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Day Three at the PGA Merchandise Show

by Tony Dear

The Friday of PGA Show week gives the best indication of the state of the industry. On Wednesday, probably only half the people registered for the event will be present and everyone wants to hit the new clubs. Inevitably there’s a sense of anticipation and excitement which continues all the way through Thursday when it feels like anyone and everyone who ever swung a golf club descends on the OCCC.

Jim Frank, former editor of GOLF Magazine who now blogs about the game, said today’s buzz, or rather lack of it, was only to be expected.

“Everyone was so hyped up yesterday as they are every year, but you can sense the drop in interest today,” he told me. “There’s probably more business going on today than there was this time last year, but not much.”

Not everyone saw it that way, however.

Ryan Ballengee, who writes for NBC Sports, says the atmosphere was markedly more upbeat than it was twelve months ago. “I think there’s noticeably more media here, both traditional and non-traditional,” he said. “And I think it’s a bit busier down on the floor. There seems to be more vendors, and some of the booths are bigger and more elaborate than ever. I get the impression people think it’s coming back slowly.”

The official numbers of attendees, exhibitors, and media aren’t published until next week. Judging from the differing opinions of those I’ve spoken with, the numbers are obviously going to be very similar to last year’s.
What do I think? Uh, well, for now all I can tell you with any confidence is that, yes, the numbers will be very similar to last year’s.

Moore Confident about 2011

Ryan Moore was at the Show today, promoting the True Linkswear shoe he had a hand in designing, began  wearing at the Colonial last May and which features the ultra-thin “Ergo-Traction” sole that provides surprisingly good grip and stability while putting your feet incredibly close to the ground.

Decked out in shirt, tie, vest and Adams Golf hat, Moore had clearly recovered from the flu that forced him out of the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs last week and said he is looking forward to a really great year.

“It’s typical. I actually felt great a day or two after pulling out at the Hope,” he said. “It wasn’t the greatest start to the year, but I’m really looking forward to this season. I’m really happy with my clubs now (Moore signed with Adams in November though he had been using the company’s Speedline driver for two years), and feeling good.”
Build it and They Will Come

In November, it was announced that TaylorMade Adidas Golf (TMAG) had decided to participate at this year’s show after sporadic appearances this century, and in an effort to make the most of the curiosity and attention the new R11 Driver had created.

The word is the PGA of America made it easy for them to return, if you know what I mean, but of course there was less chance of getting an official line on that than Tiger Woods making an unexpected appearance at the Nike booth to sign autographs and yuk it up with the crowd.

The PGA of America was obviously relieved to confirm TaylorMade’s return…and boy did TaylorMade ever return. The manufacturer’s decision came so late in the day, however, there was no room for it at the end of the convention center usually reserved for the likes of Nike, PING, Callaway, Titleist, Cobra, etc. who exhibit their latest products and conduct meetings with customers in booths that appear to have been designed by some serious architects.

So TaylorMade (along with Adidas and Ashworth, which was acquired in October 2008), got pushed to the other end of the building, as far from the other clubmakers as was possible, and in the part of the building where apparel companies are positioned. The fear was nobody other than TMAG’s existing customers would venture that far west.

But after building a 25,000-sq-ft “exhibit” (or, 11 times the size of my entire house) complete with restaurant, hitting bays, putting greens and extensive meeting space, the people most certainly came. The hitting area was so large it enabled six players, whose shots were analyzed by launch monitors, to test the white-crowned R11 and Burner Superfast drivers, similarly-modified fairway woods, the Burner 2.0 irons and Penta ball. At one point this morning, the line of people waiting to try the clubs numbered about 100 and apparently there was considerably more interest yesterday. The R11 hits stores next week.
Cinderella Story
One of my favorite booths this week was #2978, where artist David O’Keefe was stationed. Commissioned by Par Aide, the ball-washer company, to create a caricature of the Caddyshack cast, O’Keefe spent eight months creating a quite brilliant work that has been creating significant interest at Florida country clubs. O’Keefe, whose work has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, MAD and on the pages of TIME Magazine, is based in Sarasota, Fla. and spent 26 years at the Tampa Tribune. David was in his booth this morning working on another stunning cartoon, this one of Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry. As he worked on Harry’s Magnum 44, O’Keefe told me he didn’t go to art school and really had only one major influence – Peter Paul Rubens, a 17th-century Flemish-Baroque painter who, if memory serves, specialized in painting naked women with large behinds.
I couldn’t quite see the link between the Caddyshack caricature and “Venus at the Mirror” for example, but then art history is hardly my strong point.