Observations from the PGA Merchandise Show

Thankfully, the PGA Merchandise Show is over for another year.

It’s always exhausting – miles of aisles filled with practically everything you could imagine that’s golf related, breakfast seminars, meetings, receptions and dinners, all crammed into three or four days. My week started off with a terrific outing at Reunion Golf Resort, courtesy of the folks at Tourism Ireland and North and West Coast Links. Unfortunately, my golf game showed more rust than usual but the combination of warm weather and Irish hospitality more than compensated for that frustration.

The 2023 version of the Show at the Orange County Convention Center certainly lived up to its hype and while it was smaller than previous years, it didn’t lack for enthusiasm and most of all, exciting new products. I should state here for the record that I’m not really an equipment guy. I’m not really an apparel guy either, which makes me wonder sometimes why I’ve gone to 20 of these annual shows. But while clubs and clothes capture the headlines and dominate opposite ends of the convention floor, it’s the exhibitors in the middle that get my attention.

That’s where all the other stuff resides – gizmos and gadgets, trinkets and trash, training aids and game improvement products, shafts, grips and carts, golf art, travel destinations, golf shoes, range accessories and my favourite – the New Product Zone. It’s where you can legitimately expect to find help for every aspect of your game and tools to make you a better player.

Following are my observations from this year’s Show:

Just because clubs aren’t really my thing, doesn’t mean I skip the section with all the shiny new toys. Callaway and Titleist had large, impressive displays while Cobra, Srixon, PING, Mizuno and others occupied smaller spaces. TaylorMade was noticeably absent. Maybe TaylorMade figures they’re doing fine and don’t need to be at the Show. I spoke to a number of club pros and media people who were frustrated that they couldn’t see all the manufacturers in one spot.

I counted a dozen simulator companies although the Show Guide indicates there were 16. This category has evolved a great deal from initial clunky models from a few years back. The technology is light years ahead with crisp resolution on the giant screens and much improved ball tracking. The physical specs offer more variety and there are models to suit even the most space conscious homes and clubhouses. Best of all, simulator pricing has evolved too, making them an affordable option for anyone passionate about indoor practice or extending their golf season through the winter months.

I didn’t bother to count but observed that there were far too many companies offering Bluetooth speakers, many designed to look like something else. Not sure if that’s so you can hide them in plain sight so you can surprise your playing partners or what. They come disguised as drink containers, fire extinguishers, utility bags, lights and dumbbells. I’m still not a fan and much prefer the peace and quiet of the golf course to someone’s rap music. Come to think about it, I prefer forks scratching a china plate to rap music.

There were also too many tumblers, drink containers and mugs. And GPS units.

Each year at the Show, I discover several new training aids that make it into my Gizmos and Gadgets column, which I’ll publish next week. As a preview, Shaft Lean, Swing Sling, Train Track, Star Grip and ONE caught my attention, not only for their imaginative names but also for what they can do and more importantly what they might do for my golf game.

Visiting old friends, trusted products and following up conversations started during the preceding year is always a highlight of the Show. I caught up with Martin Short at the Tour Striker booth, Bob Winskowicz at Sqairz and several others at Visit Scotland and Tourism Ireland. They all have new programs and products coming at us soon and I look forward to trying them.

I sat through several presentations at various stages throughout the Show floor, some including PGA Tour and LPGA stars. Mostly the players add a little colour and pizzazz to the proceedings but like with most paid performers, you have to filter out the hype. Long ago I stopped caring what clubs a touring pro was playing and the same goes for most of these sponsored deals. However, the best presentation I enjoyed was put on by Tourism Ireland and featured former Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley. He extolled the virtues of golf in his Irish homeland naturally but also told some entertaining and funny stories. I’m adding McGinley to the short list of famous people I’d like to have a beer with.

One presentation that really stood out was by David Lorentz from the National Golf Foundation, giving his state of the game address. The shocker was that the number of off-course golfers in 2022 surpassed green grass golfers 27.2 million to 25.6 million. Off-course golfers include anyone that used a club and ball at a driving range, golf entertainment complex like TopGolf or an indoor simulator.

It does NOT include miniature golf which would tip the scales even further in favour of the off-course category.

Lorentz seemed careful not to draw too many conclusions from their findings, stating that traditionalists were split on what it means, with some believing that the “off-course club and ball experience” was generating a waiting list of future green grass participants while others believed that the new options were siphoning traffic away from the golf course. One thing for sure though, the new off-course options skewed much younger.

He did say that their findings showed that participants in off-course golf were much better prepared to play when they did venture onto a real golf course. Many of them have experienced the satisfaction of hitting solid shots, which is the drug that gets people hooked on the game. He says at the NGF, they call this “shot euphoria” and studies have shown it is the single biggest differentiator between someone who stays with the game and someone who quits.

One other conclusion he stated was that the NGF expected that off-course golf would continue to grow at a faster rate that green grass.

As I said in last week’s blog, “It’s not your grandfather’s game anymore.”

Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

5 thoughts on “Observations from the PGA Merchandise Show

  1. Excellent article.
    Excited to learn more about the indoor, personal, highly accurate but now affordable simulators.
    Enjoy the show.

  2. Hi Peter, great article, and you are right. The PGA show was great, I was very glad to see everyone getting out and checking out all the new golf products at the show. It was great meeting you and hearing about your influence in the golf world. Thanks again for stopping by Straightline Golf LLC. Jim Carroll

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