Plenty of people attended the PGA Show's opening day, but there are fewer vendors this season.
David Walberg/SI
By Woody Hochswender
Thursday, February 19, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. — The annual PGA Merchandise Show opened Thursday at the Orange County Convention Center with 1,100 exhibitors, 1,000 journalists, and a projected 40,000 visitors from 76 countries roaming 10 miles of show aisles. The mood was somewhat subdued, compared to recent years, according to many showgoers. The number of exhibitors is down 10 percent from last year, and many conventioneers may have been grounded by icestorms in the Northeast. Pre-registration at the show was down 6 percent from 2008, one of the show organizers said.

At times during the first day — when the crush of convention goers, the press of television camera crews, and the hoopla caused by various large promotional giveaways was not causinge bottlenecks along the convention floor — things were fairly calm and uncrowded. Along some side aisles, one could easily practice long putts and not hit a soul.

"It's the economy, definitely," said a convention official.

One sign of the times: This year Nike Golf had no exhibition booth at the show. Usually, Nike has among one of the largest booths for both equipment and apparel. The company did show off its newest clubs at the Demo Day proceedings on Wednesday, but it is sitting out the convention itself. Sources said that Nike had spent in the high six figures to exhibit at the PGA show Show in recent years.

Classicism vs. Athleticism
In golf apparel, performance fabrics and technological innovations of all kinds were the talk at the Merchandise Show. At Adidas Golf, Tiss Dahan, the company's senior director of global apparel, is enthusiastic about a new, re-engineered golf shirt collar that will never curl up, no matter how many times you wash it.

"It's really exciting," Ms. Dahan said. "This is big news for us."

Over at Sunice, the Canadian-based hi-tech apparel maker, the company's design wizards have fashioned golf trousers with a built-in club cleaner (it looks like fish gills embedded in the fabric) and a ball cleaner, too (it's a little chamois cloth that pulls out of a secret pocket).

And everywhere you go there is some new iteration of the golf shirt, some ultra-exotic technological variation on the simple two- or three-button shirt that is in every man's closet. Fabric science has become a branch of nanotechnology, with product specs that focus on the infinitesimal. But there is still room for a traditional point of view, with signs of classical golf looks all over.

The convention floor is practically a sea of argyle, with many variations on the traditional Scottish clan design, including asymmetric sweaters and shirts, which are big at the Greg Norman booth. At the kiosk for Golfknickers.com, a Clifton, N.Y., based company, several large burly types swaggered around in plus-fours, colorful argyle socks, newsboy caps, and sweater vests. They are paragons of style from another time, when men were not the least bit abashed about being colorful.

Traditional high-end golf clothes are the specialty of the House of Carrington, a three-year old venture of brothers Andy and Tim Bell. The emphasis here is entirely on elegance and sophistication, without apology.

"The world has gone too fashion," said Andy Bell, the company's president and a former Polo/Ralph Lauren executive. "The industry has vacated that core 35-to-75 customer that has a certain taste level."

The Carrington line has beautifully tailored jackets and shirts and a fine group of cashmere pieces, including a a sleeveless golf cardigan and a thick brown cashmere zip-neck sweater with suede elbow patches. In a nod to contemporary technology, some of golf shirts are made of a cotton-lyocell blend, the latter being a wood-pulp product with strong performance characteristics. There is frequently a tension between classicism and performance, as many apparel makers are trying to achieve both.

Mr. Bell is obviously influenced by Savile Row, and the truly surprising thing is that his company is based in, of all places, Wisconsin (Milwaukee, to be exact).

Pants you can believe in

Ermenegildo Zegna

The pants are fully lined with taped seams and have a golfer's notch or slit at the hem (cuff) to facilitate movement. The ready-to-wear versions cost $150 to $250, which is really not that much for well-made suiting-type pants. Made-to-measure and custom trousers go for $250 to $425. So far, the Antas trousers are sold only at prestige golf clubs like El Dorado in Indian Wells, Calif., and the Mirabel in Scottsdale, Ariz. For further information see antasapparel.com.

Have a question, suggestion or news item for Woody? Send an e-mail to woody@golf.com.

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