ORLANDO, Fla. - The thousands of golf-industry wonks who attended the 2020 edition of the PGA Merchandise Show had little idea that it would be the last big one for a while. That event predated the onset of the COVID pandemic by just over a month.
The 2021 edition was effectively canceled - a few online meetings were held - but 2022 saw a return of sorts. Not to normalcy, certainly, but a gesture in that direction.
There's no way around it: Demo Day, the annual pre-Show show held on Tuesday at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge, was dismal. Just 40 exhibitors turned up, with no big equipment companies among them in any formal capacity. It didn't help that temperatures were in the low 50s, with on-and-off rain all day. Speaking selfishly, I've never had a more efficient Demo Day experience, and there were a few items of note.
After a tame Tuesday, I was concerned that the Show proper would be a bust. The last full week in January is my favorite of the year for reasons beyond the commercial. Sure, it's fun to look at all the products and services being pitched to the industry, but the real attraction is the people: old acquaintances renewed and new connections made amid days of nonstop golf talk.
No sooner had I stepped off the shuttle bus from my hotel than I received a big reassurance in the person of Ken Doyle, the longtime head pro - now head instructor and pro emeritus - from Hop Meadow Country Club, the Connecticut course where I learned the game. Ever since my first Show in 2012, I had run into Mr. Doyle at some point during the week, pausing to chat with him and catch up a bit. His being the first familiar face I recognized this year energized me for Wednesday and Thursday.
3 golf product themes from the 2022 PGA Show
Physical wellness - percussion massagers and more
Golfers are athletes, and as fitness continues to be a focus of elite players, its implications on the game continue to filter down to the rest of us. Multiple brands that make percussion massagers exhibited at the Show, including Theragun, HyperIce and Jawku, exhibited this year.
Better late than never, golf's stakeholders continue to realize that telling the story of the game's appeal to wider audiences will not only benefit people by exposing them to a game we love, but it will also expand companies' customer bases. It's a rare confluence of smart business and overall ethics. Stix's affordable clubs and Urquhart's adjustable club help address economic barriers to golf, while Black-owned brands like Deuce Premium appeal to golfers who have long felt forsaken by the game's mainstream fashion aesthetic.
Big and bold golf fashion
As hard-to-believe as it may have seemed a decade ago, LoudMouth Golf proved to be on the cutting edge of golf fashion. What used to be an exception that proved the rule about golf's conservative style vibe is now one of countless companies that give gregarious golfers license to let their freak flag fly on the course, and not just with their shirts and pants.
2022 PGA Show: Coolest and goofiest golf products
Even though this year's PGA Show didn't have nearly as many exhibitors or miles of aisles as previous years, there were still several interesting products, some noteworthy for genuine utility and others for at-times baffling oddity. Here's a final rundown of what I liked, and what made me chuckle a bit, including the least appealing single product I've encountered in a decade of PGA Show attendance.
Cool: Anti-fog sunglasses
These shades from adidas have small, subtle vents in the tops of their frames, which help airflow and minimize condensation. Golfers on hot, humid days should appreciate this feature
Goofy: The ZoomBroom
Speaking of airflow, this leaf blower is geared toward golfers playing fall golf who are annoyed by fallen foliage in their way on the greens. Clever concept but ultimately the ZoomBroom still seems too bulky to be reasonably portable, even for storage in a golf cart.
Cool: Wall of bag tags
This is less a product shout-out than a presentation one. DaTono, which makes golf course bag tags, displays its wares proudly on the center aisle of the PGA Show floor. Any true golf nut is obligated to spend five minutes gawking at all the different logos. Extra props for DaTono's website looking like it's unchanged since the 1990s.
Goofy: Gimme Tape
No doubt the well-intentioned inventors saw a way to keep things on the up-and-up in a match or scramble outing. I can't help but see an extra item to schlep around and another reason for golfers to take too long to putt out.
Cool: Gruve Shoppe
When you're hitting range balls and take a divot, you instinctively brush the dirt off your club with the bottom of your shoe, don't you? If so, you probably know how insufficient a fix that is, This wedge-shaped brush might actually clean your club in between shots. Most golf inventions are solutions in search of a problem. This one is simple and potentially effective.
Goofy: Spring Tee
Want a solution in search of a problem? Here it is. These large cone-shaped plastic tees come with an anchor that keeps them from flying away. Of course, ordinary golf tees are so cheap and ubiquitous that losing or breaking one is no big deal. I could see this possibly being useful in indoor simulators, but I don't think I want to be staring down at the web-shaped tee and its extension cord regardless.
Cool: Old-meets-new golf apparel approaches
Scottish brand Lyle & Scott dates back to 1874, while Radmor is the brainchild of two former University of Washington golfers who launched their brand in 2021. What do they have in common? A measure of restraint that gives their not-quite-normal offerings some gravitas.
Goofy: Club Catcher
Every golfer has mislaid a club at one point or another, but is it such a widespread problem that we need to affix bulky knobs to the butt of every grip and use a mobile app to make sure we don't forget our pitching wedge by the 13th green again? May I never be so forgetful.
Cool: Sunday Golf bags
Slim, lightweight options for par-3 courses or throwback golfers gaming a half-set are more plentiful than ever, and this SoCal company is expanding on their initial success to offer an unfussy 14-club carrier this year, too.
Goofiest Product Ever: Tetragram Balance Putter
In the 10 PGA Shows I've attended, I've encountered some half-baked ideas, but this one is comprehensively terrible. Where to begin? The thing is extremely cheaply made - the head wiggles on the shaft, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the craftsmanship. Its supposed technology benefit is incomprehensible, as the toe-bulge and lines are purported to help you determine the length of stroke you need for a given putt. How? Finally, it's just plain ugly. If you game this putter, you deserve to be haunted by the ghost of Karsten Solheim for the rest of your days.