By TONY LEODORA
My first PGA Merchandise Show was in 1992. To say that the lights and glitter of golf’s
greatest business event stunned a “show rookie” would be an understatement. The mammoth
Orange County Convention Center was a sight to behold.
The golf industry was riding the start of an incredible wave of success, one that would
last into the middle of the next decade. Courses were being built at a record clip. Participation
was on the rise. And all of these crazed golfers were spending great amounts of money in an
attempt to “buy a golf game.”
As a result, the companies that came to the PGA Show each year to show off their wares
also got caught up in the excesses of the times.
Manufacturing giants like TaylorMade, Callaway, Cobra and Titleist competed to see who
could have the largest booths, the loudest music and the brightest lights show.
And the competition didn’t end when the doors to the Convention Center closed. Lavish
parties popped up all over the Orlando area.
Apparel company Tommy Hilfinger rented the large ballroom at the then-Peabody Hotel
for a dance party with the Temptations and the Four Tops.
One of the dot.com companies held a huge concert featuring Hootie and the Blowfish …
at the height of the band’s popularity.
For three years in a row Spalding rented all the outdoor area at Universal Studios Theme
Park and held a street party – complete with food stations, multiple open bars and live music. It
was like Mardis Gras in January.
Perhaps the most outlandish event was the year Greg Norman launched his apparel line.
To showcase the event, the company rented all of SeaWorld. Unfortunately, the Orlando
weather dipped into the 30s that night.
No problem. Greg Norman then rented every tall portable gas heater in the state of
Florida. The outdoor park was heated to a comfortable level.
One of the best stories from those wild days (and nights) at the PGA Show comes
courtesy of a shaft company that threw a special party for the media. About 150 members were
invited to a party at the Hard Rock.
Each attendee was given a key to see if it would turn the ignition switch on a brand new
Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Mike Jamison, a media veteran and executive director of the International Network of
Golf – a business/media organization – was having such a good time at the party he almost
forgot to try his key. Toward the end of the night, he finally approached the Harley and
discovered that his key was the magic one. He was a proud Harley owner.
Getting the motorcycle home to his house in Lake Mary, northeast of Orlando, was one
problem. Deciding what a man who had never even sat on a motorcycle would do with it was
After a few days of lessons, he finally got up the nerve to take the Harley around the
block. Then he got enough skill to push it into second gear. With a wild look of excitement he
returned to his driveway … only to hear his wife, Linda, say, “You know you’re not keeping it.”
Ah, yes. Those days are long gone … but not forgotten.
The show has shrunk from a high water mark of more than 1,000 exhibitors to about 600
this year. The focus is much more on business, instead of nightly monkey business. But, at least
this year, there was a buzz of excitement in the air, as the PGA Show made a full return from
the pandemic years.
And, maybe one day, we will see the return of one of those exalted parties.
Tony Leodora’s Tales from the Trail are created during the television shoots for the
award-winning Traveling Golfer television show. The episode from the PGA Show in Orlando will
air throughout the month of March, 2023 on NBC Sports, the wingding Network and the Fun