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PGA Merch Day 1: Scotty Cameron and Dave Stockton on long putters; Mark King on the state of the industry

Ridiculously busy. That was my day one at the PGA Merchandise show. Though I found it easier to get around than I’d been led to believe — the building is massive, but somehow manageable — I still found myself running from one spot to another to make appointments. And far too often there was someone in walking while texting or acting like they were looking for an address. I knew where I needed to get to, but it took some time.

On Wednesday I went to the demo day, a huge outdoor hitting fest where guys bang out hundreds of shots on all of the new gear. The vendors surround the massive 360-degree driving range at Orange County National. Perhaps due to the fact I didn’t arrive until 1, and then had to get my media pass and drive across town to get to the course. Demo day is massive, but while armed with a video camera, there wasn’t any time to hit much. In fact, I just spoke with people — I didn’t pick up a club, which was a shame, but just a reality of the situation.

That led to an early morning on Thursday at the show.

Along the way I had several interesting interviews:

  • Scotty Cameron did a workshop for Titleist and then I had the chance to speak with him for a few minutes. Kind of reminded me of interviewing a rock star — Cameron came from back stage, and his time was carefully managed even though he only appeared to have two interviews. I got 10 minutes with him, and then was asked to wrap, which was fine I suppose. Most of my talk with Cameron was about the move to the long putter or “alternative putters,” as he calls them. He said Titleist used to sell a few hundred long and belly putters each year. Last year that jumped to 10,000 and is expected to double this year.

    Scotty Cameron speaking to his admirers.

  • Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade, said the company had its best year ever, though final financial results haven’t been announced. They better be making some cash — because TaylorMade had a massive booth that looked like a nightclub and couldn’t have been cheap. King said 2011 was TaylorMade’s “largest year in terms of sales and profit.” However, his most interesting remarks were aimed at the state of the game and the industry. “We have to find ways to make the equipment business more compelling,” says King. He said he didn’t expect a lot of industry consolidation given the fact that the brands that are for sale are struggling, and he seemed concerned about the state of the game, though I do think it was his EBITDA that was his real focus. More golfers equals more gear sales after all. “If we don’t have more golfers we won’t have jobs,” he said to a group of Canadian print and web hacks, including me. He said it was up to the PGA of America and the PGA of Canada (those were the two he pointed to) that need to find new ways to get more players into the game — and that wasn’t the responsibility of the equipment companies. He pushed for what he said were “radical” solutions — a bigger golf hole, for example — to help grow the game. He also argued for bifurcation if it led to more golfers. All in all, King was very outspoken — Golf 20/20 for example, has lasted 20 years with a solution, he said — but I’m not sure there wasn’t a solution put forward. Interesting nonetheless.
  • Late in the day I spoke with Dave Stockton. Stockton and I had been scheduled to have a quick conversation earlier in the day, but he had to leave for a television appearance. He was extremely apologetic and offered to come to the TaylorMade booth later in the day to speak with me. Interestingly Stockton isn’t that big a fan of long putters — though he found Adam Scott’s move to make a big difference in his stroke. He said Scott had a more straight back-straight through approach to his putting, which is why the long putter works so well for him, as opposed to someone like Phil Mickelson, who takes the putter more inside. We stood on the TaylorMade putting green while doing the interview and Stockton watched those around us putt — many working with a long putter. Stockton said he could size up their putting by watching one stroke. He added that he felt Rory McIlroy was the best putter in the game because he was quick. “He just looks and putts,” Stockton said. “Sometimes he’s too fast.”
  • Dinner that evening was with Cabot Links, the course I’ve written so extensively about. Sounds like things are progressing well with the hotel portion of the club, and during a conversation with Mike Keiser, the co-owner of the project, earlier in the week, he mentioned they now think they’ll move ahead with the second course if they can get 15,000 rounds through in the first year. That’s pretty likely, I’d suspect. Cabot is capturing a ton of attention — and the attendants at the dinner, many of whom came from the U.S. media, is proof of that.
  • For other Canadian coverage, check out ScoreGolf managing editor Jason Logan’s super cool piece on some of the small little companies that break the bank in the hope that their new product draws some attention, and Lorne Rubenstein has his insights at the GolfCanada.ca .

Day two on Monday.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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