It took a bit longer this year to put virtual pen to paper. We’re a solid week plus removed from the end of the 2018 PGA Show, and while it’s a few days later than usual, tradition dictates that I take some time to share my thoughts on the good, bad, and stupid of this year’s show.
The Big Picture
As far as traffic, busiest show in last few years. Demo day was strong, and show floor experienced volume well into Thursday afternoon. On Friday the place was pretty much a ghost town, and by noon many vendors had begun packing up their booths. That’s not particularly surprising. Despite what the schedule says, indoors at the PGA Show is a two-day event.
Increased traffic is the good news. The bad news is that show is losing its middle class. What I mean by that is that the big OEMs hold down their booths, and you’ve still got a significant number of smaller companies/brands/people trying to get a foot in door (often with less than compelling product), but the industry’s established middle is slowly disappearing.
We’ll talk more about the decline in putter brands in a bit, and we’ve talked before about mid-sized OEMs and shaft brands that choose conference rooms over the show floor (or just skip the show entirely). The continued absence of a large portion of the middle of the market is having an impact as there’s less to see every year.
We’ve heard that show organizer, Reed Exhibitions, is making an effort to bring some of those guys back, but just about everyone I spoke to within that middle class believes the value isn’t there (at almost any price), and as long as the gouging of small and mid-sized brands continues to offset the wheeling and dealing necessary to get the large anchor brands to commit, it’s only going to get worse.
Fundamentally, the PGA show is a case of an organization (Reed) doing what it’s always done because well…that’s what it has always done. It may still be great for apparel, but the equipment side of the show is slowly rotting. It’s too expensive for most vendors. Attendees are gouged at every opportunity ($17 for half a sandwich and a drink), and if we're being honest, the high traffic portions of the OCC West Concourse (including bathrooms) are disgusting.
The timing sucks, the venue is a dismal hole, and the extortion of both exhibitors and attendees makes those first two things difficult to overlook.
It’s not an easy fix, but there’s been some joking by industry guys that moving the show anywhere but Orlando would be a great start. Look past whatever contracts are in place – as well as the logistics of finding facility on par with the outstanding Orange County National facility for demo day; the cadence of the industry – the timing of releases – makes a case for moving the show up by a month or two, and nobody other than Golf Channel would put up much of a fight about relocating.
Personally, I like the idea of a 3 or 4 city rotation. San Diego, Vegas (Baby!), Orlando (begrudgingly) and maybe Phoenix/Scottsdale. Mixing it up would make things more interesting for attendees, PGA professionals would have more flexibility for picking up their education credits, and it would give many vendors the chance to be closer to home more often than not.
Reed Exhibitions may run the show, but PGA’s name is on the door and I know I’m not alone in thinking it’s time to do some renegotiating.
With that out of the way, here is your requisite recap of what I think was noteworthy.
Tales from Demo Day
Unless the weather intervenes, demo day is always busy at the show, and 2018 was anything but an exception. In what has become a recurring theme, shaft companies like True Temper, UST, and other notables elected to skip again. Fujikura had a strong showing (the new 2.0 version of its popular Pro shaft got plenty of attention) as always, as did Mitsubishi/Aldila. Filed under Figuring Out North America, Seven Dreamers Laboratories made a little noise in MGS staffer Harry Nodwell’s world with a $1000 offering, while its six-figure 100% custom option is the kind of thing that might make PXG blush.
Swiss company TPT Shafts made its debut (both at demo day and the show floor) to a strong reception. The company announced a new, lower spin shaft (15-LKP-LT-LW), and also dropped per shaft pricing to only $500. That’s still on the higher end of the exotic range, but if it actually produces more ball speed (as some have reported) many won’t sweat the cost. The meat of the TPS story is predominantly built on best in class manufacturing consistency, and the MyGolfSpy staff saw enough in our fittings to think there might just be something to it.
Worth a mention; the company picked up some additional momentum immediately following the show with its first tour win (Jason Day) at the Famers Insurance Open. We’ve seen shaft companies come and go over the last few years, but with awareness clearly on the rise, TPT looks like it might stick around. It’s a brand to watch in 2018.
The rest of demo day was mostly business as usual (fun…music, free booze), but there were a few booths that warrant specific mention.
