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On with the Show

22 JAN 2018

By Peter Mumford

If it’s January, it must be time for the PGA Merchandise Show.

The annual trade show in Orlando is a command performance for industry heavyweights, golf professionals and a varied cast of participants and observers from every part of the golf business. It’s part show and part meeting place, as attendees flock to the Disney city from all over the globe – some to see the latest shiny new toys or what everyone will be wearing on the course this year, while others are in town to make connections or make deals. Still others use the opportunity to escape the cold and play a few rounds of golf.

You might think that the internet would put a damper on trade shows since everyone can view new equipment and apparel choices online without leaving home – no airport hassles, flight delays or crowded exhibitor booths. In fact, the Merchandise Show is even better since the internet. Obviously, attendees can be up to speed long before they set foot in Orlando but armed with that knowledge, they don’t have to wander every aisle and see every booth. That leaves more time for networking and social events. And no matter how good the internet gets, it can never replace a warm weather destination in the middle of a cold Canadian winter.

This year marks my 18th trip to the Merchandise Show and over the years the routine has varied. In some years, there was barely time for anything - just in for a couple of days of show gazing, then quickly back to work. That meant a pretty jammed itinerary, trying to see everything, talk to as many people as possible and somehow make sense of it all.

The last few years, I’ve turned the trip into a combination of fact finding mission, social whirl and golf-a-thon, often taking a couple of weeks for the journey. That means driving to Orlando, visiting a few resorts and courses on the way down and back and leaving at least a week to take in the Show, attend a few seminars, meet lots of people and soak up the social atmosphere created by forty thousand people set free for a week away from home.

Sounds like a pretty decent plan right?

Well, the 2018 trip didn’t get off to such a great start.  It was supposed to include a two day stop in Pinehurst, NC and a couple of days of golf at the iconic Resort, known as the Cradle of American Golf. In fact, my first round of the year was scheduled to be on Pinehurst No 2, the renowned Donald Ross design made even more famous as the site where the late Payne Stewart defeated Phil Mickelson to win the 1999 U.S. Open.

Unfortunately, six inches of fresh snow just before our arrival scuttled any plans to play golf, so - on to Orlando!

The Show format is pretty much the same every year.

Tuesday is Demo Day, where buyers, pros and media get a chance to test new equipment on the 360 degree range at Orange County National. This is nirvana for gear heads. The range is 400 yards across and if my math is correct, that makes it over 1200 yards in circumference. The entire ring is lined with assorted canopies and trailers – club, ball, shaft and grip manufacturers plus assorted other golf industry suppliers and inventors.

Every inch is filled with curious golfers, making the circuit, eager to test drive the latest and greatest. Some stands have rock music blaring, more than a few are giving away beer. It’s quite a circus.

Major manufacturers such as TaylorMade and Titleist attract the largest crowds. They have all their newest gear on display adjacent to a couple of dozen hitting bays. Sales reps mingle with buyers while brand managers, R&D types and company executives hover nearby to lend expertise or help close a deal. Sometimes there’s even a PGA Tour or LPGA pro on hand.

But the real action is out front where dozens of golf nuts have ventured from the icy north and are suddenly free to grip it and rip it – venting weeks of pent up frustrations on unsuspecting new drivers and metal woods. They’re not quiet about it either.

The actual PGA Merchandise Show runs from Wednesday to Friday in the Orange County Convention Center but the real action happens on the first two days.  That’s when all the company honchos are still around to close big deals and schmooze customers. Most of them are long gone by Friday – winging their way home or maybe nabbing a round of golf before leaving town.

There are approximately 1,200 exhibitors at the Show and most of them do some sort of entertaining during Show week. That could be anything from an informal dinner with key customers to a major cocktail party for anybody that wanders into their booth during the day. Some of the entertaining happens in the Convention Center but most of it occurs at hundreds of restaurants, hotels and bars that line International Drive. When the closing bell sounds on the day’s Show, thousands of people spill out the doors, heading up I Drive in search of the evening’s festivities, often hopping from one party to the next until the wee hours of the morning.

During the day, three quarters of a million square feet of Show floor are teeming with people, some buying, some just browsing. You can always tell the first timers. They’re the ones with a dazed look on their face, wandering aimlessly from booth to booth, up one aisle and down the next, eyes fixed with a thousand yard stare, not sure where to look or what they’re seeing. Sensory overload is common, even among Show veterans, when there is so much to take in. It can be overwhelming.

At any one time, in addition to all the activity in the exhibitor booths, there are seminars, panel discussions and fashion shows on various stages set up on the Show floor; live demos and autograph signings with touring pros and the occasional celebrity endorser; and educational seminars in adjoining meeting rooms. Advance planning is a must to make good use of your time. Three days is barely enough yet any more would be more than most people could handle.

Some people opt to do it a different way.

There are three huge hotels adjacent to the Convention Center and the lobbies of each are filled day and night with golf industry people. Technically, they’re at the Show but some of them will never actually set foot on the Show floor, preferring the confines of the lobby bars and lounges instead. They have perfected the “off-site meeting”.

The off-site meeting isn’t limited to the three hotels either. Orlando is home to dozens of top ranked golf courses and a tee time at any of them is hard to come by during Show week. It’s only natural when golf professionals, managers and manufacturers from all over the world get together in one spot for a few days.

Over the years, I’ve religiously attended the Show, taking in as much as possible so I can write about it afterwards. But as I sit here planning what to do and who to see over the next few days, that off-site option sure looks appealing.

Nah! It would be nice but it’s Show time - so on with the Show.

Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag