It’s hard to believe the 2023 PGA Show was my first in four years. Coincidentally, it’s also been four years since I last wrote a PGA Show recap article. I can’t say that I missed the show although I do enjoy writing these recaps.
With that in mind, it’s probably best to start with the answer to a question that’s come up quite a bit lately: Why does Tony hate the PGA Show?
The summary version goes like this:
It’s poorly timed. With respect to equipment brands, there’s nothing we haven’t seen, nothing golfers haven’t seen and, from the business side, nothing that hasn’t been ordered already. Apparel and miscellaneous accessories are different animals but at the show’s equivalent of anchor stores, nobody is buying.
Also, for a guy in upstate N.Y., getting there has proven challenging over the years. My flights are delayed or impacted one way or another about 30 percent of the time.
I promise you that there are better places to spend an hour and a half than on the tarmac at Albany “International” Airport.
It’s inevitable that every year someone either arrives or leaves sick and food poisoning is all but included with your show badge.
So, I’m not entirely delighted to report that the PGA Show remains undefeated. Our video guy got a mild case of food poisoning (a chicken taco bowl was the likely culprit) and both Adam and I came home with colds.
For what it’s worth, with four years between shows for me, I’ll concede there’s an almost comforting wave of nostalgia that comes with the disease.
Food at the convention center is grossly overpriced. The $12 smoothies were the talk of the show and a small crepe and a bottle of Pepsi will set you back about $20. And no, it’s not because I’m being all bougie and eating crepes. Anything from a food counter paired with a bottle of anything else is going to set you back at $20 (or at least $19 and change).
All of that said, it also occurs to me that part of my issue with the show is how we’ve covered the show in the past. For the first several years, we were up most of the night uploading pictures to the forum and cranking out stories.
It sucked and was more of a grind than it needed to be.
Fortunately, even if the show hasn’t changed, we have and with that comes the realization that if the show experience is going to improve, it’s on us (and others) to change how we tackle the show.
With that out of the way, here’s the recap.
Golf’s 15K Tech Show
Technology—you know that stuff that requires electricity (or a battery)—has a bunch of flashing lights, an accessory app and just screams “digital age”, has taken over the show. Simulators, launch monitors, next-level putting greens, adjustable hitting mats and the occasional bit of consumer tech (the mobile launch monitor space is ready to explode) have taken over.
Some of it is really cool, some is worthy of head-shaking contempt and most of it is really expensive. Consumer stuff aside, $15,000 is a common entry point.
Simulator screens now occupy so much floor space that one long-time industry veteran took pause to think about what the show might look like without them.
Apparel would be largely untouched but what is, for us, the business end of the show would contract significantly.
Fortunately, the space occupied by screens (and large-scale putting toys) seems likely to expand. It feels like where things are headed.
Traffic Was Good*
Let’s start with the bad.
Demo Day was mostly abysmal. Bright spots included Kyle Berkshire bombing balls at COBRA and Brad Faxon on the Vokey chipping green, but with plenty of unoccupied space on the range at Orange County National, we found ourselves asking “Was that it?” after our first trip around. Another lap and we were out—our shortest demo day ever.
Foot traffic was notably light, though it may have picked up up in the afternoon when entry requirements aren’t as strict, but to say there was half as much going on as I remember would be a generous assessment.
The lone highlight was what I can only assume were a pair of influencers taking selfies outside the food trucks.
Hashtag Crepes. What a world (though the crepes did look good).
Nearly everyone I spoke with during the week had elected to skip Demo Day and, frankly, nobody missed much because of it.
Wednesday on the show floor was busy. With temperatures in the high 80s, there was plenty of incentive to spend the day indoors.
We weren’t elbow to elbow like it was some years ago but the 2023 show must be seen as a solid rebound, especially if your frame of reference was the 2022 show where Bridgestone was the biggest brand on the floor and, by all accounts, traffic was light.
By Thursday afternoon, traffic had dipped significantly on the equipment side (though the apparel side, where orders area actually written, was still brisk). None of us attended Friday’s half day (nobody we spoke with planned on it either) and it’s not a stretch to assume Friday traffic was light.
The show has gone from a three-day to a 2.5-day show and I think many would argue it should be a two-day show.
Still, if you’re in any way associated with the show, and I’d include myself among that group, you must be at least a little encouraged.
Despite the positives – and foot traffic qualifies as a positive – the place wasn’t packed. There was more empty space than any show I’ve attended. Some of it was filled with casual seating areas which was nice and, in some areas, there was more space between booths than I remember.
Still, I’ll reiterate that foot traffic was better than good.
The unknown here is whether 2023’s strong show is an indicator that the PGA Show is rebounding or simply a reflection of industry folk kicking the tires after what was, by and large, two years off.
I guess we’ll find out next year.
Chatter inside the larger booths suggests many aren’t totally sold on attending the show moving forward. “To support the PGA of America” remains the answer to the “Why are you here?” question but it’s almost invariably followed by a smirk and an eye roll.
So, as show contracts expire and others evaluate their year-to-year status, there is a real risk that the show could lose another anchor store or two.
If that happens, I don’t see how it continues in its current form.
I still believe the show needs to adapt. I don’t know what the answer is (Vegas would probably boost attendance) but I do know that the show is fundamentally the same as when I started making the trip more than a decade ago (and I’m sure many would say that other than the extinction of the booth babe, not much has changed in a quarter-century).
The reality is that the equipment side of the industry has changed dramatically in just the last five years. It’s almost odd that the largest trade show hasn’t.
How the Big Guys Did the 2023 PGA Show
Callaway seems to have taken the approach that if the show isn’t going to change, it’s going to do how it does the show. Shifting the focus from equipment to educating PGA professionals, the booth itself was relatively spartan.
Sure, you’ve still got banners to the ceiling which the occupants of adjoining booths find obnoxious but there wasn’t much gear in the booth (less temptation for thieves). A good bit of the Product Marketing and R&D teams stayed home.
Instead, the company ran a never-ending series of classes for PGA professionals inside the booth. The bottom line: Callaway focused less on itself and more on providing value to the PGA professionals in attendance. It’s hard to find fault with the approach.
Perhaps the company scaled down a bit, but the booth, and from what I could see, the traffic inside it, was respectable.
COBRA-PUMA Golf divided its brands across separate smaller booths. While on a personal level I didn’t love it (the PUMA booth was sooooo far away), functionally it makes sense.
Equipment and apparel might as well be separate shows, so with consideration for the audience (apparel buyers), it’s silly to put PUMA in an equipment booth at the wrong end of the show floor. Put the apparel brand next to the other apparel brands where the apparel people are.
Again, it’s hard to find fault with the approach.
Mizuno had a sensible mid-sized booth. The highlight was an early look at the upcoming MP-225 Black irons.
PING has never been one to go nuts at the show and so it didn’t.
PING’s booth has slowly contracted over the years. The best way to describe the booth is probably “simple”.
A splattering of meetings tables, pockets of gear here and there but nothing over the top or even near the top. We’re here, and well, that’s about it.
TaylorMade skipped the show (again). Never say never, but unless something fundamentally changes with the show itself, I don’t think they’ll be back.
Titleist products have changed but the booth is largely the same as it was 10 years ago. There’s something to be said for stability though it’s worth mentioning that the company debuted its “We Go Farther” docu-series. I assume that will hit YouTube and social channels before too long.
If you know whom to ask (I can give you his contact info), you can still walk out with some Pro V1s.
Other Notable Absences
In addition to TaylorMade, other notable equipment brands missing from the show floor included Wilson and Tour Edge. Yonex was there and, yes, the plastic was still on some of the clubs.
Old traditions die hard.
PXG skipped the show. That’s not surprising given that the company has never attended. When the brand launched, the company line was “Ferrari doesn’t attend the Detroit Auto Show.”
I’m not a big car guy so I’m not up to speed on these things, but given the shift in PXG’s pricing model, I can only assume that Kia doesn’t attend either.
While Nippon, LA Golf, and Graphite Design all had a presence, True Temper/Project X, Mitsubishi and Fujikura took a pass. I suspect business won’t suffer for it.
