It won’t be exactly as the golf industry has known it, but the PGA Show is ready for its first in-person gathering since January of 2020 – less than two months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on everyday life.
The PGA of America and PGA Golf Exhibitions (owned by Reed Expositions, the global trade show producer) were forced to put on a virtual PGA Show last year, replacing what is typically a four-day extravaganza featuring more than 1,000 companies and brands, some 40,000 golf industry executives and more than a million square feet of exhibition space at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Held each January, the “major of the golf industry” is a vital meetup of passionate golf lovers looking to conduct business, network and learn.
“We accomplish more in three days at the PGA Show than we could by booking three weeks of appointments with various vendors every day back at the club.”
The remote PGA Show offered as many resources as it realistically could, but it’s impossible to replicate walking through the expansive village of wall-to-wall golf that is the show floor. Not only do you come across seemingly every golf product and service known to man, but there are thousands of conversations being had between people who want the game and industry to be healthy and robust. Many of those are PGA professionals looking to buy merchandise for their shop and searching for ways to better serve their clientele. Without the show, their job is harder.
“We accomplish more in three days at the PGA Show than we could by booking three weeks of appointments with various vendors every day back at the club,” said Will Hutter, director of golf at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
There is no true replacement for it. Knowing this, and having the experience of holding recent large-scale events that have efficiently implemented proper safety guidelines, operators are moving full speed ahead for an in-person return next month, Jan. 25-28. The OCCC hosted 117 events with a combined 712,000 attendees from October 2020 through October 2021, while Reed has also successfully navigated this past year with many industry trade shows of similar stature.
“We’ve had people show up to events where they haven’t gathered in over two years and they are crying,” said Marc Simon, vice president of PGA Golf Exhibition. “That connection outside of your community is so important to people, it’s emotional. And the golf industry is such a tight-knit family.”
The show will go on, but it will look different. This time, there are only about 600 companies and brands on tap – some regulars like Callaway and Acushnet (Titleist and FootJoy) will be absent but plan on attending in 2023 if pandemic conditions improve – and attendance will also likely be down as roughly 5,000 have pre-registered to this point and the final count figures to be well below normal levels.
“With other industry shows we’ve had this year, we’ve seen around 50 to 70 percent of the previous year’s attendance,” Simon said. “But what is really important is that those who do go are motivated to do business.”
Focusing on those who are coming brings an opportunity to reimagine what the PGA Show can be.
This kind of revamping has happened in the past, such as when Demo Day was added in the early 2000s to breathe new life into an exhibition that some, at the time, believed had seen its best days. Now, in the spirit of a crisis being a terrible thing to waste, the PGA and Reed have collaborated on initiatives that will likely last well beyond the pandemic, recognizing some of the fundamental changes that have taken place over the past two decades in the golf equipment sector. One industry executive observed that the PGA and Reed are working more closely than ever to ensure that the PGA Show delivers value to all segments of the industry.
What will that mean to those who come to Orlando next month and in the future?
In the short term it likely will mean unvaccinated attendees needing to wear a mask. Current health and safety guidelines also include increased sanitation, hygiene and physical distancing. The show is working closely with the convention center to follow their local protocols but guidelines will continue to evolve leading up to the show, especially with the Omicron variant being a possible factor. PGA Show operators plan to remain nimble.
Long term, many of this year’s alterations will be considered or implemented in future years. The show floor will take significantly less square footage and will include a stage near the main entrance as opposed to the far end of the hall where it was previously. This central area will be called the PGA Hub, a home to an innovation forum and presentations throughout the week, providing a gathering space for conversation. Among the main focus of this year and beyond will be promoting thought leadership, stimulating conversations about how to move the game forward in the post-pandemic era while deepening connections between people and companies. PGA Show Connects, a 365 digital platform, is offering a series of digital events leading up to the show to assist with this.
Showgoers will notice some cosmetic changes to a floor layout that has stayed mostly the same in recent years. There is also a new logo and the official elimination of the word “Merchandise” in what was formerly called the PGA Merchandise Show.
This comes during a fascinating time for the golf industry. Despite supply chain concerns and continued monitoring of how COVID-19 impacts the business, equipment sales and demand to play the game are in a promising place. A recent National Golf Foundation survey found that roughly 25 million people plan on giving a golf-related gift for the holidays. Rounds played are projected to easily beat the 2020 surge, with some estimates saying it could be up by more than 10 percent.
While companies have a variety of challenges and some weren’t ready to commit to attending the PGA Show, others felt they wanted to be a part of it during a period of success for the industry.
“Our industry is very fortunate to have a lot of positive momentum,” said Dan Murphy, president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone Golf. “We don’t take this for granted, so we’re going to the show to keep the good vibes going. We have a lot of important news to share and believe it’s the best venue to do so. Also, we owe it to the industry to be there and add our energy to help sustain the current boom.”
Mike Powell, the president of Srixon, Cleveland, Xxio and Asics, shared that his brands feel a deep connection to PGA professionals and want to support their mission.
“Our company firmly believes that the PGA professionals are the lifeblood of the golf industry,” Powell said. “We sincerely appreciate what they have done to grow our business. The ability to interact with PGA professionals at the PGA Show gives us valuable insight into our industry at a grassroots level and how we should prepare for the future. While these are challenging times, the PGA of America has gone above and beyond to implement safety measures and host a PGA Show in 2022. With these new measures, we have decided to attend the PGA Show and show our support to the PGA of America and the PGA professionals across the country.”
While life in the age of COVID-19 makes any set of plans subject to change, an in-person show promises to bring a different type of energy than in past years.
It won’t be as large in scale, but those who attend will be more enthusiastic than ever to be involved once again. Golf is, after all, a game of connections. Next month, those connections are set to be renewed as the show finally goes on.
Top: Exhibitors connect with customers at the 2020 PGA Show.