Saturday, January 30, 2010

PGA Merchandise Show, Friday, Day Two

Friday is typically the biggest day of the PGA Merchandise Show. It’s the day I spend the most time there and usually when the biggest celebrities show up.

Strolling through the aisles, I saw Paula Creamer at the Sundog Eyewear booth, Christina Kim, Angela Stanford and Anna Nordqvist at the LPGA Tour booth, Nancy Lopez at the Nancy Lopez Golf booth and golf instructor Jim McLean at The Bootlegger booth.

As I ambled past booth after booth, it eventually donned on me that one celebrity’s image I didn’t see was Tiger Woods. In past years Woods’ image has been splashed all over the place at the show. With Woods’ infidelity scandal still fresh in the minds of exhibitors and attendees, it seems everybody just wants to avoid the topic all together.

One glaring example of the Woods omission is at the VedaloHD booth. VedaloHD is a brand of sunglasses endorsed by Steve Williams, Woods' caddy. There’s a large photo of Williams at the booth and the caption underneath it reads, “Caddy to the No. 1 Golfer in the World,” with nary a mention of the tabloid embattled superstar.

The highlight of my day was spending a few minutes talking with Jim McKenzie, director of golf courses and estates management, and Gareth Rees Jones, director of marketing, for Celtic Manor Resort, which will serve as the site and host hotel for the 2010 Ryder Cup. While Wales is off the golf vacation beaten path, Jones told me Celtic Manor is ideally located for those wanting to enjoy a golf getaway with their spouse. “We’re located only 20 minutes from Cardiff, 25 minutes from Bristol and 45 minutes from Bath,” says Jones. “We’re surrounded by dozens of castles, Roman ruins and exceptional links courses.”

I highly suggest you go to the resort’s website to find out more about this resort, which has three golf courses, two spas, five restaurants and sports activities such as clay pigeon shooting, tennis, fishing, mountain biking and walking and running trails.

Later, I ran into an old friend, golf course architect Ron Garl, who told me about some of the new projects he’s working on in various parts of the world, including the The Admirals Club at Nine Dragons Golf Resort in Shanghai, China, a 27 hole resort course with 18 holes already open for play; the Chiangmai-Alpine Golf Course and Royal Gems Golf City in Thailand; the Guaymaral Golf Course and Mar de Indias Golf & Beach Resort in Colombia; Bijao Golf Club in Panama; Palermo Golf Club in Argentina and Lekki Beach Golf Resort in Nigeria.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

PGA Merchandise Show, Thursday, Day One

The first day of the PGA Merchandise Show is a good time to get your bearings and devise some sort of plan to walk the acres of golf equipment and products on Friday. Here are a few news items from Day 1:

St. Andrews Links chose the show to launch its new official website, which provides a full range of information on how to book golf at the seven St. Andrews Links courses, including the Old Course, and features and new online golf shop featuring official Old Course and St. Andrews Links Merchandise.

Three other important websites for those planning on attending the Ryder Cup in September in Wales are, and Wales and Celtic Manor Resort (site of the matches) were well represented at the show.

For golf travelers, I visited a couple of booths that have some exceptional products that may not shave any strokes off your score, but will certainly help your “travel game”.

I chatted for a few minutes with Ralph Dunning, president of Dunning Sportswear, who showed me a product line of versatile dress shirts and sportswear. It’s an excellent line of wrinkle free products that also incorporate moisture management. For the intrepid golf traveler, you can throw away that travel iron, because this line battles wrinkles better than any I’ve ever seen. The designs are impressive as well. Dunning’s line features clean silhouettes, athletic fits, timeless colors and vintage 60’s tailoring. In addition, Dunning’s high-tech fabrics are all about performance and they won’t wash- or wear-out after repeated use.

Ralph Dunning is an avid road rider and Ironman competitor, who used his knowledge gained from designing fabrics for the cycling and triathlete market.  He entered the golf market in 2001 and was at the forefront of introducing performance fabrics to golfers.

