While the daily propaganda blasts from show organizers might have you believe otherwise, I’m here to tell you that the 2017 PGA Show was an absolute sloth. With noticeably light traffic in the aisles and plenty of open space (both on the show floor and the range at demo day), 2017’s easily qualifies as the most depressing PGA Show during my time in the industry.
Take it for whatever it’s worth, but several of my media colleagues (and others I’ve spoken with from inside the industry) are in complete agreement. Call it a worse show on the heels of a bad show on the heels of a not so good show.
Bottom line; whatever the actual state of the equipment industry and the game of golf itself, the PGA Show is broken. It’s trending downward, and without some serious intervention, I suspect that’s going to continue until we reach the point where there is no point.
A sample size of one, but inside MyGolfSpy we’re already discussing whether or not we should attend the 2018 show.
That said, the show wasn’t all bad. It still provides an opportunity to pulse-check the industry and gauge where the companies that power it are headed. So with all that buildup out of the way, here is my take on the show, the trends, and other things on which you should keep an eye.
TaylorMade Won the PGA Show
Maybe that’s overstating it just a bit, but if you’re looking for the defining moment of the 2017 PGA Show, it was TaylorMade’s announcement that it had signed Tiger Woods to a long-term deal. Tiger will eventually play 13 TaylorMade clubs. For now, it’s just metalwoods in the bag, as the company willfully admits it’s going to take some time to develop irons and wedges that are suitable for the notoriously difficult Mr. Woods.
The announcement at 8:30 AM of Day 1 of the indoor session overshadowed absolutely everything else at the show. Lost in the Tiger news; Michelle Wie signed with Callaway, PING released its Sigma G line of putters, and Titleist formally announced a new generation of Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls.
All good stuff, but none of it escaped Tiger’s shadow.
A quick aside overheard inside the TaylorMade booth; Tiger tweeted his half of the announcement a bit early, which forced TM CEO David Abeles, who was in a meeting at the time, to step on the gas a bit in making the company’s official statement.
The TaylorMade/adidas situation is getting weird
And speaking of TaylorMade…while the PGA Show booths were side by side, for the first time I can recall, you couldn’t walk directly from the adidas booth to the TaylorMade booth. We’re talking a firm or at least a semi-firm barrier between the two brands.
While future ownership of the TaylorMade brands remains unsettled, it appears to be operating as an adidias company in name only. I would describe the current relationship between the two brands as married, but sleeping in separate bedrooms.
Metaphorically speaking, both sides are holding it together for the sake of the children, but there is a clear division between the two. While the addition of Tiger Woods is inarguably good for the TaylorMade brand, it has also served to expand the growing internal rift.
Two Nike apparel staffers are now part of the TaylorMade staff, and that’s an issue. I can assure you that the prominent display of the Nike Swoosh inside the TaylorMade booth (and within the company’s marketing efforts) isn’t sitting well with some on the adidas Golf side of the business.
The New Srixon
Call it something to keep an eye on, and it’s nothing I can quantify, but there was a decidedly different vibe coming from the Cleveland/Srixon booth. The fresh attitude likely stems from the significant amount of turnover within the company over the last year, but I’d be remiss not to point out the positive energy.
Granted, some of that probably comes from the free beer, but it’s perhaps noteworthy that Srixon threw the best booth party at the show...perhaps the best since TaylorMade was riding high.
The company is excited about its clubs – irons in particular – and its new ball. Whether or not any of that resonates with the consumer remains to be seen.
Is this real momentum, or unrealistic enthusiasm? As it often does, time will tell.
The USGA…Grumble, Grumble
The consensus within the industry is that the USGA’s smackdown of the Wilson Triton driver was total bullshit. The thinking is it was petty, ill-tempered revenge for Wilson having the audacity to put a product on the shelf without the expressed consent of golf’s fun police. God forbid, right?
The same is largely true with respect to the flap over Bryson DeChambeau’s putter. Again…asserting power for no other reason than because it can. My sense is that a majority of companies have grown sick of the USGA’s authoritarian policing of the equipment space.
Don’t expect anything to change, however. Most appear afraid of going toe to toe with the USGA and, I believe, all would prefer a competitor be first to wrestle with the agency.
Nearly everyone is pissed off, but no one is willing to actually do anything about it.
It’s Callaway’s World
It’s tough to get an absolute read on traffic through the Callaway booth given its strategic location in the epicenter of the PGA Show floor. Sooner or later, even if it’s by accident, everyone walks through the Callaway booth. It’s unavoidable.
That said, my sense was that Callaway had a most excellent show. Granted, the Michelle Wie announcement was overshadowed by Tiger. But traffic was steady, and no single product garnered more chatter than Epic.
Callaway believes it has something special, and I’m on record with my belief that it will be the best-selling driver of 2017…and that makes it all the more odd that Callaway had but a single launch monitor on the downwind range during demo day.
How good is Epic? I still have absolutely no idea.
Callaway Taking on Cameron?
If you didn’t take the acquisition of Toulon Design as a sign that Callaway was serious about trying to own the putter market, the addition of David Mills and the T.P. Mills brand might change your mind.
The market gap between Callaway (Odyssey/Toulon) and Titleist (Scotty Cameron) is much narrower than many believe and Callaway has proven it can erase large deficits in relatively short time.
Between Odyssey, Toulon, and T.P. Mills, Callaway can offer quality everywhere from the entry-level to premium markets, and with demonstrated best-in-class marketing, coupled with a changing ball market that will require more of Titleist’s attention, Callaway has a legitimate shot of taking over #1 in the category.
