PGA Merchandise Show Review
By Jack Berry
The PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando had exhibitors from A to Z, from ABC Embroidery to ZySys putters and while there were plenty of Ls, as in Lacoste and La Mode clothing, Lambkin grips and Leading Edge putters, there wasn't a booth for laser eye surgery. The eye surgeons blew it.
After all, who are the big guns in golf? Tiger Woods and Laura Davies, of course. Does Tiger owe that six-victory streak to his new Buick golf bag? Does Davies owe her Los Angeles victory to Annika Sorenstam failing to get her entry in properly?
Negative in both instances. It's the eyes. Both have undergone laser eye surgery. Davies did it the morning before the first round of the Los Angeles tournament. A partner in her Wednesday pro-am group raved about the difference it made for him and he made a phone call and set up Davies for the procedure the following day.
Davies told CNNSI's Tom Hanson that, "It bloody hurt," and there were seven to eight minutes "of pretty serious pain," for each eye. But the next day she shot 5-under-par 67 and won wire-to-wire. That alleviates a lot of pain.
Both Woods and Davies wore contacts. Davies junked hers after a six-month trial and went blind as it were -- no wonder her putting was the worst part of her game. As good as she was from tee to green, she was terrible on the putting surface because, it turns out, she had difficulty reading the breaks.
Since the surgery Woods and Davies have eyesight like eagles.
Now how about Tiger Woods and Laura Davies promoting your procedure? Maybe breaking into a duet of "I Can See Clearly Now"? Well, forget the singing.
While the eye folks missed out, there was plenty to eyeball for the PGA professionals and golf shop buyers over the four days of the show that is closed to the public. Despite consistently low stock prices for even the biggest companies and fairly flat sales the last two years, optimism prevails. It's a lot like Detroit Tigers fans every spring, ever hopeful.
My show favorite was Barney Adams new Tight Lies driver. In the past as soon as I put the ball on the wooden peg I became the master of the reverse pivot, golf's king of the fallaway tee shot, the ugliest form in golf. But in a tryout at the Faldo Institute at Grand Cypress Resort, I hit the the Tight Lies driver, off the peg, went through the shot and hit it straight. Now, will it happen when I get one of my own? Or am I like one of those spring hopeful Tigers fans? I got a 16 degree Tight Lies Strong 5 two years ago and love it.
Adams has added drivers, a 15-degree 3-wood and 26-degree Strong 9-wood to his line, all with the distinctive head shape and low center of gravity. Suggested retail price is $249 for the graphite shafted woods.
The biggest noise at the show came from, no surprise, Callaway and its two new balls, the FirmFeel and the SoftFeel Rule 35s. All you rule whizzes know there are only 34 Rules of Golf so Callaway invented Rule 35 which it calls "Enjoy the game."
Callaway introduced the balls in a huge ballroom with the music from "2001: The Space Odyssey" booming from loudspeakers. It was combination revival, with Callaway sales reps and invited customers jumping to their feet to hozanna octogenarian Ely Callaway, and comedy hour with everyone chuckling over the commercials you'll see saturating golf telecasts.
But Callaway, which spent $170 million and three years to develop and produce the balls in CIA-like secrecy, refused to talk about the ball's ingredients. In effect, Callaway said "Try 'em, you'll like 'em." And, like Big Berthas and Great Big Berthas, they're priced big and come in novel packs -- they're five-packs instead of the traditional three-pack and they come in boxes of 10, not a dozen...and they cost $22 for a five pack, $44 for the 10.
One Michigan pro told me at the West Michigan Golf Show that he won't stock the balls. Too expensive.
"My customers want a white ball with dimples that won't cut and doesn't cost a lot," he said.
Speaking of balls, Nike is out with its own brand, too but Nike's No. 1 man, Tiger Woods, is sticking with Titleist, the ball he's played since he was a kid. And it was interesting, at the Andersen World Match Play, how the camera just happened to focus on the Titleist logo when Tiger's ball was sitting on a tee. Same with Darren Clarke's. Think that cameraman and the director are on Titleist's staff? Of course not!
I won't say Clarke's 4-3 victory over Woods wasn't a surprise but, to borrow the PGA Tour's line, This Guy Can Play! Clarke had a round of 58 in his sights last year with two holes to play during the Smurfit European Open at the K Club near Dublin (site of the 2005 Ryder Cup) but he narrowly missed a birdie at 17, then stumbled on the last and shot 60. Sergio Garcia ultimately won and Clarke tied for second. The 60 was Clarke's second on the European Tour and he's the only player to do it twice.
SALUTE TO THE COMMON MAN--The Golf Association of Michigan is attempting to reach out to the majority of folks who play the game with tournaments for high handicappers. That's folks with real, legiitmate, GAM handicaps, not sandbaggers.