Wilson Staff Brings Driver vs. Driver to Demo Day
As it has been the last several years, Wilson had no showroom floor presence, but its demo day booth was lively. You can chalk a bit of that up to free beer, but it was nevertheless cool that the company spent some time filming for the second season of its reality design show Driver vs. Driver. Popular YouTuber, Rick Shiels, has been brought on as a judge, which should help the company reach a larger audience. And while he doesn’t have quite the same appeal (or the height, or the luxurious beard, or the accent) as Rick, you may catch our own Sam Robinson sharing his thoughts on some of the drivers that made the cut – so long as his segment doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor.
Full disclosure, I wasn’t a fan of the original season, but I’m curious to see if Season 2 proves to be any better.
TaylorMade and the #1 Wait In Golf
Throughout demo day and after, TaylorMade wanted everyone to know that golfers hoping to try its new products featuring Twist Face and Ribcore technologies experienced long waits. The company boasted (both over its loudspeaker and on Twitter) of wait times in excess of 4 hours. The idea was to let everyone know that the thirst to hit the products was unquenchable, but like a good bit of TaylorMade marketing, the reality isn’t quite as impressive as the story.
Let’s get real – every club manufacturer had a busy booth at demo day. TaylorMade’s wait times were longer because it did full launch monitor fitting at every station. The line was backed up because it took longer to get through it, not because there were significantly more people hoping to hit its products.
What TaylorMade does at demo day is a cut above. Using launch monitors and emphasizing fitting for everyone is a positive point of differentiation, but boastfully and intentionally conflating wait times with foot traffic is another example of how TaylorMade continues to get so wrapped up in itself, it forgets almost entirely about its audience. I assure you, many a PGA Pro in attendance was less than enthused about having inflated wait times rubbed in their faces.
Knowledgeable sources have told me that the actual wait times were likely closer to 2 hours, and by 4PM the booth was so quiet that TaylorMade’s PR Manager could be seen hitting balls in the VIP bay. The reality of demo day is that by the time you get through the gate, wire to wire, it’s a less than 8-hour event (and that’s if you stay all day). To think anyone is going to waste more than half of it waiting in line to hit anybody’s clubs is absurd.
Tour Edge might be this Season’s Srixon
Last year we told you about a new vibe at Srixon, and we think that fresh approach paid dividends in 2017. This year, the fresh vibe was coming out of the Tour Edge booth. That’s right, I said Tour Edge. Previously restricted to tight confines, Tour Edge expanded its booth space, let the beer flow, and even brought in some live musical entertainment. While it didn’t quite rise to the level of a DJ Scotty B Powered Cobra-PUMA party, the upbeat mood was justified by the steady traffic.
Though its Exotic line is popular among performance-driven golfers, the company has found its stride with its lower-priced Hot Launch collection. The revenue generated there is going to allow Tour Edge to expand its presence on the Champions Tour (it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s going to pay to play), with the hope of filling the void left when Adams exited the market.
Frankly, I’m not sure what, if anything, is going to come of it, but at a time when a good bit of the industry is stuck in increasingly deeper ruts, Tour Edge has a plan to carve a new niche for itself, which could ultimately help it reach more golfers.
And Speaking of Srixon…
For the 2nd year in a row, Srixon threw the best booth party (sorry Cobra). The SipGroove wedges served as a precursor of what was to come. Sushi, pulled pork sliders, wine, beer, cheese, and great conversations with team Srixon members and other people from around the industry.
The Rest of the Show
With the Srixon booth party and demo day out of the way, let’s move on to observations and trends from the rest of the show.
ForeSight is Super Busy
You’d be hard-pressed to find another company, especially one who plays in the tech space, with more going on than Foresight Sports.
Of perhaps greatest interest to us and I hope, by extension, our readers, is the new putting module. Still in beta, the firmware add-on for GCQuad offers comprehensive putting data including putter equivalents of key HMT metrics as well as ball data like speed, launch angle, skid, and more. It’s a major addition for instructors, R&D guys, and certainly for MyGolfSpy as we look to grow our understanding of putter performance and provide you with more information.
At demo day, the company unveiled DTS – a downrange camera system that tracks landing and rollout more precisely than any launch monitor system on the planet. Initial launch data for DTS comes from GCQuad and the new bits are fully integrated with the FSX software platform.
