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The great tennis boom and what it could mean for golf (Part 1)

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Once upon a time, there was the great tennis boom.

The game was immensely popular and growing, and equipment manufacturers were researching ways to make the game more applicable. Some ideas like the spaghetti string racket design produced unusual overspin and were made illegal as they were deemed not to be good for the game. Other ideas like the big-headed racquet were utilized and both professional and average players made them the standard.

Courts sprung up everywhere and many were built with public funds so the game could be accessible to everyone and cost wouldn’t be a prohibitive factor. Tennis televised well so it got great exposure, and academies strictly for teaching the game were developed. All in all, it was a good thing.

Related: Barney Adams introduces himself as a GolfWRX Contributor. 

Young people could also play tennis, and along with learning the game they were exposed to life skills that would help them as they matured. Seniors could play with their age group and adult residences featured courts. Tennis was a winner and it was going to become a central part of society’s fabric. There was nothing wrong it: nothing to impede growth.

And then something strange happened. The game dropped in popularity and the huge force of negative momentum took its toll. Participation dwindled well below that of the most modest forecasts.

Before I enrage the tennis-playing readers, I’ll backtrack a bit. In the 70’s, ‘Tennis Anyone?” was the norm. There were more than 30 million players in the U.S alone and counting. Forecasts predicted 50 million participants. Today, however, U.S. tennis participation is about 15-to-25 million.

Twenty-five million is a pretty good number until you factor in that U.S. population has increased from 210 million in 1972 to approximately 315 million today. Back in the 70’s, nobody thought tennis participation would drop with a 50-percent increase in total population. I’m not quibbling over the numbers. What I am pointing out is that a great sport that had everything going for it saw its participation drop and then flatten despite a huge population increase.

It’s been argued that such is life; things go in cycles and ultimately reach a sustainable level. In subsequent articles, I will outline the loss in golf participation and present one suggestion for a solution. I’m using the tennis analogy because there is some relevance, not the least of which is inertia. All this worry about golf participation might be a reaction to the game’s inertia trying to find its natural level. During the boom years, too many courses were built and now many are closing. Even though I’m on the side of being proactive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if we are reacting to a natural evolution.

I will carefully track participation numbers going back to 1985. The numbers are not good and the demographics, which see the average age of golfers increasing, are not good, either. The question becomes do we (we being the powers that be and all of us golfers) want to try and arrest the decline or do we accept it as a natural order of things?

In subsequent articles, I’ll discuss the situation in detail. What I won’t do is make arguments based on opinion. If I look at a five-year decline and say it isn’t good, I don’t consider that as rendering an opinion. If I say golf is in conflict with today’s cultural influences, that’s an opinion, and I’ll leave that side of the discussion to those who are more capable.

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Barney Adams is the founder of Adams Golf and the inventor of the iconic "Tight Lies" fairway wood. He served as Chairman of the Board for Adams until 2012, when the company was purchased by TaylorMade-Adidas. Adams is one of golf's most distinguished entrepreneurs, receiving honors such as Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 1999 and the 2010 Ernie Sabayrac Award for lifetime contribution to the golf industry by the PGA of America. His journey in the golf industry started as as a club fitter, however, and has the epoxy filled shirts as a testimony to his days as an assembler. Have an equipment question? Adams holds seven patents on club design and has conducted research on every club in the bag. He welcomes your equipment questions through email at barneyadams9@gmail.com Adams is now retired from the golf equipment industry, but his passion for the game endures through his writing. He is the author of "The WOW Factor," a book published in 2008 that offers an insider's view of the golf industry and business advice to entrepreneurs, and he continues to contribute articles to outlets like GolfWRX that offer his solutions to grow the game of golf.

75 Comments

75 Comments

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    Aug 16, 2014 at 8:01 pm

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  2. TA

    Jul 2, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I think the popularity of tennis is linked to professional success. I think the American greats like Mcnroe, Connors, Agassi, and Sampras drew a significant number of people to the game. I don’t think there are enough big names in American tennis to draw in, and keep people interested in the game. Without the interest in the professional game there is only the recreational side of the game to keep people interested and hence it has found a natural level.