The GAM, like most "official" golf organizations in the country, always has aimed its tournament activity at low handicappers and ignored the bulk of the golf population. GAM executive director Brett Marshall aims to correct that with the GAM Net Players Tournament Series.
"We need to do things for the average golfer that haven't been done," Marshall said, "and we think this is an exciting concept."
The plan is for eight events, regionally located, to start in mid to late May with a final event in September. Fields would be capped at 96 players and most events would be played mid-week at public facilities.
"That size field would enable us to go from the first and 10th tees if necessary or do a shotgun start," Marshall said.
"We're looking at a membership fee of $20 to $25. That would include a subscription to LINKS, our magazine; a directory of GAM member clubs, bag tag and handicap service. Tournament entry fees would be $80 to $125 and would include cart, driving range, food, beverages and prizes," Marshall said.
Unlike present GAM championships in which only silver trophies or plaques are given to winners, handicap tournament winners would receive gift certificates redeemable in the pro shop of the host club.
Marshall said there would be men's and women's divisions and senior divisions for women 50 and above and men 55 and above.
Marshall also said the GAM is working on a corporate sponsor and hoped to have everything in place by April.
A TOUGH WINTER -- Two of golf's foremost innovators, Karsten Solheim and Gary Adams, and a longtime executive, former Detroiter Marshall Dann, died during the winter. Solheim and Dann had Parkinson's Disease, Adams had cancer.
Solheim was Mr. Ping, inventor of the most-used putter in the game and then inventor of, to me, the ugliest irons in the game but the perimeter-weighted irons became the most sought-after weapons ever produced. He fought the United States Golf Association over square grooves and he put up the Solheim Cup, the women's version of the Ryder Cup, and was one of the LPGA's most dedicated supporters.
Adams turned woods into metals with his "Pittsburgh Persimmon" driver and the Taylor Made drivers became the most sought-after driver and set off a furious rush by every other equipment company to build metal "woods." The Taylor Mades made wooden-headed drivers obsolete. The metals not only go farther but they softened some of the worst slices and hooks of everyday hackers. Adams, who went from Taylor Made to Founder's Club, died after a long battle with cancer.
Dann, my predecessor as golf and hockey writer at the Detroit Free Press many years ago (1960, to be exact), was a Michigan State graduate, served in the Navy in World War II and loved to play golf. He was appointed executive director of the Western Golf Association in 1960 and while that meant moving to Chicago, he still had a strong Michigan tie -- the Western Amateur at Point O'Woods Country Club in Benton Harbor.
The Western Amateur and the Point are a twosome made in golf heaven. To me it's the toughest championship in amateur golf, 72 holes of stroke play to reduce the field to 16 for two days of match play. The finalists play eight rounds in five days and it's no wonder the collegians rule with past champions like Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw.
Dann ran into a roadblock almost as soon as he got the job when Scioto Country Club in Columbus, O., which was to host the 1960 Western Open, backed out. Dann scrambled, went back to his Detroit connections and got Western Golf & Country Club to take it. And in 1961 the Western paid its only visit to west Michigan when Arnold Palmer beat Sam Snead by two shots at Blythefield Country Club in suburban Grand Rapids.
SHORT SHOTS: Betsy King is on the ballot for the Polish Sports Hall of Fame, located at St. Mary's College in Orchard Lake, north of Detroit. King's mother is Polish.
St. Ives co-owners Norm Browning and Bob Doerr will open in spring 2001 another course 6-1/2 miles south of their popular Jerry Matthews-designed course and on the south end of the Canadian Lakes Resort property.
Jim Engh of Colorado Springs, whose Red Hawk Ridge design in Castle Rock, CO, was selected one of Golf Digest's 10 best new affordable courses in America, did the new course which Browning's wife, Judy, has named Tullymore after the fictional town in the movie "Waking Ned Devine." And there's a village about eight miles east of famed Ballybunion and a town about 50 miles west of Dublin, both named Tullemore, so there's plenty of Irish influence.
Mrs. Browning also came up with the St. Ives name and the English-influenced clubhouse there and she's doing the research on an Irish village theme for Tullymore.
Kevin O'Brien, director of golf at St. Ives, did the research on Engh -- "We wanted someone who is a rising star in golf course design. We met him in the spring of 1997 and were very impressed."
Most of Engh's work has been in the west and Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten included him in his list of "The 25 Hottest Architects of the Year" last fall.
How far off is 2003? Well the PGA of America believes it is imminent and on March 1 it began peddling hospitality packages for the September 2003 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. The PGA is warning interested customers that it is the only outfit that can guarantee tickets, on-site chalets/tents/tables and parking. For information call 1-877-742-4677.
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