ORLANDO, Fla. - With every handshake, the world gets smaller.
Forget six degrees of separation. In golf, it's more like two, maybe three. The game is so complex, so full of different but nevertheless overlapping areas of expertise, that the annual PGA Merchandise Show amounts more to a multi-day networking schmooze than a formal buy-and-sell bonanza.
Yes, equipment and apparel companies do interface with pros who are looking to stock their pro shops, but the overarching feel of the 2023 PGA Merchandise Show was more of camaraderie than commerce, more celebratory than salesy. After a slightly lethargic holiday season, it served as a refueling stop to set up the busy year ahead.
And though the vibes are important to us industry types, it's the products and services at the Show on offer that matter most to golfers. Which of them offer genuine promise to improve the golf lives of millions? Which will prove to be a colossal waste of consumers' money?
That's what I set out to find out every year. Here are my takeaways from the 2023 PGA Show.
4 weird and wonderful trends in golf equipment, apparel and other products
Every year, certain niches within the industry reveal themselves. In 2020, there were dozens of companies promoting CBD products at the Show. This year, I found none.
Here are four trends I did see from the 2023 PGA Show - two wonderful, and two weird:
WONDERFUL: Long-declining golf brand revivals like Snake Eyes continue
Lynx. RAM. Zebra. MacGregor. Golfers of a certain age will recall thumbing through monthly equipment catalogs and occasionally being intrigued at the offerings from these lesser-known companies. The crop of direct-to-consumer golf brands has long since supplanted these names of yesteryear, but they're gradually being brought out of mothballs to see if they can capitalize on some nostalgia and sell a few new clubs. Snake Eyes is back, too, with attractive $79 wedges among their offering.
WEIRD: Golf shirts, but louder
Remember when LoudMouth Golf shirts started outfitting John Daly, as well as the drunkest foursome at your local course? And everyone poked fun at their crazy shirts? If the massive, ever-growing apparel section of the Show is any indication, about 75% of golf apparel brands are now all-in on bright colors, loud patterns and prints, prints, prints. A trend-savvy friend of mine posited that this particular trend is a product of the pandemic, with many Millennial "frat bro golfers" entering the game and causing apparel companies to take note and take advantage.
WONDERFUL: Junior-specific golf products from Marie Birdie and more
Programs for juniors - with varying degrees of true effectiveness - have proliferated in my lifetime, and it was nice to see more brands focused specifically on the youngest golfers at this year's Show. With a not-quite-two-year-old daughter at home, I particularly appreciated the offerings from Garb, as well as Marie Birdie, an L.A. golf apparel startup exclusively for girls.
WEIRD: Pickleball, for some reason
I know Tom Brady and LeBron James are pumping money into this newly-surging racquet sport, but I still don't understand why it merits prime exhibition real estate at golf's main tradeshow. A handful of picklebrands and an ad hoc court were set up practically in the middle of the action. Sure, it's sliding in next to tennis at country clubs and resorts, but will there be golf exhibitors at the upcoming National Pickleball Expo? I doubt it.
The 2023 PGA Show's greatest and goofiest products
GREAT: Affordable 100% CNC milled putters from Meridian Putters
Quality, 303 stainless steel milled putters have often been premium offerings, but Wisconsin-based Meridian Putters makes its four handsome models available at a base price of $249. Not bargain-basement prices but very competitive with the large OEMs for something more boutique in scope.
GREAT: This DIY short-course kit
Short courses are all the rage in golf these days. BucketGolf's $135 backyard or beach pitch-and-putt kit comes with nine target barrels, tee markers, flags and wiffle balls. You can use your own wedges or buy game-specific ones to make things a little less intimidating for newbies, all while playing armchair architect.
GOOFY: Golf bags that want to be push carts
All-in-one products tend to suffer from Master-of-None Syndrome. By trying to solve multiple problems at once, they can create new ones. That seemed to be the case of two golf bags I saw at the Show, which come with wheels attached in an effort to render traditional push carts obsolete. The first one, called Revolve, doubles as a carry bag, but the built-in wheels inflate its weight to more than 10 pounds, or about double that of a normal carry bag. At more than 20 pounds, New Zealand-based Logan Golf's offering is even beefier, and at a retail price of $699, it ends up being more expensive than most combinations of golf bag and aftermarket push cart.
GREAT: This comprehensive training aid
Martin Chuck is a dual-threat in golf instruction; he's both a great teacher and an inventor of numerous helpful training aids. His latest, the Golfer's Toolbox, can be deployed to help various aspects of your full swing and your putting stroke.
GREAT: This artisanal golf club wrench
Do you need a hefty, hand-forged $145 wrench for adjusting your driver when the company that made it probably included one for free? No, you don't. But if you buy Seamus' "The Crank," will your local club fitter envy you forever? It's a distinct possibility.
GREAT: These fuzzy, formidable headcovers
There were fewer headcover makers at the Show than in years past, but they still added a pop of creativity in several spots throughout the exhibition hall. The Patagonia fleece-inspired headcovers by Duck & Cover caught my eye.
GOOFY: The Brim Buddy sun-hat adapter
Two-tiered greens? Sure. A two-tiered hat thanks to a donut-shaped fabric halo on top of a normal hat? No thanks.
GREAT: The CaddyTalk Cube
This new rangefinder from a Korean company uses triangulation to enable golfers to determine the distance between two discrete points in the distance. The idea is that you could stand on a tee box and measure the width of a fairway at different points, informing your club selection.
GOOFY: This secondary rangefinder for close-up measurements
Who's away? This $199 rangefinder purports to answer the question. That feature is interesting but it'll come in handy maybe once or twice per round. Mostly, it'll slow down play while players pass it back and forth and it's just one more item that could be left behind in the golf cart on a given day. A pricy solution in search of a rare problem.
GREAT: Golf Drawn shirts
Architecture geeks love looking at routing plans. So why not put them on a shirt?
GREAT: Oldgolf.club's repurposed clubs
What happens to decades-old, forgotten golf clubs? One Atlanta-based craftsman is turning the heads into bottle openers, and the shafts and grips into s'mores sticks and fire pokers. It's a little kitschy, but it's also a nice way to repurpose someone's beloved old 6-iron.
GREAT: ECCO goes classic
ECCO disrupted the golf shoe market more than a decade ago by helping make the sneaker look acceptable on the course. So while it may seem odd that the Danish company is putting its beloved yak leather onto a classic silhouette, it's hard to complain once you see it. It's beautiful. Don't worry, though - ECCO is still making excellent casual-looking shoes, too.
GREAT: Aldo Brué golf shoes
Italy debuts as a "golf country" in 2023 when the Ryder Cup comes to Rome for some of la dolce vita, at least for the winning team. This brand is not as well known for footwear as, say, Pradas or Ferragamo, but their casual golf sneakers are handmade in-country and look awfully nice.
GOOFY: TetraGram putter
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of this Italian putter. Unsettlingly light, and with a perplexing alignment aid, it's a safe bet that no one competing for either team at Marco Simone Golf Club will be gaming one of these.
Thanks for the interesting tour of the show - cheers.