ORLANDO, Fla. — Another PGA Merchandise Show is in the books. 2020 marked the ninth straight annual gathering of the golf industry that I've had the good luck to attend. That streak dates back to my time in the advertising industry, working for golf clients in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The third full week in January remains one of my favorites every year because "The Show," as most know it, is as much a reunion as a place where substantial business is done. For us media types, it's a great opportunity to show the world what's noteworthy on the product side of the industry for the year ahead. Especially if you live in the northern two-thirds of the hemisphere, your golf budget for the year is probably starting to feel like it's burning a hole in your pocket. What's worth buying, and what's worth passing over?
Here's what I found interesting - for various reasons - at the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show:
Most years, Demo Day, held at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge's massive practice facility, including a circular driving range, is where the PGA Merchandise Show gets its momentum...or doesn't. In 2020, it was the latter, as the early part of the week was dominated by sunny but unseasonably cold and windy weather. As a result, Demo Day felt more like an obligation than a celebration. Countless golf pros coming from the north had to be annoyed to find the Sunshine State had gone frigid on them. Several exhibitors were even slow to get their booths up and running.
Still, I made two loops of the massive swath of turf. A few stray photos and thoughts:
2020 PGA Merchandise Show floor: coolest and goofiest
Every year, the Show takes over more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space in the Orange County Convention Center's West Concourse. Over the course of Wednesday, Thursday and about two hours Friday, I walked more than 30,000 steps in and around the Show, tracing a snaking path through most of the miles of aisles separating the booths.
One observation from this year: there are fewer true oddball products than there used to be. The early post-Recession years seemed to bring lots wild-haired inventors into the golf space, and as things have leveled out in the last few years, those same folks have either found success with their products, found other avenues or are out of the golf business. Still, I encountered a good handful of unusual products and pitches.
Best to start with a product that manages to be both cool and goofy. It's a pair of Speed Sticks, made by fitness equipment company Tsunami Bar. They're weighted and floppy, so it's easy to see how shaking them can help with core strength. Still, people look funny using them, don't they?
I was a little skeptical of this new style of bunker rake at first, but after hearing 1987 Walker Cup player and inventor Jim Sorenson explain it, I came away thinking it might be a good alternative to the "traditional" rake.
As much attention as the full swing gets from clubs and training aids, putting seemed to present a perfect microcosm of the PGA Show's offerings this year. Innovators, imitators and also-rans were everywhere.
As usual, just more than half of the exhibitor space was occupied by apparel companies. There's east-coast preppy, west-coast casual, tropical color and everything in between and beyond.
Attending the PGA Merchandise Show is something of an annual cleansing ritual. We who write about golf are sometimes guilty of living in a bit of a bubble. It can feel like the golf world is the only one that exists or matters. But navigating the notorious Orlando traffic to get to and from the Convention Center during Show week helps put things into context, and serves as a little bit of motivation to keep trying to spread the gospel of golf to others.
It's easy to look at the Merchandise Show as purely a consumer goods exposition, but the golf industry would not be the $70 billion entity it's become if the game itself were not full of virtue. These products that we see almost all come about because some golf nut saw an opportunity to add something to the game, and went for it. It can be a little dizzying at times, but the pursuit is an admirable one.
By the end of Show week, when my feet are aching, it's easy to start feeling a bit jaded, until I remember that there are millions of golfers who would treasure the opportunity to spend even an hour in those cavernous rooms. There is so much to see; here's just a sliver more: