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Biannual event popular with both serious, casual golfers

Back in the mid-1990s, Shelly Hall had an idea pop into his head.

It was around the time that Tiger Woods was just about to make his big splash on the golf scene, and Hall was brainstorming with a friend at a San Diego restaurant.

“We were having lunch one day, and we started thinking about it,” Hall said of the concept that would evolve into Golf Fest. “There was a PGA show (in San Diego), but nobody could go to it unless they were in the industry.

“So we thought, ‘Why don’t we do one for the average golfer.’ ”

Fourteen years after the first Golf Fest, the event is as vibrant as ever and now has three locations, with spring shows in San Diego and Phoenix, and spring and fall dates in Las Vegas.

“We had it at the Sports Arena in San Diego for five years, and we outgrew that facility. Then we moved to Del Mar before moving it outdoors,” Hall said.

Hall followed a similar pattern in Las Vegas, which is now in its seventh year hosting the event. Golf Fest Vegas began at the Orleans Arena, but as it grew in popularity, it also grew in the number of golfers — serious and casual — who wanted the event outdoors at a golf course, where they could really test out all the latest equipment.

“We figured Las Vegas would be a good area, with all the golf courses there,” Hall said. “We had shows at the Orleans where we had as many as 10,000 people.”

The event returns to Angel Park this week, on Thursday and Friday from noon to 9 p.m.

“A lot of people love coming to the show to see the products and services, but people really want to hit balls on a driving range,” Hall said. “Three years ago, we moved outdoors, and it seems to work out well. Guys love it, because they can go down the line (at the range) and try out Nike, TaylorMade and Calloway equipment.”

And again, you can be the next Jack Nicklaus or the next Joe Sixpack and still get a lot out of Golf Fest.

“People who come out to the show really enjoy it,” Hall said. “Guys who are serious golfers want to learn how to improve their game. But we also get a lot of new folks who come out and become very engaged. There’s free lessons, putting contests, a trick-shot artist. Even nongolfers become very engaged. It makes for a lot of fun for everyone.”

Last November, the event had a pretty fair turnout at Angel Park in less-than-ideal weather. Australian trick-shot artist Craig Hocknull was a huge hit, and this time, Hall has invited Peter Longo for two performances at 6 p.m. each day — with much better weather expected.

“He’s fantastic. He’s amazing,” Hall said of Longo, who hails from Chicago and even carries a clever nickname. “He calls himself the ‘King of Clubs.’  ”

While Hall likes all aspects of his Golf Fests, he never tires of seeing Hocknull and Longo ply their trade.

“I love the trick-shot shows. I get a kick out of watching people, seeing how amazed they are,” he said. “And the free lessons. It’s an opportunity for golfers to listen to a professional and not have to pay for it.”

Hall also enjoys getting new and lesser-known companies and products involved, such as Polara, a company that has designed a golf ball that it states will go 75 percent straighter. Polara won’t be at this week’s event, but it was on hand last fall at Angel Park.

“At these shows, people get a chance to meet a new company (such as Polara), try out a new ball,” Hall said. “Who wouldn’t want that?”

From just an idea over lunch to what the Golf Fest is today, Hall said he’s thrilled with the success, but not surprised.

“You could see the golf thing just taking off, and we really thought it would be a no-brainer,” Hall said. “There are so many golfers, and if you don’t golf, you know someone who does.”

The $10 admission (children 10 and under are free) more than comes back in the form of freebies at the event.

“You walk in the door and get a free round of golf and a one-year subscription to Golf Digest or a six-month subscription to Golf World,” Hall said. “You come to our show, and you get to try all the equipment, and nobody is pushing you. It’s good for vendors and for attendees.”

The show has typically been on weekends, but Hall is optimistic that the Thursday-Friday format will work well. He expects many people to come out in the evening, grabbing burgers, brats or chicken at the on-site beer garden, watching Longo’s exhibition, then checking out all the vendors and testing clubs on the driving range until dark.

“It’ll be a great afternoon and evening,” he said.

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