  3. John

    Jun 24, 2014 at 12:56 am

    I think there is also an urban vs. rural issue here as well. I currently live in Los Angeles where golf is either, expensive, or crowded with long 5 plus hour rounds, or both. Too many people chasing too few resources. My home town, on the other hand is a completely different situation. It’s a small town in the Midwest with a lovely, well maintained muni that has been around since the 30’s and sort of a town treasure. Cheap to play, get on anytime, 4 hour rounds or less are the norm. When I visit every summer it’s like going back in time 30 years. I don’t think these places are too worried about golf’s popularity or lack thereof.

    • M

      Jun 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

      But you can only play your Ohio golf course may be 8 months of the year? LA is all year round.

  4. Square

    Jun 23, 2014 at 5:15 am

    In my opinion there are several factors influencing the decline in play. I won’t repeat some of the valid points which have been expressed earlier with the exception of one – TIME. Men are the players who probably make up this decline in play. In my humble opinion, father’s are more involved in their kids lives then 20 years ago. Do you know how many times I’ve been at the course and asked a guy where he’s been only to have him respond, “we’re in baseball season right now” which is followed by a ridiculous schedule of 3-4 hour car rides to the next game. I shake my head privately and I’m an involved parent of 2 boys. These parents do this stuff for a hope that Jimmy will be in the MLB or secure a scholarship. When most of us grew up we could play high school ball or the local organized teams and half the time we probably walked or rode a bike to a game. Sometimes our parents were there, sometimes they were not. My point is there is only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and I would argue that many parents are hyper involved in their kids every movement to the point there is no time left for a parent to have substantial recreational interests. Maybe this is ultimately good for the kids but the point is it is likely not good for the game of golf. I tell my friends I wish there was 8 days in a week so I could fit in one round a week.

    • marty

      Jun 23, 2014 at 7:55 am

      Nailed it.

    • Mark M

      Jun 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Also, the overly structured involvement in sports most times has the opposite effect: kids get sick of it and quit at the first opportunity. This is a root cause of the decline in participation of a lot of sports. You turn something that is supposed to be fun into work and a chore and kids don’t develop a passion for it that carries forward to adulthood.

      • steve

        Jun 23, 2014 at 4:26 pm

        I think the root of the decline in sports is the internet and cable tv. When I was a kid there was no internet or cable. The only thing to do was go outside. Now with the internet and cable tv in their rooms, they don’t go outside. It is the reason why there is a serious child obesity problem in the U.S.. Also everything is organized sports, what happened to going to the park and playing ball.

    • abd1

      Jun 25, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      helicopter parents…. not good for the parent or the child.

    • TA

      Jul 2, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Some good points about hyper involvement. I have two friends (male, 35-40) who no longer play golf more than once or twice a year because they are involved in their kids sports/activities 6 days a week. Everyday after work and every Saturday is consumed with kids sports/activities.

  5. 8thehardway

    Jun 22, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Some fuzziness around ‘grow the game’ – who ya gonna grow?

    The NGF considers my non-golfing sons to be golfers because they played with me on Fathers Day. Trust me, they are not golfers. The NGF should find a better term for the ‘once-and-done’ experience for those of us who take statements like ‘the U.S. has 29 million golfers’ at face value.

    In any case, you can’t target a segment for growth if they’ve played once or twice and haven’t returned; 1st tee notwithstanding, you can’t target golfers under 17 who are dependent on parents for golf-related transportation and expenses and anyone over 65 won’t provide enough return on investment.

    That leaves a target audience of adults who have never tried golf or those currently playing and of the two I imaging getting current players to increase their rounds is the more attainable objective.

  6. Dan

    Jun 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    When I caddied in the late 80’s early 90’s the rounds were 3:45-4:15 and the course was packed. For some reason in the mid to late 90’s 5 hr rounds of golf became acceptable. I believe courses should enforce 4 hr limits on rounds. If your round is at 4hrs and you’re on the 16th green, you don’t play 17&18. Next time play faster and you’ll finish.

