Eubanks: Optimism abounds at PGA Show

The consensus is that this is the most positive and optimistic PGA Show in five years.

Eubanks: Optimism abounds at PGA Show

It isn't as concrete as a quarterly earnings statement, says Steve Eubanks, but the positive energy on display across the PGA Show floor is a good sign for the state of the game.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The analogies were telling. One professional walking the floor of the PGA Merchandise Show on Thursday said, “This reminds me of a science fair,” while another likened it to a Las Vegas production.

Both descriptions were accurate depending on what end of the massive Orange County Convention Center you found yourself visiting. There was plenty of high-tech science for those who wanted to find it and more pizzazz than any golf show in recent memory.

It was a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing this PGA Merchandise Show could not be called was dull.

There were PGA Professionals lined up to hit balls indoors in simulators and netted bays, and there were a wealth of golf elites trolling the aisles: Ian Poulter, Suzann Pettersen, Nick Faldo, Annika Sorenstam and Graeme McDowell, as well as those whose names are on the clubs we use like Scotty Cameron and Bob Vokey.   

Booths were full from stem to stern. “This is one of the busiest I’ve seen in awhile,” said Miura Golf CEO Adam Barr.  

The general consensus was that it was also the most positive and optimistic opening day of a show in the last five years. People are smiling again. They are standing a little taller and holding their heads a touch higher, and every discussion doesn’t end on a dour note of gloom.

It’s not clear whether this exuberance is rational. As Scott Hennessy, president and CEO of True Temper said, “I think the right term is cautious optimism.” But everyone in attendance agrees that it exists.    

Some of the optimism could be the natural outgrowth of the profit manufacturers realized last year – a function of a mild winter and a thawing economy – or the fact that companies and individuals have been hoarding cash and improving their balance sheets since the Great Recession of 2008. But some of it must also be attributed to expectations for the year ahead.

“We are certainly seeing it in our bookings,” said John Baker of Haversham and Baker Golf Expeditions. “For the last several years we’d seen a drop off like everyone else, but that’s turned around. Because our clients are on the high end of the income scale those people continued to travel through the lean times and we didn’t experience the dramatic slowdown that some others felt. But now people across the board are seeing an uptick. People are traveling again.”

Baker’s booth along with those of the Irish and Scottish tourism were packed, at least anecdotally confirming what he and others are feeling. After a long, cold stint in the wilderness, golf could finally be making a comeback.  

“I can’t speak for the rest of the industry, but we’re doing well,” said Joe Gomes of Titleist.

That was the general consensus among a vast majority of manufacturers and professionals on the floor on Thursday. Even the upstarts, like the guy who made putter grips out of cork or the company that put wild animal covers over golf bags to make a stand bag look like a tiger or a bear, saw more foot traffic than some of the larger companies had seen in years past.  

“It’s certainly a good sign to see this many people,” Baker said. “The crowds are back and they aren’t walking their heads down anymore.”   

It isn’t as concrete as a quarterly earnings statement, but the positive energy on display in Orlando was a good sign, at last at this early stage of the year.