Thursday, January 31, 2008

PGA Show 2008

The presenters of the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando brag that there are “10 miles of aisles” at the world’s largest golf exposition and I’ve got the sore feet and legs to verify it.

I always promise myself that I will get “sensible” footwear that will ease the pain. This year, it was a new pair of Champion sneakers. They were just the latest version of senseless footwear. The next time I see a bunion, it had better be the first fairway of Ballybunion Golf Club in Ireland.

Pardon my digression. The 2008 fad was interchangeable shafts. If you’re going to be playing in the wind and want to keep your drives low install the shaft that will lower the trajectory. If you want to hit it high, install the shaft that will hit it high. Sounds simple and probably works.
Here’s the rub. That $300 - $400 driver just became an $800 driver. The truth is these companies are having problems selling drivers for $250 in the current economic throes. Good luck selling an $800 gimmick.

This higher lower thing got me thinking about a round I played at the aforementioned Ballybunion Golf Club. I was playing with a local member named Eoin McRee. It was a typical day at Ballybunion. The wind was blowing off the ocean in double digit miles per hour with some very strong gusts. As we made our way through the dunes, I noticed that Eoin was masterfully managing the trajectory of every shot without any noticeable change in ball position and setup.
Finally, I asked him how he did it. “Well Jack,” he said the smoothest Irish brogue, “when I wants to hit it high, I t’ink high. When I wants to hit it low, I t’ink low. That’s all and off we go.”
I can guarantee you that that little pearl of wisdom didn’t cost $400 and he didn’t have to change a shaft.

During the show, the biggest buzz was the infamous Golfweek cover featuring a noose. The cover drew more attention than many of the products. The noose was in reference to The Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman and her “and lynch him” remark in response to a remark made by broadcast partner Nick Faldo. It wasn’t taken that way, by a large segment of the populace.
The result was that editor Dave Seanor was fired over the ensuing furor. The truth is, he was thrown under the bus and then backed up upon. In their apology in the next issue, it was admitted that senior management never checked the cover before it went to print. I’ve worked for newspapers and magazines and someone in senior management dropped the ball and Seanor paid.

Having said that, in retrospect Seanor used bad judgment in a legitimate effort to stimulate dialog between white golfers and golfers of color. This is needed not just in golf, but in all walks of life. Unfortunately, when you’re in the editor’s chair you’re extremely vulnerable when you make a judgmental error—as Seanor found out.

For years, no attention was paid to golf tees. In fact, there was only one full time golf tee manufacturer and it was a company in Maine and they didn’t want any publicity at all. They must have gone out of business because there were more types of tees on display than ever before. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying into tee technology. I’m also not buying into a plastic tee that is spring loaded so when you hit your drive, the top half of the tee bends, but doesn’t break. I may not buy into it, but someone is.

The best of the dumbest has to be Fairway Flags. These little orange pieces of cloth are the best. The theory behind the Fairway Flags is that if you spot what may be a lost ball, you put the cloth over, or near it. They claim that it speeds up play. How about, “hey Harry, your ball is over here.” They also recommend their use if a player in an adjoining hole launches one in your fairway or rough, you can leave the Fairway Flag so he can easily find his ball.

I’ve got a problem with this one. How is the Wildman going to know what the hell that orange piece of cloth is? You might just as well leave a few dollar bills next to the ball. The Fairway Flag website doesn’t give an exact price; buy says they are priced “under $5.” Right and this other golfer is going to hunt you down to give you back your fairway flag.

Bartender that’s enough for one day. Pour me another if you will and this time make it a Bullshot—that’s Jaegermeister and Red Bull. That should raise my energy level.

See you on the first tee,


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Favortism for Tilghman?

The Golf Channel suspended golf telecast anchor Kelly Tilghman for two weeks and it was for something she said during the telecast of the season opening Mercedes Benz Tournament of Champions.

Trying to be glib, Tilghman attempted to finish a comment made by analyst Nick Faldo who said referring to the younger players on the PGA Tour, “to take him on, maybe they should just gang up for a while.”

