The annual PGA Merchandise Show at the massive Orange County Convention Center in Orlando has been compared to a toy store for golf fanatics. Every possible product, even remotely connected to the golf industry, is on display.
There are more than a thousand vendors, hundreds of thousands of items being exhibited, and 20,000 golf professionals and buyers doing the intense inspecting.
New trends in the industry are noticed.
For example, a decade ago, it seemed as if there were hundreds of vendors displaying every kind of bracelet or necklace made from copper, metal or other exotic materials. The goal was to help golfers with the chronic aches and pains associated with the game.
For the most part, those “healing” pieces of jewelry were gone from this year’s show. But the aches and pains remain. In their place was an overwhelming amount of CBD products, made from hemp oil, making the same “healing” claims. New decade, new panacea.
Walking the miles of aisles, sifting through the avalanche of products, separating the wheat from the chaff is never an easy task.
But now that the blisters have healed, it is time to list some of the standouts. – Tony Leodora
DEFINITELY FLASHY, DEFINITELY LONG
The wheels of progress keep turning. Volvik came out with an entire new line of golf balls this year – an exciting development for the golf ball company that successfully has combined form with function. But nothing in the line does it better than the new XT AMT golf ball. These high performance, three-piece golf balls are available in a matte finish and come in green, red yellow and orange colors. The matte finish is preferred by the best players. The bright colors are preferred by anyone who wants to add a bit of flash and sizzle to his game.
“We really looked forward to exhibiting these exciting, high-performance golf balls at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show,” said Don Shin, president of Volvik USA. “They represent the latest in research and technology, and we know they will be very well received by golfers across the entire playing-ability spectrum.”
This type of innovation is nothing new for Volvik. Throughout more than 40 years of golf ball production, Volvik has specialized in production of 3- and 4-piece multi-layer high performance balls for players of every skill set. Volvik’s patented SF matte coating has led to the development of Vivid, the world’s first matte finish golf ball.
Volvik’s golf balls have been in use on the world’s professional tours since 2012, including the World Long Driving competitions. The company’s dedication to research at the highest level is evident by the fact that it now has 58 worldwide patents. www.volvik.com
EXTENDING THE EXOTIC EDGE
Tour Edge is a rather unique golf equipment company. For one thing, it is based in Batavia, Illinois, and all of its clubs are assembled there. It is also one of the fastest growing equipment companies in the world. But its growth has taken place on two vastly different platforms. One platform is its line of Hot Launch clubs – quality golf clubs but available at a very affordable price.
The other platform, and one of increasing success in recent years, is its line of Exotics clubs, made with the most expensive materials and held to the highest quality standards. And they came with a relatively high price – until last year.
That’s when company founder Dave Glod decided to make a big push in the industry by introducing his Exotics EXS line and reducing the price to a very competitive level. The market reception was understandably positive. But what do you do for an encore?
Introducing the new Exotics EXS 220 driver.
“The whole thing is about maximum MOI (Moment of Inertia) this year,” says Dave Glod, Tour Edge founder. “We increased our MOI for resistance to twisting about 20 percent over last year. We are now longer by six to nine yards and straighter by five to six yards. So it’s an amazing evolution of the EXS design.”
Glod backs up that aggressive claim with another one.
“With the 220 Series, the slower swing speed players can get that increase now, too,” Glod adds. “Someone with a 75 to 85 mph swing speed can gain a lot of yards. They simply need to find the right loft and the right Fujikura Air Speeder shaft, which is super light and flexible.” www.touredge.com
SOARING (AND GLIDING) TO SUCCESS
The High Heat success story – since the line of clubs debuted four years ago – has been an incredible one. Rather than rest on his laurels, High Heat inventor Dean Knuth was spurred by the immediate affirmation the clubs received across the golf industry. He embarked on a year-by-year expansion of the line and improvement of the product.
Since Day One, creating the best drivers, fairway woods and hybrids for the amateur golfer was the company mantra.
Last year, the 257+ face technology, which provided a greater trampoline effect on off-center hits, got rave reviews. This year, another refinement to the design of the fairway woods and hybrids was the talk of the PGA Merchandise Show. The new “Turf Glider Sole” is an innovation that adds even more playability to the clubs.
“As always, the needs of the amateur golfer are our focus,” said Knuth.
“We created a technology that has eliminated the fat shot. With the Turf Glider Sole you can hit inches behind the ball and it still flies. You can hit it out of a divot. It’s designed to remedy one of the most common errors.”
And, now, not just the face but the entire clubhead is created using the highest grade of titanium. “We have the only club out there using this technology,” continued Knuth. “It’s very hot. The ball goes a long way and we kept the low center of gravity, which is what amateurs need. The Turf Glider Sole adds a dimension to it that makes the fairway woods and hybrids the ultimate weapons for players who need a little bit of extra help.”
