Imagine counting calories for months, then entering a massive room filled with buffet tables offering every type of food you’ve been craving – pizza, BBQ ribs, chips, gravy, chocolates, pastries, ice cream and much, much more. It’s hard to know where to start.
The annual extravaganza known as the PGA Merchandise Show is a decadent buffet for golfers. For true gearheads it must be nirvana – insatiable gluttons faced with infinite delights. For the rest of us it’s a bit overwhelming, often confusing and ultimately, when we could be stuffing ourselves, we just nibble.
My strategy has always been to focus on new, different and unique. That’s not to say I don’t see most of the product offerings, it’s just that instead of looking at another iteration of Scotty Cameron putters, I’m more likely drawn to a new company or a revolutionary design.
With that frame of reference, here’s what caught my eye at this year’s Show:
TaylorMade had been teasing us for weeks about a new driver, perhaps a new line of clubs. It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. They’d just released the M1 driver and supporting cast of fairways and rescues in September, which were the ultimate in adjustability with multi-material construction and more technology than Sputnik. The Company had also said they were going to dial back their new product cycle after overwhelming the market a couple of years ago. So what up?
Enter M2, not a brand new line, more a complement to M1. Or as TaylorMade likes to put it, “a completion of the M family.”
M2 utilizes the same multi-material construction as M1 but much of the adjustability has been removed. Instead of the movable weights in the sole, there’s a re-designed speed pocket to provide greater face flexion for improved ball speed. That means more distance. And it’s about 20% cheaper than its M1 brother.
There’s also a set of new M2 irons that looked intriguing. I would have hit the M2’s on the range at Demo Day but there was a big crowd surrounding Stephen Bowditch and his eyebrows are pretty intimidating.
I’ve long beena fan of Hogan’s Apex irons which were for a while some of the best irons on the market. After Callaway bought the brand, they more or less put it in moth balls and never figured out how to utilize the Hogan mystique. Then they sold it to Perry Ellis International, which was also unsure what to do with it. Fortunately, along came master club maker Terry Koehler who had long dreamed of making clubs for the Hogan Company. Koehler knew exactly what to do with the brand and, a couple of years back, launched or maybe re-launched the Ben Hogan Golf Company.
I missed last year’s Show, so I also missed the inaugural line of Ft. Worth 15 irons. But they’re pure – a true testament to the exceptional forged blades Mr. Hogan used to craft in his Ft. Worth shop many years ago. This year, after listening to customers, Koehler introduced the PTx irons, which look every bit as pure and traditional as the Ft. Worth 15’s but offer more forgiveness. They have some added perimeter weighting, a slightly larger face and the longer irons feature a hollow construction to launch the ball higher and land it softer.
Like other Hogan irons, the PTx line uses loft to denote the club instead of a number. They’re designed for players who like to know precisely how far they hit each club. I want some!
Just as the Show was about to start, PING announced an anniversary line of putters to celebrate the original Anser on its 50th birthday. I don’t have one of the originals, which collectors tell me are worth quite a lot of money, but my first real set of clubs (Macgregor VIP’s) were circa 1970 and the pro I bought them from suggested I complete the set with an Anser putter. It was pretty revolutionary back then, since almost everybody used some version of a blade like the Wilson 8801 or the Titleist Bulls Eye. I used my PING Anser for over thirty years and still go back to it occasionally.
The new PING TR 1966 Anser looks and feels every bit as good as the original. It has that subtle bronze finish and a slightly rounded heel and toe. The precision milled face delivers true roll and it still features the sound slot in the bottom that produces that “ping” when you hit the ball. Beautiful!
Another putter that caught my eye was the Acculock ACE from BioMech. It’s a bit like dragging the ball to the hole but alignment is easy and it works.
Back in December I wrote about the TaylorMade adidas TOUR 360 Boost and the cool launch party they had a Polson Pier in Toronto. I got a pair of the shoes that night and wore them for three rounds in Florida prior to the Show. They are without a doubt the most stable shoe I’ve ever worn and provide more support than you can imagine. I went by the TaylorMade adidas booth to tell them how good they were and encountered a dozen more colour combinations. Definitely one more thing to add to the wish list although my wife says I now have more shoes than she does. As if that’s possible!
