Stan Fenn remembers attending the Chicago Golf Show in the early 1990s, and coming back home to Colorado with a gnawing takeaway:
"I said, 'Nothing like this is going on in Colorado,'" he remembers -- and wondering why not.
With that, Fenn decided to do something about this perceived void. That something was to help found the Denver Golf Expo.
That just happened to be 25 years ago, and though Fenn sold the show to Mark Cramer and his wife Lynn in 2000, it's still going strong a quarter-century later. The 2018 show is scheduled for Feb. 9-11 at the Denver Mart (I-25 and 58th Ave.).
Fenn, who worked for AGT Sports at the time, established the Expo with some help from fellow Colorado PGA professional Danny Harvanek, who will be inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in May, and a little funding from a former Denver Broncos player.
That first show was held at the Colorado Convention Center, but it would take rose-colored glasses to say it was a success.
"It was way too expensive" for the revenue it produced, said Fenn, now a PGA director of instruction and co-founder of the Golf Academy of Northern Colorado, as well as a radio host of the Morning Cup of Golf show that airs on Saturday mornings during the golf season. "We lost quite a bit of money the first year."
AGT Sports left the local scene not long thereafter, but not before Fenn acquired the rights to the Denver Golf Expo.
For seven consecutive years, Fenn spent about half his work time organizing and running the Expo, with the show being held at the Denver Mart from Year 2 on, normally in February, as now.
Fenn said attendance for the inaugural year at the Convention Center was about 3,500, with the number jumping to about 5,600 the first year at the Denver Mart. He said attendance came close to 10,000 one year, but the norm was in the 6,000-8,500 range.
"I started from scratch and did everything from the bottom up," Fenn noted. "I had to find a (host facility), decorators ... It was a big job for six months every year. The other half of the year I was teaching.
"But I brought in all the organizations -- the CGA and the PGA. I wanted them to be at the event, and that helped us build.
"I wanted to bring in people and expose them to golf. The show has been a big part of golf in Colorado. People look forward to go to it. But it's changed and evolved."
When Fenn helped found the Golf Academy of Northern Colorado in Fort Collins, he decided to focus on that and sell the Expo. So in 2000, he agreed to terms with Mark and Lynn Cramer, who had introduced themselves a few years before and were no strangers to running trade shows. In 2001, the Cramers operated the show for the first time, and it's continued to be a fixture on the winter calendar for many golf aficionados in the state.
"Mark and Lynn have done a great job," Fenn said. "I just had one building at the Mart" for the Expo as opposed to the two the event occupies now.
One of the first things Mark Cramer did upon acquiring the Expo was to meet with leadership from the CGA and the Colorado PGA. It took some time, but the associations soon bought in fully, to the point where now they both play very large roles at the show -- in the seminars, with the Junior Golf Central section, the PGA's free 10-minute lesson area, the 2-day Rules of Golf workshop, and tournament management training and handicap certification.
Cramer said one major reason for the success of the Expo over the years has been the support of the CGA and Colorado PGA.
"Our original tagline was a 'winter gathering of the Colorado golf industry,'" Cramer noted. "We wanted to round up the industry behind the show. We've tried to do that with all shows we've done." The golf associations and other supportive organizations "are some incredible people to work with. They all come up underneath the show with meaningful support so it comes off every year. I don't have the time to manage all (the different interactive things going on at the Expo). They're the ones that operate those things."
And Cramer has tried to reciprocate. For instance, he said the Expo has made donations totaling $85,000 over the years to the Colorado PGA's charitable foundation, now known as Colorado PGA REACH.
Cramer, an enthusiastic golfer besides being an experienced trade show operator, said that Fenn "did a great job promoting" the Expo when he operated it, but the Cramers made some changes that helped take it to the next level.
The Cramers added more general golf retailers -- not just those operating golf shops at courses -- and encouraged the PGA professionals at the Expo to bring more products/services to the show to sell.
"Courses didn't have to promote (to do a strong business) until the 2000s, and (many of them) didn't know how to do it," Cramer said. "Golf courses would hand out tees and scorecards (at the Expo). It was like, 'OK, thanks.' It was a process of educating them and getting them to sell things out of the booth. Fox Hollow led the way with four packs of rounds for $100. Everyone else would see people line up for that each year, and they'd be sold out of 1,000 of them by Saturday afternoon.
"I'm a passionate golfer and love everything about it. And we knew how to market to exhibitors. There's a learning curve for public shows."
In the last 10 years, attendance at the Denver Golf Expo has fluctuated from a low of 7,195 in 2015 to an all-time high of 11,202 in 2008, just prior to the Great Recession. Last year's total for the three-day show was 9,136, the most since 2014.
Next week, we'll preview details of the 2018 Denver Golf Expo. The hours for the show are:
Friday, Feb. 9 -- 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 10 -- 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 11 -- 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tickets run $13 for adults, $11 for seniors (over 50) and military with ID, and $3 for kids 16 and under.
For more information about the Expo, CLICK HERE.