Golf Writer Andy Reistetter attended this year's PGA Merchandise Show and interviewed exhibitors with local ties to the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Here is his article on "fore" amazing people and one caddie extraordinaire:
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If you are in the golf business, you were at the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
Not surprisingly, Jacksonville-area companies were present and accounted for among the biggies like Titleist, Cutter & Buck and SkyCaddie.
What may surprise you is that four of our own neighbors represent the show's oldest, most innovative, well-connected and worldwide exhibitors.
Fred Akel ran a driving range on Beach Boulevard and first went to the show in 1970 to sell his idea for a high-capacity ball washer.
At that time, the show was a "couple of circus tents" in West Palm Beach and had a waiting list of 100 vendors trying to get in.
Fred questioned whether being a PGA Professional meant anything to the show organizers. It did and the next year he got in, and over time went from ball washers to head covers to other golf accessories.
He was the first to accessorize collegiate golf teams and worked with the PGA Tour in the mid-1990s to standardize caddie bibs.
Doug Kirchhoff now owns and runs "Here's Fred Golf Company," a staple at the golf convention for the last 39 straight years (only Wittek has been there longer).
Among a million other things, the company supplies Fred's caddie bibs to over 90 percent of golfing events worldwide, including last year's Ryder Cup in Wales.
Where did the name come from? Well, Fred was a Cheers-style "Norman-esque" character in the golfing business. Everyone would come in and say "where's Fred?"
Fred's response was, "Here I am, and how can I solve your golf merchandise problems?"
There is a special "Inventor's Spotlight" section on the vast floor of the Orlando Convention Center. In Booth No. 1 lies the "Best Overall Product" award, and standing behind it ready to launch her company, BandZorb, is Ponte Vedra Beach resident Terry Zebouni.
A former Bolles teacher dogged for years by a problem that we all suffer with, the light of invention turned on in a Publix store when she saw 22 panty liners on sale for 99 cents.
She had tried everything to stop sweat bands from ruining her golf visor so why not a panty liner? As with most inventors, the route to perfection and success was circuitous… panty liners, Canadian hockey players seeing how it works, various suppliers, materials and sample product.
Now the final product is coming to market: an antimicrobial, eco-friendly self-adhesive band that is super absorbent: BandZorb.
Another local woman, Kathleen Wingard, has her products all over the world and right next door at the Jacksonville Beach Golf Course. Her company, Fairway Stone, is the industry leading provider of solid granite signs and monuments for golf courses.
Whether an entrance sign, tee sign or yardage marker, the patented design lasts a lifetime and can be found at the Navy Marine Golf Course in Pearl Harbor and most military golf courses around the world.
As a successful businesswoman, Kathleen loves the golf industry because of its traditional and respectful business practices, but most importantly because of no receivables…"Golfers pay their bills."
Invention is said to be of necessity, and one-time Florida State scratch golfer Bob Gedeon needed something to get rid of the yips that came to his game later in life.
The yips became so bad that 18-inch putts were no gimmies, and Gedeon gave up the game completely.
Bob was best friends with another Bob at Florida State, and they married sisters from Amelia Island.
What brought Bob 1 back to the game of golf was a putting lesson from Bob 2 and the fact that Bob 2's son David was winning tournaments on the PGA Tour, 13 to be exact including his last, the 2001 British Open.
That putting lesson that Champions Tour winner Bob Duval gave to Bob Gedeon was a little odd, due to the fact that no golf club was involved, only three golf balls.
In the process of trying to get across how to line up a putt, the instructor inadvertently piqued a thought of simplicity in the mind of the student.
Why do we putt across our chest when we line up a putt facing the hole?
What is needed to bring back Sam Snead's side saddle putting style and people like himself back to the game of golf?
An all-in-one square shaft that even further simplifies the alignment of putts.
Hence the Puttergraft Company. The word "graft" combining the first two letters of "grip" with the last three letters of "shaft."
Who needs a $250M infomercial when your resurgent nephew calls you from the PGA Tour and says "quick, Uncle Bob, overnight three clubs to the clubhouse, I have some friends who could benefit from using your putter."
In addition to these local entrepreneurs on the floor at the PGA Merchandise Show, local resident and caddie extraordinaire Mark Long was up on the big stage with instructor Hank Haney, golfer Peter Jacobsen and LPGA star Natalie Gulbis.
Long is the man who went from being on Coach Fred Funk's team at Maryland to being on his bag on the PGA Tour. As fate would have it, he started doing yardage books for pros at U.S. Open qualifying sites and is now the gold standard for yardage books on the PGA Tour.
Over the years, Long has ridden the technological revolution all the way to the top as an expert contributor and spokesperson for SkyCaddie.
Northeast Florida residents, if you missed the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, you really did not, it was right in your back yard.
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Research and Broadcast Assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours: the PGA Tour, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides in near the PGA Tour headquarters and home of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com
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