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A Woman's View of the 2011 PGA Merchandise Golf Show
For about 10 years I have made an annual trek to the PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., walking the 10 miles of show aisles and seeing thousands of vendors displaying all types of products for golfers. Products that hopefully will help a golfer play better, play more or just look better regardless of how he or she plays; from equipment to apparel to golf carts to training aids to golf trophies, to name just a few of the many categories on display.
Welcome to the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show
And since the 27,000-member PGA of America is a partner sponsor, along with Reed Exhibitions, one of the world's largest trade-show organizers, there are many seminars and educational presentations about what's going on in the golf world. If you don't want to read any further: My main observation is that the industry feels a little healthier, and for women's golf, things are looking up.
The recently concluded three-day show - not including a Wednesday demo day - was not open to the public. The approximately 40,000 attendees were primarily golf professionals and merchandise buyers for golf shops, resorts and on-line stores. Also attending were the media; writers like me who write about the show and keep the "buzz" going.
Buzz is important because attendance at the show has steadily been declining the past few years. Today's merchandise buyers have more alternative ways to see products, such as via online websites, regional trade shows or by a visit from a company's sales representative. And, in this tough economic climate, many golf professionals and buyers simply cannot afford the trip to Orlando. But the show remains a major networking opportunity, and that's part of its excitement and value.
My review of the show focuses primarily on the new products and trends for women golfers. But as you will see, my observations apply to both men's and women's golf.
More Upbeat than Last Year
When you walked in the main entrance this year you heard blaring pop music coming from a Callaway fashion runway where female and male models showed off Callaway's apparel line and tossed gloves and hats to onlookers. Hey, golf can be fun.
I like that "fun" message. In fact others do, too. The January 2011 issue of Golf Digest is called the "Fun Issue." There's a subtle shift happening in golf. I'm not sure what the tipping point was, is or will be. But the value proposition for a four-hour-plus golf experience seems to be moving in the direction of fun, relaxation and a healthy outdoor experience. It's nice to hit the ball well and far, but perhaps we need a line on the scorecard that just measures enjoyment.
New & Different Golf Equipment
What's new in equipment are "white" woods. Yes, "white." TaylorMade-addidas Golf took over a huge amount of floor space at one end of the hall and showed off their new line of woods with white clubheads.
"Why white" you ask? TaylorMade's answer is that white clubheads provide better contrast and make alignment easier. They certainly look bigger, which I assume provides confidence to the golfer, and the white color eliminates any glare that may have occur from a metal clubhead. And "yes," there will be a line of TaylorMade Burner white clubs for women, due on the market February 4th.
Another new white club is in the new Puma-Cobra line. Cobra used to be an independent manufacturer but a few years ago were purchased by Acushnet, the conglomerate that manufactures Titleist balls and clubs, FootJoy products and many other brand products. Acushnet recently sold its Cobra division to Puma. The Puma brand has a large following in Europe and many women in the U.S. will recognize the Puma logo on stylish sneakers. But, with Puma's purchase of Cobra golf clubs, they have entered the golf-club manufacturing business along with an apparel line.
What may be the best reason for introducing these lines of white woods is that it will only take a single glance at your partner's golf bag to know whether they are playing with the very newest equipment. Smart marketing move!
Callaway's Lamborghini Display
The Callaway equipment section - a huge space - did not have white woods. Instead it had a beautiful black Lamborghini, which I think I would like better than a new set of clubs.
It takes a bit of marketing vision to blend golf clubs with cars, but Callaway did it by developing a composite metal in conjunction with Automobili Lamborghini that it's using in its new line of "forged" irons. The new metal is marketed as being stronger and lighter than the current titanium used in most clubs. For those not familiar with the "forged" term, it refers to the way the iron is made. A forged iron is made by pressing a front piece and back piece together in a sophisticated tool-making process.
"Cast" clubs - the alternative method - are made by pouring the metal into a mold. Women: Casting is like pouring batter in a cupcake pan. Some expert golfers say the feel of a forged club seems smoother as they hit the ball. Callaway is betting that millions of recreational golfers will like their forged clubs also.
But may hat's off to Callaway. They are making another attempt to introduce a set of clubs specifically for female beginners. I couldn't make my way through the crowd to find them, but they are a 14-piece set called the Solaire.
Near the Callaway exhibition and other equipment manufactures was a huge indoor driving range. (Years ago, there was no driving range because the space was needed for hundreds more exhibitors.) Each manufacturer had all its clubs out ready for anyone to try.
I never see a woman golfer hitting any clubs!! And frankly, I don't want to be the first one. Next year let's get a group of girls together and have some fun on that driving range. To protect our egos, we can just demo the wedges.
