“The Major of the Golf Business”

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“The Major of the Golf Business” is not an exaggeration as it applies to the PGA Merchandise Show held each January in Orlando, Fla. and the 63rd iteration concluding yesterday had its share of optimism and anticipation evident most years. Additionally, this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the sponsoring organization, the PGA of America.2014_MRCH_OfficialContractor_GoldBlue
Attendance figures were not available at this writing however long time industry members and media commented the numbers of buyers, PGA Professionals and other attendee categories seemed to be as high or higher than previous few years. It was expected over 40,000 would be present for at least one of the three days of exhibitions on the floor of Orange County Convention Center and at the Demo Day preceding. The number of companies exhibiting was approximately equal to 2015, close to 1,000. The annual Show is not open to the public.Lexi_DemoDay_Autographs_640x425
PGA of America President Derek Sprague was quoted as saying, “We had record attendance at the Outdoor Demo Day and pre-registration for the PGA Merchandise Show was up over all categories.”
Show week kicked off with paratroopers, bagpipers and ceremonial tee shots to begin the 14th Outdoor Demo Day on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at Orange County National Golf Center in suburban Winter Garden. The 200 plus hitting bays of the circular 42-acre driving range afforded PGA Professionals and buyers the opportunity to test equipment from more than 100 companies.
BubbaWatson_OvercastDemoDay_640x425The Show exhibitions began on Wed. the 27th and ran through yesterday. In addition to the newest and latest clubs, balls, apparel, accessories and dozens of other golf related items several celebrities were on hand to promote their sponsor’s products. Among the names on the floor were Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, David Ledbetter, Martin Hall, Lexi Thompson, Bubba Watson, Stephen Bowditch, Ian Poulter, Lydia Ko, Justin Thomas and Graeme McDowall.
The question however is the same every year, what is the state of the game and particularly the health of the golf business? The answer is the obvious concern of everyone making the annual pilgrimage to Orlando.
To find an answer, consensus was impossible to determine, but two comments were heard time and again for the entire week. First was the acknowledgement the past 12 months had been tough especially for equipment companies and in fact more mergers, changes in ownership and even bankruptcies were topics of conversation. Second, and there no doubt it potentially reflects an overly optimistic viewpoint, new technology is making clubs more user-friendly and particularly technology as applied to instruction, on course applications and social interactions will continue to attract new players to the game. Heard more than once regarding some whiz-bang tech gadget or app was, “Millennials will love it!”
For the three days of exhibition the Equipment Testing Center was busy. This indoor driving range with 47 hitting stations, putting green and short game area offered thousands of possible combinations of clubheads and shafts for trial. On the increasingly important soft goods end of the Show floor, lifestyle and fitness apparel drew added attention as younger people (and some not so young) look for styles that may be worn for leisure, on-course and off-course activities. Fitness apparel for men and women also has seen increasing popularity and is being carried by golf shops.

Patriot Series Irons from Sterling England

One of the benefits of the annual PGA Merchandise Show is having the chance to find unique golf products, ones that separate themselves from the ordinary and usual. In this instance it’s a set of irons the company says reflect that golf is a “gentlemen’s game” with a long history, worthwhile traditions and a heritage deserving of preservation.
SterlingEngland_Sovereig_300x250Having these lofty sentiments in mind Sterling England, headquartered in Chelmsford, Essex, created customized irons for the player wanting something out of the ordinary, indeed a player looking for clubs that stand out from the crowd. For American golfers they accomplished this with their latest, the Patriot Series irons.
In a word, and if that word can be applied to a golf club, they are gorgeous or perhaps a more sophisticated description would be aesthetically pleasing.
In addition to their looks there’s lots of technology and attention to detail in both the design and manufacture. Precision forging of special carbon steel produces heads with an internal grain structure and hardness that give great feel at impact plus the CNC milling of the back cavity also helps with feel and performance. However the most distinctive feature of the Patriot irons is the American eagle design inside the back cavity. Covered in gold leaf, silver or black, it may properly be called a work of art.
Sterling England also makes a Sovereign Series of irons as well with the back cavity art reflecting the company’s British roots.
Ordering of the Patriot Series irons is possible online at Sterling-England.com, however the company strongly suggests to ensure properly matching your swing it’s best to schedule a fitting session at one the 13 authorized retailers in the U.S. Pricing for an 8-iron set is $2,800 for the silver model, $2,960 in black and $3,000 for gold leaf.

FJ FreeStyle – Inspired by a Tree Frog

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The newest shoe from FootJoy has striking good looks and a one-of technology to provide great grip of the turf and more freedom of movement during the swing – a big factor in being able to generate more power.

And it’s the only golf shoe I know of that can claim its inspiration came from a Red Tree Frog.

“FreeStyle is arguably FootJoy’s most imaginative and distinctive shoe ever and will particularly help golfers who would benefit from increased freedom of movement when swinging the golf club,” said Doug Robinson, FJ Vice President of Design and Development Worldwide. “By drawing inspiration from a tree frog and emulating their incredible grip and flexibility properties in the texture and functional elements of an outsole, our design and development team has created something truly unique in the golf shoe market.”

The extraordinary grip of the FreeStyle can be attributed to F.R.O.G.S. Not the one pictured but “FJ’s Revolutionary Outsole Grip System,” a combination of a super-flexible translucent outsole (softer feel and extra grip), a new soft and comfortable midsole compound and Softspikes Tour Lock system using Pulsar low-profile cleats with what FootJoy says is a “frog-like flex.”

