ORLANDO, FL. — Be it clubs, balls, training devices or apparel, the PGA Merchandise Show always has something to intrigue every type of golfer.
The 64th staging of this biggest show in golf ended its four-day run on Friday at the Orange County Convention Center with 40,000 industry members from all 50 states and 19 countries getting their first look at the new products entering the marketplace. At the end the talk was mostly about drivers – and with good reason.
When Nike decided to stop making golf clubs last year that left its two high-profile stars, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, free to pick new equipment. Both opted for TaylorMade’s M2 driver, with Woods making his equipment announcement during the show.
The search for the next driver that will produce the longest, straightest tee shots, though, went far beyond TaylorMade and the other big manufacturers – Callaway, Ping and Titleist.
Most visually different of the new models was the Vertical Groove Driver. Its Boston-based manufacturer claims to be the first to bring to market a club with vertical grooves on the clubface. Horizontal grooves are the norm, but Vertical Groove has already convinced two high-profile senior players – John Daly and Rocco Mediate – to use its driver. Daly will be the company’s global ambassador.
Two Chicago companies were also in the mix. Tour Edge, based in Batavia, introduced its Hot Launch adjustable driver. It has a lighter weight and thinner face, which the company claims will make the club more forgiving while creating more distance. Tour Edge also claims its new hosel system will double the adjustability options, allowing players to raise or lower the loft by two degrees.
Wilson, the long-established producer of all sorts of sports gear, took the most extraordinary steps in putting its new Triton driver on the market, however. The Chicago-based company did it by creating a reality TV show that was shown on The Golf Channel over a two-month period.
The show, which made its debut on Oct. 4, featured 11 teams of amateur club designers completing for $500,000 and the opportunity to have their creations brought to life and sold under the Wilson banner. The judges of the competition were Tim Clarke, president of Wilson’s golf division; Frank Thomas, a long-time director for the U.S. Golf Association; Brian Urlacher, the Bears’ legendary linebacker; and Kevin Streelman, the PGA Tour pro from Wheaton who has won twice on the circuit using Wilson equipment.
Winner of the design contest was Eric Sillies, a University of Cincinnati graduate in its College of Design Architecture Art & Planning. His club featured two detachable sole plates and three adjustable weight ports that allowed the club to change from a lightweight model to a pro-weight version. The TV series was captivating – especially for golfers in the 19 to 35 age group – and Wilson engineers worked with Sillies is creating a finished product.
The problem was, the “finished’’ Triton driver wasn’t quite finished when it was to go on the market with much fanfare last month. The U.S. Golf Association ruled it was non-conforming.
“As long as Wilson has been in business – 100 years – we always produced conforming products,’’ said Clarke. “The decision the USGA made was quite unfair. I had a thousand things on my list that I was worried about, but the USGA ruling was the last thing on my mind.’’
Clarke said the problem with the USGA was corrected with a “cosmetic adjustment,’’ but valuable marketing time was lost while Wilson personnel worked to make the club legal in the eyes of the sport’s ruling body in the United States. The process wasn’t completed until Monday of show week. At Tuesday’s Demo Day – the traditional kickoff to the show — the Wilson station was a focal point.
“It was the busiest Demo Day we’ve had in my 20 years at Wilson. From 9 to 5 people were there banging the Triton,’’ said Clarke, who feels a potential crisis was averted. “It was a great learning experience. The whole concept was to bring excitement around the game and give our brand exposure. It did both those things.’’`
Streelman gave the Triton driver its debut on the PGA Tour when he missed the 36-hole in last week’s Career Builder Classic in California. Ricky Barnes put the club in his bag for the first time at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open . How the club performs for them over the early season tournaments will go a long way in determining its popularity in the marketplace.
The Triton will likely continue to be a prime subject for discussion at two, much smaller, shows on tap for next month in the Chicago area. The Tinley Park Golf Expo is Feb. 10-12 and the Chicago Golf Show, at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, will run from Feb. 24-26.