The “Hot” Driver Coming out of the 2023 PGA Show
The show has typically served as a bellwether for the driver market. The buzz was split relatively evenly between the Callaway Paradym and the PING G430. COBRA’s AEROJET is still flying under the radar (must be on final descent to Tallahassee) and there’s still a decent amount of chatter around TSR (despite most of the lineup being on the market for nearly six months).
We didn’t hear much about Stealth 2 and while that might mean something, it could just as likely be a reflection of the fact TaylorMade wasn’t in Orlando.
Some Other Cool Stuff
We already published our list of the Best Products of the 2023 PGA Show and I don’t think anyone is going to argue with our choice of the Wingman View Bluetooth speaker, except maybe half our audience, but I wanted to call some attention to some other cool finds.
FootJoy FJ Fit Lab
I’ve written about FootJoy fitting before. The Performance Fitting System from the 2016 PGA Show didn’t take off but the company hasn’t stopped trying to educate golfers on the radical concept of (checks notes) buying properly fitting shoes.
Using the Volumental FitTech platform, in less than 30 seconds FootJoy’s Fit Lab provided more insight into my feet than I thought was possible and, of course, recommended a few shoe models that should work well for me.
At the time the Performance Fitting System launched, the eye-grabbing stat was that 70 percent of golfers are wearing the wrong size shoe.
It turns out, I’m one of them.
As a result of the foot scan, I learned that my left foot is a 9.0 Wide, my right foot is a 9.0 Medium but I’ve been wearing 9.5 W for the last couple of years.
The scan also confirmed that I have high arches, slightly wide heels and above average ball width girth. I should clarify: the balls of my feet are of above-average girth.
Suffice it to say, I’ll be checking out HyperFlex (BOA, of course) this season.
Zen Green Stage
Another in a growing list of literal putting platforms, the Zen Green Stage can be adjusted in .1% increments up to 10 percent left to right and up to 8 percent up and down.
That 15-footer to win the Masters? You can recreate it (and probably miss it)
Like all the best toys, it’s expensive (let’s call it 40-ishK) but it sure would be nice to have one in the basement.
As an added bonus, it can be paired with PuttView to project putts on the green. A tilting hitting mat, the Zen Swing Stage, is also available.
KJUS Golf Apparel
You wouldn’t think that spending 45 minutes in an apparel booth being gently forced to try on a collection of outerwear that was at least a size too small would be an awesome experience but Chris Nickel enjoyed every minute of our time in the KJUS booth.
A bit of fortuitous timing put us in the hands of company president Brooke Mackenzie who squeezed me into and stepped us through a good bit of the 2023 outerwear lineup.
It’s mind-blowing how much thought and techology goes into rainwear – graphene, coffee (yes, coffee) and a ShamWow-like material, that offers all the technology and none of the felonies.
Did I mention they make a left-handed rain jacket? Some club companies barely make clubs for lefties.
At one point I made Chris stick his hand in my pocket.
Yeah, things started weird and stayed that way for the duration of our time with KJUS, but we had a blast.
KJUS isn’t the least expensive stuff on the market but it was so nice I considered trying to pilfer a couple of the undersized samples.
Call it motivation to slim down for the golf season.
2023 PGA Show – Final Thoughts
I didn’t hate the 2023 PGA Show. I’m not entirely opposed to going back.
You can chalk that up to the fact that we’ve changed how we cover the show. Things aren’t as hectic. And, not for anything. It’s a lot of fun spending a better part of a week with the MGS crew (even if half of us came home sick).
I still hope the show will change for the better, but if it doesn’t, I’ll ride it out, maybe even with a smile on my face. Just don’t expect me to eat a taco bowl.
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Handicap Police2 months ago
If the inflationary prices don’t come down somewhat in regards to flight, car rental, hotel, and food costs, it will get smaller and smaller. It’s bad enough outside the Expo where food is already exorbitantly expensive now in the US compared to other similar parts of the globe, to be forced to pay such stupid prices inside is ludicrous.
