2001-2011: How P.G.A. Merchandise Show Grew to World’s Largest Golf Convention

By Mitra Sorrells August 25, 2011, 8:45 AM EDT

Photo: Montana Pritchard/The P.G.A. of America

Most large trade shows and conventions come to Orlando every few years, often on a rotating schedule with Las Vegas. But few have been held there as consistently as the P.G.A. Merchandise Show, which has been in Orlando since 1975, except for three years in the 1980s, when it went to Miami.

In 1998, the P.G.A. sold an equity share of its golf shows to Reed Exhibitions, and in the past decade Reed has transformed the event from a trade show into the largest annual worldwide gathering for the retail golf industry, attracting more than 42,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibiting companies in 2011.

“What was in 2001 an event that was strictly exhibits on a floor is today a worldwide convention, where everyone gathers to share ideas through education, celebrate the industry through award nights, test new equipment, and learn techniques from the most successful people in the golf industry,” said Ed Several, senior vice president for P.G.A. Golf Exhibitions.

New elements have been integrated as a result of surveys and input from attendees and industry leaders. In 2003, organizers created a full day of equipment demonstrations at nearby Orange County National Golf Center, based on feedback that P.G.A. professionals wanted to try new equipment, not just look at an exhibit. The invitation-only event was so popular that the following year the show created a golf range inside the Orange County Convention Center, so all show attendees could test equipment.

In 2004, the show added an employment center, so companies looking to hire could connect with attendees searching for new opportunities. By 2010, it had expanded to offer recruitment services by industry employers, on-site interviewing, professional job counseling by P.G.A. Employment Services, job boards, and a résumé posting service.

Not all ideas have been successful, however. The show launched and then relaunched fashion shows over the years, trying to find the best way to showcase golf apparel. “We realized that you not only have to have the proper selection of models, but certain lighting and things,” Several said. “So we have now evolved into a fashion showcase where it is more about the designer sharing insights into their inspiration.”

In 2007, as the golf industry began to feel the impact of the economic downturn, organizers decided to cap the size of exhibitor booths at 8,000 square feet. This allowed show managers to continue to add new features to the floor within the same 900,000 square feet of the convention center. “As the industry has required more interactive efforts, this has allowed us to have the same total square footage, but we just use it in different ways,” Several said. One prominent feature on the show floor is a 29,000-square-foot stage added in 2007 to allow attendees to hear presentations on industry issues without having to step away from the exhibits.

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