Conference & Interview Highlights
Mixed in with my visits to the exhibits were a series of conferences and interviews. Here are some highlights.
More Women Playing More Golf - Finally
One of the first pieces of good news was in a "State of the Industry" presentation by Jim Koppenhaver, president of Pellucid Corp (www.pellucidcorp.com), a consulting firm. Jim is a bit of maverick in the industry because he is very independent and calls the shots as he sees them. But his data-gathering is solid, sophisticated and timely.
For the first time in years, Koppenhaver reported that in 2010 the number of rounds by female golfers was up over last year (down for men) and the "participation rate," the number of female adult golfers as a percentage of all adult females, was also up (and down for the men). Jim offered the explanation that the male golfer 55 and over was probably particularly hit by the economic downturn in 2010 on both the home and job front.
The other major golf industry associations that report statistics will not publish their 2010 data until the spring and they often reorganize the categories that make it almost impossible to get year-over-year good data. But, it will be interesting to see if when the PGA of America and the National Golf Foundation publicize their numbers, they also report this up-tick in female golfers. It's time for all the earnest efforts to grow the game for women, like the PGA's Get Golf Ready program, to start paying off.
Another session I attended was given by Jon Last, President of the Sports and Leisure Research Group (www.sportandleisureresearch.com). Jon brings decades of experience to his analysis of the golf climate. Jon has the most current research that enables him to compare his very recent surveys with those from the past two years. His research is available on his website as a download.
The takeaways from Jon's presentation were that there was a slight increase in consumer confidence regarding the opportunity and affordability to play more golf in the future. But at the same time, his survey revealed that marketing initiatives for families, women and juniors were still minimal and, basically, oriented toward discounting.
Jon's emphasis was on "service" as a differentiator. Simple things like addressing a customer by name or referring to their prior visits were keys to building a strong customer base. I wanted to applaud these are the very points that I make in my "Best Practice List" regarding how to attract and retain more women golfers (see www.berkleyconsulting.com - best practices).
A highlight of my interviews was a chance to meet Arthur Little and his wife Jann Leeming. Arthur and Jann, through their own experience as golf course owners, founded a new initiative documented on their website www.golfwithwomen.com. Arthur is an excellent golfer and both he and Jann are experienced business executives. They traditionally vacationed in New England and, quite a few years ago, saw a property up for sale on the Maine-New Hampshire border that had a nine-hole golf course on it. They purchased the property out of bankruptcy and thus began their real-life experience of adding nine more holes and making a profitable business out of it.
In the course of growing that business they focused on increasing the number of women golfers. A fundamental change was developing shorter sets of tees for women that provide the same type of golf thinking (making birdies, pars and bogeys) that men experience. They advocate a set of tees that make a golf course as short as 4,200 yards and don't worry about how the scores will translate to the USGA handicap system. They also offered babysitting, of course! The total number of golfers grew significantly, and the number of women golfers increased from 35 to 52 percent.
Arthur was on a panel presented by the Executive Women's Golf Association in the Main Hall Auditorium on Friday afternoon. Arthur stated the problem clearly when he said that women just don't trust the golf industry. So, at every level, a facility has to work hard to win that trust.
I couldn't agree more. What I would add is that women themselves must take responsibility for bringing change to the industry. They have to organize and communicate to the owners and managers what they expect from a golf facility. And, if the response is negative, they should take their business elsewhere.
In the context of bringing change to the industry, the EWGA (www.ewga.com), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, held its annual breakfast presentation on Friday morning. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan was the keynote speaker. Among other observations from his first year as commissioner, Whan spoke about the new event on the 2011 schedule: the Founders Tournament and its mission to contribute a significant sum of money towards the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.
There has been a bit of controversy about the Founders Tournament. Will all the Tour players participate? And how much will be donated to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program? My take is that a tournament that honors the founders of the LPGA over 50 years ago - Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Shirley Spork, Peggy Kirk Bell - to name a few, is still a work in progress. The commissioner must have said it at least six times that the mission of the LPGA - like the mission of its founders - is to leave the game better than you found it. But the vision for this potentially awe-inspiring tournament to benefit girls' golf just hasn't come together yet.
Junior Golf Is "In" Again
A challenge for the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program is that they are not the only industry initiative focused on juniors. The PGA of America announced at the show that it is launching the PGA Sports Academy to promote the game to juniors. The details are a little thin at this point, but they are at least on the junior bandwagon.
There's the First Tee (a very successful junior program with about one-third females) along with its cousin, the National School golf Program, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, now the PGA Sports Academy, plus a new plethora of organized, private after-school golf programs.
