2016 was an interesting year in golf. As it does almost every year, the golf world started the year with great optimism and enthusiasm at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. However, it wasn’t all good news for the game of golf in 2016. Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of the year in golf.
Major Pro Tours
Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson finally broke through and won majors, Jason Day had another great season and finished the year at #1 in the world, and Justin Rose won the first Olympic gold medal in golf since 1904.
The LPGA Tour continued to be dominated by countries other than the USA, with players from Asian countries winning 19/35 events, and other winners coming from New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Canada, Spain and Germany. Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn won 5 times, including a major and captured the money list, CME Globe and Player of the Year honors. South Korea’s Inbee Park won the gold medal for her country at the Olympics.
As far as records go, it’ll be hard to top Jim Furyk’s 58 he shot in the final round of the Travelers Championship, beating his record tying 59 from 2013 by a shot. He hit all 18 greens on his way to the lowest round in PGA Tour history, made all the more amazing considering he shot a very sloppy 74 the day before, hitting only 5 fairways.
Oh yeah, and some guy named Tiger showed up at a tournament in the Bahamas…
While some great new products hit the market in 2016, the biggest business story of the year was the uncertainty and failure of a couple of big names. After many years with un-Nike-like market share and quirky club design ideas, Nike decided to pull the plug on their golf equipment division, meaning (among other things) Nike staffers like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy & Michelle Wie will be highly sought after for equipment deals. Nike continues to be a major player in golf apparel and footwear however, recently signing Jason Day away to a multi year deal.
Well known golf & tennis retailer Golfsmith went into bankruptcy and was subsequently purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Most Golfsmith stores will close, with only the most profitable locations staying open or being rebranded under the Golf Galaxy brand. Sports industry giant adidas has not-so-quietly been trying to sell off the Taylor-Made/Adams Golf brand, with no takers in sight. Cleveland Golf has been reduced to basically just a wedge company since parent company SRI Sports has focused on building their Srixon brand in the US market.
Golf Equipment & Accessories
Due to the limits the USGA has imposed on performance of golf clubs and balls, we probably won’t see many significant advances in club technology in the coming years, but some great new products surprised me nevertheless.
While not new in 2016, alternative golf transport like the Golf Skate Caddy and the Golfboard started to hit the mainstream. After one round I was hooked and made several trips to golf courses strictly because they had Golfboards.
Putter designer Guerin Rife has been quiet for a few years since his ugly separation from the company that bore his name – Rife Golf. He’s was back in 2016 with Evnroll, a new putter design that is among the best ever tested according to the folks at mygolfspy.com. While we haven’t tried them yet on the golf course (only indoors), I’m very eager to report on their effectiveness in the real world as well.
Perhaps the most impactful driver of 2016 was Knuth Golf’s High Heat driver. You may not have heard of it because they don’t have commercials on TV or PGA Tour pros playing with it, but that’s because it wasn’t designed for PGA Tour pros. It was designed to perform best for average amateur golfers, and that is one promise it lives up to.
The biggest “oopsie” of the year goes to Wilson Golf, who invested heavily in a reality show competition on the Golf Channel that pitted teams of designers against each other to come up with the company’s latest driver. Eventually a winner was chosen and the club was marketed as the Wilson Staff Triton and hit the market immediately after the final TV episode. Unfortunately, the USGA had not approved it yet. While the issue appears to have been related to the timing of the show and the desire to keep the results secret until the final episode, it was pie in the face for Wilson Golf and spoiled their product launch to a degree.
Probably the biggest story in golf this past year was the passing of Arnold Palmer. There’s no need to go into all the reasons why he was so important to the game, because I could fill a page with that alone. The King seemed to touch everyone who plays the game in different ways, and other than maybe Jack Nicklaus, there isn’t anyone in golf that is more universally loved and respected than Arnold Palmer was. His memory and his legacy will live on forever,
As always, we look ahead into 2017 with hope and optimism. I for one enter 2017 with renewed passion and commitment for the game, as I’ve joined a golf club for the first time ever. I intend to use the membership not only to enjoy the game I love more often, but to take advantage of the club’s unrestricted walking policy (Not an easy thing to find in Florida these days) to lose weight. Walking 9 holes early in the morning certainly beats marching on a treadmill!
The PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando is just around the corner, and I look forward to catching up with my industry friends again. What started as an annual display of all the cool new stuff has now become a yearly social gathering for me. I’m less excited about new products as I am about old friends.
Having taken part in the WAGC’s World Finals in Turkey in 2015, I joined the WAGT in the US and look forward to the challenge of qualifying for Team USA once again, this time in Malaysia!