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February 2023

Why The PGA Show and Golf Business Conference are a Winning Combination for Owners and Operators

By Michael Williams

Golfers have varying opinions on when the golf season starts. PGA Tour golfers start their new year in October of the previous one. Amateurs will contend that golf starts with the first warm weather of the year wherever you happen to be, while others will insist that the true first day of the golf season is marked by gentle guitar music and the soothing words, “Hello, friends!” being spoken from the verdant confines of Augusta National.
 
But for those in the business of golf, there is nearly unanimous consensus that the new golf year kicks off with the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida. Formerly known as the PGA Merchandise Show, the PGA Show is the place where golf professionals, merchants, manufacturers, service providers and owner/operators convene to prepare their operations for the coming season. The PGA Show, which started as a humble gathering of PGA professionals to order merchandise for their clubs and courses for the coming season, is now about to host its 70th edition on January 24-27, 2023, and has firmly established its position as the world’s largest and most influential golf business event.

As it has grown, the PGA Show has enlisted the spirit of partnership to better serve its clients and constituents. In 1998, The PGA of America sold an equity share of its golf shows to Reed Exhibitions. In partnership, The PGA and Reed have expanded the reach and offerings available at the PGA to include even more opportunities for owners and operators to receive a wealth of information and education during the show.  And in 2018, a new partnership was formed with the NGCOA and its annual Golf Business Conference, which will be held January 23-25, 2023. The alliance creates a powerful week where owners and operators can first develop strategic plans with their peers and then connect with the industry to gather the tools and tactics to make those plans a success.

PGA Golf Exhibitions Vice President Marc Simon and Senior Director, Partnership Development at PGA of America Dan Baker spoke with GB Magazine to talk about the importance of the PGA Show, its new alliance with the NGCOA and what that means for owner/operators.

Michael Williams:
Marc, would you give just a little bit of a history and background on the PGA Merchandise Show. When did it start and what was its initial mission and vision?

Marc Simon:
Actually, the show started out from the trunks of cars back in Dunedin, Florida, back in 1954, so this is the 70th anniversary of the show. And the show has become so much more than what it was back in 1954, although its basic premise back then still holds, connecting PGA professionals with exhibiting brands or reps in the industry. Now, it's the global gathering place for the golf industry. So, in addition to all of the buying and the merchandise displays that go on, there are education opportunities. There are close to 800-plus exhibiting brands.

Anybody who is really doing anything in the industry can find value by coming to the event. And we think, for course owners, with this alliance of the NGCOA and the Golf Business Conference, it's a great way for owners to get a taste of what's important to PGA Professionals when they attend the show. We are  excited about the collaborative opportunities between owners and pros, and for owners to get a chance to see everything that's going on in the golf industry in one place at one time at the kickoff to the season.

Michael Williams:
Let's talk a little bit more about some of the logistics and numbers...Give me the PGA Show by the numbers.

Marc Simon:
This is one of the largest events in any industry in terms of we don't even call it a trade show; it's an event, it's a happening.  But it's one of the top 50 shows in terms of size and scope. In terms of overall bodies that will be in attendance, it brings more than 30,000 people to Orlando, which includes exhibitors, media and attendees. Again, we reference more than 800 exhibiting brands setting up in a typical year. It's more than 750,000 square feet of the convention center in terms of exhibit space but there's so much more than the booth displays. We have a large indoor equipment test center at the show where people can test the latest equipment and get fitted.

There's also an outdoor demo day that kicks off the show on January 24th at Orange County National where we have close to 100 brands that'll be displaying the latest equipment, teaching and training aids, and other products that suit themselves to an outdoor environment. So you not only have the demo day that takes place on January 24th, but you also have three days of exhibits, education and special events.

Michael Williams:
Outstanding. Now, I know we've had two and a half years of pandemic, which changed everything for everybody. Talk to me a little bit about how you have changed, adopted and adapted what you do.

Marc Simon:
As you know, through the pandemic, we had to pivot and act very quickly. For one year, the show went all virtual, and that really helped in terms of figuring out what's important to PGA professionals. We had some successes from an education perspective, but we really learned that people missed getting together. They missed the networking opportunities, they missed seeing, touching, feeling the product. They missed the experiences; they missed  connecting with people outside of their immediate region. For the 2023 show we took the best of what we used to have in 2019 and 2020 and previous years and then rolled in, again, more experiences, better education opportunities and a forum where people are able to connect with their peers, whether it's through education, whether it's through receptions, or whether it's just conveniently bumping into somebody while walking down the aisle. We've really focused on rebuilding the show in a way that creates those experiences, education and networking opportunities. What we learned has been essential to getting people excited about coming back to the event.

Michael Williams:
Dan, give me then your thoughts on what the PGA Show has been and is now for the industry.

Dan Baker:
I'm senior director of industry partnerships. I oversee our relationships with all the golf-related companies, anybody who makes a golf-related proctor service and what they do to support our 28,000 professionals, whether it be sponsorship of events or supportive programs, educational, whatever. I've been overseeing the PGA Show for 15 years now, and I work with the Reid team and Marc every day, and probably every night as we get closer.