Later, I talked with Jeff Herold, founder and inventor of Club Glove, an innovative luggage company offering golf bags, travel bags, head covers, gloves and towels, ski bags and other related products. Herold demonstrated the “Train Reaction Luggage System” to me. It allows you to carry multiple pieces of luggage at one time in unison. The three bags (which can be a combination of golf bag, duffel bag, weekend bag or laptop bag) are easily attached to each other and they glide easily across all surfaces, including cobblestones and grass, thanks to high quality, in-line skate wheels. Most luggage on the market has cheap wheels that don’t navigate easily. Club Glove has designed a great system that allows you to walk a concourse in the airport and have both hands free—one to hold a cell phone and the other to hold a sandwich. Now, that’s the type of innovation travelers can appreciate.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A PGA Merchandise Show Pre-Show Primer

For those in the golf industry an introduction to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando is not necessary.  However, for those outside the industry I’ll provide you with a short overview and what I anticipate seeing at this year’s show. Why? Because, unfortunately, the public is not invited and security is tight.

Staged at the end of January at the Orlando Orange County Convention Center, the PGA Merchandise Show attracts more than 40,000 movers and shakers, PGA Professionals, manufacturing executives, retailers and a few wannabes who want to get into the golf business.

Next week, right here on this blog, I’ll provide you with an in-depth look at what’s new in golf in 2010.

Now, back to the show.

There are 10 miles of show aisles with every thing from the latest forged irons and titanium head drivers to ancillary golf industry products like cigars, single malt whiskeys, wine produced by PGA Tour pros, wacky headcovers and golf range tractors. The bottom line is, if you’ve got a golf product and you’re not represented some way at the PGA Merchandise Show, you haven’t got much of a golf product. Some 1,000 golf manufacturers have a booth or exhibit space at the show. In addition, there’s an outdoor Demo Day at Orange County National Golf Center where retailers and media types can try out new equipment that will begin appearing at stores in late February and early March, a variety of education conferences, a career fair, a concert featuring the rock group “Kansas”, a PGA Forum Stage, a new product center and other activities.

Among the celebrities scheduled to appear at this year's show are Annika Sorenstam, Justin Leonard, Paula Creamer, Tony Jacklin, Hank Haney and Natalie Gulbis.

This is my 13th year to attend the PGA Merchandise Show and I look forward every year to renewing acquaintances with other writers, public relations pros and other golf industry people I've met along the way.

Here are some of the new products I’m looking forward to seeing this year:

Drivers: The new TaylorMade Burner 2010, which will appear in shops in February, the Speedline Fast 10 driver by Adams and the Ping G15 driver.

Irons: For low- to- mid-swing golfers, Wilson Golf has come up with the new D-FY iron, an iron and hybrid combination that features at half steel/half graphite shaft. It’s different and I’m like to see if it really works.

Fairway Woods: Do you consistently hit the ball to the right? If you’re a hacker like me, you probably do. Apparently Nike is doing something about the problem with their new adjustable VR Fairways woods, which allow you do dial the face slightly to the left.

Putters: Odyssey and Callaway are introducing three new putters in line named Backstryke, which feature a shaft angled severely rearward near the putter head.

Teaching aid: The product sent me a pre-show press release that promises to take 5 strokes off everybody’s golf score. Accuputt is an indoor golf putting system involving some sort of invisible laser line. In their media release they state “95% of golf testers reported lowering their average putts per round by 5, in actual golf course play, after using Accuputt for just 15 minutes daily for 30 days. This I gotta see.

The Wacky: Every year there are a host of companies hoping to capitalize on niche markets. Here are a few of booths I look forward to visiting:

Tattoo Golf-Debuting at the show, they boast “a unique line of aggressive golf clothing”. Their logo is a skull with crossed clubs and I’m assuming they’re hoping a lot of Black Sabbath, Van Halen and White Snake fans play golf.

Golf Genie-An iPhone application designed by PGA instructors for on-course use and off-course preparation. It has advice on golf shot club selection, setup and execution and helps to fix problem swings. According to the company’s pre-show release, the Golf Genie sold out its first run in less than two months.

