Showcase splitting up, spreading out

Golfers try out an assortment of drivers and irons from Wilson Golf during the 2020 Villages Golf Festival at The Villages Polo Club. This year’s events begin Jan. 19-20.

The Villages Golf Festival is splitting up and spreading out in 2021. The annual showcase, which annually brings golf’s top equipment and apparel companies to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, transforms this year into a trio of two-day events scattered across each of The Villages’ golf shops and the Sarasota Golf Practice Center. The first edition sets up shop Jan. 19 and 20, with similar events to follow in mid-February and late March. Club testing, long the Festival’s heartbeat, will be done on the ranges at Lopez Legacy, Glenview Champions and Palmer Legends country clubs, along with Sarasota. Hacienda Hills, which currently does not have a golf shop, will not be part of the festivities.

The showcase, which typically attracts more than 7,000 golf fans to The Villages Polo Club, required a thorough review in light of COVID-19 virus guidelines.

“It’s definitely not going to be what people are accustomed to,” said Tim Creely, retail and events administrator for The Villages Golf & Tennis. “We realize that with the times we’re dealing with right now, the best thing to do is try and provide as much room as we can for individuals, while still trying to provide something.”

Coming off The Villages’ busiest golf year on record — with more than 3.5 million rounds played — the game is no less central to residents’ lifestyle.

“I think there’s still a big demand for this kind of scenario,” Creely said. “It’s the best deals in town. People can get out and see the latest in technology, see what’s going on in golf, whether it’s with clubs or apparel or shoes.”

Tickets will not be required and contests will be scaled back, though attendees can obtain stamps on a “passport” that can be entered in a prize drawing.

“They don’t have to buy anything,” Creely said. “Every stamp they get will serve as an entry for a list of prizes. Maybe it’s a golf bag, or a dozen balls or a pair of shoes or a shirt.”

A list of prizes will be announced online closer to the event, Creely added. Individual clubs also have the option to include a contest of their own — a long-putting test, or perhaps guessing how many tees are in a container on display at the facility.

Club testing will see major changes in 2021, unable to provide the 123-bay hitting range that existed at the Polo Club last year. Instead, the dozen equipment companies will be divided among the four participating ranges.

Callaway, for example, will set up this month at Lopez Legacy, with Titleist at Palmer Legends and TaylorMade at Sarasota. Those assignments will rotate in February and March.

“That way, people in the south have the same opportunities as people in the north, and vice versa,” Creely said.

Residents should be aware, too, that Golf Festival will offer the only opportunity for club fittings until April. Appointments are required, made by calling the Sarasota Practice Center at 352-259-2080.

Because of virus concerns, walk-up testing will not be available. “It lets us manage things efficiently though scheduling,” Creely said.

As with any fitting, a $25 fee will apply, or $50 for anyone booking three appointments. Fees, though, will be applied toward any club purchase within 14 days of the event.

Likewise, apparel and other vendors have been split among various golf shops and will work on a rotating basis.

“Each shop will have different things that people can take a look at,” Creely said, “so getting around to the different facilities is something we encourage.”

One inevitable void, naturally, will be the absence of the big stage that has brought some of golf’s marquee names to The Villages.

Fuzzy Zoeller has been a headliner in each of the past two years, while other editions have brought Annika Sorenstam, Retief Goosen and Paula Creamer. Dan Boever, a former World Long Drive champion and trick shot artist, has been a staple in recent years.

“I think that’s something the residents will miss,” Creely said. “We get a lot of great names that come to The Villages. It’s nice to see them and talk to them and let them kind of take it all in. … Unfortunately, that’s kind of a downside to this scenario.”

Instructors from The Villages Golf Academy will offer demonstrations at participating driving ranges. Wade Martin (Palmer), David Sherman (Lopez) and Joey Hidock (Sarasota) are on the docket for Jan. 20.

Attendance will be limited, though, and folks will need to bring their own chairs or be prepared to stand.

Senior Writer Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5283, or jeff.shain@thevillagesmedia.com.

Read this story and many others in Saturday’s edition of the Daily Sun.