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It’s pretty safe to say there has never been a Golf Industry Show like 2021’s virtual offering. Like many, I had no idea what to expect. I should point out I’m not an annual attendee of the show. I usually attend about every third year. Living in western Washington, I tend to hit the show when it’s on or near the West Coast. San Diego is my favorite, don’t-miss site in the rotation. Close, warm and, on a personal note, after the San Diego show ends, I take the Amtrak north to Orange County and visit my sister and her husband for a few days. It’s always a pleasant trip. 


Having said that, I had not planned on attending the in-person 2021 event because the 2022 show is set for San Diego. For me, one huge benefit to the 2021 virtual show was that I could participate in an event I wasn’t planning on attending. 


So, how was the virtual show? Although I can only give one person’s experience, I’d have to say there was some good, some bad, and some so-so. Some of the positives were unexpected, which made them seem even better somehow. And some of the bads were also unexpected – I think this bears out when I say I did not know what to expect of the virtual show – which seemed to make them even more frustrating somehow. 


The good 

The education sessions were my favorite part of the show. I only purchased the base package, but even with that I found lots of worthwhile and informative sessions offered. Because it was virtual, logistically, I attended more sessions than I normally would have. 


I found that attending a session online, either in Zoom or in a webinar, didn’t seem much different than listening to the speakers, watching a PowerPoint presentation and taking notes in person. For the most part, I actually felt like I was in the education session. Even the oddity of having the presenter speaking from their living room or den didn’t seem to diminish the experience.


The bad

For me, the trade show was a bit of an odd experience. Normally, I walk the show floor with a hint of an agenda. But, mainly, it’s not very scripted. I like to wander a bit aimlessly, eventually stumbling upon my targeted vendors while finding lots of other stuff on the way. Scrolling through the virtual trade show map just wasn’t the same. Of course, it couldn’t be the same. It was simply bound to be a bit of a weird experience no matter how it was done. 


Going into a booth virtually, watching a few videos and perhaps chatting with a rep just didn’t quite get me to where I wanted to be. I think one of the things I personally like about a normal trade show is eavesdropping. Although I do tend to talk to reps about my specific target needs, I often like to listen to someone else getting the lowdown. Piggybacking on someone else’s questions, especially when it’s something I wasn’t actually targeting at the show but did have some level of interest in. That part was missing, so I just hit the things I had targeted, missing out on all that other info I normally get from wandering and eavesdropping. 


Another negative for me of the virtual GIS was that I didn’t give it my full attention, primarily because I wasn’t physically there. In a normal year when I travel to another city and attend the conference, my guess is I’m actually somewhere around 95 percent present at the show. I say 95 percent because most of us stay connected to our courses while at the show at a certain level, usually through our phones. When at the show, I am show focused, first on the education sessions and then the trade show. Aside from checking into work and home a couple times, there are few, if any, distractions.


One mistake I made while attending the virtual show was doing it from work, meaning I invited all kinds of distractions. I thought I could get the crew going in the morning and then devote the rest of my day to GIS. Being at work, I soon realized tempts one to do some work. Because we have a very small crew in the winter, and because our golf course is still unusually busy even in the colder weather of winter because of COVID-19, I couldn’t help but do a little more work on the course than I had planned. I found myself running out to the course numerous times to get something done or check on something and then rushing back to a session. I felt distracted much more than I normally would have.


The so-so

The opening and closing ceremonies were bound to be odd as well and, sure enough, they were. Just like the trade show, there was really no way to do this with any type of normalcy. I attended both sessions only briefly because of the oddity. Again this was expected, which somehow made it less off a letdown than the trade show. 


Networking with our peers is such a big part of the show, whether it’s out in the lobby during the education sessions, on the trade show floor, or having a beer in the hotel bar in the evening or breakfast in the morning. This was sorely missing. But we all knew this going in. 


The 2021 show was never going to be a normal experience. The fact that it was a show and those of us who attended felt like we got as much out of it as we possibly could have hoped made it a success at some level. It was a daunting task for those who put the effort into this to make it as good as they could. Hats off to them. Having said that, I really, really hope I get to take my San Diego trip next February.


Ron Furlong is the superintendent at Avalon Golf Links in Burlington, Washington, and a frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.

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