    No one wants to only get in 16 holes, this would force people to speed up.

    • steve

      Jun 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      You can only play as fast as what is in front of you. What slows it down is players thinking they are better then what they are. They hit the driver 230 and wait for the green to clear from 270 on a par 5. Or they sit in the cart waiting, then when the green clears they start to figure yardage and club selection. And the course doesnt care how slow it is. You don’t have to be a good golfer to play at a reasonable pace. You have to be alittle aware and be ready to play.

      • Dan

        Jun 23, 2014 at 9:08 pm

        The same rules would apply to the group in front of you.

    • 8&9

      Jun 22, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      Courses were also almost 800 to 1000 yards shorter in the 80’s than it is now, and there was no T Woods back then that brought the hacker crowds to the courses.

      But then again, the 90’s changed everything.

      • Mark M

        Jun 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm

        I don’t think the tiger woods effect or whatever you want to call it was solely responsible. That is certainly what increased tv viewership and increased pga tour sponsorship. The economic boom of the 90s and early 2000s created a lot of disposable income and that’s what created a lot of the bubble of players in golf.

        The biggest problem is that courses are set up too long and too hard for the average player. All tees except whites and reds should be blocked for non-competitive players. Period.

        • Double Mocha Man

          Jun 22, 2014 at 10:38 pm

          At Pebble Beach you have to prove, via a GHIN handicap card, that your handicap is under 5 to play from the back tees.

          • Mark M

            Jun 23, 2014 at 2:13 pm

            I would argue that most courses should take it a step further and actually physically not have black or blue tees, unless it’s a course specifically for better players like bethpage black or whatever. To then play the championship level course you should produce a handicap card.

        • John

          Jun 24, 2014 at 12:34 am

          Standard practice on many courses in the UK where the competition tees are closed for regular play. Everyone plays from the whites, scratch and high cappers alike. No one complains and they play much faster than us.

    • marty

      Jun 23, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Preach on brotha!

  7. cmatthews77

    Jun 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I too worry about all of this changing the game to save it. While I do think there should be ‘reasonable’ public access to courses and youth availability– I sort of get irritated with all the “while we’re young and tee it forward and Jack Nicklaus’ comment about shortening the average round to 12 holes.

    I’m a 6 handicap and while I don’t play the championship level tees often I’m also not going up to the front. I want to line up my puts and read the greens– it’s part of the game that I love. It’s a great feeling when you’re rolling it well and making 6 footers to save par and lower your score. Posting 73 is a big accomplishment over shooting 78.. for me.

  8. steve

    Jun 22, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Golf is too long, too slow, too expensive, too frustrating to play for most. EX: I used to play Bethpage, 3 of the 5 courses when I lived in NY.
    Bethpage want’s check in a hour before your tee time. Then you get to the starter he tells you there is a 45 minute delay. Add over 5 hours to play and the 45 minute ride there and home. It is over a 8 hour day.

    • Joesph

      Jun 22, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Bethpage is an exception to the rule. Huge demand to play there. There are plenty of courses you can play for less than 50 bucks a round. If the courses are doing the right thing and promoting playing at a good pace and playing from the right tees relative to your handicap, the game would be more enjoyable.

  9. Joesph

    Jun 21, 2014 at 9:34 am

    The game will be fine. There is no way to slow down the equipment manufacturers. If you want to play, you can spend a couple hundred bucks on used clubs and find a course that fits your budgetary needs. If there is one thing that I think the USGA and other governing bodies can do is to continue promoting quicker play and start another campaign for the many average golfers who play as though their tour professionals. Lining up 2 footers, plum bobing, 3-4 practice swings etc etc. if you play 18 holes in over 4.5 hours, you doing something wrong.

