WINTER GARDEN, FLORIDA
| The hype, hope and hysteria of the annual PGA of America Demo & Fitting Day was on full display under idyllic conditions January 24 at the Orange County National Golf Center, thrilling some newcomers while comforting other longtime PGA Show attendees.
“I wanted to come to the show to see how the big boys do it versus the small guys like me,” said first-time Demo Day participant Kenneth Duncan, the 29-year-old CEO of Atlanta-based Renegade Golf.
PGA of America officials said 60 golf companies from all over the world participated in the one-day outdoor show spread out over Orange County National, which also serves as the home of the North Florida PGA Section.
“I want to grow my business, but I don’t have any celebrities like the big guys do. I’m just here learning,” Duncan said.
He was part of the NBC Sports Next newcomers initiative called “Better Together,” and said he was learning how the golf industry works and how he can work to impact it.
One thing it didn’t take him long to learn was the dozens of golf companies spread out around the 42-acre circular driving range at Orange County National represented plenty to take in at one time.
“I learned I can’t even make it around the entire circle here,” Duncan said. “I was going to walk the entire range and see everybody, but it’s just too many. Everything is so big here.”
An estimated 10,000 industry insiders and their guests turned out under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s to see the latest golf products in outdoor conditions.
If you can drive it, ride it, smoke it or hit it, then there was a patch of central Florida turf on which to try it out during Demo & Fitting Day.
“This (Demo Day) is really amazing,” said Martin Wyeth, CEO of Power Tee, which is based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. “It’s the biggest show in golf. You have to be here, just to be a part of it. It’s 450 yards across to the other side of the range. I don’t think you could drive a ball across, but I guess you could try.”
Power Tee is a synthetic-turf-based platform raised 8 inches and placed on a practice range to allow for more lift off practice shots. It also automatically tees up a ball and can provide instant data feedback.
This is the 12th year Wyeth – a native of England who claims to have 80 percent of the U.K. golf market secured, including St. Andrews’ Old Course – has been at Demo Day hoping to equal his success in the U.S. market.
He said he spends $50,000 a year on Demo Day and the PGA Show, which followed for the next three days at the Orange County Convention Center, but added that being part of the experience is well worth it.
“We have to see customers here, both current and potential,” Wyeth said. “You want to give them the best experience, and that’s the difference between the Demo Day and the convention center. You can see the ball flying in the air here, and we have people participating here going from a skeptic to, ‘Why doesn’t everybody do this?’ ”
Matthew Turner, operations director at Golf Shafts of America in Carlsbad, California, was wandering the grounds with members of his staff and said the contrast between the outdoor Demo Day and the three days inside the massive convention center was important to him as well.
“The contrasts between the two are really amazing,” Turner said, “and we want to see how our shafts perform. I’ve been here 10 times, and we have to meet our customers and suppliers and see people we haven’t seen since last year. I’m in California, but this is the real meeting place for the (golf) world.”
Renegade Golf’s Duncan recently received USGA certification for his company’s golf balls as a conforming product.
“This wasn’t a cheap or easy process,” he said, adding that it furthered his goal as a minority-owned golf business to reach an underserved market.
“I just wanted to make golf and golf balls more accessible, cheaper and cooler. Nobody in my circle at home plays golf. We have to reach those people. We’ve got to get busy. We want to bring golf to people in my space. We want to target minorities and get more people to (play) golf.”
This sunny patch of central Florida provided just the path for Demo Day dreamers to make it in the golf world.