“Lynch him in a back alley,” chirped Tilghman.

Chances are Tilghman would like to have those words back although most people believe we have gotten past lynching black people in this country. At least I hope we have.

While electronic media types have been falling all over themselves to downplay the seriousness of these comments, the question comes to mind, where were these people when Ben Wright was canned—not suspended by CBS? AND it wasn’t for something he said on air.

Wright was talking with a freelance reporter prior to the LPGA McDonalds Championship. Thinking that he was giving background material instead of an interview, Wright explained the problems the LPGA was having attracting corporate sponsorship. He opined that there was a preconceived notion in corporate America that the predominant sexual ladies orientation on the ladies tour wasn’t hetero. He also retold an old story first told by Joanne Carner about the anatomic choice a female golfer has to make when addressing a golf ball. Perhaps, he should have clearly cited Carner.

The story first appeared in the Wilmington (DE) News-Journal and then exploded in a mushroom cloud that buried Wright’s career. None of the networks would even look at Wright, never mind hire him. A man of keen insight who would let the facts get in the way of a good story and move on to another was fired for telling the truth. At the time, that was the thought process of corporate America and if the writer didn’t understand the dry British humor, shame on her.

Wright never said anything off key on the air and told the truth off it. He was fired. Tilghman made an incredibly insensitive remark on air and everyone’s trying to laugh it off.
Do I think Tilghman should be fired? Probably not. Then again, I really don’t believe Wright should have been fired. However, it did set a precedent of sorts and in a more literal sense, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

If the automobile industry was run like the golf industry, a new car wouldn’t last a month.
Sonartec has been one of the rapidly rising stars in the business and one of the key reasons is Jim Uno. About five years ago, Uno, who was in charge of marketing and operations, reported that he foresaw hybrid sales growing by as much as 400 percent over the next few years.
Headquarters received a report from their new sales guru that hybrids were a passing fad and would be non-existent in two years and that the company should amp up in fairway woods. The powers that be went with the fairway woods.

In 2004, Todd Hamilton won the British Open at Royal Troon in playoff over Ernie Els by pulling off incredible short game miracles using the Sonartec hybrid in ways no one ever thought it could be used.

Short term this was great for Sonartec, but eventually it became their downfall. With so much tied up in fairway woods, it became extremely difficult to meet the hybrid demand, so an investor was sought. In walked a Canadian businessman named Peter Pocklington with a promise of guaranteed cash to help out Sonartec. Someone might have done due diligence before they signed on the dotted line.

Pocklington had bled the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL so dry, that they were forced to trade their biggest asset, Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings to bail them out. He had pulled a bait and switch on the people at another promising golf company, Golf Gear. They’re not promising anything anymore. Thus far, Sonartec claims that Pocklington hasn’t financially lived up to the contract. They shouldn’t worry though, he’s seized control and they’re powerless anyway.

While this was going on, they formed another company, Trion-Z, a combination of magnets and minerals that emit negative ions in a bracelet or a necklace. Last year, under the direction of Uno, Trion-Z did $4.4 million in sales and because the product is worn by so many top athletes in all sports, the growth is expected to continue—maybe.

The former brain trust at Sonartec seeing their business life pass before their eyes jumped over to Trion-Z and are trying to displace Uno as the CEO. Hopefully, someone at the mother ship in Japan will figure out the equation, Uno = success, other guys = oops.

The PGA Merchandise Show comes to Orlando, FL January 17-19. As usual success and failure will hang in the balance for some companies during those three days.

For a few years, there was a cause to question the relevance of the show as the larger companies backed out. Apparently, the show has weathered the storm because some of the better known companies have started to come back. It’s a win—win situation for everyone connected with the industry—even white-haired writers with curly mustaches.

It will be interesting to see what new gimmicks and technologies will be on the market to tempt the golfer. We’ll file a report following the show.

Bartender, please pour me a double Red Bull if you will. I’m trying to build a reserve of energy for three days walking the floor of the Orange County Convention Center.

See you on the first tee,