  10. Mark M

    Jun 21, 2014 at 1:28 am

    We should all care about the decline of participation in golf. I think all of you are assuming that getting rid of the so called “hacks” will result in a magical situation where the courses would be empty for you whenever you want and green fees would drop, etc. won’t happen. The exact opposite will. Econ 101: there will always be demand for golf courses and golf equipment. But the supply of tee times will go down as courses close. Therefore expect to pay more. Or come to terms with playing on horribly maintained courses. If the golf equipment business goes from mainstream (as it is now) to niche, all but the biggest suppliers will survive. So for all of you hoping taylormade will go away or whatever, in all likelihood it would be one of the few to survive besides maybe titleist.
    All this presumes that golf is in decline around the world (the USA is just one country) but all signs point to another boom of golf in Asia. So these arguments are probably moot to some degree, especially in regards to equipment companies.

  11. MHendon

    Jun 20, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    I believe the two main factors keeping people from the game of golf is one Price and two difficulty. Lets say the average person needs to hit 4 buckets of balls a week at an average of 8 dollars a bucket and play two rounds a week at an average of 40 dollars a round say 45 weeks a year to get to where they can break 90 that’s $5040.00 a year just in playing fee’s. Throw in clubs, bag, balls, tee’s, shoe’s, clothes and that’s a damn big investment just to become a boggy golfer which is the best most people can hope to become.

    • randy

      Jun 21, 2014 at 7:33 am

      you pay for tees?!

      • MHendon

        Jun 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        Somebody has to or there wouldn’t be any left behind on the course to pick up.

    • paul

      Jun 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      I play for under $1000 a year and shot 38 on 9 holes the other day. And never practice and have only played golf for 2 years. Easier course…

      • MHendon

        Jun 21, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        Well Paul that’s the only reason I still play and developed a passion for the game, because like yourself we are the exception not the rule. I got to almost scratch in 3 years playing once a week but for most people that’s just simply not achievable. Like I said most people have to put in a substantial amount of time and investment just to get to bogey golf. A former golf partner of mine is a prime example. He had been playing years before me regularly, and being a man of substantial financial means he had even gone to Vegas and got personal lessons from Butch Harmon and still rarely broke 90. I can honestly say if I hadn’t had a gift for the game there’s no way I would have kept playing.

        • David

          Jul 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

          I think you forgot the humble part of your humblebrag…

  12. Bob Smith

    Jun 20, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I look forward to this mans information as well. His experience on, off and behind the scenes business wise and golf wise will bring a nice perspective on this topic.

    My 2 cents on this subject is that 5+ hour golf rounds, the price of entry into the game itself, green fees, attire, and being one can’t play when there is snow on the ground or lighting in the sky make this a less than desirable activity. Especially when taxes and a lot of other things continue to increse not to mention the time commitment invlolved.

  13. Chuck

    Jun 20, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    A theory advanced most prominently by Geoff Shackelford, although Geoff would probably not claim ownership:

    One of the main drivers of the golf boom that really began pre-Tiger Woods, and which dates back to the 1970’s and 80’s, was the wealth of caddy programs at private clubs. Private clubs that to a large extent were built during America’s first golf boom, in the 1920’s.

    Thousands of suburban clubs, each with hundreds of caddies. Those caddies learned golf from proper, though hardly elite, golfers. They learned the rules; they learned golf etiquette; they learned golf socializing, and gambling, and fun. Those caddies played on Mondays, they got competitive. A few of them got Evans scholarships. One caddy from the 1920’s turned into Byron Nelson. Another turned into Ben Hogan. And after that, there were thousands more, albeit less illustrious ones.

    The modern spread of golf carts, like a virus, has largely killed that pathway for young people entering the game.

    • Mike sweigart

      Jun 21, 2014 at 10:49 am

      Wow. That was well said. As an avid walker… I would much rather pay a kid 20-30 bucks to carry my clubs than pay for a cart. Hmmmmmm. Pay it forward?

    • Professor

      Jun 21, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      yeah, i couldn’t agree with you more about the loss of the caddy programs. Aside from the evans scholars, i’m not aware of any caddy programs in the traditional sense. i suppose you couldn’t get today’s yutes to loop a couple of bags two or three times a day during the summer. then again, every generation is softer than the previous generation. i recall ken venturi, a pretty tough guy, talking about how tough his old man was. also, if i recall correctly, hogan’s father committed suicide right in front of young ben. all of this to say, while i do see the industry focusing on the development of golf through youth programs, the advent of the golf cart was the beginning of the end. golf is a walking sport.

