(Please note: I attended the Show at the behest of my friend Jeff Benezra of GolfDiscount.com; I was there as his cameraman. The opinions set out below belong to me and me only and do not necessarily reflect Jeff’s views or the views of GolfDiscount.com’s management team.)
It’s no secret to my two readers — I don’t lack for opinions. I enjoy doing lists, especially ones about golf, and I’ve blogged in this space about history’s best-dressed golfers, my favorite golf apparel brands and even done a few bullet points on how Phil Mickelson can fix his look. I’d have given my own “awards” previously if only I had reason to.
Now I do. The Nick Jenkins “Best in Show” Awards for the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show. I’m giving awards in the areas of Apparel (my passion), Clubs and Miscellaneous. And the winners are …
In the category of apparel the best I saw at the Show was that of Back 9 (back9usa.com). Better known for their head covers — their Heritage and Varsity models (shop) won Best New Product at the Show — the Houston-based company’s shirts and hats strike just the right balance between classic and modern and would look fantastic on Tour pros, weekend golfers, or teenagers at the movies. I equate their gear to Tommy Hilfiger with a classic golfer- rather than preppy twist — a cleaner, East Coast version of the more beachy, West Coast Travis Mathew.
The problem with Back 9 is that, with only nine shirts, a handful of hats and no pants, shorts or outerwear, it is hardly a complete line. In terms of full lines, my winner is Ashworth (shop). Once a brand dying on the vine, the folks at Adidas have revitalized Ashworth in the last few years. Out are the heavy cottons and elbow-length sleeves that Fred Couples made ubiquitous in the 1990′s. In are more technical lightweight fabrics in designs that, like Back 9′s, look great on or off the golf course. In terms of full collections, Ashworth’s 2012 offering might be the best I’ve ever seen.
No surprise here. TaylorMade’s Rocketballz fairways metals were the best clubs I saw at the show. Enough has been written and said about them that I need not add to the pile here.
The real story for me — and not in a good way — was Callaway’s new RAZR Fit driver. The folks at Golf Digest loved it — indeed, it was an Editor’s Choice on their 2012 Hot List. I hit it — and hated it. The shaft in the models I hit both said “R” — that’s Regular to the folks in Rio Linda — but they felt like XXS — as in “only a guy with Alvaro Quiros‘ swing speed can hit this thing.” Maybe the shafts were mismarked, in which case I take back everything I said here. But if not, I can’t see myself (or most people) keeping this thing on the golf course. Too bad, because after five years with the same Ping driver, I may be in the market for a new metal numbered one.
My winner in the Miscellaneous category is Evolve Golf‘s Epoch tees. I know — tees? But these pegs are pretty sweet. They’re made out of recycled materials and designed in such a way as to minimize the friction between ball and tee. That design results in a 4-6 yard gain off the tee — at least according to Evolve’s research. 40-50 Tour pros use them — including, not insignificantly, Tiger Woods. (Evolve can’t say that, but I can, and ironically enough, I saw one holding up Tiger’s Nike whitey in a tee/club/ball closeup on the telecast of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Robert Rock still beat Cheetah, but I can’t attribute that to the Nikester’s lesser tees.) And they are uber-durable. Jeff and I played 54 holes in the two days after the show. I didn’t break a single tee, Jeff broke one — on his 52nd hole. That’s 108 holes and one broken tee.
All of my awards come with one big caveat — namely, they reflect my opinions and mine alone, and they are no doubt a function of me — a middle-aged, traditional, budget-conscious dude who lives in a town where it isn’t sunny and 75 every day. My opinions do not necessarily correspond to a show “buzz” factor, and they do not reflect my predictions for success at the cash register. Travis Mathew Johnson’s new Leisure Society apparel, for example, made quite the buzz and, if their Facebook photos are any indication, it’s getting mainstream media coverage already. (The gal in the orange talking to John Cook is Golf Channel‘s Win McMurry.) It’ll no doubt kill it in terms of sales — at least with buyers at resorts and country clubs. I just didn’t happen to care for the brand (sort of a Palm Springs version of Tommy Bahama) or the clothes — resort stuff, so not in the first string of most ordinary guys’ wardrobes. Travis Mathew Johnson’s old company, Travis Mathew, also impressed at the Show both in terms of presentation and line breadth and depth. And most paid opinionmakers would probably rate TM ahead of Back 9 and Ashworth if for no other reason than that’s where the wind’s blowing. I wouldn’t: too much of its line was way out there and would have too many country club swells looking like Bubba Watson wannabe’s — not exactly what I want people whispering about me.
Be all that as it may, you are reading the Jenkins family blog. And for my (little) money, the folks at Back 9, Ashworth, Taylor Made and Evolve really nailed it. They win my awards, and they can count on my business.
Ed note. There was obviously a lot of other cool stuff there, some of which I didn’t see. Among them: the Swingbyte swing sensor; the Superflex bands golf kit; and basically most of the stuff from Winston Collection. (I saw the WC stuff but decided to give my Miscellaneous BiS Award to Evolve’s tee — just a bit more golfie.