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Economic downturn bites into PGA Show

It's still the world's largest golf trade show but the PGA Merchandise Show, which opens this week in Orlando, will be about 13 percent smaller than it was a year ago as a slump in the golf industry lingers.

The annual show also lost another marquee participant as Titleist, the Massachusetts-based golf ball and club brand, decided to refocus its marketing this year.

"Sometimes companies do take a one-year hiatus to focus on a niche," said Gail Billingsley, director of PGA show marketing for Reed Exhibition Cos.

"We have been talking with them all year -- we've never lost contact -- and we're hoping they will be back next year."

But Billingsley said the merchandise show, with about 1,300 exhibitors and 600,000 net square feet of exhibit space, will still offer golf pros, shop operators, buyers and other industry professionals "a very well-represented cross section of the entire industry."

The show, which is not open to the public, attracts about 50,000 people, the largest annual show at the Orange County Convention Center. It runs Thursday through Jan. 26.

Last year, the Professional Golfers' Association show had 1,515 exhibitors in 704,000 net square feet of space, nearly matching the record in 2001 when 1,535 exhibitors bought booths at the event. Companies hawk everything from clubs and clothes to golf carts.

Despite the good showing, two other major exhibitors, Ping and Women's Golf Unlimited, also decided last year to leave the Orlando show.

A representative of Women's Golf said that the success of the show actually played a role in their decision to pull out, after attending for decades. The show had become so large, the spokesman said, that some exhibitors did not get enough benefit because of the sheer number of competitors vying for attention.

Wally Uihlein, chairman and CEO of Acushnet Co., owner of the Titleist, Footjoy, Cobra and Pinnacle brands, said his company decided to withdraw because of "continued escalation of show attendance costs, including booths, displays, travel, lodging and incidental."

Uihlein said the company was spending about $2.5 million a year on the show and decided to reallocate the money to allow more accounts to be brought directly to the company's facilities in Massachusetts and California, and to spend more on activities at retail outlets.

Tom Stine, a co-founder of Golf Datatech, an independent market research company in Kissimmee, said the sluggish economy has played a role in slowing the golf industry in general, and reducing the number of rounds of golf played nationally.

"A lot of it is the economy," said Stine, whose company's national sampling survey shows the number of rounds of golf played nationally down by 2.7 percent in 2002, through November. Rounds also fell the two previous years, but not by that much.

Stine said the loss of some of the major names at the Orlando PGA show is not a reflection on the show itself, or its popularity.

"It's still the world's largest golf show," he said, and "one of the top 20 trade shows of any kind" in the United States.


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