ORLANDO, Fla. – It began in a parking lot, burst through the seams of a Big Top, and for the past 30 years has called the Orange County Convention Center home.
It is the PGA Merchandise Show, and the 60th edition will be held Jan. 24-26. More than 41,000 golf industry professionals and 1,100 vendors from 75-plus countries are scheduled to attend.
Late in the winter of 1954, some enterprising golf equipment salesmen set up shop in the trunks of their cars in the parking lot of PGA of America headquarters, then in Dunedin, Fla., during the Senior PGA Championship, launching what has matured into the world’s largest golf trade show.
Before long, the show spread from the parking lot toward the golf course, with card tables set up between the clubhouse and the first tee to display vendors’ products.
“It looked like a church rummage sale,” PGA Magazine wrote.
In 1959, it moved out of the rain and under the cover of a circus-sized, multicolored tent – heated and ventilated to take care of the vagaries of January in Florida. According to reports, 52 booths showcased clubs, bags, balls and carts to more than 15,000 golfers and golf fans in attendance.
The “Big Top” rented from the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus measured 300-foot by 150-foot, the largest single tent of its kind at the time, according to a 1968 article in Golfdom. The circus folk even sent some elephants to help promote it alongside the driveway at the Dunedin club. A total of 131 poles held up the huge canvas, and it accommodated more than 200 booths.
From 1964 through 1973, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., housed the annual extravaganza. It moved indoors at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort Hotel in 1975, did a stint at the Miami Beach Convention Center in the early ’80s and has called Orlando home since 1983.
For golf professionals in attendance, the show has evolved into more of an educational seminar and chance to network than an ordering process. The industry has long considered January sales at the show as “mopping up.” But that doesn’t mean business isn’t conducted. The 1967 PGA Magazine noted, “one unidentified exhibitor wore out four pencils writing orders.”
It is an opportunity to see the latest and greatest golf innovations under one roof. This is where Callaway launched the Big Bertha, where trends take off, and novelties such as beryllium copper clubheads emerge.
Equipment and technologies advance, selling strategies evolve, booth space grows and contracts, but the show remains a constant as the industry’s biggest get together. It is where deals are made and dreams can come true. And through it all, one old adage still rings true: Prepare for long days and longer nights, and wear comfortable shoes.