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Bright Times Ahead for Golf Industry? Well, Brighter Perhaps

by Tony Dear


Manufacturers, retailers, golf course owners, and club professionals will tell you 2009 was a pretty miserable year for the golf industry. The Pacific Northwest didn’t fare nearly as badly as other parts of the country in terms of rounds played (barely one percent down compared with over three percent down in Florida), but reports from pro shops and off-course stores in our area show retail sales here were hit every bit as hard as they were elsewhere.

Some of the exhibits at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January. (Photo courtesy PGA of America)


Nationwide, sales of clubs, balls, shoes, bags and other accessories at green-grass sites (on-course) were down over 10 percent from 2008. Large retail stores away from the golf course put up even worse numbers. And on January 26th, a day before the start of the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla, Callaway Golf released some fairly shocking 2009 sales figures showing it had sold “only” $951 million worth of golf equipment compared to $1.1 billion in ’08 – a drop of 15 percent. It was with good reason, therefore, that most exhibitors at this year’s show feared the week might turn into one long pity party.

In fact, the opposite was true.

Of course, many alluded to how tough last year – the last two years, actually – had been, but the message emanating from the Orange County Convention Center was one of optimism; cautious optimism certainly, but optimism nonetheless.

“I think the industry could see very modest growth in 2010,” said Gary Makar, CEO of Sundog Eyewear, which makes sunglasses for Hunter Mahan, Mike Weir and Paula Creamer. “We certainly were not hearing all doom and gloom stories. Most people I spoke with were actually very encouraged. But we obviously need to proceed carefully; we need to wait and see.”

Makar’s sentiments were echoed by virtually every manufacturer we spoke with. Stewart Green, CEO of Data Design Interactive (DDI), an entertainment software developer headquartered in England which recently launched the “My Personal Golf Trainer” for Wii users, was even more excited by what he saw. “We had an unbelievably successful show,” he said. “Our product, developed with David Leadbetter and IMG Academies, gives biometric feedback on all aspects of the user’s swing and their body’s weight shift. We took orders from golf pros, training facilities, promotions companies and distributors. We are excited by the opportunities for growth in what we see as a buoyant industry full of possibilities.”

The opening day crowd waits in the lobby for the doors to open at the PGA Merchandise Show in
Orlando in January.

(Photo courtesy PGA of America)

Use of the words “buoyant” and “full of possibilities” in describing the industry was certainly several steps further than most manufacturers were willing to go, and perhaps not totally unexpected from a newcomer that hasn’t experienced recent losses similar to those seen by others. But to hear a company new to golf speak of it in such terms is surely good news for an industry in dire need of hope.

DDI wasn’t the only first-timer at the Show picking up the positive vibes. Dawgs Golf, a manufacturer of lightweight golf shoes with offices in Saskatchewan and Nevada, arrived unsure of what it would find, but left having picked up dozens of domestic orders and six from international distributors. “We had great traffic and lots of media interest,” said CEO Steve Mann. “And we met numerous customers serious about looking for new products.”

Bainbridge Island’s (Wash.) Lucia Olson who makes golf-themed jewelry came back to Puget Sound likewise inspired. “I had a wonderful time and met many great people who provided creative and positive feedback,” she said. “The show was well run, well attended by all levels of the industry it seemed, and definitely worthwhile.”

Not surprisingly, the PGA of America, which owns and runs the show, made the most of this positive atmosphere, publishing a post-event press release that claimed the level of attendance had “turned economic question marks into exclamation points for the remainder of 2010,” and that the “40,000 PGA Professionals, retailers and industry leaders from every U.S. state and 76 countries in attendance demonstrated a guarded optimism while using the Show as a springboard from recession to recovery.”

Ed Several, Vice President and General Manager of PGA Golf Exhibitions added, “The Show floor was robust and we were very pleased with the support of the industry from the exhibitor and PGA Professional perspective. The goal of our exhibition was to produce a world-class business-to-business platform and set the tone for the industry in 2010. By all barometers, from what we saw in Orlando, 2010 has potential for a bright business future.”

Hot air? Possibly. But you only had to be a fly on the wall at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show to know the golf business is picking itself up off the floor, dusting itself off and, if not starting all over again exactly, then at the very least making the best of a bad situation.

Tony Dear is an editor and golf travel writer from England who’s lived in the Northwest for four years. He recently published the book, “The Golfer’s Handbook.”