Saturday, January 31, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Among the chatter on the floor of the PGA Merchandise Show Friday was news that the Greg Norman collection is about to change hands. A group of investors led by Michael J. Setola, the current CEO and president of Greg Norman, is poised to buy the apparel company from MacGregor Golf. Mr. Norman, who is a stakeholder in the apparel company, has been spotted at the show. The company is said to have sales upward of $100 million. An announcement is expected shortly. "It's a better move for the company," said an executive familiar with the negotiation.

DOOM OR BOOM? Not everyone is talking about the bleak economic landscape. While foot traffic at the convention, in which more than one thousand vendors show and tell about their wares -- from the newest clubs to novelty tees to golf carts and hats -- has been down over previous years, those who came were placing orders for merchandise. At the booth for Cleveland Golf/Srixon, Greg Hopkins, the company CEO, was positively ebullient.
"We wrote as much in orders Thursday as we did last year," Mr. Hopkins said. "It shocked me, given what everyone knows about the economy. If it had been half of last year, I would have been pleased."
At Cutter & Buck, a key golf apparel supplier, traffic to the booth has been steady and heavy, particularly Thursday night, when Annika Sorenstam, their star sponsored golfer, made a personal appearance. "It's been good for us," said Meghan Graves, a company spokeswoman. "There is an air of uncertainty, but we are still getting orders. People may be scaling back, but they are still buying." MYSTERY SOLVED At the "Demo Day" events on Wednesday, where clubmakers display their newest killer technologies and allow amateurs and pros to sample the goods, some over-the-top long hitters were hammering balls with the latest equipment.  On the tee outside the Callaway tent a huge fellow -- around 6' 5", maybe 270-280 pounds with biceps like Schwarzenegger's -- was sending rockets into the stratosphere. A small crowd watched the man in awe.  He seemed to be hitting balls 500 yards -- and he didn't even have that below-horizontal backswing typical of long-drive contestants.
It's not possible to hit the ball 500 yards, is it? At long drive competitions, the maximum distance is usually around 410 yards.
Later, at the convention booth for Bang Golf, a purveyor of long-distance drivers, an large poster proclaimed that its contract golfer/hitter, Scott Smith, held the record for longest ball hit, at 539 yards. Mr. Smith, who was on hand, explained that his titanic drive was accomplished in Albuquerque, NM -- in high desert conditions. In other words, he had been aided by thin air. As for the brute at Callaway earlier in the week, Mr. Smith, who is regular sized (about 6', 200 lbs.), said: "Oh, that's Mike Dobbins. He wasn't hitting it 500. We were all only hitting them 400 or so on Wednesday."
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