DTS has implications in the gamification space (Topgolf competitor, Drive Shack, is expected to use the system) as well as for R&D departments who’ve never before had such a precise view into what happens as the ball lands, hops, skips, and rolls.
As an aside: What’s really cool to see is that with DTS, Foresight is taking steps to address a perceived weakness in its system; specifically, the inability to capture full ball flight (at least when wind and whatnot is in play). A fully developed DTS system, though not practical in every environment, would be the undisputed best in class for full flight data. Also at the show, Trackman, which has been dinged for inaccuracies in its impact location algorithms, debuted updates to its system intended to challenge Foresight’s HMT. It’s too soon to know what full implementations for either will look like, but it’s a great example of competitors pushing each other, ultimately leading to better products for users.
Foresight also unveiled its overhead GCHawk technology, which is essentially overhead GC launch monitor technology built for indoor golf facilities and other locations where moving the unit to the other side of the bay to accommodate lefties might otherwise be problematic. While that’s certainly practical in an instructional environment, again gamification is part of the story as Hawk puts the company at the forefront of the discussion of technologies to power indoor golf and golf gaming facilities.
If that wasn’t enough, the company also teased its upcoming release of FSX2018. Boasting significantly improved graphics the new software will be the first major update to the company’s software platform in several years.
Gamification is here to Stay
In addition to Foresight and Trackman and a multitude of simulator offerings, Toptracer had a strong presence at the show. Again, that speaks to the gamification trend – a movement to grow aspects of golf beyond the confines of the traditional course. The Topgolf owned Toptracer Range products seeks to bring a Topgolf-like experience to your neighborhood driving range. Adoption hasn’t reached wide-spread status yet, but those who have installed it have seen golfers take to the technology.
When it comes to enterprise-class golf gaming centers, Topgolf is firmly established, Drive Shack is coming, and at the show, we heard chatter of a 3rd competitor seeking to enter the space and dramatically improve on existing models. I remain skeptical that gamified golfers will ever become conventional golfers, but Topgolf continues to be one of the biggest success stories anywhere in the industry. Whether or not competitors can also thrive remains to be seen.
And Speaking of Tech…
OnCore had its largest show presence to date. While I continue to be a fan of the ELIXR ball, it was the company’s yet to be released chip integrated GENiUS Ball that garnered much of the attention. The company is confident it can bring the price of its launch monitor embedded ball down to palatable levels. Paired with vGolf’s mixed reality glasses, the GENiUS has the potential to put the data golfers crave literally in front of our eyes as part of a larger experience described as Golf on Steroids.
What’s New with Arccos ?
I’m a fan and an avid user of Arccos so I was naturally curious to see what the company has in the pipeline. Expect 2018 to be a busy year for Arccos across many fronts. Many will be delighted to learn that the company has plans to get the phone out of the pocket, but it’s worth noting that a recent survey of users found that the overwhelming majority have adjusted to the point that it’s not an issue. Count me as one of them. I played my last couple of rounds without Arccos (scrambles) but kept the phone in my pocket anyway. I seriously couldn’t care less.
That’s coming later in the year, as are updates to Arccos Caddie and the main Arccos app, but first up in the pipeline is something I think speaks to the value and adoption rate of the Arccos system. The company is addressing the need for coaches (The Yale women’s golf team was used as the example) to have a centralized repository for Arccos player data. Not only can the new Arccos coaching portal provide insight into what happened on-course and outside the coach’s field of vision, but, in continuing its push into the AI space, the coaching software will make lineup recommendations based on the course setup and recent performance data.
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The Shrinking Putter Corral
I’ve mentioned the disappearance of the equipment industry’s middle class from the show, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the putter corral. My first couple of years at the show, the two demo day putting greens were jammed. I’m talking no elbow room, every square foot of possible booth space covered, chaos…and it was awesome.
The indoor putting green – back in the day, that was massive too; larger than what you’d find at most golf courses you’d play, and again, every inch of usable space was occupied.
The last few years offer a different story. As you’d expect, the full bag OEM guys stick to their booths, and this year the show the putting section was notable for who wasn’t there – Bettinardi and Edel the most conspicuous in absence.
The demo day greens…let’s just say there’s plenty of room to move around.
