ORLANDO, FLA.--- A somewhat subdued 58th annual PGA Merchandise Show opened today at the Orange County Convention Center, with glitz and glitter and good crowds but somewhat less than in recent years as the economy continues its effect on discretionary income and golf.
Products from all facets of the game of golf were unveiled to more than 40,000 industry leaders, retailers and of course PGA professionals from around the world. An estimated 75 countries were on hand for the festivities.
Somewhat smaller than the early 2000s, the Show still is a must attend for golf professionals looking for product for the upcoming season. All the big players are on hand, with Bridgestone Golf and Ping making a particularly strong showing. Gone, for the most part, was the blaring wars between major vendors, whose music videos would drown out a competitors salespeople. Detente is alive.
Among all the hubbub, the International Network of Golf its 18th annual Media Awards. Heading the list was none other than Delaware Valley media personality Tony Leodora.
The Norristown native claimed a daily double in winning first place honors in the "Television" category for his work on Comcast Sportsnet's Inside Golf, while his weekly radio broadcast on Philadelphia's Newstalk 990 WNTP, Golf Talk Live, claimed first place in the "Radio" competition.
"This is an outstanding honor, I'm thrilled," said Leodora, who admitted 2010 was a whirlwind year for him on air and in print. "It's been a crazy year, and to be honored with these two awards is simply unbelievable."
It was the first time a Broadcaster claimed top honors in television and radio in the same year.
PGA Tour stalwart Matt Kuchar (Bridgestone) and LPGA pro Natalie Gulbis (Winn grips) drew large crowds to their respective appearances. At one point the like to meet Gulbis stretched entirely around the large Winn megabooth.
Gulbis was her effervescent self, but of more importance said she had finally been able to hit balls without back pain. "It's a good feeling to be able to swing and hit a ball and not worry about the pain. I am taking things slow, but hope I am well on my way back from the injury.
Industry leaders Bridgestone, Callaway, Cleveland Golf/Srixon, Cobra, Nike, Ping, TaylorMade and Titleist all introduced their latest innovations and offerings. Smaller offerings were on hand from Wilson, Tour Edge and Adams Golf.
Hybrids continue to be introduced a a fast-paced rate, with grips and shafts also rolling out new and improved offerings.
As is always the case, drivers made a splash with adjustable drivers coming from the factories of TaylorMade, Titleist, Adams, Cobra, Mizuno and Nike, Other, emphasizing custom fitting, do not offer adjustability. These include Bridgestone, Ping, Calloway and Tour Edge.TaylorMade's new R11 driver will retail at just under $400, and features independent adjustments for loft and face angle.
In addition to playing up the adjustability of its clubs, those with adjustable products emphasize that golfers speak with qualified club fitters to ensure they are getting the most out of their new driving weapons.
New Product Alert - Directly from the factory to the Show was the retro putter from Raabatini Golf. The "Fearsome Foursome Putter Series" has 4.5 degree loft and varying weight depending on the player's desires. These are real wooden clubs with brass, coming in Maple (lightest) Persimmon and Walnut.
The clubs also have a distinctive hidden ball retriever, a hole on the bottom of the club that will pick up a golf club.
"My father, an avid golfer, used a version of this putter for years," explained Andreas Raab http://www.raabatinigolf.com/ "After he passed away I had the idea, sort of to carry on his memory. We worked in the shop on various designs, came up with some outstanding product, and here we are today."
Speaking with Raab brought back memories of a prior putter unveiling, at an ING Conference in Pinehurst. There the Plop Putter was introduced, a brand that has survived and product that is loved my players today.
Show News and Highlights: --- Barclay's winner Matt Kucher (signing autographs, left) captivated visitors to the Bridgestone booth, dazzling with a 112 mph swing that propelled balls more than 158 mph off the clubface. ..Ping's K15 game improvement driver was a hit at the long drive stand. Players were hitting the ball up to 15 yards longer than their "normal" club. The club features Straight Flight Tecvhnology...Butch Harmon made an appearance and delighted visitors with tips and stories from his mental archives...Golf course architect Ron Garl has worked on six oceanfront designs in the last two years. None were in the United States, though. "Not much new happening in the United States," said Garl.
Many exhibitors spoke of the need for proper clubfitting. Ping, the originator of its own clubfitting system was there, but other manufacturers are on board. And the golf ball manufacturers continue to tailor balls to club head speed and other swing characteristics. "Of course I'd love you to play Bridgestone golf balls," said Kuchar, who led the PGA Tour in scoring average in 2010. "But you need not play the ball I play. Yes, Bridgestone, but you need to try our different balls to see the one that is right for you and your swing. That's so very important."
More than 1,000 exhibitors were on hand for the show, including the big names of golf. But there were also more than 200 newcomers. Innovation of one type or another is always around the game of golf.
PGA professional Brandon Elliott announced the winners of the Little Linksters nationwide contest for the "Best Wee Golf Swing in America, as judge Annika Sorenstam looked on. Sorenstam, who took up the game at age 12, was amazing by the swing talents of the children aged 3-8.
With the golf business rocked by recession, it has come to the realization that each and every golfer is precious. Hence, the Show prominently featured products for women and juniors as those to lines of business can replace some of the rounds lost.