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Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Golf Spy Wraps Up The PGA Show

ARTICLE BY: GolfSpy T – Today our head club reviewer gives you a peek into his “Top 5″ items from the 2011 PGA Show!

In an earlier post I shared my PGA Show virgin’s perspective on Demo Day and the absolute insanity that is the apparel side of the golf industry.  This time around I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the state of things from the equipment side.
Before I move on to my random musings, here’s my personal top 5 favorite products from equipment side of the show:

1. Never Compromise Putters

The new collection is like nothing you’ve seen before from NC.  They’ve moved from a relative budget brand (once available at my local Golf Galaxy for $40) into the type of  conversations that includes names like Cameron and Bettinardi.  The complete and total transformation of the brand is nothing less than stunning.  Mark my words, Never Compromise will be huge in 2011.

2. Scratch Golf’s Insane Customizations

Scratch made a name for itself with its wedge lineup, and while wedges are probably still what the company is best known for, it’s pretty clear they’re not content to rest on their fancy soles.  What we saw at the PGA show suggests Scratch is determined to take customization to a whole ‘nother level.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what Don White is doing with 100% handmade clubs – the dude is an artist,  but the custom finish work we saw on the Scratch irons is off the chain.  The matte black irons are cool, but this polished smokey blue head, combined with a copper face, and white KBS shafts…It’s sick…just sick.

3. Srixon’s Custom Mitchell Bending Station

Mitchell quality combined with unmatched precision and the capability to bend up to 6 degrees.  The Srixon guys cooked this one up in house, and I think it’s a huge step forward as far as customization is concerned, and is no doubt already in their tour vans.  Bonus points for portability (it’s on wheels) and the use of power tools.  While not a mainstream product, it’s the coolest proshop accessory I saw at the show.

4. The Mantys

Part Segway, part golf cart.  ”Walking” the golf course never looked so easy or like so much fun.  With a range of approximately 36 holes, you can play all day.  We neglected to get pricing information, but my estimation is that the number falls somewhere between not cheap and damn!  Cost considerations aside, I’m pretty sure I want one.

5. MiniZoo Golf Bag Covers

I saw a tremendous amount of gear aimed at the young ones, but, with all due deference to Nike’s new kid’s clubs, the MiniZoo bag covers were by far the coolest.  You can turn your tyke’s golf bag into a Dalmation.  It’s awesome (except for the part where the head pops off). I’ve got a little one now, and my hope is she’ll enjoy the game as much as I do. Something like this seems like it could help raise her interest level, and that’s really all I’ll ever hope for.
* With my best in show out of the way, in no particular order, these are my other observations from my time on the big side of the convention center.

The PGA Show, it’s not for us

It sounds strange coming from a representative of a web site that’s covered the PGA Show every year of its existence, but yeah, the PGA Show really isn’t for us.  It’s primary purpose is to put buyers and sellers together.  The rest of us (the media), we’re just observers.  Knowing as much certainly helps to explain why, on the equipment side of things anyway, with the exception of Cobra’s forthcoming white S3 Driver, we saw absolutely nothing from the major OEMs that we hadn’t already seen.  Don’t get me wrong, just about everyone is delighted to talk you about his product, but at the end of the day, he’s there to sell it to the thousands of pro shop representatives on site for the show.

Simulators are growing in popularity

As a guy who relies on simulator technology for nearly all of the testing we do here at MyGolfSpy, I was keenly interested in anything and everything related to indoor golf technology.  Millions of golfers take to the outdoor links every year.  Only a fraction of those move indoors when it gets either too cold or too hot to play.  It’s golf’s next frontier, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
There were 3 large scale simulator installations at the show.  aboutGolf, HighDefinition Golf, and Full Swing Golf all showcased their technology.  As you know we leverage aboutGolf Simulators for our reviews, so I was especially interested to see how their technology stacks up to that of the other vendors.  From my conversations and what I observed, aboutGolf remains the leader.  While their presentations centered around their improving camera system, forceplate technology, and some really cool facial recognition stuff, the other guys were mostly talking about their graphics.  Don’t get me wrong, graphics matter (and nobody seems to do them better than FullSwing right now), but if the goal is to drive the technology away from the video game mindset and deliver it as a off-season golfing alternative, and legitimate teaching and fitting tool that can rival Trackman, then for now, aboutGolf is clearly the leader.  For what it’s worth, the tall blonde booth babe certainly helped keep the traffic steady at High Definition.

