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5 Reasons why last week’s PGA Merchandise Show was the best in a decade

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For someone who’s attended about 30 of these extravaganzas, the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show stood out. And not for any earth shattering product launches. I’m sure avid users of GolfWRX knew about—indeed, had seen photos of–most of the hard-goods introductions well before the show.

See photo galleries from the 2014 PGA Show here.

When the show “Product of the Year” is a modified, motorized skateboard–the GolfBoard—it suggests a low bar for product breakthrough. There were no great parties—not like the old days when you needed secret sites and rationed ID badges to keep things under control—or split-level booths or dancing girls or even a show floor you couldn’t walk in a single day.

But beyond reasonably healthy traffic (1,000 exhibitors and 40,000 buyers), this show mattered because it embodied an industry finally facing reality.

Preamble. The game we play, the game of golf itself, is fine. And we’ll continue to love it and play it like we always have. But the industry that must attract and keep new players in the game is not fine. It’s like a range picker that’s leaving half the balls behind. It’s behind. Which is why this year’s show was a breath of fresh air. It owned up to that in a big way.

Five ways the 2014 Show really worked

1. It confronted real participation numbers. For all of the research done on golf participation and spending, and there is tons of it, little of the hard data makes its way to the public. Leaders express “concern” over “declining play,” but rarely present unpleasant statistics in the unvarnished way that Dr. Joe Beditz, the normally cautious president of the National Golf Foundation, did the night before the show at a TaylorMade-sponsored gathering on getting golf going. “Two or 3 years do not a trend make,” said Beditz. “But 10 years does make a trend. We’re leaking golfers—5 million in 10 years.” It got darker: “One in four core golfers has left the game,” he said. Adding, “Core golfers (eight rounds or more) account for 90 percent of golf spending.”  This “cancer” reported Beditz, is exacerbated by a nagging image problem. Only 25 percent of non-golfers see it as fun. I saw Beditz the next day. He said he hated playing the role of “the doom and gloom guy.” But it was critical that the room of several hundred pros and media heard it just that way. This is why we need new ideas, it said.

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2. It produced an intriguing vehicle for generating unconventional new ideas: Hack Golf.  At the same presentation TaylorMade President Mark King, the host, introduced Dr. Gary Hamel, a golfer and management expert who has used crowdsourcing to take companies forward. Crowdsourcing is, basically, a public suggestion box. Similar to the way that code is open-sourced, so are ideas for a business’s strategy.  This solicitation of outside ideas is known as “hacking” the business. Hack Golf is the program Hamel devised to help golf get out of its own way, to listen to ideas from non-golfers and former-golfers alike. Many of these ideas, it’s thought, might suggest alternative forms of golf—FootGolf, a kind of combination soccer-golf played in Las Vegas with 21-inch holes—for example. From thousands of suggestions, King, PGA President Ted Bishop and Hamel hope, will come a few hundred solid ones, a handful of brilliant ideas, and two or three to take to market now. Hack Golf is the boldest thing golf has done to reinvent itself. It’s brave. And controversial. Will operators embrace ideas that complicate their lives? We’ll see. Let’s hope it makes a dent. Check out HackGolf.org or find it on Twitter Make a suggestion.

3. It took on the Millennials issue. The show included seminars on marketing to Millennials, teaching Millennials, understanding Millennials. Golf Digest led the way here, presenting research on this group of “non-conforming conformists” ages 18 to 34 who are a key to golf’s future, and a lot of other industries’ as well. Right now significantly fewer Millennials (11 percent vs. 14 percent) are playing than their predecessors. (So are the 35-39-year olds). The Millennials who do play represent great additions. They respect golf’s traditions—they would love to join a country club and don’t think denim should be worn on the course, for example—but they don’t necessarily feel like they are welcome, or have earned the status of “real golfer.” They love numbers and overwhelm teachers with their desire for measurement and tracking. “Sometimes you have to turn off the video and say, ‘Let’s just go chip,’ said one teacher,” and they tend to be very visual. But they also love to inject a bit of added fun into the game and aren’t above, say, playing music on the course. I played with two young Millennials at the hot new Streamsong Resort the day after the Show. Matt was a former NCAA D-3 golfer and his friend Gretchen was a Speed Golf competitor. Good players. A serious runner, she took up golf only five years ago and now shoots in the 70s. Once they got to know me, they introduced me to their music game. Out came the iPhone and on came the Stones. The player who won a hole chose the next 3 songs. I played well, but not well enough to call up Van Morrison!

