Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post PGA Show quips

It’s taken about 10 days, but I think I’ve recovered from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. It was three days plus the Demo Day. By the closing on Saturday evening, my legs felt like two fiery stumps. Memo to self—avoid any exhibition that brags about having “10 miles of aisles.”

Okay, having gotten the nagging and complaining off my chest, in retrospect and careful thought, I’ve got to say the golf industry could be in worse shape than my legs. Even the big boys like Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist are pulling in the reins and it’s not just the economy that’s causing it.

Sure the backpedaling economy is the largest reason, but the final stranglehold is being applied in Far Hills, N.J. at the USGA headquarters. Dick Rugge, who sets the limits on technology used in designing clubs and golf balls tightened the belt on creativity to the point where there’s very little new on the market.

Sure, PowerBilt created some buzz with their Air Force One driver because the head is injected with nitrogen gas that will support the club face which will expand the sweet spot. However, I think the fact that they offer three different thicknesses of the club face which will match up with swing speeds will have a lot more positive effect for the player. At least they’re thinking about the wide spectrum of golfers rather than the small percentage who swing 100 MPH-plus. They’re one of the few who do.

TaylorMade, in a presentation separate from the show introduced their new R9 driver, fairway woods and Burner irons. During the presentation, they related tremendous success stories about golfers with 100 MPH swing speeds gaining 30 yards off the tee and adding a club and a half of distance with the irons. During Q&A following the presentation, the question was raised asking what will be the effect if the swing speed is closer to 85 MPH. After a couple of hems and haws, they answered that improvement wouldn’t be at those distances, but the golfer could expect some added distance with the driver, perhaps 10 yards and maybe a half club with the irons.

Let’s see should I buy a new set of irons for $800-plus and a driver for more than $300? That’s more than $1,100 and in return, I might hit the ball 10-yards farther off the tee and five yards with the irons. It’s obvious, that TaylorMade, et al have been caught up in the USGA syndrome where they cater to the top one percent or so of the golfers and blow smoke up the butts of the rest.

By the way, the USGA’s role in the smoke blowing is when they tell any golfer with a handicap higher than one that they’re here for them. They do nothing other than provide a handicap system and make rule books available all for a fee. Do they run competitions for higher handicap golfers? No. It’s a not so subtle bias.

Now, it appears the equipment companies have adopted similar strategies (have you ever tried to hit a ProV1 with a slower swing speed? You’ll lose distance) coveting the one or two percent of low handicap golfers. Is that wise in this economy?

Personally, I left the show with no incentive to buy a set of clubs. That hasn’t happened very often.

Now, if the USGA really wants to something that may entice people to play more, they could broaden the parameters for conforming equipment for the higher handicappers and have different standards for different skill levels.

The highest handicappers could have the hottest equipment on the market. They will enjoy the game more and will probably play more often. Once they improve to the next level, their conforming equipment will be cooled off a bit and so on and so on until they reach the highest tolerances. A suggestion would be that once a golfer’s handicap reaches the next skill level, he/she won’t be able to fall back to a higher handicap group.

The pros of course will have the most difficult equipment setups.

Players would love the opportunity to make the game a little easier by not being held to the same demands facing Tiger Woods. Equipment companies would love it because as the players improve they’ll reconfigure what is in their bag.

Personally, I never thought I’d write or even think these thoughts, but given the state of the industry, the time has come for radical strategies.


There were two other notes of interest. Shortly before the show, McGregor was acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods. This gives the sporting goods giant control of Maxfli, Slazenger and McGregor. Given anyone of these, maybe not, but with all three Dick’s has entered the realm of a player in the industry. The good news is this might give Greg Norman, who’d taken over McGregor a little more than a year ago, time to practice and be ready for what might be his last charge for the Masters. Don’t fault Norman for this. His task to right the McGregor ship was more than Herculean in a good economic climate. In these days it was downright impossible.

If you’ve ever won an Irish crystal trophy at a golf event, it was most likely made by Waterford Crystal. They made crystal golf trophies an art form and greatly elevated the beauty of crystal in all products. Don’t count on crystal being handed to you in the winner’s circle this year. The Friday before the show they closed the doors of their Waterford, Ireland facility. They’re looking to sell, but will be fortunate to get pennies on the dollar.


Every year, I try to find a “Product of the Show.” This is a tongue-in-cheek award given to the company that exhibits a product that when walking down an aisle makes you come to a screeching halt to find out more about it.

Drum roll please! The 2009 winner is…Anti Monkey Butt Powder.

This breakthrough product provides golfers with relief from Monkey Butt, a sweaty condition that attacks the nether regions during both the heat of the competition and the day as well. It comes in pink for ladies and white for men. As an added bonus, Anti Monkey Butt Powder contains calamine for those real itchy days. Trust me, this is all true. I couldn’t make this up.

Bartender, please decant a fine brandy from my Irish crystal decanter for Greg, Parker and myself. We’ll toast the remains of the golf industry with the hope that those companies just hanging on will survive.

See you on the first tee,


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