Golfers in Central Florida who would like to experience the annual PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center are lucky. Instead of having to travel to Mecca, Mecca comes to them.
But they need to have the access.
After a couple decades of pawing at the golf industry’s gathering of manufacturers and distributors, this year I finally got access thanks to the golf coaching staff at Tohopekaliga High School.
And after finally getting in and walking what seemed to be the miles of aisles of golf wares — my fitness device reported I logged 11,000 steps in just over three hours — the experience was less like the Holy Land and more of a ‘holy moly’ marketplace.
The golf industry easily reaches an annual economic impact in the hundreds of billions of dollars. So anything and everything having to do with playing, hosting and living the golf life — and even some exhibits where I couldn’t add up the connection — were represented.
Many of the products from the larger manufacturers were sneak previews, as they won’t hit the retail market until next month to next summer. Smaller companies in niche markets of the overall landscape, like those who make bag tags, print scorecards and provide skin care items like sunscreen and bug repellant in small packaging easily stored in a golf bag actively took orders for what they can offer now — preferably in bulk to be sold in golf course pro shops and standalone golf equipment stores.
The air was thick with business, rather than sport. Exhibitors and retailers — professional buyers and sellers in essence — made the biggest and best connections. Golf Channel had the biggest presence among media — thanks to the friend-of-a-friend connection I got to hang out in their on-air area and meet Morning Drive personalities Lauren Thompson and former PGA Tour pro Robert Damron, both Orlando natives who’ve lived in the shadow of The Show and who admitted the enormity of it made their heads spun when they weren’t airing live segments.
(That led to another observation: walking around as media didn’t carry a lot of rank. There weren’t many freebies to be had and, while I probably could have purchased some ancillary golf items, I’ll just buy them retail when I need them.)
The expansive floor — forget quoting the square footage; it’s huuuuuuge — was broken into three main areas: equipment, apparel and products and services.
The club and ball manufacturers — they’ve gotten into clothing as well — are the anchors of the show, the Sak’s 5th Avenue of golf. Titleist, Callaway, Cleveland/Odyssey, Bridgestone, Cobra, Wilson and Yonex were there. Oddly enough, TaylorMade, one of the industry leaders, was not. Word on the aisles was their new lines of 2019 clubs debuted a little earlier than the rest and word of mouth among other players was marketing enough.
A shortish driving range was placed at the far end of the aisles behind the equipment show areas with some demo clubs for attendees to hit balls into nets about 75 yards away at the far back walls.
The club makers also manufacture balls, also a prominent fixture of the Show. Want to stand out? Volvik does so with a line of golf balls in non traditional colors of white and optic yellow. Their red, orange, green, blue and purple offerings can turn a round of golf into an Easter egg hunt.
On the apparel side, there’s manufacturers out there ready to outfit golfers and people who want to look the part from head to toe — hats, sunglasses, shirts, shorts, pants, belts, socks and shoes. Oh, the shoes.
While you can’t reinvent the outfit, you can re-evaluate what they’re made out of, and fabric distributors — “pre-clothing companies” if you will — had their offerings on display.
Everything else aside from the ball, what you hit it with and what you wear while doing so filled in the rest of the Convention Center’s West Concourse.
For example: win a golf tournament, get a trophy. Many companies make those. They were there Wednesday through Friday.
Before you can win a tournament, you need a winning swing. If you can’t hone it on the driving range, you can do it in a golf simulator — one of a ton of them on the market that break down the physics of the golf swing. My Toho High coaching contact is interested in getting one for the school, knowing the $6,000-8,000 price tag.
“Just need a couple of big donors,” Coach Bob Muzeka smirked.
But driving ranges need balls, and something to pick them up and nets to keep off-center golfers from sending them off property. There’s tees that reportedly send tee shots farther. Golf bags that make you trendier. Head covers for your big clubs that include USB ports for charging.
Many colleges offer golf industry majors sponsored by the PGA of America, and they had their recruiting section. Interestingly, Big 10 Conference foes Nebraska and Penn State had booths next to each other, and Clemson had the first one within that sector — I wonder if the Tigers’ football team earned the golf program that spot by beating Alabama in the big game.
It would probably help to earn a degree in golf management to fully understand the PGA Merchandise Show and wade through all the offerings. They’ll think of everything. I think they already have, and it was somewhere at The Show.
Right next to the scorecards and the bug repellent.