growth in China and throughout Asia is tremendous, and the 11 most-developed PGA Associations that drive an economic engine of $90 billion annually are committing their expertise and resources to teaching, promoting and helping the game move forward in that important part of the world," said Joe Steranka, CEO of The PGA of America.  "The excitement and enthusiasm for golf in China is as great as anywhere in the world, so this is a significant step toward helping develop the game in Asia."

With representatives of the China Golf Association, several executives of the PGA World Alliance, and a standing room-only crowd at the PGA Equipment Forum stage in attendance, the new partnership promises to accelerate growth of the game in China and Asia.

The new partnership between the PGA World Alliance, China Golf Association and PGA Worldwide Golf Exhibitions has the official support of The PGA of America and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, with a cooperative framework formed in the past month.  Reed Guanghe Exhibitions, an affiliate of PGA Worldwide Golf Exhibitions, will organize the China and Asia golf shows.

Australian-born golf great Greg Norman, who has designed several golf courses and owns other business concerns in China and Asia, hailed Thursday's announcement as the key to opening China's borders to an impending golf boom.

"We see China as integral to the business development and growth of the game.  In fact, China and southeast Asia are slowly pulling the rest of the world out of recession," said Norman, who has a business office in Beijing.

Norman participated in a revealing discussion with PGA teaching professionals Hank Haney and Michael Breed following the China announcement.  Haney and Breed, both whom have business interests in China, agreed that Asia is the fastest-developing golf market, but noted that there is a deep shortage of qualified instructors to teach the game.

"Training of good, qualified instructors is the important thing in China," said Haney, who has a Hank Haney Golf School at Mission Hills-Haikou.

Added Breed: "When I conducted a clinic and educational session for 65 teachers in China, I honestly felt like I was bringing water to the thirsty.