The FreeStyle will hit shops in February and golfers will have a choice of six color combinations, two with the Boa closure system. Pricing is $190 per pair or $210 with Boa.

Golf Skate Caddy

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The Golf Skate Caddy is a practical single rider golf cart that makes sense even for the less nimble and doesn’t require an outrageous set of skills to use—all you have to do is stand on it. And, because it has four wheels there’s no surfer-like balancing act to stay on. Maximum speed is 13mph and its stable as long as it’s ridden sensibly with steep slopes negotiated properly.

The battery powered Golf Skate Caddy is appealing for a couple of very practical reasons. It speeds up play and being relatively light—only about 85 pounds plus bag and rider–doesn’t tend to overly compact turf.

In front is a platform and strap arrangement to hold the golf bag, in the back there’s a cooler and a seat that slides into place for use when waiting for the group in front of you to hit. Operation is straightforward simply step on, grab the steering handle in one hand and the pistol-style remote control in the other and you’re on your way. There’s even a custom-designed umbrella that may be mounted in a bracket on the handle for shelter from sun and rain and each GSC may be GPS-tracked by golf club personnel.

GSC_IMG_31331_200x260Asked about industry and club operator acceptance prior to the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show next week in Orlando, Fla., Patrick Pires Executive Vice President said, “This is, in fact, our second appearance at the PGA Show. We had some excellent interactions at the 2015 show and fostered some incredible relations in the industry at a crucial time. This has powered GSC for an even stronger and more powerful presence in 2016.”

Pires responded when asked about pricing, “Our retail price is $4995, which includes all the bells and whistles!” This places the Golf Skate Caddy below the price of most conventional two rider electric carts.

I found the operational learning curve is only a few minutes, in fact it’s fun to buzz around on and everyone who tries it seems to have a smile on their face.

Though the company does sell to individuals their primary market is either sale or leasing to golf facilities which then rent them on a per round basis to golfers at a suggested minimum rental fee of $20.

According to the website: “The unit can speed up play by 50 percent for 18 holes and can move up to six players per tee time providing additional revenue for courses. It’s extremely turf friendly and has less impact than traditional carts. The vehicles are also equipped with the latest technology to allow users to play music and connect to their smart phones.”

Aaron Parkinson the company’s CEO reported, “Golf Skate Caddy is for golfers of all ages. Surprisingly more than 70 percent of our individual sales to date have been to people 55 and older.”

Images courtesy of Golf Skate Caddy

10 Rounds with Tour Edge Exotics CB Pro Tungsten Irons

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Hybrids and fairway woods from Tour Edge Golf built their reputation as a first class manufacturer and though they make clubs to fill every slot in the bag their irons have always been somewhat under the radar. They plan to remedy that in 2016.

There are three new models under the Exotics brand banner, the EXd, EXi and CB Pro Tungsten. The game-improvement EXds have a variable thickness face with more of it unsupported compared to the previous Exotics E8 model and the undercut cavity has been increased in size—think forgiveness and added distance. The Exi model has a more traditionally shaped head with less offset, a variable thickness face similar to the EXd plus a dual undercut cavity and a sole slot for more face flex at impact.

The model that went through our extensive on-course testing was the Exotics CB Pro Tungsten and according to the company the one with the most technical advancements. The test period was planned to be 10 rounds but after two trips and multiple sessions on the range the number came out closer to 20.

The net effect was having the opportunity to become very familiar with them and in a word the CB Pro Tungstens are solid. Solid sounding and solid hitting.

According to Tour Edge this is the result of two design features. First, each iron from 2-iron (yes, there is a 2-iron available) through the attack wedge is hollow behind the face which provides more flexibility of the thin steel face insert at impact. Plus because the head weight is moved closer to the perimeter there was less twisting on those rare (yeah, right) occasions my swing missed dead center of the face.TE_CBProT_techlayer

Secondly, the sole has a tungsten-nickel alloy weight between 90 and 95 grams based on the iron’s loft…more in the wedges and less in the long irons. With the weight concentrated in the sole achieving a high launch was not a problem, even from the rough, and as those of you who have played out of Florida’s Bermuda rough know, that’s a valuable characteristic for irons.

Trajectory control was very good from long irons to wedges, particularly when a knockdown into the wind was called for and a comment about the grooves on the CB Pro Tungstens is appropriate. During the test rounds playing Titleist Pro V1xs, I can’t remember ever spinning back as many iron shots which says a lot about the quality of the club to ball contact and the grooves.

Pricing is at the low end of the range for irons of this quality and performance: $799.99 for 3-iron through pitching wedge with KBS Tour 90 steel shafts and $100 additional if you want graphite—UST Mamiya Recoil shafts are stock.

Negatives: the hollow construction gives a somewhat thicker topline, a look that took a bit of getting used to and downwind I felt sometimes the ball ballooned but I don’ t have the expertise to place that all on the irons.

Recommendation: If you don’t take a hard look at the Tour Edge Exotics CB Pro Tungsten irons you are missing out. In addition to their performance it’s important to remember comparable competitive eight iron sets is at least $100 higher and sometimes more…a lot more. The value for your money is excellent.

Images courtesy of Tour Edge Golf