The 2017 PGA Merchandise Show has come and gone. Dale Hayes was Compleat Golfer’s man in Florida and this is his experience.
Golf has certainly turned the corner. No longer can people say the game is dying because it’s too expensive, takes too long to play or is too difficult.
In many markets around the world, rounds of golf are once again on the rise. The naysayers may point out that the likes of Nike have gotten out of the golf business, but truth be told, they never made golf equipment as well as they made shoes and clothing.
You will also hear that golf clubs are still struggling, but to be fair, in the US and South Africa, far too many new golf courses opened. For the first time in history, golf courses opened and we were trying to find people to play on them, but I think that is naturally levelling off.
Golf is a multibillion-rand industry in South Africa and has created many thousands of jobs, far more than any other single sport. That goes right across the industry, from the ‘back-end’ of the golf-course and driving-range facilities, through to the ‘front-end’, where we have consumer-driven demand for equipment, clothing and accessories.
Golf must be the only sport where there are so many items that can either improve your game or simply make it more fun to play – and the PGA Merchandise Show caters for us all, putting everything and anything to do with the golf industry on display under one roof.
If you wanted to see all 1 100 exhibits at the 2017 show, you would have had to walk 10 miles around the Orange County Convention Center. Forty-thousand people from the golf industry travelled there this year from all corners of the globe to see what was new in the golf market.
THE BUSIEST STAND
Callaway Golf is flying. It not only has a wonderful range of products, it also has one of the more exciting drivers, called the Epic. This is in the golf bag of Rory McIlroy. Need I say more?
Volvik, a Korean golf-ball company that sells brightly coloured golf balls, has signed up Bubba Watson and he was at the show creating a major buzz around the product. Bubba will use yellow, orange and green balls in tournament play.
Runner-up: TaylorMade, who announced on the opening day of the show that Tiger Woods will use its equipment.
MOST UNIQUE PRODUCT
The new Cobra King F7 driver is integrated with Cobra Connect Technology, which allows golfers to track their driver distances and accuracy. The software fits into the top of the grip of your driver and provides the information via an Arccos App, plus you get GPS information on over 40 000 international golf courses.
IRONS FOR MID- TO HIGH-HANDICAPPERS
The Callaway Steelhead XR irons and the Ping G Series have heads that look easy to hit; massive sweet spots and offset to help straighten out that slice.
IRONS FOR THE GOOD PLAYER
I’m going with the Japanese brands, Srixon, Miura and Mizuno. This is high pressure to put them ahead of Ping, TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist and Cobra, but Japanese-forged irons are tops.
Bob Vokey is the man when it comes to wedges. His wedges are always a work of art. I also like the Cleveland wedges, where Hideki Matsuyama has had some influence and they have changed their shape slightly.
Ping’s new line of Sigma G putters features an insert that, no matter whether you strike the ball in the middle, on the toe or the heel, makes it go the same distance. Most three-putts are caused by the first putt being hit too hard or too soft. This putter will help with that.
This was definitely the year of the shoe. New companies were everywhere and the competition is fierce. FootJoy still leads the way and has an incredible range of shoes that would suit every golfer. Nobody does it better.
This is an interesting segment of the golf equipment business, simply because making good golf balls is easier than ever. This means there are many more excellent golf balls on the market. For now, though, the market leader is still Titleist with its all-new
Pro V1 and Pro V1x. But it is going to have to work hard to keep its No 1 spot.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Wilson Golf, which was a massive golf company in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, is making a huge comeback. It did a promotion,
or reality show, on Golf Channel in the US, called Driver vs. Driver, where a member of the public could design a driver. The winner not only got $500 000, but Wilson would produce the driver for sale. The new club is called the Triton driver and is in its range for 2017, along with some other beautiful clubs and balls.
PXG, which was started by Bob Parsons, a billionaire, is making waves with its very expensive golf clubs. Parsons has more than a dozen top pros on the men’s and ladies Tours using the clubs, but he refuses to go to the PGA Show. He maintains that his brand is a ‘lifestyle brand’ and not a ‘golf brand’. Surely you fish where the fish are? Why advertise in magazines that sell a million copies, but where only 100 000 of the readers are golfers? When you consider a golf magazine, you know every reader is a golfer. But then, he’s a billionaire and I’m still working, so what do I know?
The Ben Hogan Company was put into bankruptcy during the PGA Merchandise Show. It relaunched about two years ago and was making irons and hybrids. Ben Hogan irons were among the best you could buy between 1955 and the turn of the century.
There are clown golfers, trick-shot golfers and celebrities everywhere, from John Daly, Bubba Watson, Annika Sorenstam and Greg Norman to Colin Montgomerie, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Bob Toski and David Leadbetter. It’s always nice for me to catch up with players who played on the Tour in the 1970s and ’80s, like Greg, Peter Jacobsen and David Feherty. But this year I chatted for a few minutes to Chi Chi and we had a good chuckle. He is one of golf’s greatest characters, in the same mould as Simon Hobday. And it’s always fun to chat to David Leadbetter. He’s so passionate about the golf swing you can get lost in the topic. Roger Cleveland is one of the most knowledgeable golf equipment designers in the game today. He started Cleveland Golf and now works for Callaway. Ten minutes talking to him about wedges and even I can’t wait to go out and hit a few chips.
– This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine