The Top Toys from the PGA Merchandise Show
By Tony Leodora
It’s hard to believe that 60 years ago the first PGA Merchandise Show was held in a parking lot in Fort Lauderdale, with manufacturer’s representatives displaying equipment, apparel and accessories out of the trunks of their cars. Wow, how things have grown.
The 60th PGA Merchandise Show once again turned Orlando upside down, as everybody who is anybody in the golf industry descended on the town for a break from the winter weather.
Demo Day at Orange County National’s four-sided driving range was once again the golf replication of kids being let loose in a toy store. Everybody got a chance to play with the newest and greatest toys — that manufacturers hope will be purchased by tantalized golfers to replace last year’s newest and greatest toys.
Then, for three days amidst the air conditioned comfort of the enormous Orange County Convention Center, golf professionals, buyers, club managers, some superintendents and even a small army from the media marched up and down the seemingly endless aisles. They touched, prodded, inspected, analyzed — and sometimes even tasted and sniffed the incredible assortment of products to be found in the more than 1,000 booths and rooms.
But nobody did a more thorough inspection than I. For I am charged — over the last 12 years — of narrowing down that amazing array of ingenious products to a mere ten. It is a daunting task … but one that must be done to keep the tradition going, to inform the golf public, to separate the wheat from the chafe.
And, after all of that, we present:
Tony’s Top Ten
The Ten Items That Caught My Eye at the PGA Show
1. Rife Putters — Vault 001 — This is a new line of putters that immediately gained notoriety because of its bi-metal design. Two different metals are incorporated in the putter head to produce results that are different from standard putter compositions.
A total of 14 different models have been included in the Vault 001 line. Just about every type of head size and shape can be found in this new line — including the Legend and Legend Z putters which pay homage to the famous two-bar design that has made Rife the No. 1 putter line on the Champions Tour.
The advantage of the new bi-metal design was unclear, until it was explained by John Berguist, vice president of design and engineering. "We’re able to attain different aesthetic lines on larger putters. Also, we can produce a different weight distribution in totally different head designs."
Added versatility would probably be the best way to describe the advantages found in this new line — a line that will be available in pro shops in the early spring.
2. Cleveland Golf — 588 RTX Wedge — Jeff Brunski, the director of research and development for Cleveland Golf/Srixon sounds very proud when he introduces the newest wedge in Cleveland’s impressive arsenal and calls it "the new face of spin."
The 588 RTX CB wedges combine the legendary performance of Cleveland’s famous 588 wedges with added forgiveness and the breakthrough Rotex Face – Cleveland Golf’s most advanced spin technology ever.
"The bottom line is that it produces a lot of spin, a lot of control from a variety of different conditions," explained Brunski. It’s a revolutionary technology from us and you can get fitted for this club."
The real bottom line is that the new wedges sell for about $140 and are available immediately.
3. Tour Edge — XCG-6 Fairway Wood — When Tour Edge, the Illinois-based company that has risen out of America’s heartland to compete with the giants of the industry, talks fairway woods … golfers listen.
While the entire line of Tour Edge products has proven to be a case of quality at an affordable price, it is the fairway wood where they have excelled. While many other manufacturers are talking about "longer," Tour Edge talks about better.
Better in the fact that this new fairway wood is longer than previous models but is also easier to hit. The knock against some of the "long" fairway woods from other manufacturers is that the middle of the sweet spot is foreign territory to most golfers.
"Believe it or not, it’s 20 yards longer than the other leading fairway wood," said Jay Hubbard, vice president of marketing for Tour Edge. "The tungsten sole gets the weight so low and so far back that it makes it easy to hit."
The club retails for $299 and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
4. TaylorMade R1 driver — Year after year TaylorMade comes out with a newer, greater driver. And year after year TaylorMade leads the driver count on the PGA Tour. It has come to be one of the greatest streaks in sports.
This year’s entry is the R1 driver. The catchy advertising slogan says it all when it proclaims "80 percent of all golfers are playing with the wrong loft. So we made one driver that has them all."
No longer do golfers order a driver with a pre-set loft — 9.5-degree, 10.5-degree. The R1 driver offers 12 settings between 8-degree and 12-degree.
Tom Olsavsky, senior director of product development for TaylorMade explained, "The R1 is a concept that goes beyond the club itself. What we’re doing is fitting golfers with the right loft, face angle and weighting to give them the best ball flight and the most distance. We don’t have head lofts, we have multiple lofts on the head."
The performance of the R1 is being proven on the PGA Tour and the European Tour, where the driver has recorded a majority of the wins through the first two months of the year.
5. adidas adiZero shoe — An incredible amount of Americans make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight … every year. Apparently, so did the folks at Adidas. But, unlike the rest of America, they have been successful.
The new adiZero shoe is the lightest golf shoe on the market — or, as the ad claims "so light it’s like wearing nothing at all."
Davide Mattucci is the global marketing manager for adidas and Ashworth footwear and beams with pride when he talks about this new, ultra-hot product. "First, it’s pretty striking when you look at it," he said. "But inside the shoe is some amazing technology. The shoe weighs 10.6 ounces, making it the lightest cleated shoe ever made.
"Most importantly, there is comfort — all-day comfort. Walking 18 holes in this shoe, you’re going to feel a heckuva lot fresher than you would wearing anything else."
Of course, following the style of many of today’s PGA Tour golfers, the adiZero comes in an array of bright colors that would make the great shoe maven Doug Sanders proud.
6. Swing Jacket — The leisure suit never made a comeback. The Nehru jacket never made a comeback. But the Swing Jacket did.
The Swing Jacket made a debut a few years ago with a very good idea — but very bad timing. Now, with new wind in its sales and president Bill Walsh providing an amazing amount of energy promoting the product, it is ready to take its place as one of the best swing training aids ever invented.
Golfers actually put on the jacket, slightly resembling a flak jacket, and strap themselves in. The basic idea is to keep all those moving parts from flopping around, hopefully leading to a repeatable swing.
"The most difficult thing for teachers to impart to their students is feel," said Walsh. "The distinction between the Swing Jacket and every other method of getting better is that we actually communicate that feel to people by physically guiding them through the correct motion."
The Swing Jacket may feel a bit confining at first but, after only a short time practicing with it, results start to take effect. And the proper swing is ingrained through feel, making it possible to take that swing out to the golf course.
The Swing Jacket is so new in its comeback that it hasn’t really settled on a price yet. It is expected to retail for about $129. For a better look, go to www.swingjacket.com.
7. Antigua — Hybrid Shirts — There is no doubt that "hybrid" has been one of the real buzzwords in the golf industry over the last 10 years. But the term usually applies to equipment. Now it is being used to describe apparel.
Antigua, which has undergone an amazing rebirth in recent years and is making some of the best looking and best priced golf clothing, now has a hybrid shirt. It can be worn as a shirt, It can be worn as a piece of outerwear. Either way it looks great, employing the quarter-zip front that has become so popular.
Pam Miller, vice president of customer service, explains, "What we mean by a hybrid is a combination of our lightweight outerwear and a short sleeve knit shirt. The look is good too. We use our very popular Desert Dry fabric. The wear and the feel on them works perfectly in your mid-range weather time."
And the colors and styles were enough to stop people in the aisle.
8. Nexbelt — Every year I give an award for the busiest booth, per square foot, at the PGA Show. This year, a new product and company called Nexbelt won it hands down. It was impossible to get near the booth for most of the show.
The basic concept is the production of a handsome, stylish belt, with different buckles in the front — but with no belt holes and, as a result, no marks or discolorations on the outside of the belt.
Tom Hunsucker, one of the owners, explains: "What makes this belt is it has a ratcheting system that adjusts to every quarter-inch. It has no holes so you always get that perfect fit. The belt fits you. You don’t fit the belt.
"The bottom line is that you can always feel comfortable. After a big meal, if you need a little extra room, you can easily let the belt out and nobody will know the difference."
The belts are extremely stylish and sell for around $50. For a better look at the entire line, go to www.nexbelt.com
9. Pearl Putter — Every year there are a great number of new putters on the market, each claiming to have a new, revolutionary feature. But the Pearl Putter’s revolutionary design is so simple and so logical, it’s a wonder nobody ever thought of it before.
The Pearl Putter can be adjusted so that the putter always has a flat lie at address. Golfers everywhere are seen wrestling with the lie of the putter — toe up in the air — heel in the air. In each case, efficiency is greatly compromised.
Billy Weston is a PGA professional who works with the Pearl Putter team as national sales manager. "Instead of adjust yourself to the putter of your choice, now we are going to adjust the putter to you," he said. "You can adjust the lie with a simple tool and you’re on your way to a nice flat, even roll."
The shaft swivels where it meets the putter head, allowing a number of lie angles. More important, it conforms to USGA rules. The putter head comes in a number of different colors and patterns — from traditional looks like gun metal or pewter or some of the brightest, boldest looks on the market.
Go to www.pearlprosports.com to see the entire line.
10. The Putting Stick — Each year it is easy to get confused by all of the training aids at the PGA Show. But, when you come around an aisle and see former McDonald’s LPGA champion Alice Miller mesmerized by something, you stop to look.
Miller, who teaches as Penn Oaks GC near West Chester, looked at The Putting Stick, tried The Putting Stick, watched others work on The Putting Stick, then gave an unsolicited testimonial: "This is the best training aid at the Show."
That statement put a broad smile on the face of inventor Vlad Gribovsky. He has worked hard to perfect an easy, affordable ($99) device that can help everyone with their putting.
"We believe it is the best putting trainer in the world," said Gribovsky. "It gives you immediate feedback in terms of results. It’s the only product that tells you whether your eyes are aligned over the ball. And it helps you with your stroke."
For more information, go to www.tpkgolf.com.