ORLANDO, Fla. -- Old golf pros and golf journalists are a jaded bunch. Year after year, we travel to the giant PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center and leave less and less impressed. After all, the golf business has been down for quite some time, right? We've seen it all; what else is there to see?
First off, there's always something new at the PGA Merchandise Show. Lots of new stuff. And while the Show may never reach the heights it did in the late '90s, when there were more than 1,500 exhibitors, there's still more than 1,000 companies represented. And it's still the premier place to see everything in golf (with the exception of turf-grass equipment, seed and chemicals) under one roof for the better part of a week in late January.
This was my 20th PGA Show, and while I don't comb it like I once did when I was a golf trade journalist, it still amazes me. And if you can put yourself in the position of a first-timer, it's really interesting. In fact, I think it'd be really cool if the PGA Show allowed 500 or 1,000 consumers to attend.
I've been able to take golf-playing guests a couple of times, and I love watching their reaction when we first walk in and see the giant equipment booths, crowds, celebrities and thousands of products. Talk about creating a buzz.
Video: Ginella on travel itineraries offered at the PGA Show
The stars of the PGA Show
So these days, I try to look at the PGA Show from the perspective of the golf consumer. Besides appearances from pro golfers and celebrities like Matt Kuchar, Johnny Miller and Annika Sorenstam, the stars of this show are almost always equipment. There's even a place on one side of the show where you can demo much of this equipment as well as the outdoor demo day earlier in the week.
Drivers are, of course, the big-ticket item, and we learned about a few of them. Callaway, for example, made a big splash with its new Great Big Bertha Epic Driver with Jailbreak Technology (that just sounds like you're going to hit it big, right?). And by great big, it was great big all right. Above Callaway's massive booth was a giant Epic club head, which could be seen for a mile. It definitely drew attention.
As you might expect, TaylorMade wasn't to be outdone. During the PGA Show came the announcement that the company known for its driver had signed none other than Tiger Woods after Nike got out of the equipment business. (Woods used the TaylorMade M2 driver this past week as he returned to the PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.) And Titleist, not to be outdone, introduced its new 917 drivers and fairway woods. Having hit the new Titleist driver, I can tell you that it's a substantial improvement over the 915.
Titleist, of course, is the leader in the golf ball market and it also debuted the newest version of the Pro V1, as all the companies had new versions of their golf balls. Srixon was one of those companies with new premium Z-Star offerings, but what really impressed me was the new Q-Star Tour, a medium-priced three-piece ball with a new urethane cover. And I couldn't help but notice the large booth Volvik had since they signed Bubba Watson (for over $1 million a year) to play its Volvik S4 pink golf ball.
Gadgets, technology and apparel
As a golfer, though, the PGA Show offers so much more than new clubs. I love the new gadgets.
One that intrigued me was Voice Caddie's new SC200 portable launch monitor. This audible monitor, about the size of a large smartphone, can tell you how far you hit each shot as well as smash factor and other stats, which is great for developing consistency. It also has games on it to further enhance your practice.
I also enjoyed visiting with Mike Zisman, CEO of a fast-growing company called Golf Genius. Besides its relationship with the USGA and other golf associations throughout the world, as well as its league play software, what golfers might find intriguing is its buddy trip assistance, which can take all the hassle and calculations out of planning a buddy trip. For a couple hundred dollars or so, the software can arrange everything from complicated pairings, games and budgets, allowing the organizer of the trip to enjoy the experience as much as the rest of the group.
I also learned at this PGA Show that Champ Spikes has been making grips for a couple of years. The company offers a "SuperStroke" type putter grip for a substantially cheaper price, but in the Champ spikes department, the news was the new PiviX spike worn by Jordan Spieth in his new Under Armour shoes. Spieth's new lightweight shoe has reinforced flex legs and spring-flex traction technology that shifts, providing optimized traction throughout the rotation of the swing.
And more than one third of the show was dedicated to apparel, which for golf pros and buyers might be the most important part of the golf show since that is what they move the most in golf shops.
For the past few years, golf apparel has continued to evolve into lifestyle apparel (meaning its great on and off the course) and it just keeps getting better from companies like Cutter & Buck to Travis Mathew to Devereux, which debuted some really nice new lifestyle pieces.
In short, the 64th PGA Merchandise Show is still a wonder to behold, especially if you go in with your eyes wide open.