Impressions of a Golf Industry Show rookie
Members of the Golf Course Industry team gathered for a group dinner Monday, Jan. 27 in Orlando.

Impressions of a Golf Industry Show rookie

Managing editor Matt LaWell walked, and walked, and walked some more, around a city known for its theme parks. What did he learn?

February 4, 2020

Years before Walt Disney decided Orlando would be the home of his second eponymous theme park, he considered Niagara Falls (which was, of course, too cold) and St. Louis (where August Busch Jr. might have called him crazy for not wanting to sell beer). A flight over the developing roads of central Florida — on the same day JFK was assassinated — cinched the deal. Disney loved those roads. He also loved the room.
“Here in Florida,” he once said, ever promoting his products, “we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland: the blessing of size. There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”
That blessing of size is part of the reason Florida is home to 986 golf facilities and 1,306 courses, according to the National Golf Foundation — more than any other state — as well as to the Orange County Convention Center, which stretches out across more than 7 million square feet and once included an arena. The convention center was the site of the annual Golf Industry Show, which used a chunk of that space, registration and education and seminars spread across buildings, thousands of steps apart. Burn off breakfast before eating lunch!
Size aside, the show delivered two more days of quality education — there were far too many sessions to determine the absolute best, but my favorite was a two-hour panel designed for assistants that featured Colbert Hills’ Matthew Gourlay firing questions and quips at Bellerive Country Club’s Carlos Arraya, TPC Deere Run’s Alex Stuedemann and Bethpage State Park’s Andrew Wilson — and a trade show where networking was, always, the key to everything. And for all the barbs about how much smaller the show is now than it was during the boom, there are still few other opportunities to catch up with peers from all corners of the country, sit in on sessions designed for professional development, check out the latest chemicals and equipment, then head out for dinners and parties.
This was not my first trade show, but it was my first GIS, and I was impressed. It is not CES, or IMTS, or Hannover Messe, a trio of gigantic, world-renowned trade shows. And no matter how often folks talk about what it was, there is no need for it to be like any of those other mega shows. Expansion, even in Orlando, is not always necessary.
The show app — which Gourlay, like the best pitchmen, mentioned again and again during his time as a session moderator — was close to perfect, providing a full schedule without lugging around and flipping through a program, and virtually connecting literally every registrant. The education was strong, with hundreds of speakers from all corners of the industry sharing stories and perspectives.
The show was not perfect, though. The larger footprint prevented the kinds of lobby conversations and random interactions more common at, say, chapter meetings. And the value of the trade show dropped after so many superintendents and other top turfheads headed home before Thursday. Those are both important, no matter your corner of the industry. A modest proposal: Start the trade show at least a day earlier and shrink the total space. GIS is about connections more than anything else.
We used those connections to bring together much of our team, including columnists Matthew Wharton, Tim Moraghan, Bradley S. Klein and Henry DeLozier, and contributors Anthony Williams and Trent Bouts for a spirited dinner. The ideas conceived by that group during hours of conversation will fuel our magazine and our website, as well as our podcasts on the Superintendent Radio Network, for much of the rest of the year. More ideas popped up during conversations throughout the rest of the week. Our attendance and interactions at GIS will help make Golf Course Industry a better publication in 2020 — even more attuned to what you need. We just need to give our legs a rest after returning from that blessing of size in Orlando.
Oh, and for the record, I covered 80,746 steps and more than 42 miles the Monday through Friday of show week. In a city so steeped in car culture that it owes much of its economy to the very creation of its roads, I consider that almost as great an accomplishment as Disney quietly gobbling 48 square miles for a theme park.