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PGA Merchandise Show: 'Super Bowl' of golf business

It's known as the "Major of Golf Business." More than 40,000 golf professionals and fans are gathered in Orlando, Florida, for the annual PGA Merchandise show. The biggest companies present their latest and greatest gear and technology, alongside some of the most promising start-ups in the industry. The hottest trends start here, and some of the biggest deals get done here.

"It's the Super Bowl of the golf business," Cobra Puma CEO Bob Philion told CNBC. "There is no other place where we can see as many accounts in these three days."

While the eye-catching equipment and apparel get a lot of attention, many industry insiders are keeping a close eye on the future of the game.

"The show is really the one time during the year where the entire industry comes together, under one roof, to project on the future and where golf can go," TaylorMade-Adidas Golf CEO David Abeles said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."


There's no doubt that golf has seen its share of struggles and hardships over the past few years. Questions remain about the strength of the global economy, and how the game can grow in a world where Tiger Woods plays less of a role than he once did. Still, recent trends have given many golfers a renewed sense of optimism.

"Rounds [played] are up, it's an Olympic Year, we have a domestic Ryder Cup and then we have the onslaught of so many young, energetic professionals right now," said PGA of America CEO Peter Bevacqua. "There's a ton of reasons for optimism now." Rounds played rose 2 percent in 2015.

For two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, it's a motivating factor.

"What gets me out of bed in the morning is the Olympics coming up, the Ryder Cup coming up," Watson said.


The PGA Merchandise Show is itself a good barometer of the coming year for the industry, according to Reed Exhibitions Senior Vice President Ed Several. The company organizes and runs the show.

"This will be one of the largest shows in the last five years in terms of paid space and number of exhibitors," Several said.

With more than 284 new companies presenting at the show, he said, the golf market is ripe with new products, golf entrepreneurs, and investors willing to pay big bucks.

Golf's biggest show also provides a first look at some of the hot trends for golf in 2016 — both in equipment and soft goods such as shirts, pants and hats. Philion of Cobra Puma said that innovation and customization are the big themes he's seeing. "It's all about comfort and style," he said, noting that both cleated and spikeless golf shoes continue to be a growing category for his brand.

From wearables to apps to high-tech swing analyzers, there's no shortage of technology at the PGA Merchandise Show.

Market leader Callaway introduced its XR 16 line of metalwoods, which feature technology co-developed with aerospace giant Boeing. The companies are working together to create more aerodynamic golf equipment.

"We partnered with them to make our equipment better," said Callaway CEO Chip Brewer. "The XR 16 is not only more forgiving now, but faster."

All of this is coming at a time when golf is at a crossroads. Demographic and economic trends remain areas of uncertainty for the game. However, if the level of buzz at this year's PGA Merchandise Show translates into gains on fairways and greens, the industry may have taken the first steps toward turning a corner, and starting on a renewed growth trajectory.