Notes from the PGA Merchandise Show

January 31, 2014
The Cobra/Puma Golf space featured hip hop music with a DJ, as befits a golf company aimed at a younger demographic. BY FRITZ SCHRANCK

I drove over to Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center for the PGA Merchandise Show Jan. 22, which even at 8 a.m. was already buzzing with thousands of golf pros, buyers, sales reps and media types.

I began my day in the apparel area, which seemed to take up as much space as three Rehoboth Beach Convention Centers. The entire show’s exhibit space used almost a half-million square feet, according to PGA President Ted Bishop.

One stall immediately attracted my attention with the gorgeous colors and finely wrought print designs on the shirts, offered by In Fiamme LLC. Art Kimbrough, the vice president, explained how the company develops small lots of the hand-constructed Italian golf apparel from Egyptian cotton, serving the high-end golf trade. With a typical price point of $130 per shirt, Kimbrough knows his clientele.

He described the core market as the 50+ age group, and said Senior PGA Tour player Rocco Mediate now represents the firm. Kimbrough also noted the absence of any In Fiamme logos on the shirts, which makes a bit of a statement right there.

These were, by some distance, the best-looking golf shirts I have ever seen. I could also see them selling well at either Carlton's or the Rock Creek men's fashion store in Rehoboth Beach.

Several clothing lines very familiar to the Cape Region because of Tanger Outlets had a strong presence at the PGA Show, but with a difference.

Gareth Eckley, an account executive with Brooks Brothers, explained that the clothes offered at the outlet are designed and sold specifically for that market. The tradition-oriented company now markets the lines sold at regular Brooks Brothers stores to golfers at the pro shops, called "green grass shops" in the trade.

Eckley expects the firm's golf offerings to include more blends of cotton and performance fabrics, compared to the all-cotton wares sold at Brooks Brothers outlets and regular stores.

Meryl Gagnier, a Tommy Hilfiger clothing designer from Montreal, Quebec, said much the same thing about her designs for that iconic brand. The golf clothes, modeled on tour by PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, use only "technical" fabrics, instead of the cotton items sold at Tanger. Hilfiger also moves its familiar flag logo from its accustomed left chest location to other spots to accommodate the logo plans country clubs or resorts may have.

Sometimes the Cape Region connections I found were more personal than just a brand name.

Kevin Withers is a strategic account manager for Transitions Optical, makers of sunglasses designed to enhance golfers' vision. He described the company's separate relationships with Oakley, Callaway and Nike, and how Transitions eyewear enhances contrast in the green and blue spectrum frequencies.

Withers also advised that Transitions lenses would not be much help out on the water. They are not polarized, because that common attribute for other sunglasses tends to flatten perspective on the golf course, making it harder to read greens.

Withers smiled broadly when he noticed the Cape Gazette name on my press badge. He is a longtime visitor to these parts from Arlington, Va. More importantly, the 2003 UD grad was married at Baywood Greens in 2009, so our conversation meandered from the sunglasses business for a while.

In addition to meeting with suppliers, Cape Region golf pros took the opportunity for some technical education during the show. Rookery Golf Head Pro Butch Holtzclaw said he spent most of Demo Day in a class offered by FlightScope, a launch monitor company.

Holtzclaw expects the new equipment to be delivered next month. He and his staff, including Rookery North Head Pro Kyle Deas and Rookery South apprentice golf pros Sue DuBre and Chris Osberb, plan to use the FlightScope monitors for both teaching and club fitting.

“I’m real interested in testing the monitors out with our members and customers,” Holtzclaw said. “The decision will always be up to them, of course, but the information it’ll provide should help a lot.”

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