European Body Shapers – are all the rage in fitness

There were no less than 3 companies peddling these high speed European full body vibrators.  I honestly have no idea if they actually tone anything, or help take so much as an ounce of weight off, but damned if the 2 minute shake I stood through didn’t feel great.  It did such wonders for our aching legs, that GolfSpy X and I tried to hit up one of the booths after the show had closed down.  We were both disappointed to discover somebody had switched off the power.

Recognition of the MyGolfSpy Brand is High

It comes as no big surprises that all of the major OEMs know who we are.  We deal with them day in and day out all year long.  Many invited us to sit down at the show to discuss their new product lines.  We know some of you love that kind of stuff, but generally we try to leave the rehashing of the marketing info to the other guys, so more often than not we pass on those type of offers.
What’s really cool, however, is that not only did just about everyone I spoke with in an equipment booth know about MyGolfSpy, many told me how much they truly appreciate our completely unbiased and thorough approach to everything we do.  We definitely do things a bit differently here, and it’s refreshing to know that it’s not going unnoticed.
On a related note, on two separate occasion, VP-level representatives from smaller OEMs commented on our reaction to Golf Digest’s Hot List.  I’ll allow them to remain anonymous, but each suggested that, as it relates to their specific situation, they feel Golf Digest is being less than completely honest about the details of their club selection process.

Natalie Gulbis is Hot

Alright, maybe this is restating the obvious, but you know how these thing work.  Cameras, lighting, and highly-skilled makeup artists can turn a guy like me into Brad Pitt.  It’s my pleasure to report that their is no smoke and mirrors with Natalie.  What she looks like on TV is what she looks like from 3 feet away.  Just an FYI, she apparently does her grocery shopping at Whole Foods.

Grips, Grips, and More Grips

Winn, Lamkin, Golf Pride, Elite, Best Grips, Black Widow, Iomic, NO1, and a couple handfuls of other grip companies were all on display at the show.  Golf Spy X loves the counterweights offered in the Elite grip.  I’ll take the feel of the NO1.  What’s absolutely clear to us is that if the American companies don’t figure out how to make a high-quality, brightly colored grip before the Japanese guys hit the US market full force, they’re going to lose a lot of business.

More Putters Than You Can Shake Your Flatstick At!

Everybody and his brother (literally) is trying to sell a putter at the PGA Show.  From the well-established brands like Cameron, Bettinardi, SeeMore, and Grace, to the up and comers like Piretti, to the brand new kids on the block like Redemption putters, EVERYBODY is selling a putter.  I didn’t do the math, but there absolutely have to be more putters per square foot than the all the rest of the clubs in the bag combined.

A Dollar and a Dream

The slogan for the New York lottery used to be “all you need is a dollar and a dream”.  $5000 and dream gets you a small booth at the PGA Show.  You wouldn’t believe the number of people pouring their life savings into one shot at hitting it big with their product.  From head covers, to ball makers to fitness gizmos, guys with a big idea and a barrel of guts are taking their shots.  A few will succeed, most won’t, but I applaud them all for having the stones to go all in.

Branding the Brand

For me this was the most fascinating part of the show.  Clearly, each of the major OEMs was trying to make a statement with their booth.  For a company like Adams, budget can sometimes be a concern, but it was still strange to see them missing from both the indoor driving range and the showroom floor.  Nike, Mizuno, Fourteen and others had a presence at the indoor driving range, but elected not to set up shop on the showroom floor.  Given Nike’s apparently limitless budget it was a somewhat surprising move, but nevertheless the Nike team at the range tent was both accessible and welcoming.  At the very least, it was nice to put faces to some of the names we know over there.  In the single most entertaining conversation I had at the show, our primary contact at Nike went out of her way to point out that Nike has not announced a new golf ball.  I say again, there is no new golf ball from Nike.  Of course there isn’t…
Though Ping had a booth, it was understated and served primarily to showcase the company’s nFlight fitting technology.  There were as barely there as anyone with a large booth could have been.


The company had one of the larger booths at the show, but chose to fill it with an identity crisis of sorts.  The carnival minigolf atmosphere they set up for the Odyssey putters contrasted significantly with the image portrayed by the Lamborghini parked in the center of the booth.  Both seemed at odds with the all business mindset of the corporately dressed booth reps on hand for the duration.  If the company has a unified message, it was lost on me.  Granted, they seemed to be having fun on the apparel side, but the equipment booth played like an awkward episode of the Price is Right.