      • Straightdriver235

        Jul 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

        It’s the golf cart. That was short sighted on behalf of the courses that pushed them, bought fleets, paved the courses (what business does a fairly well hit shot ever have smacking a cart path and bouncing who knows where, or having to figure where to take relief because you are up against a cart path, or you get a bad lie near the path where the carts have worn it down, much less around the greens? but all of it happens pretty frequently). I have slowly and steadily brought my daughter into golf, and now she begs to go and hit a few. She also wants to caddy for $15 a round, and is almost old enough to do it. If the courses stopped caddies, players should have cultivated their own. Playing in a golf cart, however and unless you are Casey Martin, is not even golf. My argument is we ceased playing golf a number of years ago. Why do we continue to pretend it is? Yet many good courses don’t even permit players to walk. The cart is often free, or you pay for it even if you walk. Part of playing golf is fitness in a fitness minded society, and the population sees the prototype golfer as pudgy. We don’t have to and shouldn’t be fitness freaks like Dustin Johnson or Tiger Woods, but a modicum of good health would go a long way. If you use a cart you are playing another game, but it is not golf. If you are too old and in too bad of shape to walk, then your playing days should be over and you should accept this. There is no exercise walking from the cart to the tee, from the green to the cart, etc. unless you count standing or ambling out in hot weather. Industry short sighted with the golf cart, with club tech, with ball tech, with using golf courses as hubs of residential living… on and on. The master’s greed has harmed so many of us who do not respond to what Galbraith called “managed demand.” We buy great clubs two or three years old, use great balls that are seconds or bought off ebay at a fraction of retail, etc. we play in the evenings on public courses that we can find uncrowded. Core golfers can and will survive, but they are tired of every obstacle being thrown at them from elite money managers.

  14. yo!

    Jun 20, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Golf is booming where I live which is near a metropolitan area. Courses always booked and hard to get a tee time much less any discounts on the weekend.

  15. 3 putts

    Jun 20, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I want to make another point that seems to go unmentioned a lot. What is the PGA, USGA and their media partners doing to grow the game. It’s constantly forced down the consumers throat as if its our responsibility to grow the game. Teeing it foward and while were young only applie to current golfers not encouraging thr youth to come out and try it out. The Pga ignores covering anybody that’s not playing lights out and if tiger is playing then forget about the rest of the field, that kills golf. Cause if tigers not in contention then turn the channel and watch something else. Espn dosent talk about golf unless tiger is doing something or not doing something. The culture that tiger is person who matters gets people into golf as long as he’s playing. How about Rickie Fowler. Guy got terrible coverage last year, woulda thought he took a hiatus. Hey PGA if you don’t want the game to die then start looking inward instead of outward! You help the game! Kinda feels like a propaganda add to sell more clubs and get people to spend more to money on the game….

  16. Harry

    Jun 20, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    I agree, I could care less that golf is losing the participation of the twice a month golfer. For what it’s worth, I have never bought into the proposition that golf was for the masses. It is a vocation that requires a lifetime of dedication and commitment. The howls that began in the mid-nineties for the “growth of the game” all came from people who wanted it to grow so their wallets would grow, not because they wished to share this great game with those less fortunate for whom, as they told us, it was previously unavailable. I enjoyed Mr. Adams article and thought he made some valid points, although I would like to point out, Mr Adams was one of the voices hoping for the “growth of the game.”

    • KNUCK

      Jul 15, 2014 at 11:25 am

      OK fair enough – but he was also the originator of the idea that it was about time golfers checked their egos in the parking lot and stopped playing from delusional yardages that were not suited to their abilities. Adams initiated the Tee-It-Forward movement to bring faster play and more enjoyment into the game.