Creative Covers—The company boasts that “Superheroes are coming to your local golf course.” They’re introducing headcovers with Warner Bros. designs that include Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Scooby Doo, the Flintstones and Tom & Jerry.




Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tiger's Absence Good for Golf

Saying Tiger’s self-imposed exile from the PGA Tour is good for golf is blasphemous, I know.

Let me explain.

First, I think his temporary absence not his permanent departure will help the game.

The PGA Tour and the golf industry in general have been riding the Tiger Woods gravy train far too long. Let’s face it, everybody in the golf business has gotten a bit lazy as Tiger literally carried the Tour, television and the media and Nike Golf on his broad shoulders.

The Tiger Woods gravy train has rewarded the PGA Tour with purses that have increased nearly 300 percent since Tiger’s arrival in the late 1990s. Say what you will about Tiger’s personal failures, but nobody can criticize the impact he has had on the golf business.

Tiger’s gone for now and oh how reality bites. The PGA Tour will suffer much the same way the NBA did after Michael Jordan retired. During Jordan’s heyday, he and the Chicago Bulls were relentlessly promoted to the detriment of other teams. If the Bulls and Jordan weren’t playing, rest assured, NBA fans weren’t going to tune in to see a Sacramento Kings vs. Washington Wizards game. Jordan had set the standard for performance and celebrity much higher than any other player or team could reach. Today’s NBA has expanded to include a galaxy of stars like Lebron, Kobe, Shaq, Dirk and Carmelo. Now, a Cavaliers vs. Mavericks game is a tough ticket.

Tiger had a similar impact on the PGA Tour. If Woods was not teeing up, tournaments didn’t lose some luster they almost lost legitimacy. Tournaments like the Reno-Tahoe Open or Turning Stone Resort Championship were relegated to afterthought status. Not because they weren’t good tournaments but because Tiger wasn’t playing and, consequently, they lacked validation from the game’s greatest player.

The preoccupation with Tiger will subside temporarily with the PGA Tour, sponsors and the media. Surprisingly, Nike, the company more closely associated with Tiger than any other, is leading the way. In many of their current marketing materials promoting their equipment they’re using other members of their tour staff like major champions Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Justin Leonard and players like Anthony Kim and Trevor Immelman.

I believe this period of “tough love” will help the PGA Tour become more diversified and less reliant on one overwhelming personality. It’ll force the Tour to promote young players. When Tiger does return, the Tour will be stronger and more interesting because fans will have more to cheer about.

The Tiger Woods gravy train has pulled into the station. Hopefully the Tour will respond with a great year in 2010 and players like Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Nick Watney will establish themselves as the next galaxy of stars.

If these youngsters deliver this year, who knows, we might even start looking forward to the Reno-Tahoe Open.

I hope so.




Monday, January 18, 2010

What To Watch For in 2010

  1. Coming up on Thursday January 21 is the episode of CSI that features Rocco Mediate, Duffy Waldorf, Natalie Gulbis, Gary McCord and David Feherty. The episode is titled, “Long Ball”, so why were McCord and Feherty included?
  2. Tiger will be driving something new off the course. GM announced on December 31 that his free rides are over. His agreement that allowed free access to GM vehicles is done.
  3. Matteo Manassero, the 16-year old Italian sensation plans to turn pro after the Masters. Last summer, Manassero was crowned the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship in its 124-year history.
  4. The most anticipated golf course opening in 2010 (June) is Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, a layout that is a tribute to Charles Blair Macdonald, the father of American golf course architecture and founder of the U.S. Golf Association. The course is being designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina and will feature the classic principles that Macdonald incorporated into his own courses, mainly the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York.
  5. With the arrival of young players like Matteo Manassero, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa look for the Euro-style look to come on strong. Fowler likes white belts, big belt buckles and loud color shirts. The look will be much more subtle, however, than the in-your-face style of Ian Poulter.
  6. Prediction: Phil Mickleson will win the 2010 U.S. Open. He delivers big-time at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Mickelson won the AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1998, 2005 and 2007.
  7. My pick for 2010 Driver of the Year: I’m going with the Ping G15 Driver, which has a simple look but is loaded with high-tech features. It retails for $300.
  8. Hey, let’s go Old School. The new grooves rule on the PGA Tour should be fun to follow this year. At the Sony Open two players obviously found a loophole in the rule. John Daly used pre-1990 Ping Eye 2 wedges and Dean Wilson used some mid-1980 used Ping Wedges.
  9. Those private clubs aren’t so private anymore. A few private golf clubs have opened their courses to the public for one or sometimes two days a week to increase rounds and a little extra cha ching during the recession.
  10. Get ready for more resort bankruptcies. Among those who’ve filed Chapter 11 recently include Daufuskie Island Resort in South Carolina and Amelia Island Resort in Florida. Also, the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas was the subject of a foreclosure filing in Dallas, Texas.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

