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PGA Merchandise show: Shorts, the Olympics and the 75th for Highlands Links

For years I was told by a colleague that I needed to come to the Orlando PGA Merchandise show. I largely ignored him, simply because I didn’t write much about equipment, something that changed over the years. Truthfully, the show remains, for many, a networking event as much as a place to see new equipment. After all, I’d already had the chance to see Ping’s latest when I was in Arizona last month, and was also familiar with everything from Callaway and Titleist. Interestingly, those that might have made the show interesting—Nike, PXG—were no where to be seen.

However, on Monday TaylorMade announced the extension of the M1 family of products, brining a new, less expensive driver to the market (M2) and a new hot 3-wood, as well as irons and a hybrid. Some will see it as TaylorMade adding yet more product to the market, but in some ways it is simplifying their product lineup under the M brand. My perspective? The M1 driver is excellent and highly customizable, but the new M2 driver is $100 less. And with the declining Canadian dollar, that’s a significant difference. Interestingly the company always sells more of the lower-priced product, not something that should startle anyone, but it is about a 60-40 split, according to one TaylorMade exec who I spoke with at the launch.

What appears hot at the show? Callaway’s resurgence seems to be continuing, while Titleist and Ping continue a steady-as-they-go approach. I did get to spend time with Bob Vokey, the maker of those great wedges, which was cool, and interviewed Roger Cleveland of Callaway for a half hour on the evolution of wedges, which was also interesting. At the merch show, the likes of Vokey and Scotty Cameron are treated like rock stars. That means people you’ve never met lean in to listen to your interviews. It is actually not as big a distraction as you’d think, but it is still a little strange.

What’s the talk of the show? Shorts, Rickie’s high tops, and how what millennial want from the game.

Shorts–and who can wear them and why–was a discussion I had with Davide Mattucci, Adidas Golf’s global product director, who seems relatively incredulous that we’re still talking about why PGA Tour pros can’t wear shorts at this stage. Interestingly, Adidas is supplying the Olympic uniforms for the U.S. golf team, so that means Jordan Spieth, a proponent of shorts who has a deal with Under Armour, will be wearing Adidas when he plays on the team.

While August temps in Rio are actually relatively moderate, golfers won’t be allowed to wear shorts, which strikes me as strange. Shoes are considered part of their athletic wear, so Spieth, for instance, will still wear his UA shoes, but not their clothes, and definitely not shorts. Last night, while talking with Alex Miceli from Golfweek, the discussion about shorts came up. Largely the crew at the table seemed to think it is time for golf to get on with things–if you want to be treated like a sport, you need to act like one. And that includes wearing shorts when it is appropriate.

Mattucci made a point I thought was bang on: a golfer who looks sloppy in shorts, likely also looks sloppy in pants. Anyway, I consider the debate over pro golfers wearing shorts to be old-fashioned and slightly ridiculous.

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Signature par-3 3rd hole at Highlands Links

Signature par-3 3rd hole at Highlands Links

Last night Golf Cape Breton hosted a dinner last night for writers, that included former RIM Co-CEO Jim Balsillie. Balsillie’s group, GolfNorth, acquired a long lease on the historic Highlands Links last year. I knew Balsillie well when I reported for the National Post, but that was a decade ago, and I hadn’t seen him in years.

GolfNorth largely owns mid-priced daily fee courses in Ontario; Highlands is its biggest bet yet, and Balsillie is pumping millions into the resort, reworking rooms, continuing to remove trees from the course, and allowing GM Graham Hudson to work unencumbered by the federal government, who ran the course for years and basically led to its decline.

Balsillie told the room, quite honestly I thought, that he wanted to know what we wanted for Highlands. I told him the course needs a real superintendent (it, shockingly, hasn’t had one for years) and that it was a shame it lost its top 100 ranking, which in golf terms is like a Michelin Star is to a restaurant.

“We can get that back,” Balsillie said. That’s a tough one, but I appreciate that he seems genuinely interested in bringing the resort back to some semblance of its former self.

Highlands Links has deserved better for years—it finally seems to be getting it.

 

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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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