Stuff Fest 2016: Drowning in a Sea of Things at the PGA Merchandise Show
I’ve reached the midpoint of the golf industry’s three-day winter extravaganza known as the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.—and I know why my feet hurt, down to the last step. According to the health app on my iPhone 6, I’ve logged more than 12 miles since Wednesday morning on the Orange County Convention Center’s cement floor, hidden under a thin veneer of minimalist carpet. I’m wearing out the shoe leather. Literally.
So it is with the utmost gratitude that I take a break from the action and claim a seat in the media room to file this report. Working at a desk never felt so good.
What have I discovered amid my seemingly aimless wandering? To be honest, nothing dramatically new and/or truly significant to my eye—though I have stumbled onto some examples of the weird and wacky.
Case in point: a bicycle purpose-built for golf. Perhaps there’s a niche here that I’m just not picking up on. I mean, you have folks like me who prefer to walk when they play (and who hold that such walking is one of the game’s primary allures) and you have those who wouldn’t complete 18 if not for a motorized cart/buggy. The bike, I guess, falls somewhere in between, offering the fitness benefits of walking and the speed aspects of a cart. Tough sell, if you ask me. But I’ll leave it to the market to prove me wrong…or right. Capitalism is a beautiful though often brutal thing.
Meanwhile, I’m giving thanks for the dozen or so people I’ve met or reconnected with here who share my love of the game and cherish its true gifts. Things like fresh air, green grass, physical challenges and friendly banter. Of course, the problem with all of the above is that you can’t put a price tag on them, essentially the point of this gathering devoted to that which can be bought and sold. “Merchandise,” after all, is the operative word in its title. What, exactly, did I expect?
It’s just that a forum I sat in on yesterday has put me in a bit of a testy mood. It was headed up by Jim Carroll who purports to be a futurist. In his keynote address, he made the case that the future of golf will be a full and enthusiastic embrace of technology. And he had PowerPoint headings such as “Acceleration of Change,” “Time Compression” and “Hyperconnectivity” as well as catch phrases such as “this changes everything!” to prove it.
Everything is going to change? Really? I hope not. I rather like the game the way it is.
Now, that's not to say I’m against all change. I’m no Luddite, for heaven's sake. I have a laser range finder. My lovely wife gave me a GPS golf watch for Christmas. And, clearly, you would not be reading this if not for the wonders of the Internet and low-to-no-cost worldwide publishing.
But, in my humble opinion, technology in golf is best when it’s the icing not the cake…the appetizer, not the entrée…the wagging tail, not the dog. I tend to get my dander up whenever someone argues the reverse.
In fact, I contend that the future of golf depends on holding the line on the incursion of new technology, not the opening of the floodgates to even more. These days, the combination of the Internet and mobile devices means we are almost always “on” and reachable. That’s a good thing (it allows me to live in Scotland and work with clients in America). And it’s a bad thing (the line between work and leisure has become obliterated). The beauty of golf is that it offers an oasis amid this digital desert, a cellphone-free zone where we can disconnect from the virtual world and reconnect with the real one. I'm not the only one who believes this. But I'm beginning to accept that mine is a dissenting not a majority opinion.
I mean, after Carroll had delivered his spiel (replete with images from “The Jetsons” and “Star Trek”), he welcomed representatives of Topgolf, GolfTEC and Game Golf to the dais. All waxed poetic about how such wonders as social media, connectivity and big data are going to revolutionize the game. There was an inevitability about their words that, quite frankly, I found deeply disheartening.
But then I remembered that I now live in the Scottish Borders, a bubble where time—if it hasn’t stood still—definitely moves more slowly. And I’m a member of James Braid-designed links with a deep history and a respect for tradition. And I’m setting down roots in the country that invented the game and that will likely serve as the last line of defense against the efforts of brilliant albeit misguided Silicon Valley engineers to reinvent it.
Less stuff. More spirit. Less digitization. More humanization. Less distraction. More centeredness. Less future. More now. That’s what I’m selling. And, unlike the acres of merchandise on display at this show, it won’t cost you anything to buy in.