PGA Show blog: Taking you inside the ropes

Jack Nicklaus delivering the Golf 2.0 Keynote address at the opening of 2012 PGA Merchandise Show.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Golf legend Jack Nicklaus joined a panel of industry leaders Thursday at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show to discuss the Golf 2.0 initiative and the future of the struggling golf industry.

Discussing the importance of restoring fun, particularly with women and junior players, Nicklaus discussed different options to help grow the game. Last Labor Day at Nicklaus’ home course Muirfield Village, 8-inch cups were used on a 12-hole course to try to speed up the time it takes to play a round and make the day more fun for the average player. Other programs that have been used are the Tee it Forward campaign, which aims to encourage golfers to play the right set of tees, rather than being overpowered by lengthy courses.

Since 2006 golf has lost 23 percent of its female players and 36 percent of its youth players, which is the focus of Golf 2.0.

When discussing the right time to introduce kids to the game of golf, Nicklaus said, “When they can make it through three holes without chasing after any frogs, they’re ready.”

Nicklaus explained that his own kids no longer play much golf, instead spending time in parks with their kids playing soccer and other sports.

“Why can’t there be golf parks like that?” Nicklaus said. “Just like a soccer league meets on Saturday mornings, why not a golf league?”

PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka also expressed the importance of getting women interested in the game, in addition to making the game more fun and less intimidating.

“People forget that women control 78 percent of the household spending,” Steranka said.

Also joining the panel, which was moderated by NBC Sports’ Jimmy Roberts, was PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka, USGA executive director Mike Davis, Frank Sanchez, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and former baseball star and Boys and Girls Clubs board member Ken Griffey Jr. The PGA of America and USGA also announced a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs that will help take golf instruction to it’s nearly four million members.

“Eventually we want these kids to be able to step up on any course in the country and feel like they belong because they’ve been exposed to the game,” Sanchez said. “Although, I’m competitive, so I may not feel good until a couple of our kids wins some of your guys’ tournaments with the Boys and Girls Clubs logo on their shirts.”

- D.J. Piehowski

• • •

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Blair O'Neal from Golf Channel's "Big Break: Prince Edward Island" at a meet and greet at Cobra Puma booth at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show.

Cobra/Puma's orange-out

When Rickie Fowler made the decision to start wearing Oklahoma State orange on Sundays, he probably didn’t foresee this kind of reaction.

Cobra/Puma Golf has built their latest campaign around the color and their booth at the 59th PGA Merchandise Show reflects that decision.

In the front of the booth there are golf clubs perched up in a pile of oranges and once you get inside, the color doesn’t go away.

Amid the photos of Fowler and LPGA star Lexi Thompson are Puma’s brightly-colored clothing lines and Cobra’s new AMP line of clubs, all of which have orange grips and orange detailing on the clubhead.

Fans can even climb a flight of stairs and jump down a playground slide into a pit of orange balls.

- D.J. Piehowski

• • •

Chalone provides a touch of class on Show floor

The PGA Show isn’t all about equipment and apparel. Slid in among the clothing booths is the Chalone Vineyard display, a small area that resembles a posh sidewalk cafe. Chalone is the offiicial wine of the PGA of America.

Chalone is a vineyard located in Soledad, Calif., about 40 miles east of Pebble Beach, as the crow flies. The vineyard was established in 2008, and partnered with the PGA of America two years ago. Chalone also will be the official wine sponsor at three PGA Tour events -- including the PGA Championship -- in addition to the Ryder Cup and the Senior PGA Championship.

So how does a vineyard become the official wine of the PGA of America? As PR manager Philippa Jones explains, it was in the cards from the beginning.

“We have a history of a golf platform because we’re in that golf area,” Jones said.

The laid-back Chalone lifestyle fits perfectly with the 19th hole. The partnership began when Chalone began sponsoring Tour events, and the rest is history. This is Chalone’s second year participating in the PGA Show, and they’re getting their name out by sponsoring wine tastings Thursday and Friday from 2-4 p.m., and from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday.

“These folks are the people that run the industry day in and day out,” Jones said of the Show.