While I can’t say I was a huge fan of the dress code (reps all dressed in white suite jackets), the booth was exactly what I would have expected from Titleist.  In direct contrast to the audacious TaylorMade exhibit, Titleist played true to its reputation. Regardless of  whether you support their approach to the business of golf, everything they did served to cement what most golfers believe about the Titleist brand.  They had perhaps the classiest booth at the show, which is lock step inline with the company’s conservative, no nonsense reputation – even if the guys working the show sorta looked like the waitstaff  at Morton’s.
Speaking as an equipment junkie, the wide open layout provided easy access to what seemed like truckloads of woods, irons, wedges, and of course, Scotty Cameron putters.  Whether you just love their drivers, are all about da Voke, or you’re a hardcore Cameron collector, the Titliest booth left the company’s fans wanting for nothing.

Srixon (Cleveland and Never Compromise)

For the most part the Srixon conglomerate was the booth that just was.  Like Titleist, the sprawling setup was fully stocked with equipment.  The staff was friendly, and happy to talk about anything and everything related to their equipment, but beyond that, with the exception of the previously noted Never Compromise branch – where things are radically different these days – not much of note was going on.  My take on things is that they weren’t trying to convey anything specific beyond “here’s our gear”.  It’s certainly nothing profound, but the simplicity of it all was refreshing.

Cobra PUMA

For my money, no company had a better show than the newly formed union of Cobra Golf and PUMA.  Perhaps they benefited from location (in the heart of the equipment section), but their booth was packed for the duration, and the non-stop party atmosphere, made Cobra PUMA the hot spot, regardless of whether one wanted to check out the latest equipment, or just have a good time.
It’s no secret that PUMA is well positioned as the brand for the youthful, hip, and trendy.  One look at their apparel collection and it’s pretty clear what’s up.  What’s cool is that the company is taking that same approach with the somewhat newly acquired Cobra equipment line, and thus far it seems to be working.  When it was under the Acushnet umbrella Cobra was always Titleist’s little brother – always on the cutting edge of technology, but doing so without much fanfare.  Now Cobra has become the natural equipment extension of the PUMA brand.  They’re still on the cutting edge offering the same quality equipment they always have, but thanks to infinitely better marketing, Cobra is getting a real opportunity to shine on its own.  Cobra is cooler than it has every been.  For those worried that PUMA would destroy the Cobra brand, so far we’ve seen nothing but positives come from acquisition.  As with the outdoor demo day, it seemed like there was always a party in the Cobra PUMA booth.


3 days later and I’ve only just now sorted out my feelings on TaylorMade’s setup at the show.  The company had no presence on the large indoor driving range, and they had no presence on the equipment side of the showfloor.  What they did have was a large section at the end of the apparel side loaded with Adidas and Ashworth apparel, and a sea of TaylorMade equipment, with a clear emphasis placed on the snow white R11 series.  If you’re wondering why they wouldn’t set up a tent on the indoor range, well, that’s because they had their own range inside their sprawling booth.  Actually, I wasn’t nearly as much a TaylorMade booth as it was the TaylorMade wing of the 2011 PGA Show.
We’ve all seen the ads, and I don’t think I’m taking a leap here when I suggest that TaylorMade is attempting to position itself as a brand above all others.  From the private range, to the somewhat snarky cards TaylorMade reportedly had sent to all of the Titleist staff in town for the show, it’s clear that TM certainly believes, and most definitely wants you to believe that they’re better than everybody else.
There’s an exceedingly fine line between positioning yourself as different and better or simply coming off as distastefully arrogant.  With 3 days of reflection, I’m included to say that TaylorMade walked it, and will begrudgingly suggest they walked it masterfully.  If you wanted to see TaylorMade’s stuff you had to go out of your way to do it.  With sore legs, I almost literally went crawling to them.
The layout was part well-stocked proshop, part museum, with just a hint of trendy cafe tossed in for good measure.  Yes, I suppose it was all slightly pretentious and slightly obnoxious, but if the goal was to distance themselves from the competition (both figuratively and geographically), they were nothing short of absolutely successful.

Counting The Days Until The 2012 Show!

For me the 2011 PGA Show was an absolute labor of love.  GolfSpy X and I worked a string of 16 hour days working the floor, and uploading pictures.  I’m pretty sure we stopped to eat every now and again, but I certainly can’t swear to it.  I’m dead tired, still way behind on sleep, but I’m already counting the days until the 2012 show.

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