PGA Show is a circus-like atmosphere

Updated: January 31, 2006, 4:13 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- "Whew ... um ... it's like ..."

Johnny Thompson is perplexed. A golf professional from Palm Coast, Fla., he has attended the annual PGA Merchandise Show four or five times, but when asked to describe it, he stares off into the vast wasteland of golf-related items and the words just won't come to him.

He hems. He haws. And finally, he figures it all out. "It's like a golf circus," Thompson says. "You see a little bit of everything here."

PGA Show
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesThe PGA Merchandise Show has been in existence since 1954.

Of course, he's hardly the only one having a hard time explaining it all. Dick Cooper, an assistant golf course superintendent from Grand Rapids, Mich., who has the steely eyes of a man who has been there and done that, could only muster one simple adjective: "Unbelievable."

David Souza, a freshman on the Florida State golf team, is making his first pilgrimage to the show. And the college education is paying dividends already; he's able to spit out two whole words: "Just unreal."

Let's give these guys a break. After all, the event is, quite literally, indescribable. The "kid in a candy store" analogy is tired and clichéd; the "mouse in a maze" comparison doesn't quite do it justice.

Let's give 'em some help, too. We'll start with the facts: The Show has been a golf industry mainstay since 1954. It's not open to the public, but this year there are still 40,000 attendees. This includes 1,200 separate exhibitors from 26 countries.

If that doesn't turn your pupils into Pro-V1s and have them popping out of your head, maybe these numbers will: The event covers 1.1 million gross square feet of the Orange County Convention Center. And if you were to walk every aisle, you'd log a total of 10 miles -- all while being weighed down by more brochures, handouts and tchotchkes than you could ever hope to pore through.

Unbelievable. Just unreal.

"Anybody that's never been here probably thinks it's just a guy sitting next to a bag of clubs, talking about them," Thompson said.

Actually, it's more like thousands of people sitting next to thousands of bags of clubs. And golf balls. And tees. And, well, everything.

Need a concrete slab etched with the inscription, It takes a lot of balls to golf like I do? It's here.

Looking for a Captain America club head cover? Got it.

An official caddie uniform like the guys at Augusta National wear? Check.

In fact, there are enough corporate logos here to make a NASCAR driver cringe.

"It's a lot of stuff," said six-time LPGA Tour champ Cristie Kerr, who's here for the first time. "And I haven't even gotten to walk around here yet. I'm looking forward to being able to walk around and check it out."

It's not so much the products as the people who draw the most interest at this event. Where else could you see men in a three-piece suits and soft spikes?

ZZ Top once blissfully sang, "Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man." But who's crazy about one in Footjoys?

Or size-22 red rubber shoes, for that matter? That's what adorned the feet of one clown, in full makeup and bushy red hair, who made his way through the convention center, checking out the merchandise. Darth Vader, obviously displaying the latest from the Gary Player collection, is also here. So are Hooters girls Shelbey and Miki, one half of a "Beauties and The Beast" promotion (along with Long Drive champ Sean Fister) that is, for some strange reason, drawing plenty of attention.

Of course, not everyone making their way through the hustle and bustle is an actual person. It's not uncommon to gently nudge aside a motorized golf bag, slowly wheeling itself down the aisles, as if searching for an owner.

Such is life at the PGA Merchandise Show, where it's all about golf, golf and more golf.

Though some major product manufacturers (like Titleist and TaylorMade) are skipping the event, claiming its relevance has thinned over the years, there are still plenty of companies -- from industry powerhouses to mom-and-pop start-ups -- seeking to push products into the mainstream.

"It's an A-to-Z of product lines under one roof," says Michael Mollis, who has been attending the show for 40 years. "There's everything for golf and its amenities."

In a word, it's unbelievable.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.