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4. It featured dazzling and increasingly affordable technology and tracking. By my estimate, digital devices that track balls, trace swings, depict great courses that you can play virtually and measure your progress, took up fully three and a half pages in the Show directory—a record, and about 60 percent of hard-goods pages—as well as a huge “share of voice” at the show. GoPro was there, but so was Ion Cameras, that in addition to taking video, links to PowerChalk, a swing-analysis software. Trackman was there, as well as FlightScope, which showed off how its X2 launch monitor can be paired with a BodiTrak, a mat that measures set-up, weight placement and weight shift.

There were software programs that allowed for real or almost real-time communication with your teacher and gave him or her the ability to chalkboard your swing on a video you’d sent. Golf Coach Direct was one. Then there was Game Golf, which during your round, “in the background,” records your shots and stats. This desire to measure and track, somewhat lost on those of us with “caddy” swings built entirely on feel, is nonetheless a huge part of the game for most of the next generation of golfers. They live in a corporate world where data reigns, and they want quantitative answers to everything from spin rate to launch angles. Half the fun for some of these golfers is the charting and tracking and measuring itself.  And young tour players and coaches are no exception. Sean Foley, according to someone who’s watched him, will teach one player while watching the TrackMan stats of another as that player hits balls. The Ping nFlight Motion attachment brings that kind of digital feedback to fitting. Which is why it was one of GolfWRX’s “Showstoppers.”

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For weekend amateurs, playing virtual golf may be part of the deal. I ran into my old friend Doug White in Orlando. The former head professional at Barton Hills in Ann Arbor, Mich., Doug is now teaching and managing OntheDunesSports, an indoor golf training facility where during the winter Avids play rounds on virtual versions of Pebble, Pinehurst, you name it, and during the summer watch (or play) beach volleyball outside. Doug runs pro-ams on virtual tour courses opposite tour events, and walks the line making suggestions on how players can improve their ball-striking. “The screen doesn’t lie,” says this transformed “old school” pro. “The feedback is immediate.” And so, mostly, is the fun. Go to the “Dunes” web site and the first thing you see is the bar. (Reminding one of the Top Golf site). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

5. It demonstrated, more convincingly than ever, how “hard” science is helping coaches keep golfers physically and mentally fit. In the tiny booths tucked along a lane leading to the hitting area, we found some very cool things. This is the part of the show I love. At a corner booth there I spent time with Dr. Debbie Crews, a mental-side consultant to Arizona athletes and tour players, whose new book, “The Science of Golf and Life,” makes the connection between our body’s chemistry and our emotions. She was promoting program called THINQ Golf, a kind of Lumosity for golfers. (Sign up and try a “brain game.”)

In a small booth near the hitting range David Leadbetter was promoting Juvent, a device that looks like a scale but transmits “micro impacts” to your leg and spine bones that increase blood flow and promotes bone health. That, too, evolved from hard science: NASA’s efforts to keep astronaut bones stimulated while mostly motionless in space. Fitness devices abounded. One I liked a lot was a collection of slick fitness and balance devices called SmartBodyGolf, promoted by Jeff Ritter, Nike Golf Schools director of instruction, and Randy Myers, of Sea Island, a fitness consultant to many tour players. SmartBody’s “Performance Pack” is about all you need to get and stay fit for golf. I was also curious about HHP2, by Hydro Family Fitness, a source of weight and fitness aids that use water in tubes to strengthen your motion as you swing and shake them. It’s called “Hydrokinetics.” Changing water into muscles? I guess.

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Bob Carney is a Contributing Editor at Golf Digest, writing for the magazine, its web site and sister publication Golf World. He’s an avid golfer and a single-digit handicap who has earned awards for his coverage of the industry and recreational golf. He is co-author, with Davis Love Jr. and Bob Toski, of How to Feel a Real Golf Swing. Prior to joining Golf Digest, Carney wrote for the Bergen (NJ) Record and contributed stories to People Magazine and Time, among others. He earned a B.A. From University of Michigan, attended Columbia University Journalism School, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, where he managed to get in one or two rounds of golf.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. daveb

    Feb 14, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Affluent boomers and greed-heads (e.g., developers) have sucked the air out of golf, period. It is a demographic problem for sure. Kids can’t go play because of the old men elbowing each other out of the way on the courses where they’ve driven up the green fees to $90 a pop on what used to be affordable muni courses.

    Ask this: where are the kids going “play”? The sport is backpedaling to the days when kids with numbers after their names will be the only participants.

