The Future of Golf Shows, Once a Late Winter Escape for Eager Upper Midwest Golfers, Is in Trouble | Business

The late-winter golf spectacle has been an Upper Midwest staple for years. Especially before golfers could scratch the itch on indoor simulators, golf shows were a form of escapism, bridging the gap between the last gasp of winter and the first breath of spring.

Golfers could collect course and resort brochures, plan vacations, enter contests and giveaways, purchase equipment and clothing (often at discounted prices), and gaze dreamily at the colorful displays of exhibitors walking through the aisles. It sure is shoveling snow.

But there are signs that the golf show, as we know it, is in trouble.

Although fans are filling arenas for NBA and college basketball games and people are once again attending other indoor events and activities, the Chicago Golf Show has been canceled for a second straight year after a lukewarm response from exhibitors and late ticket sales. The show was scheduled to take place February 25-27 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

COVID-19 had just gained momentum in March 2020 when it had a significant impact on attendance at the Milwaukee Golf Show.

In an email to exhibitors, Chicago Golf Show President Tom Corcoran wrote, “It is with great disappointment that we write to inform you that the Chicago Golf Show has been postponed to 2023. Despite all our efforts, we have reached a COVID-19. wall trying to attract enough exhibitors and attendees to provide an event that is a positive experience for both groups.

Jay Royle, owner of the Greater Madison Golf Show and the Milwaukee Golf Show, told Wisconsin.Golf last week that his shows would continue, although he was frustrated by the lack of vendor support. The Madison show is scheduled for March 11-13 at the Madison Marriott West in Middleton and the Milwaukee show is scheduled for March 18-20 at the State Fair Park Expo Center.

“As far as I know what I can control with my shows is full steam ahead,” Royle said. “We will try to get back to business and give people the best golf show possible for those who want to go. I will be interested to see the participation. I’m sure it will be down. Hope it’s not too bad. The problem is that I won’t have the funds or the income to promote shows like I usually do, because that goes hand in hand with exhibitors.

“I would say we are at about 40% (exhibitors) of capacity right now. Going into it, I was hoping we could hit 60-75% capacity. But here it is: the Exhibition Center and the Marriott in Madison, they send me my bills. So I’m not going to cancel a show and then pay these guys $20,000 to $30,000 each not to do a show.

“I have to hope to break even, I guess. I hope I can get through this year without getting my ass kicked.

The recent surge in the Omicron variant, which accounts for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases, is a legitimate reason for exhibitors to be wary of paying for a booth at a golf show. Travel and hotel expenses, as well as the cost of renting a booth, can add up to several thousand dollars. And Omicron is one reason golfers might want to steer clear, too.

After being canceled in 2021, the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando – the golf industry’s leading show – was back on the schedule last month. But attendance was a far cry from pre-pandemic numbers, and a show that once drew more than 1,000 vendors had fallen to 600 at the gigantic Orange County Convention Center. Many of the larger manufacturers did not show up.

Royle doesn’t solely blame COVID-19 for the waning enthusiasm for golf shows.

“It’s hard enough to get these golf courses,” he said. “You’d be amazed how hard it is to get them to support a golf show. And now it’s even tougher because they’re coming off a record rounds year. Why do I need to promote? »

The proliferation of indoor golf facilities such as Fore! Golf in Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Indoor Golf Center in Waukesha and X-Golf locations in Brookfield, Madison and Mequon are certainly part of the equation. Golfers no longer have to wait for the snow to melt to swing on realistic simulators. The outdoor ranges have also installed heaters to make winter practice not only feasible, but comfortable.

Whatever the reasons, golf shows are in trouble. And Royle said he’s noticed a different attitude from exhibitors in recent years.

“I remember 15 years ago the golf show weekend, especially in Milwaukee because it was the biggest, the show was a weekend to celebrate the game and grow the game” , did he declare. “And that’s what’s gone. …Now every dollar spent has to be justified, every expense has to be justified. If you’re going to spend a couple grand for a weekend at the Milwaukee Golf Show, well, you better come back with $10,000 in revenue, or golf rounds sold, or merchandise sold. I think that’s what has developed over the last 10 years.

Royle continues, even though it has lost exponents like Nevada Bob’s. The popular Madison retail store will not be exhibiting at the Milwaukee or Madison shows this year, he said. Likewise, the Wisconsin State Golf Association, which for years supported the Milwaukee show with a booth, will not be at State Fair Park.

“According to Joel (Zucker, owner of Nevada Bob’s), he’s done doing shows, COVID or not,” Royle said. “Even though he wanted to keep doing the shows, he said he didn’t have the inventory to do a show and keep his store open. He told me over a year ago that he was done doing shows. It’s shocking, to me.

“The WSGA doesn’t even come to the show. They used to do it all and I don’t think they hang out with any of them anymore. How can you at least not go to Milwaukee? »

WSGA executive director Rob Jansen said he will be at the Milwaukee show as a participant.

“We still attend trade shows every year and have achieved our goal of visiting people there as participants rather than exhibitors,” he said. “We tried different strategies at golf shows in terms of offering memberships and promoting different programs. I can’t say it’s ever been positive for us, but at the same time, we still love supporting golf in the state and we still love going to the shows.

“If the show is a hit, then I’ll be there.”

It’s a go. At least for this year. But who knows what the future holds?

“I’ll be honest with you, I really wonder about the future of golf shows,” Royle said. “I’m not sure there is a future. I’m not saying that’s going to happen in the next two years. It’s probably going to take us guys a few years to have golf shows and have shitty years to pull the plug. But I’m a little worried.”

Michael C. Ford