When Tiger Woods Returns

Who knows when Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour. Some say at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Others say at the Masters in Augusta. And still others think he might never return.

I’m going on the assumption that Woods will return sometime in 2010, perhaps at a low profile tournament and not a major.

When Tiger returns, get ready for a zoo.

The public’s fascination with the Woods debacle will only escalate on his first tournament back. I don’t care how much time has passed. Instead of a few golf writers content on receiving some stale quotes from Woods, the media tent will be overflowing with TMZ, Radaronline, Star Magazine and National Enquirer types who will follow Tiger’s every move. Golf has never seen anything like this. In fact, sites like TMZ and Radaronline are experiencing “hits” like never before. If you think they’re going to back off this one you’re crazy.

Up until Tiger’s SUV ran over that fire hydrant, Woods had it made with the media. He did obligatory pool interviews after tournaments and the occasional pre-tournament group interview as the returning champion as well as a few short TV shots. As a golf writer, if you crossed Woods then you typically got less access. That’s the way the system worked with the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer.

All bets are off now with the swarm of paparazzi, celebrity magazines and TV shows and gossip websites leaching onto the Tiger Woods story with no sign they will leave quickly. To them, Tiger is their Princess Di or Michael Jackson. A global icon that is instantly recognizable anywhere on the planet.

When Woods returns, other PGA Tour players better get ready for microphones jammed in their mugs for reactions to Tiger, his misdeeds and how they think he will fare in upcoming tournaments. You’re going to hear lots of “no comments” with the exception of maybe a few like Jesper Parnevick and Colin Montgomerie who don’t seem to be too afraid of Tiger or his entourage.

The crowd at his first tournament, I predict, will be peppered with all sorts of publicity seeking cocktail waitress types seeking 15 minutes of fame or beered up fans barking out vulgarities to Woods.

In a crazy, "crane your neck at the train wreck" sort of way, I’m looking forward to Tiger’s return.

After all, everyone loves going to the zoo, right?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Most Memorable Golf Experiences Part I

Before I get started, please understand this list is NOT a golf ranking, which is a staple with many blogs, websites, magazines and newsletters. I consider most rankings too unscientific and marketing driven and essentially worthless.

Months or years after a round, however, most players remember the total experience, not just the course. Oftentimes, friendly starters and rangers, ice cold beer on the beverage cart, well-maintained course conditions, an exotic setting, phenomenal weather, scoring low, camaraderie and other factors are main contributors to the total golf experience.

That said, here are my most memorable golf experiences:

Kingsbarns Golf Links, Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland

Located 15 minutes from St. Andrews, Kingsbarns is Scotland’s answer to Pebble Beach. What do I remember: Wide fairways, fantastic greens with great movement and contours, the smell of the sea air and the sound of the waves on the rocks and beach. A man-made links course designed by Mark Parsinnen and Kyle Phillips in 2000, Kingsbarns has a special place in my heart. I’ll always remember standing on the 2nd hole, a 190-yard par-3, and high-fiving my playing partners: my teenage son and 11-year old daughter. We were all thinking the same thing: Can you believe we’re standing here? Are we lucky or what?

