By Harvey Silverman, Silverback Golf Marketing
That’s another Yogi Berra quote, the wise sage of the New York Yankees. It struck me when I saw the PGA’s announcement that it canceled the 2021 PGA Merchandise Show due to COVID-19. Why? Because I wrote an article back in May more or less predicting what the virus wrought up us. We can’t see each other, at least not for a while. But the show will go on, along with NGCOA’s Golf Business Conference. They’ll just be different.
I got to thinking about what I’ll miss, not going to Orlando in January for the first time in over 20 years. I won’t miss the city itself – I rarely spent time there other than during the show and just as rarely ventured off International Drive. I’ve never been to downtown Orlando – is there one? And I’ve imagined flying into MCO and seeing Orlando as one long, interconnected strip mall that from the air is the outline of Mickey Mouse’s head.
Memories abound from the many trips to Orlando, many personal. Demo Day at Orange County National is a spectacle unto itself. Thousands of golf balls fly through the air, launched by lots of really good golfers on a 400-yard circular range. Piles of golf balls in the collection areas look like snowbanks, a sharp contrast to the lush green grass they land upon. But, not this year.
Jim Koppenhaver of Pellucid generously hosted a dinner each year following his and Stuart Lindsay’s State of the Industry presentation. I witnessed the late, great Jim Dunlap and former associate Stuart Lindsay baring steak knives at Charley’s as the conversation turned political, Lindsay with his knife firmly in his right hand, Dunlap’s firmly in his left. Stuart was eating red meat; Dunlap preferred blue cheese on his salad. You get the point. My Minnesota friend Tom Abts, at another dinner, went on a 45-minute, Robin Williamsesque rant about what’s wrong with the golf business, silencing Lindsay and melting the ice in his Dewars cocktail. My friend Alan Fisher introduced me to Fresco Cucina Italiano, located in a strip mall (where else?). Dining there became an annual tradition, and it’s the best Italian food for Orlando’s money. But, not this year.
Everyplace but the Peabody/Hyatt. That’s my foggy memory of places I’ve stayed. The most distinctive is the coolest hotel in Orlando – Loew’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. It’s a throwback to the ’50s with a lobby right out of the Jetsons. And thanks to Alan Fisher, it was very affordable too. But, not this year.
Back when checking golf clubs on a plane didn’t cost a small fortune, friends Eric Jacobsen and Bruce Gerlander hosted me at Golden Bear Club (twice) and Orange County National, respectively. Castle and Cooke sold Golden Bear to the tragically branded Integrity Golf, which had little integrity and even less golf operations acumen.
Universal Studios and Disneyworld? Sure, albeit brief visits. GolfNow invited me (imagine that) to a Feherty Live broadcast at Universal. His guests were Sandy Lyle (snooze), Butch Harmon (pretty good), and Lee Trevino (the highlight). Trevino should be the face of golf – an effervescent presence and an everyman’s background. Add the diversity and inclusion factor along with making the game fun, and we’d have the perfect model for what golf can be.
Humming Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” I’ve flown from SFO and SJO through CLT, ORD, DIA, IHR, LAX, and IHD (can you identify the names?). I’ve had good luck with connections, for the most part, but when things go wrong, they go very bad. So the last few times I’ve journeyed to MCO, I’ve gone nonstop. To quote the old Western Airlines, “It’s the only way to fly.” But, not this year.
So what can we expect for the 2021 editions of the NGCOA Golf Business Conference and PGA Merchandise Show? Last year was the first time NGCOA coordinated its annual conference with the PGA. For people like me who attend both, it made a ton of sense on several levels – travel plans, expenses, seeing everyone I wanted to see under one massive roof, and not having to explain to my lovely wife why I had to go different places at different times to a “golf show.”
2021’s version of both events will be startlingly different. “New Age” used to be a thing, now replaced by the “Pandemic Age,” forcing events worldwide to be virtual. That in itself is amazing, given the broadcast platforms available and the widespread broadband connectivity provided by Internet providers (although not yet everywhere in the US. Why is that?). Imagine if we still logged onto 28.8 AOL. We’ll be joined together on Zoom or some other virtual, Internet-connected platform presented by Reed Exhibitions.
The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) announced their Golf Business Conference 2021 (GBC21) will be conducted virtually, January 25-27, 2021, alongside the PGA Show Virtual Experience & Marketplace. The golf business community’s health and safety is their top priority and was the driving force behind the shift in format.
“We’re looking forward to once again bringing a first-rate education program to our attendees,” said Jay Karen, NGCOA CEO. “The conference’s virtual delivery will make attending safer and easier, and we’ll be able to more effectively integrate and cross-educate our members and PGA Professionals.”
GBC21 will offer education over three days on the PGA Show’s virtual presentation platform, inviting NGCOA members, PGA members, and new owners or want-to-be owners to the sessions. In other words, NGCOA will access a much broader audience than ever before. Wednesday’s programming will also include a shared Keynote Session with the PGA Show. Polishing off its event, NGCOA will hold its annual meeting and awards recognition ceremony virtually through NGCOA’s online platform.
The PGA has held its annual Merchandise Show in Orlando since 1985. Reed Exhibitions purchased an equity stake in the show in 1998. Nearly 40,000 PGA Professionals, golf retailers, and industry executives from more than 80 countries and all 50 U.S. states typically attend the annual PGA Merchandise Show to launch the business of golf for the new year.
Live every year, attendees witness product presentations by golf’s top market leaders combined with product testing at the PGA Show Demo Days and the Equipment Test Center on the PGA Show Floor. There is an evening golf resort/lifestyle fashion show, multiple fashion designer presentations, teaching clinics, education seminars, career workshops, industry awards, networking receptions, and more fill a busy PGA Show Week schedule.
This year, we’ll experience it all on a computer/tablet/phone screen. It will be fascinating to observe and possibly interact with what the PGA and Reed Exhibitions have planned and how they’ll manage this over the worldwide breadth of time zones:
• New Product Launch Events
• Dynamic Exhibitor Showrooms
• Commerce Applications
• Education Sessions
• Industry Presentations
• One-to-One Meetings
• Group Networking
• Special Events
• Golf Celebrity Appearances
• Influencer Engagement Programs
I particularly feel for the small companies that sell the diverse selections of chotskies, swing trainers, putting devices, everything else, and apparel. Especially apparel. I love golf clothes and typically spend a couple of hours strolling the apparel section of the hall. Buyers want to touch and feel the new garments and see the colors without computer screen distortion. Sellers enjoy one-on-one interactions as they fill huge order books with what will soon ship to golf shops worldwide.
Saying this will be different is a colossal understatement. I’ll immensely miss the convention center food, marginally clean restrooms, bus rides to and from my hotel, and sore feet. But if we’re all safer and healthier, as a result, the golf business will survive just fine, and we can look forward to gathering in person in 2022.
See you online.
Harvey Silverman is the proprietor of his marketing consultancy, Silverback Golf Marketing, and the co-founder of Quick.golf, golf’s only pay-by-hole app. Harvey authored NGCOA’s “Beware of Barter” guide and has spoken at their Golf Business Conferences and Golf Business TechCon.