One additional bonus: all High Heat clubs come with a 30-day full-refund guarantee.
A.I. ON THE WORLD’S GREAT GREENS
Traffic jams are somewhat common at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. They usually take place when an exhibitor has a unique new product or is introducing a breakthrough in technology. Both of those factors were on display at the Robo-Green booth this year. Golfers were blown away by the new product. Robo-Green is an artificial putting green – on steroids.
Inventor Jim Stracka took the technology from his StrackaLine Green Reading Guides and used it to create an amazing putting experience. With the use of his laser-based green specifications and a mechanical platform that can immediately change the contour of a green, Stracka can mimic the putting conditions on an individual green from thousands of golf courses around the world.
Adding the use of projectors and simulators, the Robo-Green can re-create the slope and angle of anything from Payne Stewart’s winning putt at Pinehurst No. 2 in the U.S. Open to the Tiger Woods shot with 25 feet of break on the 16th hole at the 2005 Masters.
“I wanted to take the data from the thousands of courses we have and bring that data live to the golfers,” explains Stracka. “It’s all really simple to use. It’s all run through an iPad and everything else happens automatically.
“This is a green you can put in your home or your office. Then we took it one step further. I was driving down the freeway one day and I see this trailer go by with all of the games that they bring to children’s parties. We then put the Robo-Green inside a trailer, so we can bring it anywhere, anytime. Now you have it for events, member-guests, you name it.”
The trailer has self-contained power, is air-conditioned and is another hi-tech example of how technology is helping to expand the game of golf.
THE LIGHT TOUCH
Every year at the PGA Merchandise Show a number of new putters hit the market – every one of them proclaiming revolutionary technological advances.
This year, the Sacks Parente line of putters can make that claim – and back it up.
“What really distinguishes us from the other manufacturers is we have patented ultra-low balance point technology,” explains Sacks Parente co-founder Steve Sacks. “It enabled us to take all of the weight out of the shaft and grip, using a standard weight head, and creating a putter that literally wants to putt itself. The head wants to release, wants to square-up, wants to help you make more putts.”
Sacks has been a pioneer in golf club manufacturing since 1974. His partner, Rich Parente, was the original co-founder and first president of Callaway Golf in 1982. As a result, neither is afraid of groundbreaking innovation that flies in the face of conventional thinking.
Pick up the Sacks Parente putter by the head and it immediately becomes evident that the feel of this putter is dramatically different. The light shaft and grip has been accomplished through the combination of the proprietary components – featherweight grips, ultra-light shafts and Tour-weight putter heads.
Sacks Parente putters come in two different styles. The blades are available in three models – Series 39 True Blade, Series 18 Cavity Sole Flange Blade, and the new Series 66 Cavity Back Flange Blade. The mallet style comes in six different series of center-shafted and heel-shafted models.
One other startling aspect of the Sacks Parente line of putters – they start at $600 and go up. Innovation, and sometimes lower scores, come with a price.
Let’s go down the list of the three F’s of the golf glove world. Friction – The original purpose of the golf glove was to provide enough friction so that the golfer could hold onto the club. Whether it was dry hands or sweaty palms, the golf glove helped the golfers get a grip on their game.
Function – The Copper Tech golf glove company realized that by incorporating copper-infused technology into the material of the glove, it could improve the health and performance of golfers. This takes place through increased blood circulation and oxygenation of the working muscles.
Fashion – Golf gloves have always been the most boring segment of golf apparel. From head to toe, the focus of the apparel world always was colorful, eye-catching high fashion. That is, except when it came to a golfer’s hands.
“For all of those people who want a nice, fashionable golf glove, we’ve got one for you,” said Lloyd Cohn, president of Copper Tech. “We have lots of different colors, lots of different choices.”
The Copper Tech line of golf gloves now is a veritable rainbow of colors. From subtle pastels to bold colors, just about everything is available in both the men’s and women’s line of golf gloves.
“There is a lot of emphasis toward having fun on the golf course these days,” Cohn continued. “With our gloves, you’ll definitely be seen on the golf course. Not only will you look great but you will play great.”
Currently there are 18 different colors of golf gloves available in both the men’s and women’s lines.
MORE DISTANCE, ANYONE?
For years the Greenkeepers company, based in Philadelphia, has been manufacturing a popular line of golf accessories. They are so accepted that the products are seen displayed in golf shops and retail stores around the world.
Recently, much of the success has been in their lines of performance golf tees.
The first was the Four Yards More Tee, a two-piece tee that allows the golf ball to rest on a soft-white pillow, providing minimal friction and spin. It is the first and only tee, proven in two tests, to improve distance.
