Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2017 PGA Merchandise Show Outdoor Demo Day

PGA Merchandise Show and Outdoor Demo Day
January 24, 2017
Orange County National Golf Center
Winter Garden, Florida

     The PGA Merchandise Show's 15th Outdoor Demo Day began at Orange County National's 42-acre practice facility with perfect sunny skies and 75 degrees.  So after a stop at SKIN, whose sunscreen is designed by golfers for golfers and is the favorite among tour players and Demo Day attendees, we aimed toward the waving flags of Folds Of Honor to say hello and pay respects to one of golf's rising stars in the world of charitable foundations.  Formed just 10 years ago by Major Dan Rooney, USAF, a former PGA Pro and fighter pilot, Folds has taken off like the F16s that he has flown.  With its purpose to provide scholarships for the children and spouses of fallen and disabled U. S. service members, Folds Of Honor started with a simple golf tournament and has grown to be embraced by the PGA of America, Nascar, and major corporations like Anhueser-Busch and Cobra/Puma.  Its logo, a folded flag, made surprise appearances on several products that we saw this week from companies like FootJoy, Tee Tree, Bushnell and Bolle but Folds Of Honor is just one of many charitable foundations to benefit from the heart of golf.

        The driving theme behind this year's PGA Show was the far-reaching charitable impact of golf.  Annually in the U. S. players, sponsors and fans raise more money than football, baseball, hockey and basketball combined, and they raise it with a generosity that comes from participation.  In 2016, 84% of golf facilities in the United States hosted events for a charitable cause but perhaps the more important stat is that 50% of golfers in America participated in a charitable event.  The magic of golf is that it is played by an individual but through it we can do such bigger things.

     The media coach had let us off at the Golf Range Association of America-sponsored 2nd tee pavilion, where the GRAA hosts a huge village of merchandisers that support golfers and courses with everything from teaching tools to range finders to aerification equipment.

     Game Golf' 's hands-free device has moved shot-tracking up another notch with a teacher portal that can record each shot, collect stats from every hole and even send them to your teaching pro.  It's also Smart Watch enabled and oh, it's got a huge community of skills challenges for those who don't get enough pressure in their own foursome!

     The 500-yard distance across the circular range at Orange County National is the perfect opportunity to test the features that elevate Bushnell and Nikon in yardage-seeking.  Bushnell's Jolt system locks in and lets the player know when the element is targeted and provides a slope feature that can be disengaged for USGA-sanctioned play.  And Nikon's new Photographic Stabilization takes precision to the half yard even against wind, adrenaline or shaky hands.

     A piece of ground-breaking grounds-keeping equipment that drew quite a crowd was the Air2g2, a mobile pneumatic aerator that injects greens with air, improving compacted root zones, drainage and turf health while eliminating the need for punching and sanding, hole closures and unhappy players.

     Offering varied terrain options to the often flat landscape of many practice ranges, the ToughLie 360 platform is durable, stable underfoot and easily rotates to re-create real course conditions on the range. 

       At every hitting station around the range, the talk was about sound.  Gone is the tininess of yesterday and some of our favorite sounds came out of drivers like Callaway's new Epic, Epon (celebrating 40 years of custom-fitted clubs forged by Endo) and XXiO (long an Asian best-seller that Dunlop Sports is bringing into the U. S. market), all with a feel of heavier heads and lighter shafts.

     Shots with the women's Ping Gle with 11.5 degree loft and 193 gr lightweight head were reliably long and straight.  And the Cobra King F7 ladies' driver and 5-6 wood fired the balls off like rockets.

     We stopped at FootJoy where we complimented their shoe life (one of our favorite pairs is pushing 15 years old) and were rewarded with a step challenge and pedometer to wear for the rest of our 3 days at the show.  Attendees' badges declare name, affiliation and home town and the three young men behind us listening to our story were from the Jekyll Island Golf Club in Georgia.  We let them know of our fondness for Jekyll that goes back to our golfing roots.  Their historic 9-hole Great Dunes Course (then called Oceanside) was our very first round of golf almost 30 years ago.  When we finally made our way after at least 100 strokes to the top of the 5th green and looked out at the Atlantic Ocean and both one-putted, we knew we were hooked for life!

     Clubs continue to show technologic advances as face thinness is drawn even thinner, allowing for the movement of weight to interesting counterpoints, increasing ball jump and maximizing the sweet spot.  Cleveland may have perfected this, redistributing 9 grams of mass inside the RTX-3 wedge and shortening the hosel, small but large adjustments that make a noticeable difference.

     As we finished the circle at the end of the afternoon we slowed down to watch what looked like a lesson at KBS ShaftsMichael Breed had tossed his backpack down and stepped in to give some pointers to an older gentleman.  No script.  No cameras.  No hurry.  He spent 15 minutes helping someone find his comfort zone that straightened his swing, got him some extra yards and made a friend for life.  That's a PGA Pro for you.

For a look at our full report on the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show from Orlando, Florida go to
The Garden Variety Golfer Reports From The 2017 PGA Merchandise Show