PGA Show returns in person with 'boutique feel'

With numerous big-name companies sitting this week’s 69th edition out, others are viewing the Orlando gathering as an opportunity


Marc Simon has been to every PGA Show in Orlando since 1998, but his streak of attending the largest annual global gathering of head and assistant pros, industry leaders and golf brands now carries an asterisk.

Simon, PGA Golf Exhibitions vice president and a member of the PGA Show’s management team for more than two decades, was one of thousands last year to attend the event virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, although scaled down somewhat from previous years, the excitement of in-person connections occurring on the show floor of the Orange County Convention Center Floor are truly measurable in golf circles.

“There is nothing like walking down the main aisle of the show and running into that golf pro you haven’t seen in 15 years,” Simon said. “You can’t replicate that virtually. There is a sense of excitement, optimism, and for the industry a real chance to take advantage of all the positives that are out there. If we can capitalize on these trends long term it’s going to be really great for everybody.”

The PGA Show kicks off on Tuesday with the 19th PGA Show Demo and Fitting Day at
Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, Fla., then moves to the OCCC for the remaining three days.

Few industries survived the pandemic better than golf. Many states permitted play the last 24 months while other leisure businesses such as restaurants, cruises or resorts were shuddered by virus mandates or safety concerns, or both. 

Golf participation numbers have skyrocketed across all age brackets the last two years, leading to an unprecedented rallying point the sport hasn’t seen in more than a decade.

“There is so much interest in the game, positive factors that came about as a result of the pandemic,” Simon said. “And we all need to ask ourselves ‘How do we capitalize on those positive trends, learn from them, and be able to attract and retain golfers?’ It’s an unprecedented opportunity for the industry, with the fitness component to golf, the outdoor component to golf. How do we learn and take advantage of the metrics that are now in place?”

Normally, around 1,000 vendors vie for space on the show floor, but with virus concerns still relevant, that number will be reduced to around 600 brands this week. And with some companies on hand such as Bridgestone, Club Car, Cobra/Puma Golf and Ping, a number of the larger golf firms — Callaway, Titleist, Mizuno, TaylorMade and TourEdge, to name a few — will still be sitting this one out. With some companies still working virtually, sending dozens of employees to an event such as the PGA Show isn’t an option at this point.

Such dynamics open up an interesting opportunity for what would best be described as “boutique brands,” smaller companies who are trying to make a name in the golf industry or take that next growth step.

One such company making the cross-country trip from Washington state to Florida is True Linkswear, a small but growing firm that specializes in footwear. True Linkswear vice president of sales J.D. Rastovski said he and eight others from the company will attend, believing the PGA Show is an invaluable resource, especially since True is embarking on a new wholesale campaign.

“With COVID, if you looked across America and across every industry there were companies and industries that just gave up, put their hands up in the air and said ‘We can’t do this, it’s not going to work for us, it’s too dangerous, it’s not going to work,”’ Rastovski said. “And then you saw a lot of other companies and industries really pivot and be like ‘How can we do this safely and how do we take this and turn it into an opportunity?’ So, for us, as long as our team was on board, we asked ourselves how can we turn the PGA Show into an opportunity, and for us that’s exactly what this is.

“In years past you would meet people and they would say ‘I just don’t have time to stop by your booth, there are too many people to see, too many exhibitors, we just don’t have time,”’ he added. “This year, legitimately every exhibitor and attendee will have time to meet each other. Out of three days you will have a chance to see everybody and you just couldn’t say that in years past. So, being a decently well-known boutique brand — we’re not a nobody anymore — I think we’re going to get a decent amount of attention and it is going to be a pretty big hit for us.”

Partners on the show floor are seeing some crazy challenges with logistics and supply chain shortages, but still are ready to roll out the latest and greatest golf offerings to a captive audience, Simon said.

“People who are there are really motivated to do business, are really excited to be back,” Simon said. “If you are going to an event at this point you are absolutely going to be focused on accomplishing your objective and doing what you need to do when you’re at that event.”

“Last year, golf courses could buy from us but all we really did was answer the phone,” added Rastovski. “Now, we’re on the offensive, so the PGA Show means everything to us.”

On the front lines interacting with millions of golfers the last 24 months, PGA professionals remain the core of the PGA Show. Whether it was virtually last year or the 69th edition in 2022, it remains the world’s doorway to the game’s future for many of them as they gather to network and test the newest products, programs and ideas to inspire innovation, create solutions, and build business and passion for the game.

And to say hello again – in person.

“When people get together there is something magical that happens,” Simon said. “The pros have missed that camaraderie. They have connected with their local community during the pandemic but they’re really missed that national gathering and connecting with their peers from other parts of the country, to talk about best practices and to re-connect.”