    Developers built a course by the old dump in our town — it opened up with $88 green fees, stamped with “Troon Golf” on the front door. Ha, Troon at the dump! And this fee to play on dead sod under twig-trees held up by stakes in the ground…

    Another private course opened out on the plains: a “links course” charging $50K to join and $10K annual fees. Guess what, they went bankrupt too. Everyone wants to cater to the rich, with delusions like they’re Pebble Beach — and not deal with the poor unwashed masses — i.e., the kids who have no money and are looking for somewhere to “play”.

    When I was a kid anybody who wanted could walk to the school and play the practice holes cut next to the corn field. Or you could play with your grandpa who was a member of the city course — for free or little of nothing.

    Munis are dead, affordability is dead. Golf since 1980 has been a march toward disaster. Heck, maybe it should die. If things don’t change all our kids will be playing frisbee golf or hackey-sack golf, because fun, cheap, fast, friendly games will oust DULL, EXPENSIVE, SLOW, UNFRIENDLY ones every. single. time.

    • Evan

      Feb 21, 2014 at 11:39 am

      a bit doomsday, yet making a lot of great points. I’ve said many times that much of what golf and it’s “professionals” care about is profit. Sure, operators and manufactures will claim they care about golf’s future, but only the short term future that benefits them. If golf truly cared about it’s future and the number of players, it wouldn’t sell out to equipment manufactures, golf cart manufactures and chemical companies (pesticides, etc). Most communities should have a muni or public facility (even if it’s 9 holes) that is available and responsible to the community as a whole. Golf carts, equipment sales, artificial turf management, have all contributed to a “elite” environment on most courses. Most operators cater to the customer who buy equipment every year and spends extra in the bar.

  2. Pingback: Juvent Sports

  3. Roger

    Feb 2, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Driving Accuracy and speeding up the game for ALL people

    Yesterday i picked up some 1990 Hogan BH Irons…
    Tee’d up the 3 iron on 6 holes of the 9 i played!
    Very accurate….could i start a new trend???
    ps BH grind and Apex 4 shafts…..my search is over!

  4. Andrew

    Feb 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    It is simply absurd to think that basis points 1 and 2 in this article have anything to do with the premise that the 2014 show was the best in a decade.

    Golf participation is down, get the word out (like the author was the only bloke in the room that found this to be an epiphany)…. what a great Show!!!!!

    Hack Golf is live (since when do “intriguing ideas” amount to a great show? Last I checked, innovative and salable products do) ….what a great show!!!! Really?

  5. Joe

    Jan 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    One of the main killers is the sheer and amazingly huge arrogance of golf courses and their refusal to change, improve, listen or take action.

    Insanity: doing things the same way and expecting different results!

    I see this daily at the courses in my area: So many fail at the fundamentals that is laughable, how are they going to get the bigger stuff right.

  6. mlamb

    Jan 31, 2014 at 9:39 am

    As a few have already noted, the problem is driving accuracy and its negative effect on pace of play.

    Go to any public course on a weekend and sit at the first tee. The amount of wayward drives is astounding. Almost every group ends up becoming a search party.

  7. paul

    Jan 30, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    As a 31 year old who discovered the game only two years ago, I didn’t mind the money or time it took to get confident at it… But my wife sure doesn’t like it. I bought everything in my bag used and on demo sales (thanks Golf Town). Also used coupons. Costs me about $1000 per year to play. Can’t imagine what you guys all pay. I can’t imagine spending $450 for a single club, My wife would shoot me to.

    • ?!?!?!?!

      Jan 31, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      Grow a pair perhaps? You have every right to spend cash that YOU worked for on golf, Its not drugs or anything lol. She probably spends $100 bucks on a damn haircut, has 50 pairs of shoes at $40-$150 a pop. And spends close to 500 on make-up. Dont Feel bad at all, unless you dont work and pay nothing to contribute.

      • Baka

        Feb 12, 2014 at 8:50 am

        If you are not honest with her and set boundaries it will only get worse. Don’t feel bad about getting out of the house and having fun. Encourage her to do the same.

  8. Jonny Bravo

    Jan 30, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    hack golf is a joke. the sheer financial burden on players and potential players is the main reason of the decline. Think about it. We currently have a tour full of the most exciting players in the game, and we’re still losing members. Is it an interest issue? – i think not. Over the last “ten years,” a lot has happened to the financial industry, and thus, most of the golfing population. A world where you could once earn 15% on a savings account in the 70’s and pay next to nothing for a city membership is over. If they want to keep the game of golf growing, the hype is here – that’s not the issue.

