What’s better than Buffalo in late January? Pretty much anything.
And where better to seek refuge from the gray skies and bitter cold days than the Sunshine State? Okay, I know, it could be worse (as we communally reflect on the winter of 2015), but turn down a chance to join over 40,000 golf enthusiasts in sunny Orlando for the 64th Annual PGA Merchandise Show? No way.
While this may be the first time I stepped foot onto the royal blue carpets lining the Orange County Convention Center halls, I was no stranger to the impact the PGA Merchandise Show can have on a brand’s image and a company’s long-term trajectory. In my past life as an account manager at an NYC PR agency, I put in four years working on the United States Golf Association account. Three U.S. Open Championships and a handful of U.S. Women’s, U.S. Senior’s and U.S. Amateur’s later – I spent countless hours working alongside golf brands of all sizes.
More recently, I’m leading public relations for our Martin Sport division, whose golf clients include New Era Golf, OnCore Golf and the LECOM Health Challenge PGA Web.com Tour event at Peek ‘n Peak Resort.
From small artisan shops and scrappy startups looking for their big break, to the behemoth brands in golf seeking renewed relevance with big-named ambassadors and hi-tech innovations, the more than 1,000 exhibitors packed into the giant hall are all in search of one thing – to be noticed.
So here I am – two days, 20,000 steps and 12 hours later – to tell you what, and who, stood out at the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show.
The Next Generation of Wearable Technology
Gone are the days of relying solely on your laser range finder or clunky golf cart GPS units to determine your distance to the green. Thanks to the rise of smartphones, GPS technology is appearing in unexpected places. From the Zero Friction’s DistancePro GPS glove which provides the distance to the front, center and back of green on 35,000+ golf courses at the flick of your wrist, to the super lightweight GoGolf GPS which clips effortlessly onto your glasses or hat, weighing less than 1/3 of an ounce – convenience is taking a front seat in the world of wearable technology.
Golf Simulators 2.0
Yes, we all agree, TrackMan simulators are awesome. But no longer are they the only name in the golf simulator game. The Sky Golf booth was buzzing with activity at the show – and for good reason. Their one-of-a-kind SkyTrak home practice system brings the technology the pros use to the everyday golfer. By connecting wirelessly to your iPad or PC, SkyTrak accurately captures and displays launch data, ball flight information and trajectory as soon as you hit the ball.
If setting up a net in your house is not your thing, try sharpening your skills through the practice of visualization. This year, virtual reality-based learning platforms including the Aguila Golf and Ikkos golf app were all the rage. Entering a 360-degree immersive learning environment with the help of your smart phone helps to improve your game all from the comfort of your couch.
The Crossover Appeal
With sports apparel sales jumping 42% in the past seven years to a more than $270 billion industry, it’s no surprise that mainstream fashion brands are looking for a piece of the pie. Just as Ralph Lauren did in 1990 with the launch of their Polo Golf line, international lifestyle brands like New Era – whose New Era Golf line’s ambassadors include the likes of Dustin Johnson and Davis Love III – and the progressive menswear line, Bonobos, were soon to follow.
Rise of the Underdogs
In a world where established brands like Titleist, TaylorMade and Callaway own the vast majority of the market share, innovation and differentiation are prerequisites for rising to the top. Enter one of the stars of this year’s Show – Volvik. While the neon-colored golf ball company has been on the market for 35 years, it was the announcement of their latest spokesperson, Bubba Watson (who made a guest appearance at the show), that put this Korean golf ball manufacturer into the headlines. Volvik’s not alone – after making history with the first-ever hollow metal core ball, Buffalo-based OnCore Golf is gaining serious traction with the addition of their signature tour ball hitting the market this spring.