–Julie Williams

• • •

Evolve trying to change golf-tee business

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A sample of 2.75-inch tees and a 1.5-inch tees with Evolve Golf at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show.

Unsatisfied with traditional wooden golf tees, BJ Maloy, founder and CEO of Evolve Golf, set out to create a launching platform that would provide greater golf ball speed and control.

Evolve’s Epoch golf tee features radius posts that span the width of a golf ball dimple, allowing for a low coefficient of friction, which is said to result in increased distance and accuracy. Made from sustainable, recycled plastic, Epoch tees are more durable - not to mention, more environmentally-conscious - than wooden tees.

The company’s newest offering, Sweet Spot System, helps players determine how high to tee the golf ball in order to consistently hit their driver’s sweet spot. Depending on the desired launch angle, the ball is teed to the appropriate height based on selection of one of four colored rings on the tee. With an application on their website where players can search for their driver’s make and model, Evolve is able to recommend the ideal Sweet Spot System tee model by calculating a suggested tee specification.

According to Maloy, to date there are more than 30 PGA Tour players using Evolve Golf tees.

- Jackie Strouse

• • •

David Hutsell's wild year

A significant perk of winning the PGA Professional National Championship is the six PGA Tour exemptions for the following season. The 2011 champion, David Hutsell of Baltimore, Md., is still figuring out where to use them.

During a PGA of America press conference Friday at the PGA Merchandise Show, Hutsell, 41, said that he would play the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic and Puerto Rico Open in the next two months, then possibly the Greenbrier Classic in July. Then, he said, “we’ll see what the year has in store.”

Of course, Hutsell will have to clear his schedule for June 24-27. That’s when the PNC heads to the Bayonet and Black Horse courses in Seaside, Calif., ranked annually as one of the most difficult tracks in the country, and Hutsell has a chance to defend his title.

“Players are going to be wowed,” said Len Dumas, president of the PGA Northern California section. “Then they’ll realize they have a lot of work to do to win this championship.”

In 2011, 3,700 PGA pros attempted to qualify for the PNC; the field then was whittled down to 312. Hutsell, the PGA director of instruction at The Elkridge Club, won the 44th playing of the event with an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole.

“It was by far the best year I’ve ever had playing golf,” said Hutsell, who was a baseball player at Towson University and worked on the golf-course maintenance crew before the school formed a team.

“It was a dream year for me. It’s going to be hard to top that, but I’ll certainly try to come close.”

- Ryan Lavner

• • • 

The word is out: Nuun a perfect energy boost for golfers

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Nuun, an electrolyte enhanced drink tab is on display at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show.

In 2004, Nuun founders had no idea they had created what would one day be a popular trend on the PGA Tour. In fact, if a certain PGA player didn’t happen to stumble upon this company, Nuun might not even be at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show.

In the winter of 2009, while on a snowboard trip in Idaho with his agent Mac Barnhardt, Davis Love III was looking for something to keep himself hydrated throughout a long day on the slopes. Mac introduced him to a product called Nuun (pronounced noon), which originally was intended for outdoor sportsmen.

“I was using it for everything I was doing outside,” Barnhardt said. “I showed it to Davis, and he was hooked.”

Nuun is not your typical “energy supplement.” The Vitamin C-type capsule comes in 11 different flavors and dissolves in water. The electrolyte-enhanced drink tab contains zero sugar, has fewer than eight calories and rehydrates the body.  

To use, drop a Nuun tablet into a bottle of water and shake until it is dissolved. It is recommended that you drink it once before a round and once at the turn. The drink tastes a bit like Gatorade, but not as sweet.

For the past two years, Nuun has become a daily routine for Love.

“Being on the Tour, you have to be organized and stick to a regiment,” Love said. “For me, it’s not energy drinks that give me energy, it’s the Nuun that keeps me hydrated which gives me the energy I need.”

According to company President Mason Reay, Nuun was first introduced to runners and triathletes who needed to stay hydrated while training and competing. It then was introduced to cyclists, then other outdoor sports and now golf.

Nuun can be found in PGA super stores, Edwin Watts, more than 600 golf shops and Golfsmith. There are 11 different flavors including lemon lime, strawberry lemonade, fruit punch and cola. More than 40 PGA Tour players use Nuun, including three of last year’s major winners: Keegan Bradley (PGA), Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Darren Clarke (British).

