A new year is upon us, and in the golf world that means one thing – The annual PGA Merchandise Show is right around the corner. Held in Orlando, Florida every year, the show brings together thousands of golf industry insiders, manufacturers, professionals and buyers to share ideas, display new technology and conduct business. The state of the golf industry as a whole is usually a hot topic at the show, and this year will be no exception. Here are a few things we’ll be keeping an eye on for 2015.
- Performance Analysis and Game-Tracking Technology – It started a few years ago but now this new segment of the golf market has taken off. Advancements in GPS, accelerometers, bluetooth and smart phone technology has allowed developers to bring dozens of new game tracking devices to market. One of the best I’ve used is GAME GOLF. Using sensors on each club and GPS to track your location, this little device gives you all kinds of stats about your game and helps identify points of weakness. It also has a cool social media angle to it that allows you to share your results with friends. Another is Arccos Golf, which uses bluetooth sensors on the clubs to give you real-time information about your swing. Expect more advancements and new products in this category for 2015.
- The Death of Anchored Putters – As the 2016 ban on anchored putting approaches, professional golfers all over the world will have to abandon the long putter. More specifically, they’ll have to abandon the anchored putting method many of them have used for years. Some may switch to a conventional putter, others may try the arm-lock method Matt Kuchar made famous, and still more may move to counter-balanced putters, which were born out of the anchoring ban. You can expect to see products that allow you to convert conventional putters to arm-lock models and more counter-balanced options. As an opponent of the anchoring ban, I think many recreational golfers will simply ignore the rule and continue to play golf with their long putters rather than deal with back issues and yipped putts.
- How to Grow Golf – In years past we’ve seen various industry initiatives come about that proposed changes to the game to increase participation and keep players interested in golf. A couple of years ago the PGA of America announced Golf 2.0. They paraded Jack Nicklaus out to be their spokesman and talked about programs like “Get Golf Ready” and “Play Golf America”, but consumers weren’t listening. Last year we saw a rebranding of Golf 2.0 called Hack Golf. Led by Taylor Made Golf CEO Mark King, they threw out ideas to grow golf and increase participation. A year later, these initiatives have mostly failed to attract new players to the game, but they did spawn a couple of abominations like Foot Golf (Imagine slipping on some knickers, which are mandatory to wear for tournaments and kicking a soccer ball around a golf course) and WhipGolf, which has players throw the ball around the course with some sort of apparatus on your arm. While some suggestions the group had were interesting, (like mixing things up occasionally with 8 to 15-inch cups instead of the standard 4 1/4″ hole size) most of their ideas never had a chance. More importantly, the Hack Golf movement lost their champion. Mark King left Taylor Made Golf in the wake of massive layoffs and restructuring to become the head of adidas North America, and basically left Hack Golf adrift in a vast ocean of apathy. Personally, I don’t think anything is wrong with golf, and it doesn’t need to grow. The ongoing contraction in the sales of equipment, number of courses and people playing the game makes sense, given the unsustainable growth golf experienced in the last 20 years and guerilla marketing employed by golf companies to sell drivers.
- Decline of Golf Media – There’s no stopping the media juggernaut these days. We live in the age of social media, 24/7 cable “infotainment” and TMZ. In my opinion the influence of modern media has had a very negative impact on golf. I’ve spoken about this subject before, and I don’t see things getting better very soon. Traditional golf publications like Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and Golf Channel have lost their way in search of eyeballs and page views to drive advertising revenue and stay profitable. These outlets seem to have eschewed golf instruction and real journalism for paid advertorials and “fitness” articles showcasing ladies in tight yoga pants. Perhaps they forgot that women play golf too, and they don’t care to see women objectified all over their pages and social media channels? I’ve ended my subscriptions to Golf Magazine and Golf Digest, and can barely watch the Golf Channel since NBC Universal took over. Maybe one day they’ll figure out that golf instruction shows don’t need to feature a woman making swings in a shirt that is a couple sizes too small for her. And don’t even get me started on the Back9Network – the TLC of golf programming. Sadly, this “Sex sells, and when all else fails, talk about Tiger” approach will probably continue in 2015. Even some golf bloggers aren’t immune to this overload of sex in golf in search of web traffic. Thankfully, Golfweek is still around and actually still covers golf.
- New Equipment – 2015 promises every golfer at least two things when it comes to equipment. More distance!! More Accuracy!! Ok, now that we got the message from the marketing department of every single golf manufacturer, we can focus on the real news. If you bought your current driver in the last 2 years, that shiny new Taylor Made R15, Callaway Big Bertha Alpha, Titleist 915D2 or Ping G30 driver probably won’t give you more distance or accuracy. Sorry to burst your bubble, but hey – I just saved you $400! Actually, I just got the Ping G30 and think it’s the best driver I’ve hit in years, but that’s a story for another day. There will be the usual assortment of new drivers, woods, irons and wedges in 2015, but what I’m really looking forward to is the rebirth of the Ben Hogan Golf Company led by the very capable guidance of Terry Koehler and the new company from GoDaddy founder Jim Parsons, called Parsons Extreme Golf. Mr Koehler is the brain behind the most versatile and best performing wedges I’ve ever owned, and he’s bringing his considerable talents to the Ben Hogan Company to resurrect this great brand. I don’t have any idea about how much Jim Parsons knows about golf, but I know he’s a marketing genius and is no stranger to the “sex sells” approach with his over the top GoDaddy.com Super Bowl commercials, so we’ll wait and see what his new ultra-premium golf clubs look like with great anticipation. I hope they live up to the hype, but given my history in golf over the last 25 years I’m not holding my breath.