A fireside chat about where golf should go
This year’s PGA Merchandise Show returned to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., after the pandemic-inspired virtual version for 2021. It was a downsized version of past shows, with a significant reduction in the number of exhibitors as well as attendees.
According to Scott Kauffman of GolfIncMagazine.com, 600 exhibitors presented their wares to 15,000 attendees. By comparison, for the 2020 show, about 40,000 people came to the four-day event where 1,000 exhibitors filled the cavernous West Concourse.
Major golf companies such as Titleist, Callaway, Ping and Nike were conspicuously absent. The reasons cited for not coming included continuing pandemic management concerns. In addition, ongoing supply chain issues meant that to some extent there was no point to trying to sell stuff that would continue to face unavoidable delivery delays.
The business boom caused by golfers’ reaction to the pandemic also played a role, in my opinion. Sales of golf items shot up in 2020 and 2021 in most categories. With booth rentals at the show potentially costing up to five or six figures, and with increased alternative use of social media and other direct marketing methods, I think some businesses decided the show’s return on investment was not good enough to go back to Orlando just yet.
Nonetheless, for those attending, it was a good opportunity to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and learn more about golf’s current challenges and opportunities.
I attended a fireside chat Jan. 24, set up by the National Golf Course Owners Association at the nearby Rosen Centre. It was the kickoff to the organization’s annual meeting held concurrently with the show, and it featured Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee and golf course architect Agustín Pizá.
The two gentlemen recently became partners. They focused their presentation on their views on trends in golf design and construction.
Kraig Kann, former Golf Channel presenter and LPGA communications head, handled emcee duties. He began by telling the audience that the pandemic created challenges, but it was clear that most would love a chance to “get back to the business of golf. I personally think golf is in a fabulous spot,” he said.
Pizá discussed his background, which included training and stints in “vertical architecture” before he earned a master’s degree in golf course design from Edinburgh University in Scotland. His course work and training exposed him to the layouts of many designers. Since then, Pizá has designed over 24 projects. He is a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the equivalent European Institute.
Former PGA Tour golfer Chamblee is best known for his detailed commentaries during Golf Channel tournament telecasts. He has also written two books – “The Anatomy of Greatness: Lessons from the Best Golf Swings in History” and “The Short Game: Lessons from Inside 100 Yards by the Best Golfers in History.”
Chamblee said joining Pizá tapped into his own passion for course design. He noted that some of golf’s most-loved courses were a collaborative effort, such as the group that designed Pine Valley and the more recent, widely acclaimed work of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. “That’s what interests me,” Chamblee said.
Pizá and Chamblee urged the audience to investigate and implement new notions of golf design to bring in and retain the changing customer base golf has experienced in recent years. Chamblee cited the development of three-hole loop designs, often featuring a par 3, par 4 and par 5, which gives golfers a chance to enjoy the game without the time commitment of an 18-hole round.
Pizá suggested owners should “think of the future to design for the present.” He described one concept calling for four loops of six-hole designs. Despite adding only six more holes than the traditional 18, there are 24 permutations of loops within this concept, adding to the property’s appeal for both traveling golfers and potential members. On any given day, for example, the six holes taken out of rotation can be reserved for the members or outings.
Chamblee said the potential investment from the world of crypto finance would support newer concepts and designs, including those taking a page from off-course golf experiences such as the Top Golf outlets. “I love the golden age, minimalist look, but that’s not only what golf architecture should be.”
Citing the work of Pete Dye, creator of TPC Sawgrass, Chamblee said designers should be unafraid to take chances. On several occasions during the event, Chamblee expressed a desire to create a form of TPC Sawgrass for the LPGA to bring out the best of women professionals.
Pizá ended the chat by reminding the appreciative audience that “a golf course is the only work of art you can play on,” and that the sport is “the only one designed originally by nature.”
Equally naturally, this new partnership is more than willing to help course owners and potential developers create new, beautiful and profitable play spaces for the sport.