Last January, Nuun made its first appearance at the PGA Show and saw its sales grow in the golf industry by more than 100 percent. Company president Mason Reay knows that growth was based on a small window, but still hopes to meet his goal of increasing last year’s sales tenfold. Nuun has benefited greatly by word of mouth -- especially when those mouths belong to PGA Tour players -- and it seems the word is out.

– Asher Wildman

• • •

MyMinigolf creates at-home fun

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Mary Anne Penton with Starting Time distributors of My Mini Golf at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show.

Want to create family-friendly, golf-focused entertainment for a group of people, but don't have access to a miniature golf course or putting green? MyMinigolf is the "play anywhere" solution that allows players of all ages and skill levels to practice their putting skills in a fun atmosphere.

MyMinigolf is comprised of a set of 13 portable obstacles, such as bridges and loop de loops, that can be arranged on a variety of surfaces (grass, carpets, etc.) to create an on-the-go miniature golf course. The game is very user-friendly, providing access to players who use wheelchairs, a notable feature that speaks to the universality of MyMinigolf.

Ideal for events ranging from childrens' birthday parties to corporate retreats, MyMinigolf is not just a fun way to socialize and let off steam. It also supports the initiative to grow the game of golf, allowing players to practice their putting while engaging in friendly competition.

– Jackie Strouse

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Meet your social media friends in person

There’s no shortage of social media channels for golf fans to utilize in order to communicate with each other online. Actually meeting in person, however? That’s a bit tougher.

But TaylorMade Golf made it possible Thursday at the PGA Merchandise show, welcoming golf tweeters to gather at the TaylorMade adidas-Golf booth for a meet up, or “tweet up” if you will.

"I've been active in social media for a long time, and I've always found real events actually make your online experience better," said Liz Phillips, social media manager for TMaG. "While it's true you can develop relationships and have 'friends' online, there's nothing like shaking someone's hand and having a real conversation that's not limited to 140 characters."

Participants wore nametags with their first name and Twitter handle and got to know each other in person, rather than in 140 characters or less. The gathering also featured a large TV that displayed all tweets with the hashtag “#TMAG2012.”

To follow all of the PGA Merchandise Show tweets, check out the show’s official hashtag, “#PGAM12.”

– D.J. Piehowski

• • •

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Hank Haney is a new spokesperson for PURE Grips.

Hank Haney's new role

Hank Haney has a new role at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show: spokesperson for PURE grips.

Haney, the former instructor of Tiger Woods, met with fans Friday and demonstrated how the tapeless installation works. Haney has used PURE grips for a while at his golf facilities, he said, and recently asked Wes Brasher, founder and CEO of PURE, if he could take on a more “meaningful role.” An endorsement deal was announced last week.

PURE grips are 100 percent rubber, so they do not lose their tackiness with consistent use or sun exposure. Most interesting, however, is the installation process: a small air compressor is attached to the installation gun, and the grip glides onto the shaft of the club, as secure as any adhesive tape.

It’s so simple, in fact, that Hubby Habjan, a PGA Hall of Famer and longtime friend of Haney’s, approached the acclaimed instructor at the company’s booth and asked for a quick demonstration. The grip was ready in a matter of seconds.

“There’s no tape, no solvent, no mess,” Haney said. “It’s so much easier, it’s incredible.”

- Ryan Lavner

• • •

A "major" change in Irish tourism

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with the trophy after his eight-stroke victory on the 18th green during the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club on June 19, 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland.

The success of Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke has been far-reaching. Perhaps none have been affected more than the Irish tourism industry.

A number of Irish organizations and travel chauffeurs have set up shop at the PGA Merchandise Show, claiming that numbers have been steadily on the rise since the three aforementioned pros started hauling in major championships.

“That was a dream come true,” said Kevin Leahy of Ireland Chauffeur Travel, which offers private guided tours to many of the country’s top courses such as Royal Portrush and Royal County Down. “We think these are probably the best links in the world, and that was just free marketing for them.