Subsequently, the company developed the Survivor Tee. This one-piece tee allows the golfer to tee up the golf ball in the traditional fashion, while still providing the same distance improvement as the Four Yards More Tee.
Robotized swing testing by Golf Testing Laboratories showed the Survivor Tee has the lowest ball spin rate by an average of seven percent. That results in the highest ball speed, roll out and distance of any tee tested.
Now, the Survivor is available in a convenient Combo Pack that includes all of the tee sizes available.
“Most good players now have performance golf tees in their golf bags,” reports Frank Carroll, president of Greenkeepers. “The Survivor Tee is getting the same kind of acceptance as the Four Yards More Tee, so it was just time to come up with convenient packaging. We have seen that people now want a larger quantity and a greater variety of performance tees in their bags. They need them for different conditions and different clubs.”
The Survivor Tee Combo Pack includes four sizes – from the hybrid tee all the way up to the jumbo tee.
It is advertised as “the ultimate practice mat.” And nobody who tested this new mat during the introductory Multi-Media Day during PGA Merchandise Show week in Orlando disputed the claim. This mat makes all other practice mats seem outdated.
The mat has an air-filled bladder, encased in a support envelope, which is retained in a nylon injected base. The envelope absorbs the golf club energy and transfers it to the bladder. That energy is captured, keeping it from reverberating up the club head shaft to the wrist, elbow and shoulder.
The mat is designed to prevent injuries that can occur when hitting golf balls from ordinary mats placed on concrete or other hard surfaces. A number of chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons with extensive golf experience have given overwhelming endorsements to the new mat.
“There are two great advantages to this mat,” says PGA Professional Jay Golden, a spokesperson for the Strike Absorber Mat. “It’s inflatable, it’s soft and it has a realistic feel. If you hit behind the ball, you’re going to lose distance. Most mats, if you hit behind the ball, the club slides through and the shot looks perfect on a shot that is actually a fat shot.
“The other thing is, because of the softness, there is a much less chance of injury. So many people suffer injuries over a period of time from chopping down on a mat that is seated on a hard surface. This mat will reduce injuries a thousand percent.”
The Strike Absorber Mat is available with an attaching stance mat that provides the perfect practice environment for large driving ranges at a golf club or for use at home in a back yard or in an indoor enclosure.
THE TOTAL PACKAGE
Training aids come in every size, shape, color, form and material known to man. Variety is the mantra. But there is one common thread among the successful training aids – the ones that provide visual reinforcement are the best.
The Total Golf Trainer is an amazingly visual golf training aid – and one that has many different applications.
“What makes the Total Golf Trainer different is most training aids are very static, very set, very traditional,” explains Mike Gish, inventor of the Total Golf Trainer. “We’ve kind of stepped out of the box. We have custom training aids, with flexible training rods, that actually can shape to fit someone’s strong grip, someone’s weak grip. It can change or fix someone’s inside takeaway.
“Our products are limitless in how they can help people. What they’re really good at is helping everyone from beginners to professionals.”
At the end of the flexible rods, which can be adjusted to fix everything from full swing flaws to chipping weaknesses, is a large red ball. That red ball presents a glaring visual reminder of what the golfer is doing wrong.
The basic Total Golf Trainer is the TGT 3.0 Kit. It comes with three trainers – the arm and hip device, plus the TGT V2 device that increases clubhead speed and distance. The hip device forces golfers to use their lower body, thus adding power. At around $135, it is one of the most affordable and effective total golf training systems on the golf market. And it comes in smaller sizes for women and children.
The belt with no holes has been one of the fastest growing companies in the entire golf industry. From modest beginnings in 2010, Nexbelt has gained remarkable acceptance on the PGA Tour and throughout the ranks of well-dressed amateur golfers. More than 40 players now wear Nexbelt on the professional tours, including very visible players such as Jim Furyk and Kevin Na.
Each year there are technological improvements of note, but it is the fashion enhancements that catch the eye of discerning golfer. This year, “texture” has come to the Nexbelt line, especially with the addition of the new suede belts.
“There is a new buckle mechanism that really improves the function of our belts but everybody is talking about the new look,” explains Nexbelt co-founder Eddie Rowland. “The new texture of the suede belt is impressive. It comes in four new colors and it looks really rich. It’s soft, it’s subtle.
“Another texture, the alligator belt, is new for 2020. It has a new buckle that matches the belt so well, you can’t even tell it is a ratcheting belt. It ends up being the most comfortable belt you will ever wear.”
Once again the Nexbelt booth was packed with curious visitors – and interested buyers – all week at the PGA Merchandise Show, which means even more Nexbelt displays will be seen in golf shops across the country this season.
The company’s success is a residue of innovation. The styles have increased – from the original belts that included a ball marker in the buckle to the most stylish dress belts to a line of ultra-casual belts – and now to a new line of textured suede belts.