Smaller PGA Show proves no less effective

Noticeable absence of numerous big-name brands at the 69th gathering in Orlando allows smaller companies to capitalize on opportunity to attract attendees' attention

Onform — 2022 PGA Show
Onform was one of about 600 companies to exhibit during the 69th PGA Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Fla.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The PGA Show is viewed by many as a jump-start to the upcoming golf season. This year, the 69th rendition of the massive gathering of everything golf signaled a little more, especially after last year’s event was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week was an opportunity to reunite after nearly 24 months of trying to sell products on Zoom calls or over the phone, a method that at times was beyond challenging for both manufacturers and golf professionals trying to stock pro shops.

It was also a chance to touch and feel items between your thumb and pointer finger, to talk shop face-to-face, to see old friends and make new ones in a business that successfully navigated through the virus and has some serious momentum heading into 2022.  

And for once, it appeared the small guy in the golf world came out on top in Orlando with a majority of the game’s biggest manufacturers choosing to sit this one out because of lingering virus concerns.

True Linkswear vice president of sales J.D. Rastovski could barely talk by the third day of the show at the Orange County Convention Center, his voice hoarse from lengthy conversations with clients and buyers wanting more information on the Washington state-based company’s new shoe line.

Ditto for Breakfast Balls director of wholesale Chris Joyce, who traveled from New Jersey to Florida to unveil the company’s new brand and line of printed shirts.

“A lot of people came here saying we were the footwear company they wanted to see, but when FootJoy is not here you have that ability to stand out a little bit more,” Rastovski said. “And because it was a smaller show I didn’t hear once that no one had time to stop by our booth. In fact, some people had extra time — stopping by two or three times. The pros who did come were really happy to see someone in person. To hear the excitement of everyone who wanted to see our brand and came to find us really validated that we did the right thing by coming to the show.”

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Sure, exhibitor brands were cut nearly in half from a typical year of more than 1,000 to around 600, with an estimated 15,000 industry professional on hand over the four-day event, which included a watered-down PGA Show Demo and Fitting Day Education Conference. But PGA of America president Jim Richardson was thrilled with the buzz coming out of the show.

“A lot of small or mid-sized vendors said the people who were here were here to do business and writing orders,” Richardson said. “We heard a lot of positives about where the game is at. I know it was a little different then pre-pandemic but there is a huge interest now in the business side of the game and the PGA Show is still the largest gathering for our industry.”

Not all large manufacturers were absent. Bridgestone Golf scaled down its on-site staff some, but ball fitting manager Adam Rehberg felt attending the PGA Show this time around was important on two fronts — for a new product release and to support the PGA of America.

“We wanted to launch Otto, which is golf’s first autonomous ball fitting cart, and to do that in person was much more beneficial than in a virtual release,” Rehberg said.

Rehberg said his smaller crew of about a dozen hopped in a van and drove to Orlando from company headquarters outside of Atlanta. He said more than 1,200 customers and clients participated in its new ball fitting cart demos.

“It was super beneficial for us to be here this year,” he said. “We really had a great week. We got a lot of traffic and people were very appreciative Bridgestone decided to come to the show. That showed in our numbers. We had our expectations as to what we thought would come through and it exceeded what we thought would happen.

“Some of our competitors dropped out at the last minute. Oh yeah, we had a lot of people come by our location and expressed some displeasure with some of the other ones pulling out who maybe could have sent some local people down here but decided not to do that. That’s their own decision, but it showed on our side this is important and we wanted to show our face. If it was important to the PGA then it was important to us.”

Bridgestone — 2022 PGA Show
Bridgestone Golf exhibited at the PGA Show to showcase its Otto ball-fitting machine, but also to show its support of the PGA of America.

Richardson noticed, too.

“I don’t think Bridgestone was only here doing business; they were here also supporting the PGA members, supporting the golf pros and that person’s business from around the country,” he said. “I know it’s about relationships when you’re building a business so being here at the PGA Show is also about supporting PGA members and what they do. Bridgestone was here supporting the game and it didn’t go unnoticed from a lot of the golf professionals; they were disappointed some of the other manufacturers weren’t here.”

Mark Devolder, a PGA member and an executive at the PGA Tour Superstore in nearby Windermere, Fla., said he gained much more perspective on the game than he had in previous, larger shows.

“I didn’t have any marching orders, so I was just here looking at what new apparel lines and soft goods were on display,” he said. “It was interesting seeing a lot of the smaller- or medium-sized brands that you really don’t hear a lot about. I took away what’s new and upcoming in the market out there.

“It’s incredible. Golf is really transitioning to up-and-coming companies creating a more fun environment; get on the golf course with your buddies or with your girlfriends and have fun. The merchandise here showed that.”

Gerry Maguire of Golf Ireland was on hand for his third PGA Show, and wanted to convey in his thick accent that one of the greatest golf destinations is “open for business.”

“There were less people but at the same time there was a great deal of optimism around the show, everybody realizes that golf is back big time, and the bookings from the tour operator points are starting to fly in,” he said. “It’s good news for everybody. It was nice to come face-to-face again and start planning for the future now that COVID has nearly left us, especially in Ireland where all restrictions have been lifted so it’s full steam ahead for us.”

The smaller, reserved feel was in stark contrast to previous in-person shows and that was missed — up to a point.

“I did kind of miss the hustle-and-bustle of all the equipment manufacturers and some of the big guns, but maybe this is one of those years where everybody catches their breath,” added Robbie Wooten, president of Impact Golf Marketing in High Point, N.C., who was attending his 26th PGA Show. “This year in particular was quite unique with all the folks who weren’t here, but there seemed to be more people wanting to conduct business, and I had much longer conversations with clients, colleagues or the media. Typically, you have about 10-15 minutes to cram things in and you are running around all over the show like a mad man — and you leave every day exhausted. It was kind of refreshing this year.”