The PGA Merchandise Show got its start a little over six decades ago when a handful of golf merchandisers congregated in the parking lot of a golf club in Dunedin, Florida, to show off their wares. A few years later, the PGA of America leased a tent for these plucky salesmen.
The Show moved indoors for the first time in 1975, and settled into the Orange County Convention Center a decade later. By the mid-1990s, it had exploded into one of the great gatherings in all of sports, sprawling over more than a million square feet of exhibition, demonstration and meeting space. Walk up and down every aisle and you'll cover more than 10 miles.
The attendance numbers vary a bit from year to year, but you can count on this: More than 40,000 PGA Professionals, industry leaders and media members from all 50 states and as many as 80 countries will descend on Orlando to explore the products and services of more than 1,000 vendors – including 200 making their Show debuts.
Among those vendors are every single company of any significance in the golf equipment industry. Nowhere else in the world will you have the chance to check out all the latest goodies from all the best companies, and that is a point not to be understated. What a tremendous opportunity the Show provides those of us in the golf industry. Unfortunately for many of my golf buddies and the majority of golfers everywhere, the Show isn't open to the public.
My first PGA Show was roughly 20 years ago, and I remember walking into the Convention Center like it was yesterday. Most of us don’t really realize how big the golf equipment business is until we step through the doors onto the Show floor. All those booths, as far as they eye can see – and beyond, since you literally can't see from one end to the other – is an amazing thing to behold.
The variety of products and services on display is as mind-blowing as the size of the Show floor. Take a few steps in any direction, and you'll find everything from the game's hottest drivers to its coolest fashions to some of its biggest celebrities to many of its most clever new accessories – from low-tech knick-knacks to high-tech training aids.
The training aid category, in fact, makes a great example of why the Show is so valuable. There is just no place to see – much less compare and contrast – all the cool new gadgets from golf watches and laser finders to golf simulators and motion capture systems anywhere but on the Show floor.
Sometimes, though, the booths themselves rival the products they house. In recent years, for example, the folks at Callaway Golf brought an actual tank to promote their Odyssey Tank putters. Meanwhile, the Travis Mathew apparel booth featured a semi-truck complete with a "party trailer" – a full-sized trailer housing a bar inside, a rooftop hangout and even a fold-out patio.
And for the last couple of years, TaylorMade has commandeered one entire end of the convention center floor and converted it into a massive showroom for its gear along with that from sister brands Adams and adidas. Half nightclub and half mancave, it boasts mood lighting, putting greens, a hitting area and displays of TaylorMade's ideas for what golf equipment might look like in the future. Once you find your way in there, you might never want to come out.
But, of course, you need to come out, because there's just so much to see – and try out. One end of the Show floor is dedicated to the Indoor Equipment Test Center, where you can try out the newest creations from most of golf's biggest brands. Even if you spent hours at Demo Day earlier in the week, this indoor hitting area is a mandatory stop so you can put the new clubs of your choice through their paces in a controlled environment.
Another can't-miss spot is the New Product Showcase – it's a special area of the Show floor curated with new and interesting items, usually from small vendors, that you might not see if you're just wandering around. Not all of them will strike your fancy, but it's almost impossible to walk through there and not be inspired by something.
The Show also offers a variety of educational and entertaining programs that make for a great way to catch up on some of the headline happenings in the game. On the Forum Stage, where many of the big events occur, some of the presentations this year include:
--A special presentation and panel discussion on the future of golf featuring futurist Jim Carroll.
--Presentations from many of the game's best instructors, including Michael Breed, Hank Haney Claude Harmon, David Leadbetter, Cameron McCormick and Jim McLean.
--A discussion with Lee Trevino and PGA Master Professional Bill Eschenbrenner, who will reflect back on their work together during Trevino's formative years at El Paso Country Club.
--A Q&A with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.
There are also multiple fashion shows each day, along with a pavilion devoted to golf fitness and wellness, an area devoted to golf travel, numerous educational programs focused on the best practices in growing the game and a variety of parties and a multitude of after-hours activities that are perfect for networking and socializing.
In closing, let me give you a few basics and recommendations:
--The Show is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and then 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Friday. The Show floor is buzzing almost constantly, with only a little let-up at the very end of the day. However, I find the final hour or two each day a great time to be out on the floor – you can still do business if you want, and several booths have small parties or Happy Hour-type set-ups where you can relax and socialize a bit while you peruse their products.
--It's easy, maybe too easy, to spend a lot of time just wandering around and gawking. Get familiar with your Show materials in advance and make some plans. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, Show veterans recommend that you dedicate specific blocks of time to checking out specific categories of product – a couple hours for clubs, a couple hours for apparel, a couple hours for accessories, and so on. However, they also encourage you to leave a little time open to just walk around and see what's new.
--Pace yourself. The Show floor is open for two full days and most of a third. You can't take it all in with one trip around the floor, so don't even try. Plus, you can easily wear yourself out if you're also taking in some of the breakfast, lunch and after-hours activities.
--Wear comfortable shoes – you'll be on your feet a lot. Dress comfortably, too, but professionally. You don't need a coat and tie; don a dress shirt or golf shirt and khakis or slacks and you'll fit right in. You also might want to bring a notebook or make sure you can take notes on your phone, because you'll see so much that you're bound to forget some names, thoughts or ideas. And believe me, you won't want to forget anything you see at the golf industry's biggest and best get-together.