TAMPA—I had to be to the airport here three hours early because of post-Super Bowl security, so I had lots of time to continue reflecting back on the PGA Merchandise Show about an hour to the east of here in Orlando.
I know I did the same thing yesterday, but this time, my thoughts went beyond the 2009 edition of the show and stretched all the way back to when the overall economy was humming and golf was a pretty cool place to be, not that it isn’t that way now.
It’s just that back then, everybody and their cousin wanted to be in golf, which led to a lot of here-today-gone-the-next-year companies, many of which dominated the show and created all kinds of buzz over nothing because they soon folded their tents and went away.
Still, it was a fun time in golf. Movies such as Tin Cup, Happy Gilmore and Caddyshack put the game in people’s faces and stars such as Kevin Costner, Cheech Marin and Bill Murray, among others, were accomplices.
What you have in golf now is few pretenders, but mostly people committed to the game and the industry, those willing to gut out the tough economic times and take golf to a new peak of popularity, while making a few new entries into their lifetime of good memories.
I have several of my own and plan to add new installments in future years at the show. The following random sampling is edited for purposes of a family website.
I’ve always been a fan of Renee Powell and not only because of a background that includes honours such as the 2003 First Lady of Golf Award, the 2007 Rolex For the Love of the Game Award or the Honourary Doctor of Laws degree she received from the University of St. Andrews last year.
Being only the second African American woman to compete on the LPGA Tour, Renee had to endure off-course incidents that few could imagine. Still, she survived with grace and dignity and still has an impact on the game today.
Her dad William, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, has also been rightfully recognized with honours such as a lifetime membership in the PGA of America, induction into the Ohio Veterans’ Hall of Fame, and honourary doctorates from colleges and universities.
He also deserves induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame for his efforts in becoming the first African-American to design, build and operate a golf course in the United States.
It’s important to remember their efforts to create diversity and opportunities for everyone for obvious reasons, but when you’re with somebody such as Renee, a person with a quick wit and a delightful sense of humour, you only see the human being.
Powell was a frequent visitor to a traditional dinner unofficially hosted by another former LPGA Tour player, Canadian Sandra Post and husband John McDermid, another guy who quite easily can extract a guffaw or two in a festive atmosphere.
Post used to room with Powell when both played on tour and both were sparkplugs in setting off the laughs at Café Tu Tu Tango, not far from the Orange County Convention Centre.
Over the years, this annual shindig was attended by former tour players such as Dan Halldorson and Gail Graham and a variety of suspects from the Canadian golf industry. We haven’t had that party for a couple of years and it’s something I truly miss in Orlando.
There are other fine memories out of the shows as well, like the time TaylorMade bussed guests and media to the Kennedy Space Center for a product launch, which seems like a logical place to discuss technology. It’s tough to forget dinner and drinks among spaceships.
It’s also difficult to forget playing a couple of holes with Annika Sorenstam at a Callaway golf outing in Orlando. Not only did the world’s No. 1 female player at the time tee off for our foursome on one hole, but I handed her my wedge for the chip shot, which she accepted.
Sorenstam is used to birdies, but they are a little harder to come by for the guy who sunk the short putt afterwards and gladly put the number on his scorecard.
A year or two later at another Callaway event, I asked Alice Cooper to sit down for a quick interview, knowing the rock icon’s time was valuable. I had played in Scottsdale, Ariz., a few years earlier with Cooper and he recognized me, if not my name.
After an entertaining conversation for over an hour, Cooper went off to do a concert while I tried to find my cranky ride back to the hotel.
This didn’t happen in Orlando, but I also got to meet Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood at the PGA Fall Expo in Las Vegas, courtesy of Tehama’s Nancy Haley who, like Powell, will keep the giggles going.
It was also in Vegas in 1997 that I found an upstart apparel designer from Vancouver wandering the show, processing every piece of information that could help her cause.
This young woman wasn’t a pretender either because Linda Hipp’s fashion forward Lija line has become a Canadian success story. Linda, by the way, is about to become a mom.
This year’s show in Orlando also had a funny incident when I jokingly asked new Nike Golf president Cindy Davis why she chose a reprobate such as Canadian veteran Mike Francis to be that company’s new United States general manager.
Davis seemed a little surprised by the wording of that question, but I assured her afterwards that it was definitely meant for laughs and that I think Francis will do a good job. I hear word has gotten back to him, however, so there may be retribution in store for me.
Those are just a few of the incidents that come to mind from a long history of attending the shows down south. They highlight the fact that all is not about equipment technology, new fabrics or even the economy, but also about people.
No matter how difficult times get, it’s always worth making new memories. Those are actually what can pull us through the dark days. It worked for me because we’re about to board after that long wait at the airport.