GIS attendance lowest since 1986

Attendance at the Golf Industry Show this year dropped to its lowest point since 1986, long before the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the National Golf Course Owners Association merged together to form the annual trade show.

Only 11,700 attended the show in San Antonio last month, which was 14 percent down from the prior year, but only 6 percent down from the last time it was in San Antonio. Still, attendance has been on a steady decline since 2008 when it attracted a high of 25,737 attendees.

Despite the dramatic drop in attendees since 2008, the GCSAA remains bullish on the future.

“The numbers aren’t what they used to be, but satisfaction and other things that we measure are good,” said Rhett Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the GCSAA. “This show was our best show financially in the last ten years.”

The past ten years have not been kind to the Golf Industry Show. When the economy crashed in 2009, the show saw attendance plummet by 34 percent to 17,151. It has continued to decline since then, with a slight increase in attendance in 2017, due to its location in Orlando, which traditionally has been its best-attended location.

The PGA Merchandise Show also saw a drop in attendance in 2009. But that show has not seen continued declines. It attracted 40,000 attendees in January, compared to 45,000 in 2008.

The Golf Industry Show premiered in 2005 with 22,723 attendees. The Club Managers Association of America joined in 2006, helping to boost the number of exhibitors to an all-time high of 981 in 2007.

Prior to 2005, the GCSAA averaged 20,000 attendees for its international show.

Then CEO, Steve Mona, felt a combined show would reduce expenses and strengthen facility management. It would also promote a team concept, bringing professionals together for education and networking that would translate to stronger teams at individual golf courses.

Mona convinced the NGCOA and CMAA to join together to create the Golf Industry Show. Other participating partners include the National Golf Foundation, the Golf Course Builders Association, the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the United State Golf Association. 

But the concept never seemed to work for the CMAA, which caters to general managers at private clubs, some of whom are not at facilities with golf. The CMAA exhibitors seemed lost among the much larger turf show. The relationship between the two organizations was further strained when the Golf Industry Show announced in 2009 that it would move its 2012 show to Law Vegas, in order to save on expenses.

The CMAA felt blindsided by the move and announced that the 2010 show would be its last as a GIS partner. Attendance dropped from 16,156 in 2010 to 14,781 in 2011. The CMAA now attracts 3,000 to its annual meeting.

Other factors that have led to the Golf Industry Show’s decline include a consolidation of management companies in the golf industry, and fewer golf courses. But both those factors have had a small impact on the number of superintendents.

The NGCOA has also seen a decline in its membership attendance. But the bulk of attendees at the GIS have always been superintendents.

Still, Evans said more people are taking education and other factors are positive.

“Anecdotally, we have all the big folks exhibiting and they felt the show was successful in terms of the traffic,” he said.

He said the numbers are down across the board, including exhibitors. There were 531 in San Antonio, the second lowest since 2005. Only the 2013 show in San Diego had fewer at 517.

“We always want more quantity,” Evans said. “But we feel the buzz will carry over and do well for us in San Diego in 2019 and Orlando in 2020. “

Evans expects attendance to increase by three to five percent next year, based on the location alone. The GCSAA is also taking more aggressive steps to bring in more international attendees. It added a new chapter in Mexico, and GCSAA membership is up. 


Golf Industry Show attendance

                        Attendance         Exhibitors         Location

2005                22,723                  826                     Orlando

2006                18,900                  756                     Atlanta

2007                23,109                 981                     Anaheim

2008                25,737                  965                     Orlando

2009                17,151                  665                     New Orleans

2010                16,156                  665                     San Diego

2011                14781                   551                     Orlando

2012                14,706                  NA                       Las Vegas

2013                13,192                  517                     San Diego

2014                14147                   561                     Orlando

2015                12,400                  551                     San Antonio

2016                12,600                  550                     San Diego

2017                13,600                  569                     Orlando

2018                11,700                  531                     San Antonio



You've published a very objective article and provided an honest assessment and service to the GCSAA and the industry. The golf course industry needs empirical information and not the usual 'corporate communications' spin machine. The GCSAA Board better start asking many questions in a row and making needed changes in direction. While I prefer 'facts' rather than emotional 'feel,' and 'intelligent business strategies' rather than 'buzz,' I think you have the attention of some now. Keep up the no-nonsense journalism!

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