Mission Hills Resort Course, Shenzhen, China

I scored a hole-in-one on no. 13 on the Olazabal course. Or at least I think it was the Olazabal course. Geez, this sprawling, mega golf complex has twelve golf courses so it’s hard to keep up with all of them. Yes, I just checked my hole-in-one certificate and it was the Olazabal. It was at the end of a long day and we were playing in the dark and could barely see the flag. While my playing partners insist a player from the group ahead dropped one through his pant leg into the hole, I strongly dispute that story as they were under the influence of a few too many Tsingtao Chinese beers. Regardless, the resort rewarded me and my group with a fabulous bottle of champagne after the round and every time I see Jose Maria on T.V. I make a silent toast and thank him for designing the course that has made me infamous with several other golf writers.

Eden Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

What about the Old Course? The truth is I’ve been to St. Andrews three times in my life and I’ve never played the Old Course. On previous trips, a series of schedule changes and snafus have denied me the opportunity to play what many rate as the best course in the world.  I’ll never forget the misty morning my son and I played the Eden Course, however. While most golfers pay passing interest to the Eden because of its short yardages (only 6,250 yards), it was a thoroughly enjoyable links golf experience. I’m a struggling mid-handicapper and I had a great round by staying in play and putting well. My son, who was 17 at the time and an accomplished junior player, absolutely loved all the shotmaking opportunities. If you can’t play the Old, play the Eden for a fun challenge where you can score well on this par 70 gem. It’s more forgiving than the three courses on the seaward side. It opened for play in 1914 and was designed by Harry S. Colt and later received some alterations by Donald Steele



Friday, January 8, 2010

Random Thoughts on 2010

TIGER EFFECT-Whether you’re disgusted with Tiger and never want to watch him play again or you’re ready to forgive and forget, the fact remains the “Tiger Woods Cocktail Waitress Tour Across America” has hurt the game of golf. No other professional sport had a player with Woods’ previous gold standard image. Woods’ fall from grace will affect the PGA Tour with attendance and sponsors, junior golf, which has lost a role model, and other aspects of the game. The bottom line is the golf industry has lost some of its luster. Hopefully, the adversity will only make the game stronger and less reliant on one dominant personality.

MICKELSON’S TIME—The person who stands to gain from Wood’s fall is Phil Mickelson. I just can’t wait for golf broadcasters to wax poetic about Lefty the same way they’ve done for Tiger the past 13 years. Hopefully Phil can deliver and live up to the hype that is sure to come. After all, the talking heads have to fill up airtime with something and you know they’re going to ramp down on the heroic Tiger speech.

FILLING THE TIGER VOID—I’m hoping for a breakout year from Michelle Wie or for a youngster like Rickie Fowler to have a great year to offset the Tiger scandal. Please, please, somebody step up and give us something positive to follow in golf. Enough about mistresses, wedge swings on SUV windows, $300 million pre-nups and sponsors jumping ship. What we need in golf is a certifiable “feel good” story. If it’s not Rickie or Michelle, how about Camilo Villegas, Sergio Garcia, Boo Weekly, Anthony Kim, Rory Mcllroy or some other interesting personality? John Daly? He’s lost weight and is tan, rested and ready but he might not exactly be the replacement role model golf needs these days.

AIR TRAVEL MESS—The botched Christmas day terrorism attack by the “panty bomber” will reverberate the rest of the year and beyond. Get ready to wait, wait and wait some more at the airport security line. At some point, people are just going to throw their arms up and drive to their destination or stay at home.  As someone who has written about golf travel for more than two decades, I find the current environment very disconcerting. There are too many great resorts and courses begging for visitors that may never get out of the airport.

GREAT RYDER CUP VENUE—If you haven’t been paying attention, this year’s Ryder Cup venue, the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, is a phenomenal 1,400-acre luxurious complex with three championship golf courses. The Ryder Cup Matches will be staged September 27th to October 3rd. What really makes the venue unique is that the resort built a course, The Twenty Ten Course, which opened in 2007, specifically to host the Ryder Cup. It will be one of the year’s most anticipated events.