Equipment blog - PGA Merchandise Show

Claire Bates, The R&A’s Assistant Director – Equipment Standards, recently returned from a visit to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida. Here she gives a glimpse into one of the most important annual events in the golfing calendar…

For many people involved in the golf industry, the third week in January marks the start of their annual pilgrimage to Florida. Not to visit Downtown Disney, however, but to be part of the roller coaster that is the PGA Merchandise Show. This is one of the biggest annual exhibitions of golfing products worldwide and it is held in the enormous Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando. The Show brings together manufacturers from all over the globe and it is their opportunity to present their latest line in products and services – just as the new golfing season is starting to get underway (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least).

Throughout its 59 year history, the Show has gone from strength to strength and in 2012 more than 1,000 companies arrived to set up their stands to welcome thousands of PGA Professionals and golf shop buyers from approximately 75 countries. Products on display include clubs, balls, accessories, training aids, clothing and GPS devices. Other, slightly more specialised stands, display golf course signage, Clubhouse furniture, art, buggies, launch monitors and golf tour packages. For any golfer, it really is like walking into the grown-up equivalent of Hamleys – albeit about 10 times as big! Comfortable walking shoes are an essential part of the experience.

From the perspective of The R&A’s Equipment Standards department, this event represents an ideal opportunity to catch up with all of the major manufacturers who are congregated under one roof – to meet and discuss areas of common interest. Regular dialogue between ourselves and manufacturers is an important part of what we do – and over the past few years we have worked hard to try and build up a solid and healthy working relationship with them. This is most notably evidenced by the Equipment Rule-making Forum held in Vancouver in November 2010, to which all manufacturers were invited to attend.

Whilst much of the equipment at the show is already known to us through the submission process, there are always a few surprises. During breaks between meetings, we try our best to walk up and down the aisles – perusing the smaller stands to spot products which are perhaps unfamiliar. It is amazing what you can find – and not all of it strictly permitted by the Rules of Golf!

Running concurrently to the exhibition is also an education, training and discussion Forum which focusses its sessions on many diverse areas of the game including coaching techniques, commercial opportunities and development initiatives. Many high profile players and business leaders were in attendance this year to address the audiences including Davis Love III, Ian Poulter, Paula Creamer and many more. A large equipment testing area was also incorporated within the Show halls – so that buyers could try out various products before placing their orders.

This regular January trip to the US also gives us an opportunity to visit our colleagues at the United States Golf Association (USGA). This year, in the week prior to the Show, some of us spent time at their headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey meeting with our respective counterparts to discuss the projects we are working on, to share information and ensure that we are continuing to interpret the equipment Rules in the same, consistent way. These meetings happen at all levels of the organisation – and involve both staff and Committee.

After a tiring and very rewarding week, we have all now returned home. But, for some of us – our travels will continue in just a few short weeks when we go off to the Japan Golf Fair in Tokyo.