And don’t listen to the politicians telling you that it’s good business employing people to work the week setting up booths, driving people and moving freight etc – it’s all too darned expensive, considering, as you said, you had seen it all and there was nothing new on the equipment front, and the lack of effort put into Demo day is proof.
What they need to do is change the model and invite the PUBLIC (hahaha don’t @ me) who may want to pay to get in, who can learn about the business from the inside, meet some people. And with that, they should try to bring some celebs and big name players and do that whole thing. At least with the paying public coming in they might be able to make some extra cash that could go around. They don’t need to be so closed off to the public – after all, don’t they need the public to buy their gear???
But still….. seeing as things are getting more expensive to do, the travel and set up of the booths etc coupled with the food – even though they could all legit write it all off – it’s not worth the effort when they don’t have anything new to show. They need to re-schedule equipment releases.
Todd Tschantz2 months ago
How much equipment does XXIO have to sell to get noticed? Didn’t even get mentioned as part of Cleveland/Srixon. BTW they sold $365MM last year and will crush that this year.
Jacques Lemoyne2 months ago
I have been attending the PGA Show for two decades.
The Show, 20 years ago had to be accommodated by the surrounding hotels. The show has steadily shrunk. The cost to attend has increased over the years. One exhibitor that I spoke with, paid $80,000 for a 20×30 spot. $120,000 the build/assemble the display. For the work performed, some saw dust was on the floor. It needed to be vacuumed. The Orange County Convention charged $1,000 for the vacuuming.
Along with food, transportation and lodging the PGA Show is not a cheap date. As I said before, over two decades the show has shrunk annually. I do not believe that the OCC is exhibitor friendly.
My reason to attend the PGA Show is to interact with the engineers and developers of the clubs, shafts and grip. Example: Why are white grips heavier than black grips. To make a grip white you have to use titanium. Titanium is heavier than rubber and the feel changes … a little firmer and durable. That information was obtained from the owner/engineer of Star Grips. That is why I go to the PGA Show. I do not know where else I would get that kind of information. I spoke with the Vice President of UST Mamyia and the head of the TourSPX division. Spoke with Russ Ryden of Devoted Golfer. Russ worked for Callaway at one time and was producing videos with key people from the Company’s at the show. Russ shared some info about launch monitors and a data point on torque of a shaft.
Where else could I get al of this information in one location. Golfers need to be educated to understand why and how golf clubs work. There is value at the PGA Show.
EJW, PGA2 months ago
Just attended my 40th PGA merchandise show. I go back to the days when it used to be held at the Contemporary hotel in Disney World and each salesman’s hotel room was also their companies booth! That was definitely an experience to behold. The purpose of attending the PGA show has changed over the years most companies no longer wait until January to break out the new hardware, latest gadget or clothing line, that’s done in late Fall to capitalize on the Christmas buying season. The real reason for attending is the relationships, renewing old while forging new, it is the place to see and be seen. reconnect with friends and associates you probably only see once a year. at this Show.
The feeling and energy at the 2023 show was palpable. Many stated that it was probably the best in the last 10 years (some say 20, definitely a bit of a stretch). It will always be the place to meet in late January the place to gather and welcome the beginning of a new year and new golf season and… always great fun. As good friend and legendary sportscaster Jim Kelly calls it… “Its Chuck E. Cheese’s for adults!” Just do yourself a favor and go out for lunch!!
Gregg Juster2 months ago
I haven’t attended the show since I retired 5 years ago. I always enjoyed the demo day and the floor – looking for the off brand interesting stuff., especially teaching aids. Biggest disappointment is that the PGA store is no more. I used to save up every year to shop it.
PGA Retired Carolinas Section
Barry Jennings2 months ago
thanks for the clarification regarding ball width girth
Golfinnut2 months ago
“I’ve been wearing the wrong shoe size. Dumbass!” This was great! 🙂
I’ve never been to the show, but from what I gather, I’m not missing much.
Robert Neese2 months ago
This seems to be the norm with all trade shows. After working/attending Dental trade shows for over 45 years, there was a significant drop in attendance/participation by dentists and manufacturers prior to my retirement a few years ago.