As Marc alluded to, it's much more than merchandise. The PGA Show, it's a global gathering of golf and it's a gathering of 6,000 to 7,000 PGA professionals every year, so it's the largest gathering of our PGA Professionals by tenfold over anything else. We might have 700 or 800 PGA Professionals who take in education during show week. Thousands of PGA Professionals are there to buy products. They're there to look at vendors that they've worked with already or for a long time, and they're also there to see what's new and different that they could go back to their facility, whether it's on the apparel end or the accessory end, or what technology's out there that they could use to improve their facility operations.

We have 1,600 or so PGA Professionals who are general managers of their facility, so they might be coming to the show looking at what's new in the technology space, what's new in the software space that could help their facility or services. Also, there’s a lot of different associations and industry leaders from around the world who are coming to the show, and they utilize it as a way, whether they're connecting with some of the larger golf companies, they're connecting with peers. And a lot of the companies there, it's a great way for them to connect with distributors who come from all over the world to come to the show. Some of those distributors are looking for new lines to carry or new products to carry. It's a great way for them to connect and see people they wouldn't see otherwise during the year.

Michael Williams:
Marc, we'll go back to you.  Talk to me a little bit about that relationship you have established with the National Golf Course Owners Association, the Golf Business Conference and how it benefits both sides

Marc Simon:
The relationship with the NGCOA has always been a strong one. And with the Golf Business Conference coming in beforehand, but with some overlap, it adds to the strong overall educational content that you're going to have at the show. Dan alluded to the Teaching and Coaching Summit. There's the AGM Retail Conference. There's a strong PGA Education Conference, the golf fitness presentations, but I think what's really meaningful here is that it's an opportunity for owners to get a window into the PGA Professional side of things. And for PGA Professionals, it's the reverse. We have collaborative sessions on Wednesday, and I think that's what's key, is those overlap days where we have collaborative sessions that both owners and pros can participate in. I think that the opportunity for an owner at a facility to spend more time with their PGA Professional and vice versa in this setting is particularly valuable, but I think the partnership between the show and NGCOA has never been stronger.  Again, the strong educational content that's brought in by the owners participating is meaningful. And the buying power that brings to the show is truly significant.

Michael Williams:
When did formal relationship start between GBC and the PGA Show?

Dan Baker:
(NGCOA CEO) Jay Karen and a couple of his board members met with me at the PGA Championship one year. We were very interested in partnering because so many of their attendees come to the show and they just felt like it was a good fit for what they were trying to accomplish. So we had a nice discussion about it and then followed up with Marc, and then I think we've figured out a really good way to be able to co-locate it.

Michael Williams:
Interesting. And Dan, I guess you could talk a little bit also about the relationship between the Golf Course Owners and the PGA Professional and the benefit in attending both of those in the same place, to have the opportunity to consume that content and that atmosphere simultaneously and maybe sync on things in a way that you wouldn't otherwise.

Dan Baker:
Yeah, we thought it was a great way for a PGA Professional to come with their owner operator, attend GBC early in the week, and then attend the show, that there were a lot of relevant things. So it could be a truly impactful four-day trip where they could absorb a lot of educational content, participate in a lot of programming, enjoy quality networking and connect with a lot of vendors and exhibitors who may be able to help their facilities. We felt like it was a great way to be able to combine two groups that work hand in hand. I think it's good for PGA Professionals to spend time with their GM or their owner. It's good and I've seen that. Anecdotally, on the show floor, I'll introduce myself to somebody or ask them how's their show experience going that week, and I've met PGA Professionals who are there with their owner on the show floor. They're walking around looking at products or things and they'd already attended the GBC on Tuesday. That's a great way to spend a few days!

Michael Williams:
When you talk about the flow of the calendar, as an owner/operator maybe you have some ideas or thoughts that come up from something like GBC from a strategy point of view, and then you move a couple of doors down and now you can implement them with the tactics and tools that you find on the show floor. Does that sound about right to you, Marc?

Marc Simon:
Absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head there. One note, by the way, in which Dan mentions preliminary conversations, but it seems like so much longer that we've had GBC co-located with the event, but it was really only the 2020 show that was the first co-location. Discussions were happening well before then. We had the 2020 event then, of course, went all virtual, and continued last year. But this is really, I would say, only the second more normal get-together, so we couldn't be more excited, and we think there's an opportunity to really have strong attendance at this year's event because a number of people haven't been to the show since 2020.

Michael Williams:
Great. And I believe that there's some reciprocity between the badges, like a GBC badge gets you into the PGA Show. First, is that correct?

Marc Simon:
Yeah, we felt that was a significant part of the partnership, that if you've registered for the GBC conference, that that badge will get you into the PGA Show absolutely at no additional cost.

Dan Baker:
Michael, one thing that I always try to communicate is that we view the show as a plug and play opportunity. We can't be all things to all people, but we're as many things to as many people as we can as a show.

Michael Williams:
Well, you can be so many things to so many people because you have so many people doing so many things.

Dan Baker:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That's a good way to put it. I like that. Can I use that?

Michael Williams:
No problem!

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