My dad played golf every week of his adult life. It would not be a stretch to say I first was on a golf course at two months old. As a child, I remember going my dad’s buddy’s house and watching in fascination as he made a set of kid sized clubs for me. My dad’s dream was for me to play in the LPGA. Then I hit seven and abandoned golf for cheerleading and piano. Even though I stopped playing, I’ve always felt a fondness for the sport. My family watches the majors every year and keep up with the biggest players. When National Car Rental invited me to go to the PGA Merchandising Show in Orlando to check out the latest golf innovation and talk to people about the connections between golf and business travel, I had to say yes.
I had no idea what to expect at the show and was prepared for anything. The overarching themes I heard throughout the two days were that 1) a game of golf is a great way to get to know someone, especially in a business setting, and 2) that the game needs to be made more accessible to younger people, women, and minorities.
I don’t play much now aside from occasional putt-putt, but walking into the Demo Day felt like coming home. There were hundreds of vendors demonstrating everything from golf clubs to sunscreen to training aids, all set up around a huge circular driving range.
One of the big announcements of the show was the National Car Rental PGA ProAm Series, which will link 82 new and existing tournaments running from February to October. When my colleague Ian and I first arrived we spent time at the National booth talking with Mark Bradley, a series ambassador and golf pro. Mark is understandably very excited about the future of golf and the series more specifically. One of the big draws is the National bus, which will travel around to the various tournaments. The bus will feature a Trackman swing analysis, which is one of the latest innovations in golf. Designed by NASA, it measures spin, distance, swing, and a host of other things that affect a player’s game. At almost $30k a pop there aren’t too many out there, and it’s sure to attract an enthusiastic crowd of both pros and amateurs. Mark is grateful for the excitement and buzz that National will bring to the ProAm Series tournaments which he hopes will raise interest in each tournament specifically and golf in general.
We got to take advantage of the beautiful day and visit many of the booths at the tournament. After a quick demonstration, long drive champion Jamie Sadlowski gave tips on how to improve the distance of regular golfers’ drives. While there were plenty of helpful and very technical tips, my favorite quote was: “To hit the ball longer, you have to hit it harder.” An unexpected bonus: instead of the typical boring and tasteless festival food, there were a several local food trucks set up around the driving range. Unfortunately, as we were finishing lunch the skies opened and our time at Demo Day had to end.
Day two began with a ceremonial opening drive by Annika Sorenstam accompanied by bagpipes. We made our way to the merchandising show that opened at the Orange County Convention Center. Thousands of vendors filled the hall with every possible golf related item you could imagine.
It was easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options and one could spend days wandering around looking at everything. I saw some very cool things. Finally, some golf clothes designed for women! Some interesting things. A golf cart designed to look like a UPS truck! And some bizarre things. Statues of animals and children to decorate golf courses!(?)
There were several presentations I was excited to watch, primarily the State of the Game panel. Donald Trump, who has built several gold courses, encouraged us to get excited about the game, saying, “It’s a good year to invest in golf.” The panel spoke of making the game more accessible to women and minorities and Annika Sorenstam argued making more courses family-friendly would build the game.
After the presentations I spoke to with Rob Connors, the assistant vice president of brand marketing for National, who was enthusiastic about golf and how it helps to build careers. “Golf is the game for business travelers—you can never get four hours with someone in a meeting, but that’s how much time a round of golf takes.” Plus, all ages and skills can play together, so even if you are fairly new at golf you can still take advantage of the networking benefits. Not to mention that golf travelers are business travelers, and often vice versa. Since business travelers are Nationals’ main customer base, the partnership between National and the PGA make sense.
I also spoke to John Kim of PGA.com, who waxed poetic about golf. “Golf reveals the character and soul of a person. I can learn more about a person in one round of golf than I can in ten years in an office. Are they honest? Do they help you? Do they root for you? Do they bend the rules?” He said that golf is the perfect setting for business, and that he has been offered more jobs on a golf course than anywhere else. (Good thing he didn’t take those other jobs—he is definitely in the right place!) When I asked if a newer golfer should be nervous about hitting the course with someone more experienced, he said that in his opinion golfers don’t put as much stock in performance, but rather in attitude and sportsmanship.
I had an open mind going into the show, but I was not expecting to have such a great time. The perfect beauty of most of the first day followed by the fascinating insanity of the second day, plus my super fun travel companions made for a fantastic trip. I could have stayed for another day at the convention center and still not have seen everything. It’s enough to make a girl want to take some lessons and start playing again!
Readers, do you play golf? Do you feel like it’s an asset to your career?
This post is sponsored by National Car Rental. All opinions expressed are the author’s own.