The prevailing mood at all of this year’s shows was optimism.
I like March a lot. A scattered snow blast or two will hit the Midwest and Northeast sometime this month, but winter is mostly behind us. The days are getting longer, with Daylight Saving Time soon to kick in. Everyone is Irish on the 17th. The best college hoops of the season captivates the nation all month long.
Our Chef to Chef Conference, held this year on the 6th through the 8th in San Francisco, is now another great new March tradition that I enjoy. And in most years, I will play the first round of golf on my home turf sometime this month. If you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, feel free to add to my list.
This is also the time of year when club managers and their teams “up north” eagerly anticipate the return of the golf season and the buzz at their clubs that always comes with it. “Welcome Back” events are a staple of most clubs’ March and April calendars.
This year, we can also “Welcome Back” the vitality of the golf and club market, after two of the most challenging years the industry has ever faced. I say this based on the positive vibe I experienced at the gauntlet of golf and club shows I attended in January and February. Here are some of my scribbled notes from those shows:
- The PGA Show felt more upbeat from the moment I hit the exhibit-hall floor. The aisles were crowded and the PGA of America subsequently reported that attendance of 41,824 was up 3.5% compared to last year. It felt like even more than that. The golf pros I spoke with at the PGA Show were fully engaged and looking forward to the coming season. More importantly, they were buying. Exhibitors were pleased, which is always a good sign. Where last year’s attendees and exhibitors had hope, this year they exuded a sense of confidence. It was a good start to the show season.
- The Golf Industry Show (GIS) was up next—a real test of the market, as this show floor includes the full range of course and grounds companies that are moving “iron.” Once again, the aisles were crowded. GIS organizers reported an attendance of 14,781, representing an increase of 4% after accounting for the impact of the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) moving to its own separate event (see next bullet).
At GIS I ran into a number of course superintendents (and GMs) who told me their capital expenditures budget for 2011 is up compared to last year—not by a lot, but up is up. My friend at a golf finance company says business will be better this year than last. That’s good news for suppliers. Attendees at GIS saw a lot of innovation in products that are “greener” (more fuel-efficient) and more maintenance-free. After two years of forced frugality, it was clear the buyers were back.
- CMAA, the final show of the season, was the wild card. After splitting from the GIS, how would this event fare? The final numbers were not in as of press time, but it was clear to me that the show was a hit with both attendees and exhibitors—and there were plenty of both. In fact, the show floor included quite a few new suppliers, along with others who came back because the event once again catered to general managers.
The club managers I spoke with at GIS were upbeat, confirming that projects placed on hold are now coming alive. One GM from Cleveland told me his club is within 25 members of having a wait list—pretty impressive given the nature of that city’s economy and the high caliber of competition he faces. Two GMs from Baltimore-area clubs said they recently brought the outsourced management of their fitness operation in-house, because increased member interest and use of the facilities demanded it. To be fair, two other GMs told me at CMAA they are now spending too much time at trade shows (each of their clubs is in the market for a new irrigation system, so they both had to also go to GIS with their superintendents); however, the consensus rated the event a great success.
Bottom line: The prevailing mood at all of this year’s shows was optimism, reflecting that membership levels are showing signs of recovery; that clubs are managed more expertly than ever before, and are once again spending to maintain their excellence; and that while golf is still king, clubs are steadily making themselves more relevant to the entire family experience by upgrading dining, fitness, and complimentary recreational activities.