Few attendees at the annual PGA Members Gathering in Orlando

ORLANDO – These are wonderful times to be part of the golf industry. Rounds played are up, equipment is selling like hot cakes and teaching professionals have never been busier. All it took was a global pandemic to make golf popular again.

Now is not the right time, however, to be in the convention and exhibition business. The 69and The PGA Show, the largest annual gathering of PGA members and the international golf industry, returned to an in-person show, but that was only a shadow of what it used to be.

None of the major OEMs – Callaway, Cleveland/Srixon, Cobra, Ping, TaylorMade, Titleist – or apparel manufacturers – Polo, Summit Brands, Peter Millar, Travis Matthew, Ahead – have decided to participate.

Instead of nearly 10 miles of exhibit aisles and about 1,000 exhibitors, the Orlando County Convention Center used a much smaller footprint for the 600 companies that registered, and attendance at what is usually the biggest day of the show looked like closing time on Friday. On the bright side, parking was easier and concession lines for lunch were non-existent. And the smaller footprint meant less wear on the feet

The PGA Show, which began in car trunks at a winter golf tournament in 1954, was doomed by a perfect storm. COVID-19, of course, was the main culprit. The timing of the show, January 25-28, couldn’t have been worse. Six months ago, it looked like the country was going through the worst of the global pandemic and the annual industry gathering would put all the systems in motion. Then the Delta variant arrived followed by Omicron. Experts predict this could be the peak week for COVID. Companies planning to participate dropped out as the date approached despite Reed Exhibitions’ desire for flexibility bordering on desperation.

The 69th PGA Show at the Orlando County Convention Center in Orlando, January 2022. (Photo: Jason Lusk/Golfweek)

The reality was that too many companies weren’t comfortable asking their employees to travel to what some perceive to be a widespread event. As one Titleist executive said, how could we ask our employees to come to the PGA Show when our offices are still closed? It is a sensible decision in these uncertain times.

The other contributing factor is that many of the major companies are producing more than ever before, but are burned out and cannot make new goods to sell fast enough. The combination of supply chain issues being real and most businesses thriving during the pandemic made it easy to quit.

One of the few major equipment players on the show floor was Bridgestone, which brought in its employees from Georgia. Dan Murphy, president and chief executive of Bridgestone Golf, said it was strange exhibiting in a room without his competitors, but he loved having many of his best clients among the club’s 5,000 professionals who are entered into the event basically all to themselves.

“It’s a time when people are going to stadiums to watch games and schools are back, so we think it’s appropriate to be here and be careful about that and support the business. and keep it running smoothly,” he said. “We don’t mind zig-zagging when everyone else is zagging.”

But Bill Hughes, longtime PGA professional and general manager of the Country Club of the Rockies in Colorado, summed up his brothers’ sentiment by saying, “I’m afraid these companies aren’t seeing the speed of return on investment.” It’s kind of a fork in the road. There may be an account to be rendered. »

Is this a year-long COVID blip? Or has COVID exposed the fatal flaw of the PGA Show: that a January rally no longer matches product launches. I asked a Show regular how does he measure if he had a good show or not.

In terms of alcohol, of course, he cracked. This, after all, is a working holiday for many PGA Pros, and for some a veritable spring break. (Apologies to all those North East pros who were expecting to work on their tans and were greeted by rain and temperatures that barely cracked 50 degrees. The weather also turned the demo and build day into a outdoors from Tuesday into a bust.)

Greg Nathan of the National Golf Foundation said he judges success by his dance card, which is full of appointments with clients and partners. Many commercial and educational broadcasts will still take place this week. The Show remains – alongside the Masters and the British Open – among the best networking opportunities in golf.

But here’s the catch: if a golf company didn’t go to the show this year, it means that by the time the next one arrives, it will have been at least three years since they last attended. There will also likely be three years in which the company has done better financially than when it last participated. Its reps and employees figured out how to make Zoom calls and local broadcasts. It’s been three years since they figured out how to work without the show and now they’ll be asked to shell out quite a bit of cash.

Equipment makers opting out this year suggest the industry voted against an in-person show during a global pandemic, but the fact that 13,000 pros have signed up suggests the industry still wants to come together. The elephant in the room is what will happen next year. Will exhibitors want to have a big presence again and will they be willing to pay the price? Or has The Show outgrown its relevance? Could this be the beginning of the end for the PGA Show?

We’ll have a better idea next year, but for now the show must go on.

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