    • Jonny Bravo

      Jan 30, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      why would this comment be awaiting approval?

  9. KCCO

    Jan 30, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I think it’s quite simple. I have lots of friends 18-34, most REALLY enjoy playing the game. Watching? Only when tiger is playing As for them diving in and completely taking up the game? For most I hear the same thing, it’s to expensive.

    I guess it all has a cause and affect. If the game were more affordable, more would play, in turn more would watch, thus making all aspects of the game more easily attainable. Majority of the group I speak of, borrow clubs to play 4 rounds at local muni, and watch when tiger plays. A very small percentage dives in completely, ie. country club, putting a reputable bag together (just meaning decent quality gear) a few outfits for the course, and could tell you who Luke Donald is. I wish it were more people, and easier to get into, but now that I think about it, it is expensive…I truly think that’s why this game lacks growth, and beside my once a week “group”, I’m playing with a new person on a decent amount of outings, and his make-up is 50 years+, 80k annual income, and 9 outta 10 times a great person. Just wish more could be done to get that younger crowd more involved.

  10. Evan

    Jan 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    So much confusing and conflicting information in today’s game. You want to fix it? Try telling Taylormade/ Callaway/ Ping to start promoting accuracy and selling drivers with 13 degrees of loft and 43 inches long for 90 % of golfers. Move courses back to 6000-6500 yards and place a premium on accuracy (which will also decrease maintenance $ and shorten rounds).

    That would just be a start!

    • Evan

      Jan 30, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      Here’s a crazy idea… instead of placing a limit on groove size (which is impossible to tell on a round to round basis or at an amateur tournament). Place a limit on Length of Driver (or longest club)… 43″. It would be very easy to regulate, even for amateurs and between that and 460cc/ COR manufacturing limitations, courses could be shortened and the average player would be more accurate and play faster.

      I see people every day pull out there new 46″ driver which the manufacturer says is the best driver ever made and yank it into the bushes 180 yards away. How hard is it to tell the person that they spent $400 on a driver that doesn’t address the hardest part of golf? Accuracy and Consistency…

    • Ty Webb

      Jan 30, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Tee it forward dude……

      • Evan

        Jan 30, 2014 at 10:48 pm

        Tee it forward requires guys to check their egos at the door… which most won’t. You can call it what you want, but most will still refer to forward tees as “ladies” or “seniors”. I have only met a couple people who will tee it forward because it makes the game more fun for them. Limiting driver length would help high handicaps hit the club face more consistently, shortening a course would tee it forward without having to have an individual admit that he needs to tee it forward. Average driver length on tour is 44.5″? They don’t advertise that, though… would ruin the distance marketing.

  11. mick

    Jan 30, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    The proper course of action is likely the opposite of whatever Mark King thinks is a good idea.

    • jason

      Jan 30, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      if they keep pushing hack golf you lose the core and then it will die …. why does a past time have to grow its a game….. sorry if your international business is only making 1 billion a year tm/adidas is ruining the game. by pushing there bottom line as growing the game… golf it not losing golfers it losing people buying new clubs or a least in the areas I have seen with my own two eyes

    • Rob

      Jan 30, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      HAHA!
      So true; SO true…

    • Mikey

      Feb 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

      + 1

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Forum Thread of the Day: “Best ball for players with slower swing speeds?”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from ghoul31 who created a thread dedicated to finding the ideal golf ball for players with slower swing speeds. Our members have their say on what is the ball most suited to slower swing speeds, with a variety of models receiving a mention.

Here are a few posts from the thread but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • Hogan9: “My SS is 80 to 85. I play the Titleist AVX. Many people on these forums tell it’s wrong for me. I’ve tried several brands and types over the last year ( Pro-V-1 and 1X, Cally Supersoft and Chrome Soft, TM TP5X, Wilson Duo Soft and the Snell MTB. The AVX gives me the best overall performance for my game. I’ve had to slightly adjust to how it reacts on chips and pitches, but the extra distance off the tee is well worth it. “
  • North Butte: “Maybe 90mph driver swing on a good day. Driver 205-ish hit 6-iron from 150. Pro V1x but I have played AVX, B330, TP5 with pretty much similar results to my favorite V1x. Also played the Chrome Soft for a while but it seemed to fly a little low and sometimes have trouble holding greens (or maybe I just didn’t give it a long enough chance to know for sure).”
  • Hat Trick: “Pro V1X – Spin and higher launch keeps it in the air longer, but at the same time that spin holds the greens – SS 96-98 mph.”
  • Kmac: “My SS is right around 95-100, and I find the QST to the perfect for my game. I will also play the AVX or Chrome Soft Truvis. But for the money, nothing beats the QST.”

