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The State of Golf: News from the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show

After 61 years, the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., has become synonymous with the latest and greatest golf products and gear. But the most important new developments for the golf industry each year unfold not on the showroom floor, but inside the news conference hall.

Here’s a look at the hot topics debated during the 2014 forums.

State of Industry

During the State of the Industry panel, PGA President Ted Bishop, (third from left), Annika Sorenstam (middle), Golf Channel President Mike McCarley (far right) and others gathered to discuss the biggest issues facing the game today. Photo by Katharine D.

Growing the Game

It’s no secret that involvement in the game has been on the decline in recent years. To solve the issue, it was recognized that while golf in the 2016 Olympics and increased television coverage will bring greater visibility to the game, golf has to grow as a participatory sport, not just a spectator sport.

How to make golf more appealing? On-course time needs to be shorter, the game needs to be more fun and more exciting – all without losing the core traditions.

Mark King, TaylorMade CEO said to attract the younger generation, “You have to make golf cool.” This can mean easing up on some of the more restrictive aspects of the game and recognizing ways to get kids, women and the young adults involved. Suggestions included everything from family days on two or three holes and establishing family tees to setting up a modified routing on 18-hole courses and building shorter courses.

All in the Numbers

A report by Jim Koppenhaver of Pellucid presented by ING (International Network of Golf) noted that rounds of golf and revenue have declined a small percentage since last year, except in a few special markets like Miami. Yet the good news is that it appears the industry has stabilized and is in the process of regrouping. Helping in the efforts to stay above water were ancillary gains in areas like food and beverage.

Confusion remains about just how many golfers there are out there, however. David Fay, former executive director of the USGA and a leader in the movement to make the game and its championships more open to all said, “ We have suffered from real fallacies — fallacies of numbers. We don’t have 25-26 million golfers. I think that’s a myth. I think the real number is somewhere around 15 million golfers. And we have too many golf courses… out there that are under utilized….Let’s talk about 15 million golfers and let’s see what they [course owners] can do with these courses.”

Jan bel jan center. Woman architect

Moderator Debbie Waitkus, course architect Jan Beljan and golf business consultant Arthur Little discuss how to foster a more women-friendly golf environment during a panel sponsored by Callaway Golf. Photo by Katharine D.

Women on the Move

Developing greater awareness in women’s golf was a key issue. Organizations like EWGA (Executive Women’s Golf Association) and WIGI (Women in the Golf Industry) hosted social and informational events.

EWGA’s CEO Pam Swensen received an ING Industry Award for her outstanding work in leading the organization to an all-time high membership of more than 14,000 members and drawing recognition to the $66 million impact of women’s buying power in the industry.

At the PGA of America’s National Awards, women played a prominent roll with Annika Sorenstam receiving the honor of “PGA First Lady of Golf” and Nicole Weller, PGA director of instruction at The Landings Club in Skidaway Island, Ga., copping the PGA Junior Golf Leader Award.

Annika said, “I’m excited about 2014. We are going to keep on going, put it in another gear and let’s get the young ones and women to play the game.”

Making Golf Fun

Weller’s teaching style celebrates a refreshing look at how to get kids hooked on golf. She’s enthusiastic about getting youngsters involved with a rewards system and fun stuff like using colorful balls, tubes, games and costumed events as well as her high-five upbeat teaching style. Weller said making it fun, “helps children fall in love with the sport. It has to be fun. Why do it if it’s not.” She also said, “Kids need to start to learn golf earlier at two and three years old.”

“If you can get a kid to get the ball airborne, you’re probably going to get them hooked,” said Fay,

Another PGA honoree, Lou Guzzi, director of instruction at Talamore Country Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania, is not above dressing up as a pirate to bring fun and laughter to the teaching bay. Named PGA Teacher of the Year, Guzzi said, “I find out what switch works to reach my students.”

There was also much buzz centered on TaylorMade’s initiative, “Hack Golf,” aimed at bringing golfers back to the course by making the game more appealing. Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America said, “ I think that type of thing is really indicative of where we need to go with golf in the future.”

The Long Putter Controversy

Opinions were mixed over the wisdom of banning anchored long putters. Bishop said, “…the whole anchoring thing, that’s up to other people but I think anything you can do to make the equipment really good and to make the game maybe a little bit easier is a positive not a negative.”

Annika added, “I don’t really think equipment is the problem with the game. I think it’s the whole experience. I don’t think we’re inviting. I don’t think it’s fun. I don’t think we care about the people on the fringe. We only care about the people who love the game for traditions of the game. That’s ridiculous for me. And they make up such a small part of our game, why would we organize an entire industry around a couple million duffers. Doesn’t make any sense to me.”


Featured image courtesy of Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek

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