The growth in junior golf has crept up on the industry. There was a junior golf bubble about five years ago . . . and then not much happened. But, in the NGF's 2009 report, the number of junior golfers is holding strong, with girls playing just about as many rounds as boys.
Do the girls need a special program? That's the question. I decided to ask my favorite expert on junior golf, Kathy Grant Nyman, an LPGA Class A professional who has been working with junior golfers for many years in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. She is the assistant golf pro at Deercreek Country Club in Jacksonville. We spent an hour talking about how she teaches juniors - especially girls.
According to Kathy, in a mixed group of both girls and boys ages 9-10, the girls do better than the boys. But then, the boys catch up and the girls will not do as well when they begin to feel intimidated. (What a surprise!! Teen age girls act a lot like regular women.)
So the LPGA has to decide where to put its efforts on girls' golf. To overlap and duplicate the First Tee and the PGA's programs, to develop a unique, more successful approach to teaching juniors, and/or to specialize in all-girls groups where the research shows it leads to better results? When I listen to Kathy describe how she teaches, how she makes it fun and how she focuses on skills, I know the LPGA has a head start on teaching girls.
The 6 million female golfers in the U.S. have to be the champions of girls' golf. Many future female golf stars cannot afford the clubs, coaching and traveling required for the junior golf circuit. For every Lexi Thompson, there may be tens or hundreds of young girls in this country that yearn for the opportunity to develop their skills. One thing that the LPGA and only the LPGA can do is focus on these young women. And women golfers - recreational golfers like me, who love the game - should feel like they are part of this effort. We have to leave the game better than we found it also.
LIJA Golf Wear
I did a quick walk-through of the apparel section, which gets smaller and smaller every year. I only focused on women's garb.
A line that seems to have some new energy is LIJA (www.lijastyle.com). Lynda Hyp, owner and founder, has branched into tennis as well as golf wear. She modified one of her best tennis skirts and made it a little longer so it works for golf. It's a neat look for those of us that like the short skorts.
In general, I noticed more patterns on more skorts made out of nice stretchy fabrics. I think I wore those 30 years ago, but they look new again! The Adidas line looks great. Nice cap sleeves on short sleeve shirts and nice sleeves with cuff detail on the long-sleeve shirts. Adidas has great fabrics and some surprises. One shirt has a black-and-white floral design - on the back only!
The Tail line didn't overwhelm me, but for women that like three-quarter sleeves, they have a great shirt made out of puckered fabric. That should be a winner.
Jan Craig Headcovers
The show has had a special "New Products" section for several years. This year it added an "Inventor's Spotlight Pavilion." It seemed to me that there were more booths marketing training aids and gadgets than ever before.
A couple of items caught my eye. One was a set of clips that hold golf-club covers (from www.visioneeringsports.com) together called the "Cover Guard" with the tag line "Never lose a head cover again." They reminded me of mitten clips my mom used to put in my winter jacket. The owners tell me that the most popular color is pink. Women don't like losing head covers!!
And even though I couldn't figure it out, I couldn't help taking a photo of what was voted one of the best new products: an alignment gadget called the SQRD UP (www.SQRDUP.com). If you know how it works, please email me.
Jan Craig hand-knit head covers (www.jancraigheadcovers.com) looked good last year and look even better this year. They can be customized with leather-imprinted logos or personalized with names. And the choice of styles and yarns is amazing. A great gift for men or women. Just one special driver headcover or a whole set.
Because the show had fewer vendors, I missed the little start-up companies that probably couldn't afford the rent in this down year (booths cost a lot of money).
Six years ago, I spotted a little stationery company called Bloom Designs; now it's a bigger company (www.bloomdesigns.com) and quite successful, but it got its start at the PGA Show.
And, two years ago a new women's line called Spartina 449 (www.spartina449.com) launched a line of beautiful and unique linen and leather pocketbooks and accessories. I immediately called a golf club that I knew would like them for their women's events. This year, Spartina has an even bigger presence and has extended its line to include many items like cute little note pads.
But a product that caught my serious attention was a money clip (www.m-clip.com). Marketed as the world's finest money clip, I believe it. It is a fabulous item for any men's tournament and can be made with a logo or even a custom design.
My problem with the money clip is that there is not one that has a woman's touch. Sometimes I just need a driver's license, credit card and a few bills that will fit in a small pocketbook. The m-clip would be perfect instead of slipping them loosely in a purse or pocket and hoping they won't fall out. I fell in love with one clip that was gold mother-of-pearl, but it was top of the line and too expensive.
I'm heartened by a company that says it will make a money clip just for me - with a flower or something feminine. I love it already.
Finding that one new product is what will bring me back again to the show next year. And I might even have a new white driver by then!
Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.
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