Entire Thread: “Best ball for players with slower swing speeds?”

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Forum Thread of the Day: “Single length irons stunting development?”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from rbark11 who has sparked an interesting debate over single length irons in our forums. Rbark11 has been playing single length irons for the past seven months, and he is concerned that he may have issues changing back to regular length irons. Our members give their take on the matter, as well as discussing single length irons in general.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • mcs4: “No, it will not. Both my father and I are currently playing Cobra One Length irons after decades of playing variable length irons. It took both of us maybe a few rounds to feel comfortable with the switch. This weekend I played a round with my old irons, and it was different but not a big deal. My opinion is that there are pros and cons with each approach, but I don’t think picking one will make any particular negative impact on your ability to later switch to the other.”
  • Quadra: “I’ve played both. Right now I am back to VL clubs ( Wishon 560 irons). Find VL gives me more shot-making options. With uneven lies, especially with the ball above or below foot level, the shot seems easier with a more upright or flatter lie, rather than trying to manipulate a shot from clubs with only a single length/lie. VL = more shot possibilities.”
  • Aucaveman: “I played Cobra ftbo for a year. Shot my best scores ever. Our club switched to Mizuno exclusively, so I had my first real fitting. I switched to the 919 forged and had to sell the Cobras to fund the mizunos. Really wished I hadn’t. I really liked the Cobras. The shafts in the Mizuno’s are better suited for me but had I put the same shafts in the Cobras; I’d prob been better off. At some point, I’ll prob do it and go back to one lengths. I was perusing eBay yesterday actually.”
  • Brandons68: “I think that the consistency you gain from SL irons is pretty great. I have not played them personally, but have talked to several people that have, and they really like the feel of the irons and the fact that they swing every iron the same because they are all the same length.”

Entire Thread: “Single length irons stunting development?”

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Top 5 coolest things at the PGA Fashion & Demo 2019 in Las Vegas

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If you are doing an apples to apples comparison, the Orlando PGA Merchandise Show and The Vegas PGA show are on two different planets. It would be like comparing the Death Star to Marty McFlys’s hoverboard in “Back to The Future.”

However, the best thing about the PGA Fashion & Demo in Las Vegas is the laid back nature and quality time you get with the brands that show up. So, as I made my way around the Sands Expo at The Venetian, I did find some seriously awesome swag that will be coming out in the next six months…and oh yeah, Sherry Major, the woman who runs both shows, is a unicorn and deserves a street in her name.

OK, here we go.

DORMIE WORKSHOP MASTERS-INSPIRED HEADCOVER

The title says it all, the Nova Scotia, Canada-based creators do amazing custom pieces for not only individual clients but also for some of the most exclusive clubs in the country.

Cost: $100-$300

Check em out here.

G/FORE MG 4.1  

Let’s be honest G/Fore doesn’t miss much. I own a pair of the original release of the MG 4.1, and I get asked about them on the street allll the time. This new color and the rest of the new line will be quite the must-haves, I reckon. And yes they are REALLY comfortable on the course and in the street.

Cost: $185

Check em out here.

VINEYARD VINES MENS BELT

I’m not super familiar with VV, but these ridiculously well-crafted belts are not only awesome with the Shinnecock and Oakmont themes, but they remind me of the belts my old man used to rock. I’m all for the modern gear making its way into the market, but who doesn’t want an Oakmont belt?

Cost: $58

Check em out here.

DUNNING GOLF “PURE” ACCESSORIES

This is a cross-collaboration between Dunning, Imperial Headwear, Dormie, and others to promote golf as it is…PURE. The name represents so much and the simple high-end hats, head covers, etc. express the word that we say when something in golf is better than most and represents the essence of the game: It’s pure.

Cost: $35

Check em out here.

TOUR STRIKER PLANEMATE

Lots of buzz about the brainchild of David Woods and Tour Striker’s Martin Chuck. I have tried it, and I can honestly say it helps in multiple ways. Once you follow the protocol that they send, once you become an owner, you have a swing device that builds in the sensation of “shallowing” the golf club and you don’t need a teacher there yanking the club down to show you how to do it. I love working on things at home and this thing is a gem.

Cost $162.99

Check em out here.

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