A Shift In the Launch Monitor Category
Like Callaway, Foresight Sports had an outstanding show. The new GCQuad drew plenty of attention and made Foresight’s booth one of the most trafficked of the week. Sufficed to say, word is spreading about the GCQuad and what it can offer instructors and fitters in terms of accuracy and consistency.
The company is going to be making a huge push into the market while putting significantly more effort into promoting what it sees as a clear technological advantage over radar-based units.
Big things are being promised.
We’re taking a wait and see approach, but with top instructors (“Trackman Guys” whose names you know) taking a long look at the technology, an industry-wide shift from radar to cameras is well within the realm of possibility.
Tyson Lamb is the Real Deal
Young Mr. Lamb spent his show in the Table Rock booth (formerly occupied by Scotty Cameron) where his putters sold briskly for upwards of $5000 each. If it wasn’t obvious already, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that Tyson Lamb has arrived as the next big thing in the high-end putter market.
Collectors already know his name and his work, and several OEMs are taking notice too. Opportunities are beginning to present themselves, and if he’s inclined to do so, Tyson could jump to the mainstream at any time.
But is milling for the man really how Lamb wants to spend his time?
Arccos Is Pulling Away
It was a slow year for digital tech at the PGA Show, and frankly, some of what was on display, wasn’t nearly ready for prime time, but Arccos was the clear exception.
With the announcement of its Course Analyzer product in partnership with Microsoft, Arccos established itself as a tier (maybe two) above anything else on the market right now. And with the kind of horsepower Microsoft brings to the table, it’s unlikely anyone else is going to be able to keep pace.
If you’re looking for a round/stat tracker, Arccos is clearly the technology leader right now, but guys, seriously, can we get the phone out of the pocket and maybe make it easier to mark the actual location of the flagstick?
Figuring Out North America
Perhaps the oddest trend at the PGA Show was the number of Asian companies who told us they’re trying to figure out North America. Honma, Yamaha, Epon, and others all used exactly that phrase while describing their efforts to penetrate the US Market.
Frankly, I’m not sure what there is to figure out. The market is oversaturated, and without a targeted approach to advertising and something truly special in the lineup (and I didn’t see that from anyone), opportunities to kick the doors open are limited.
I wish everybody luck, but I don’t see anyone breaking through in any meaningful way.
Where’d All the Shaft Companies Go?
KBS, Nippon, and Oban had booths. Graphite Design had a spot on the indoor range. Fujikura and Veylix had conference rooms. Others, like True Temper, Aldila, Matrix, MRC, UST, and upstart VA Shafts had no official presence inside the convention center.
Some pretty basic cost/benefit math has shown these guys that it makes much more sense to hold meetings in a hotel room, the lobby, or one of the remote and otherwise abandoned corners of the show floor than it does to overspend on a booth.
It’s Time to Shake Up the Show
The hottest trend at the PGA Show over the last several years is companies abandoning the PGA Show. Many are struggling to find the proverbial R on their I. For a growing list of companies, attending the show is just bad business.
Take the previously mentioned shaft guys, toss in Nike (even the shoe guys), Bridgestone, SKLZ, Mizuno, and a growing list of small to mid-sized companies, and plenty of names you know are choosing to skip the show, while others like Wilson, Fujikura, and Yonex have traded floor space for conference rooms. Some even double or triple up in those rooms to further save.
Part of the blame can be placed on Reed Exhibitions. Costs continue to rise, and Reed is anything but accommodating when it comes to handling requests to downsize booths. When the choice is overpaying or being exiled to one of many poorly trafficked corners of the floor, many are choosing to bail entirely. Good for them.
Last year a representative of one company told me that it cost them $6000 just to have his merchandise moved from the loading dock to the show floor and back again. $30 a day trash can rentals, more for chairs…companies are being nickeled and dimed, and plenty have had enough.
For many inside the industry, there’s nearly nothing to lose by skipping the show. That’s evident by the dwindling number of fitness products, training aids, colleges, travel agencies, and even big name companies that take up space on the show floor each year.
It’s also worth noting that the timing of the show no longer works with the cadence of the industry. Come the end of January, nothing is new, orders have been placed, and there’s very little in actual business to be done.
My thinking is that the fall apparel show in Vegas should be expanded to include everything and the January show should be dropped entirely. It’s an idea that will likely be considered blasphemy for an industry that’s often overly content with doing things the way they’ve always been done (because that’s how they’ve always been done). Without an industry-wide resurgence (hold your breath for that), the current model isn’t sustainable.
If nothing else, Vegas, by virtue of the fact that it’s Vegas (baby), would likely draw bigger crowds.
What I Like About the Show
None of this should suggest I don’t find value in the show. 2017 was a down year for products (and floor traffic), but the value in the show remains in the opportunity it creates to build and maintain relationships. It provides an annual opportunity to catch up with old friends, and with Harry Arnett. As travel budgets decline and the number of media events dwindle, this aspect of the show is becoming increasingly more important.
The companies we cover get their chances to hold me accountable and make me answer for every rock that I’ve thrown over the last 12 months. It gives me the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings and set the record straight on the rocks I didn’t throw.
The problem is that, for many – us included – while you can’t always put a value on relationships, airfare, hotel, rental cars and other associated costs are easily quantifiable, and as the costs begin to pile up, the PGA Show, in its current form, makes less and less sense.
The show needs fixing, but golf loves its status quo, so I suspect nothing will change anytime soon.