“But the best part is that players are coming over to see the gems like Portrush and Royal County Down, but while they are there, they’ll certainly play two or three of the lesser-known courses as well.”

According to Ireland Chauffeur Travel, most of the premier Irish courses see about 12,000-15,000 overseas golfers per year. The company says that number is back up around “2007 levels” and also has been helped by the strengthening of the dollar over the euro.

Ireland being in the recent spotlight has also been of help because the country’s tourism board dropped much of its funding toward golf after the 2010 Ryder Cup concluded.

“The Ryder Cup is over, but golf certainly isn’t,” said Ron Smartt of Travelling the Fairways, Ltd.

A few upcoming events have also been of help to the industry, with the Irish Open moving to historic Royal Portrush and the Notre Dame-Navy football game to be played in September in Dublin.

“That week is already sold out with a lot of courses,” Leahy said. “You can’t even get a tee time anywhere. . . unless you’re in the know.”

– D.J. Piehowski

• • •

Custom flat sticks

In a small corner of the massive Orange County Convention Center, Jay Green described the virtues of T.P. Mills putters, the flat stick used by recent Champions Tour winner Dan Forsman.

“We’re a custom putter company,” Green, the sales manager at T.P. Mills, said. “You can tell with our products.”

Nowhere is that uniqueness more evident than with the welded putter necks, which allow for ultimate customization. The putters are 100 percent milled. They are 1030 carbon steel, 303/304 stainless steel. And they feature crowned top lines and planed soles.

The emphasis, as it always has been (since 1962), is quality craftsmanship. Which might explain why the company still produces putters individually, not in mass quantities.

-- Ryan Lavner

• • • 

Get instant swing sequence with SwingProfile

Automation and instant. That’s how Dr. Zeke Chan, CEO of Integrity Analysis SwingProfile, describes his product, which was awarded two 2012 PGA Merchandise Show awards: Best Overall Product and Best Market Research in the United Inventors Association Inventors Spotlight.

SwingProfile, a computer application, produces an automated sequence of the user’s golf swing. The swing is captured by a video camera, which instantly generates an automated sequence of key positions. These positions can then be analyzed based on factors including club line and shoulder alignment at specific points in the swing.

A unique factor is the application’s elimination of superfluous content, as the software extracts the pure golf swing from any material that transpires while the camera’s rolling. For instance, if the camera is rolling for 50 seconds, the system only saves (and slows down) the few seconds of the actual swing. With its breakdown of key positions, SwingProfile eliminates any stop/start searching for various parts of the swing in the video, making it a convenient way to analyze your golf swing.

Intended for use by teaching professionals and students alike, SwingProfile also lets the user compare their own swing sequence with that of professional golfers.

The company plans on releasing an iPhone application later this year, which will increase the accessibility of the product.

– Jackie Strouse

• • •

Share your swing with the world

Do you have the perfect golf swing? Here’s your chance to prove it.

GolfSwingFreak.com is a new website that allows players to upload swing videos and gives the rest of the golf world a chance to rate that swing against other players.

Founded by Brian Lovegren, the website aims to be a place where golfers can socialize, but also get a learning experience out of each visit.

“Our aim is to eventually have all kinds of video instruction pieces on the site to make that all free and open to players around the world,” Lovegren said.

Just for fun, Lovegren’s other claim to fame is that he is the world record holder for “Most golf balls hit from the knees in 12 hours,” hitting more than 2,576 shots.

“I kind of just gave up after six hours or so, but I already had the record anyway,” Lovegren said.

– D.J. Piehowski

• • •

Golf in your own backyard

The Rope It Backyard Practice Range allows golfers to experience the best aspects of going to the driving range without leaving the comfort of their own backyard.

With Rope It, users can hit real golf balls, avoiding the need to purchase a net or use practice balls. The system is composed of a recycled Dixon golf ball and a combination bungee/parachute cord that prevents the ball from traveling more than 20 yards, without snapping back and hitting the user. Users simply put one end of the cord into the ground and hit practice iron shots with a real golf ball.

Most people may have increasingly busy schedules. . . but with Rope It, they have no excuse not to sneak outside and hit a few practice shots.

– Jackie Strouse

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