2002: Steps to save PGA Show

The PGA Merchandise Show, age 50, is having a serious mid-life crisis.

Given the state of our nation’s economy, it was no surprise that attendance was down noticeably at the trade show in Orlando. What was alarming, however, was the air of uncertainty that permeated the Orange County Convention Center and its environs. “Scary” was a word heard often during discussions on the state of the golf industry.

A trade expo the magnitude of the PGA Show should serve as an industry rallying point. Instead, the Jan. 23-26 edition served only to fuel fears about the industry’s health and vitality.

Reed Exhibitions, which owns the Merchandise Show, and the PGA of America, the former show owner whose membership still has a vested interest in the event’s success, need to collaborate on a dramatic change to the annual gathering in Orlando. It was evident this year that there’s a new sense of urgency about fixing the show, which gives Reed and the PGA an opportunity to sell some long-discussed ideas that have traditionally met resistance from certain golf constituencies.

The timing of the show must change to late October or early November. January might be a nice time for PGA professionals to take a working vacation in Orlando, but it’s not a productive date for equipment manufacturers, around whom the expo revolves. Holding the PGA Show in the fall would enable equipment companies to more accurately forecast demand for their products, which would be a godsend for golf retailers who have been buffeted by undersupply and oversupply in recent years.

The PGA Merchandise Show also needs to add a consumer component. Giving avid golfers a sneak preview of the coming season’s hot new products would stimulate demand.

A Jan. 22 demo day for the trade at Orange County National Golf Club, the first of its kind, drew rave reviews from show attendees. Reed and the PGA should kick off future shows with a similar trade-only demo day, followed by three days of the traditional trade format. On the fifth day of the show, the equipment and accessories side of the convention center would be open to the public. (The apparel section could remain open to the trade.) Attendees that day could participate in lotteries for the liquidation of the wares on display at various exhibit booths, with proceeds of those sales and event admission fees going toward a grow-the-game initiative such as The First Tee. The show could conclude on Day 6 with a consumer demo day, where golfers could test equipment and sign up for e-mail notification when products are being shipped to their local retailers.

The changes proposed above are sure to raise protest in some quarters. The PGA Merchandise Show serves a great variety of constituencies, with a great variety of needs. It will never make them all happy, but it can make the show more relevant and productive to a majority of the industry.

Whatever they do, Reed and the PGA need to agree on a new direction, and they need to do it immediately.

Otherwise, the show’s future is indeed scary.

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