The indoor green has shrunk to the point where it’s basically a long (and narrow) strip of carpet, and a good bit of it is now occupied by training aid companies – not that there’s anything wrong with that. The larger point is that the show needs to do more to attract small to medium sized brands. I’m not sure what the answer is, but something needs to be done to bring the putter (and the shaft) guys back in full force.
Figuring Out North America
We talked quite a bit last year about Japanese brands looking to figure out North America. Many of the usual suspects attended the show (Yamaha, PRGR, and Honma), but it was especially noteworthy to see Miura on the show floor for the first time in my 8-years of attendance. The company has undergone a reorganization, and we’re told has several new iron products in the 2018 pipeline. The emergence of PXG has created tighter competition in the ultra-premium space and Miura has responded with a modernized approach that doesn’t sacrifice the traditions of the brand. We’ll see where it goes, but for now, it’s one of the real positives coming out of the show.
Reinventing the Golf Cart
My absolute favorite new product of the show was the Ellwee single-rider golf cart. It weighs half that of a conventional cart and with its wider base is course-friendly too. Bags can be mounted on the front or the back, there are several cool accessory options, and it has a top speed of 24 MPH or so. If that sounds a little fast, the governor can be controlled by a mobile app so course operators can keep things from getting too crazy (while still maintaining a reasonable pace).
It’s awesome. I want one…badly.
Now I imagine some of you will think the Ellwee is ridiculous, and that’s fine, but we think it’s only a matter of time before something comes along and really disrupts the cart industry. Think about it, the golf cart hasn’t changed or improved by any significant measure in forever. Sure, you’ve got on-board GPS and USB ports and whatnot, but it’s fundamentally the same as its always been. Everybody complains about slow play, but nobody wants to discuss, let alone do anything about the inefficiencies of the two-to-a-cart system.
The past several years have brought us The Golf Board, The Golf Skate Caddy, Caruca Carts, and plenty more. To my thinking, it’s only a matter of time before something new, different, and a hell of a lot more fun (and efficient) catches on.
So why not Ellwee?
Cobra Limited Edition Drivers are Coming
Cobra showed of a couple of Limited Edition F8 Drivers. The Volition model brings blue back to the lineup (where it belongs!), while the Desert Storm model offers an entirely unique look. Hitting the market this spring, a portion of the proceeds from sales of both versions will go to Folds of Honor.
FootJoy's Unexpected 1857 Collection
Billed as being Shaped by Tradition, the 1857 Collection shows "an unwavering devotion to crafting the finest raw material into golf footwear and attire of incomparable quality and design. It's on the super-premium end of the spectrum with the calf skin leather shoes coming in at $700. The target audience is the exclusive country club and high-end resort cloud, but nevertheless, the throwback style is cool, and FootJoy did an awesome job with its in-booth displays. Some of the collection isn't my thing, but I could most definitely get on board with the more casual footwear offerings.
Callaway is Maturing
I know that sounds like a strange statement given the mostly one-sided twitter #ballwar with Titleist, but Callaway is growing up and starting to look comfortable in its current position as the industry leader. Its booth was every bit as large as its been the past several years (larger still with the OGIO booth integrated), but it lacked the tank, or (fake) airplane, or anything else to distract from its products. This year’s centerpiece was again a massive putting green where, if you had a few hours, you could try all of the new Odyssey putters. The vibe was decidedly less look at us, and more about giving visitors the opportunity to experience the product with fewer distractions.
The Best Beef Jerky
Finally, just a quick shout out to Chef’s Cut for keeping the beef jerky samples replenished well into Friday. I a shameless repeat moocher, but only because it’s so tender, juicy and delicious. Seriously guys, try some of this stuff.
While there were most definitely things about the show I didn’t care for (keep your damn TENS electrodes to yourself), this is the most encouraged I’ve been coming out of a PGA Show in at least 5 years. That’s not to say I expect any massive growth, but after years of decline, there’s at least the suggestion that things are starting to level off. I still believe there will be more contraction (there remains some right-sizing to be done), but overall the mood on the show floor was significantly more positive than it has been in years.
I love that.
Did You Attend the PGA Show?
If you attended the 2018 PGA Show, we’d love to hear about your experiences? What did you like? What didn’t you like? What were your takeaways?