While we’re in the shoe department, FootJoy launched their latest offering that draws inspiration from a Red-eyed Tree Frog. The FootJoy FreeStyle utilizes a lightweight mesh upper with a unique sole that emulates the gripping power of the tree frog. In fact, they’ve called the technology F.R.O.G.S for FootJoy Revolutionary Outsole Grip System. It’s colourful and feels great. I can’t wait to try them.
When I play golf, I like to walk. A few years ago, my knees told my brain that carrying my clubs was cruel and unusual punishment, so I began using a Motocaddy trolley. Works great. Lately, however, I’ve been seduced by another and while not completely abandoning my Motocaddy, my thoughts have turned to romantic notions of cruising the fairways on a GolfBoard. I’ve tried them on the range at several courses and had another opportunity to slide and cut between petrified patrons at Demo Day. But I’ve never used one for a full round of golf.
A few years back, Segway’s were all the rage and are pretty cool except I can’t shake the feeling that I look like Paul Blart Mall Cop every time I’m on one. Golf Boards are like slalom skiing or snowboarding. According to the Company, they’re going to be available at several courses in the GTA this year and I will be in line for a test drive. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll want to use every time I play but it should be fun.
My tour of the Apparel Hall yielded way too many choices. Everything always looks amazing and it’s hard to know where to start. Marty Hackel I’m not. However, Dunning Golf is back in the Canadian market in a much more determined way this year and in case you hadn’t noticed, David Hearn is wearing Dunning on Tour. It’s a line with a great sense of fashion that performs on and off the course.
I was also intrigued with a new line called Chase 54. Former Scarboro Head Pro Terry Kirkup will be handling the line in Canada. Lots of terrific colour combinations and a price point that is sure to make people take notice, especially in light of our weak dollar.
There’s nothing really “bad” about the Show but here are a few observations I had:
Nike and Mizuno were not there. Mizuno still makes some of the best irons on the market but over the past few years they’ve dialled back their marketing and lost some of the buzz they used to have when a lot of PGA Tour players used their equipment.
Nike’s decision to skip the Show is more troubling. As one of the current Big 4, it’s never a good sign when one of them opts out. As we’ve seen in the past, it often starts a trend and other big OEM’s might follow suit. That’s not good for the Show or the pros that come to ogle all the shiny new toys. Apparently Nike has a new philosophy which I’m sure we’ll hear more about but their presence always added an element of fun each year, especially the Canadian guys, who seemed to know how to dial it up a notch.
Another company missing was Parsons Xtreme Golf. The company founded by GoDaddy owner Bob Parsons made headlines at New Years when it announced the signing of a bunch of high profile PGA Tour and LPGA players including Zach Johnson, Billy Horschel and Cristie Kerr. I was eager to see the PXG clubs but apparently I’ll have to travel to Scottsdale for that. Like that’s a hardship!
Finally, as if you hadn’t figured it out, I’m a bit of a golf purist. Hit the ball, go find it and hit it again. I like to walk. I don’t mind playing alone, even though apparently I can’t post those scores for handicap purposes, thanks to the lemmings at Golf Canada. I also don’t like gadgets. Part of the reason is that I’m not techno-friendly. I need my reading glasses to see the damned small print on screens smaller than my watch. But most of all, gadgets imply that your golf swing can be built, tuned or fixed mechanically, and I’ve always been a feel player.
So sorry to those of you who might have been hoping for a review of the latest techno-wizardry that can cure your slice or help you sink more putts. I’m not that guy.
Besides, all those gadget guys are here one year and gone the next and I find that sad.
If there’s nothing bad about the Show, how could there possibly be anything ugly?
Well, the state of the Canadian dollar was pretty ugly. I know you’re not supposed to think about these things when you’re away but when the currency premium is running about 45% as it was during Show week, it puts a damper on just about every purchase. A $10 sandwich turns into a $15 bad taste in your mouth.
The weather was kind of ugly too. Rain, cool temperatures – definitely not good for golf. Maybe that was a boon to the Show though, as the usual truants had to find indoor pursuits.
You always like to leave on a high note so one thing I’ll add is that the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show had a lot more energy than previous versions. People were upbeat and positive about the economy, they seemed excited that new initiatives for women and kids were going to bring new players to the game and generally, they were in a buying mood.
That’s great for golf.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the specific products and Companies that caught my attention this year, especially as their new products come to market or achieve success on the major Tours. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to try some of them soon. I think the groundhog said we’ll be playing golf in a couple of months.