Ohio equipment hunters are finding great deals

By Jason Stahl, Contributor

CLEVELAND - Right now is about the time Clevelanders can devote much thought to their golf equipment. The snow is piled so high that all they can do is think about golf, not play it. The only club they're swinging right now is a $7.40 hand shovel bought from the local hardware store. And those dastardly nightmares about being stuck in a closet and not being able to swing or frantically searching for the first tee are setting in.

If you're looking for a cure for those nightmares, don't drop your retirement fund on a local shrink. Instead, you might think about searching around for great deals on the tools of the trade. Even if your budget is as small as Jeff Sluman, you can at least take satisfaction in feasting your eyes on the latest technology available. And if you do find a great deal, you can gloat about it to your regular foursome this summer.

One show you want to check out is the IMG National Golf Expo. Scratch that, the Firestone 9 Golf Fest. That's right, Clevelanders, the name has changed and so have the dates. Typically held in February, the event will now be held August 14-15 at Firestone Country Club. The event will be put on by USA Expositions, formerly IMG Expositions, which provides consulting and marketing services to over 50 of the world's largest and most prestigious consumer shows. The show is bound to be bigger and better than ever.

"There will be golf instruction from members of the Northern Ohio PGA as well as some major talent to be named later, various skills challenges and many top equipment vendors," says Brian Roggenburk, President of USA Expositions. "Plus, everyone with $12 paid admission will receive a free 12-month subscription to Golf Magazine valued at $15."

Equipment will be sold at retail by the likes of Mizuno, Titleist, MacGregor, Taylormade, Ping and Cleveland Golf, with the added bonus of custom club fitting done on-site. But apparel and accessories will be discounted, and there will be many giveaways as well.

The skills challenges are really something to get golf ball-sized goosebumps over. John Bunyans can try the long drive contest, and $1 million will be up for grabs for a hole-in-one at the par-3 competition.

Value packages will also be available, with a $5 donation going to Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital and The Plain Dealer charities. The $60 Par Package nets you 2-for-1 admission plus 2-for-1 greens fees at 14 top Ohio golf courses and $10 off at Dick's Sporting Goods. The $85 Birdie Package gets you all that plus an opportunity to play Firestone North or West, a dozen Titleists and a bunch of other goodies.

Okay, so you were really hoping to show up at your first Saturday foursome outing in April with gleaming new sticks that would make your buddies jealous as heck. If that's the case, there's no better time than right now to head to your local golf retail outlet. The best deals, after all, are found in winter.

"We have sales just before Christmas and also in early spring to stimulate sales in the off-season," says Brandon Leffers, sales specialist for Bobick 's Golf, Ft. Wayne, Ind. The end of the season is also a good time to have a sale, he said, as golfers will then have the whole off-season to get used to their new clubs.

At the Ft. Wayne store, Bobick's has a demo day every April with sales representatives from equipment manufacturers on-site to answer customers? questions. Although the Lima, OH store won't have a ?demo day? in April, they will be having a sale. As to dealing with the competition, Leffers says it's not a big concern.

"We don't lose too much business to places like Dick's Sporting Goods," Leffers says. "Most of their stuff is higher priced or the same as ours. Plus, at our Ft. Wayne store, people can test clubs out on the range or indoor simulator. As far as websites go, we periodically check their prices
and adjust ours accordingly."

Golf Galaxy has seven stores in Ohio located in Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati. Dave Domanick, general sales manager of the North Olmsted store, says the time to buy is now.

"Do it now because summer is the busy time of year," Domanick says. "Right now, we generally have quick turnaround with custom fitting and special orders of products. That might take longer in summer. And with the short season in Ohio, you get more time to play the game if you buy now."

Like Bobick's, Golf Galaxy also holds demo days where customers can interact with manufacturers' reps, mostly in the spring. According to Domanick, they bring their "tech van," the same van they shuttle to PGA Tour events to outfit tour professionals. Customers can also test out the set they're eying at two indoor simulators and, if they so wish, receive instruction from the PGA Professional on staff.

"We're one of the only multi-store retailers that is recognized as a PGA-sanctioned teaching area," Domanick says.

Even if you do like to bargain hunt, scouring every dot-com on the Internet or going from store to store, there's really no point at Golf Galaxy. A "Points with Pride" guarantee ensures you'll get the best deal, as long as you don't resort to buying clubs a guy offers you from under his trench coat downtown.

"It's our low price guarantee where we'll match any price of any dot com or other kind of company that is an authorized dealer," Dominack says. "Plus, our staff doesn't work off commission, so you won't get pushed into anything."

So whether it be a late-season show or retail stores offering spring specials, it looks like Ohio golfers will have no excuse not to use technology to their advantage this golf season.

Jason StahlJason Stahl, Contributor

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

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