2011 PGA Show wrap-up: Golf's new sensibility
ORLANDO, Fla. - Asked about the state of his business, one rep for a major company had a response that captured the tender optimism of this year’s PGA Merchandise Show.
“I feel like the healthiest person in the emergency room,” he said.
New clubs on the PGA Show floor
What do people want to see at the PGA Merchandise Show? Golf clubs, of course, drivers in particular. Check out some of the newest on display.
That’s the new normal for the golf industry, as well. Gone are the days of open-bar corporate receptions with cherub-sized shrimp on ice. Anyone who finds inspiration in that mid-1990s era of garrulous, cigar-chomping backslappers is badly equipped to deal with the intricacies of revenue management and point-of-sales technology needed today. More likely they are out of the golf business altogether.
On the face of it, this year’s show was encouraging. According to the event’s organizing firm, Reed Exhibitions, overall attendance was up 3.5 percent; including a 7 percent hike among PGA professionals. The 21 acres of display space represented a 1 percent gain over last year, with nearly 1,000 exhibitors, level with 2010. One sign of the golf market’s volatility was that one-quarter of exhibitors were new to the show this year, about 10 percent more than has recently been the case. And a good indicator of the game’s increasing globalization is that attendees hailed from 88 countries compared with about 75 flags on the board in the previous three years.
Famous faces at the PGA Merchandise Show
The PGA Show not only brought out hoards of golf enthusiasts, but a number of tour pros and instructors as well. Take a look at who Golfweek spotted in the crowds.
If the immediate numbers and corridor buzz conveyed a bit of hopefulness when measured against the economy as a whole, the big picture is one of continued lassitude. Perhaps the most revealing data of the week came during a presentation on the 2010 State of the Golf Industry by Jim Koppenhaver of Pellucid Corp. and Stuart Lindsay of Edgehill Golf Advisors. Their research shows that the average U.S. golf course logged 31,986 rounds last year, down marginally (2 percent) from 32,605 rounds in 2009 but representing a 12 percent slide from 2000, when U.S. courses registered 36,461 rounds per facility.
Technology at the PGA Merchandise Show
The PGA Merchandise Show has gone high-tech, with computer screens and simulators seemingly everywhere.
Small wonder that a considerable part of the year’s PGA Show involved a subtext of doing more with less. Course managers, facing revenue shortfalls, have been required to cut budgets, pare service and increase labor efficiencies. They’ve also been turning to a whole array of information technologies designed to monitor special patterns, communicate one-to-one with golfers and to let them know – sometimes midround – of pro-shop specials or discounts on replay rates. Among the new exhibitors was Smartcart, a free, downloadable mobile app that works with iPhone and Droid. The app links consumers to the host facility and enables golfers to order food and beverage from the clubhouse – even before the round has started, or midround, without having to stop and wait for orders to be prepared. Smartcard makes its money – or hopes to – from a $200 monthly charge to host facilities that subscribe.
A far more ambitious version of this approach to linking consumer service, facility management and enhanced revenue streams could be found with Club Car’s Visage, a mobile golf information system. Anyone who thinks that onboard graphics are just about yardages would be stunned by the array of service functions built into such a system – everything from event scoring, tailoring messages about pro-shop merchandise specials and sending tactfully edited messages to a single cart to “get a move on it” without having to rely upon a corps of rangers.
For all of the industry’s efforts at growing the game through The First Tee and Play Golf America, there is palpable impatience waiting for results. Enter the Alternative Golf Association, which debuted at the show. Silicon Valley legend Scott McNealy, an avid and skilled golfer, was the spokesman for this startup effort, and it’s tied to a website enterprise called flogton (as in “not golf”) that is supposed to be a focal point for what some in the industry hope to be a different, more relaxed and less stuffy approach to the game.
Indeed, the careful observer could discern some very different visions of where the game could be headed. If flogton self-consciously flaunts an image of the game at odds with the rule-bound USGA, the 1.3-acre floor space that TaylorMade-Adidas-Ashworth commanded was meticulously engineered to look like a relaxed country club with comfy lounge, practice range, putting green and clubhouse (with signature foods such as the R11 panini.
Then there was the modest space occupied by TRUE Linkswear that was nothing more than a shoe store. At one point Friday, company president Rob Rigg had to halt sales by a crowd that was seven across and four deep. “We were going to run out of shoes,” he said. Turns out, they were offering a radically different alternative to the traditional golf shoe. Wearing these, you could actually feel subtle ground contours.
For a game played on the softest playing field in all of sport, it was nice to get back to the simple fun of coming back to earth.