  17. 3 putts

    Jun 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Lets not forget how expensive everything is now. Inflation in commodity products has stretched the middle class thin on available funds to get their kids into golf. It cost money to even practice golf. Much easier to buy a skateboard or video game one time and not have to shell out cash for range tokens or a membership to a range or county club(even then you may have to pay for range balls) every time you want to get better. Similar to snowboarding(which is also in the decline phase) in its expensive to even try, hard to do, and not accessible to a lot of people. Golf will decline but it won’t die.

  18. Footie

    Jun 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Football (soccer).

    • 3 putts

      Jun 20, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      Not in the US anytime soon. It’s even more boring to watch then golf and baseball.

      • US Soccer

        Jun 21, 2014 at 3:49 am

        It’s already here. Duh. Look at the MLS – a new team springs up practically every other year. College soccer is huge, the minor leagues (NASL) is becoming bigger and bigger. If we’re talking about a boom in Tennis, then there is definitely a boom in soccer in the US in the past decade or so, which is also stealing crowds (kids) away from golf, because the International soccer league opportunities are absolutely huge, where you could literally play in so many countries in so many leagues. The soccer moms and dads are making a big wave. Especially when they see that it’s a much better sport than the NFL/NHL type head-bashing helmet-clangning sport that requires so much more equipment, and the danger of the kids becoming severely injured or overweight due to not enough running. American audiences are also realizing that the depth of the inter-league play from country to country is so much more interesting than the limited league play of the MLB, NHL, NFL or the NBA, where they don’t play anybody else but themselves in competition.

  19. AC930

    Jun 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    When I was 12 years old in 1992, I remember how great the atmosphere was at my local golf course because everyone in town played at the same place, tournaments were high in participation, and the course was successful which benefited everyone. Once more courses were built, golfers spread out and it hasn’t been as much fun with less of the avid golfers in the same spot. Combine that with the economy and we have the evolution of hard times that Barney is talking about. Until we let some golf courses fail and go away, it will be a struggle. There are only so many people in a given area that are interested in playing golf no matter how hard you try to recruit them.

  20. KK

    Jun 20, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Saying that a 5 year decline isn’t good is in fact an opinion if the current golf participation is unsustainable. An industry correction could indeed be a good thing if it leads to sustainability and increased enjoyment for the remainder. On the other hand, saying golf is in conflict with today’s cultural influence can be an objective and factually accurate statement and not at all an opinion.

  21. marty

    Jun 20, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I think golf leagues also hurt golf. Hitting nine holes after work during the week is almost impossible. Leagues are every where. I also play in a league, 3 hour nines are very common. Way more than half the guys are over 60. Playing to far back with stiff shaft clubs going 90 yards. Tennis might not be a bad idea.

    • Bill

      Jun 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Seriously? I know a lot of ’60’s’ that are in better shape than guys half their age and they still pull handicaps under 15…many under 10. Those same old guys who should be ‘thinking about tennis’ are also the ones with disposable income, play regularly and keep lots of clubs open because the do.

      • marty

        Jun 22, 2014 at 8:10 am

        You must be from a warm weather climate. I am not. This Crap weather puts a hurt on the old guys up here. I have not seen the guys you speak of.

  22. John

    Jun 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    When I was 10 I found an old set of clubs in my grandfathers garage and became interested. No one in my family played except an uncle who took me to a local driving range a couple of times. Fortunately for me we had a 9 hole city course within walking distance of my house. The cost to play for a 10-17 year old for the months of July and August, Monday-Friday was $3 – for the entire season!!! An adult season pass was $40. That was 42 years ago. I got hooked as well as about 29 others and we played everyday wearing out those 9 holes over 3,000 yards.

    Looking back… we didn’t need a country club , great equipment and didn’t really follow the PGA much. But we had what we needed – an affordable place to play. Make those places available again and “some” young people will discover the game while others play other sports.

    I believe golf is a sport that you will either like and stick with or not. It can’t be forced upon anyone – they have to show an interest.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jun 20, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Affordability is a relative thing. My favorite course costs me $45. If they cut that back to 20 bucks I could expect to see it a lot more crowded, maintenance cut back and the bathrooms uncleaned. And the bar wouldn’t stock my favorite gin.

      It’s a trade off. Don’t expect the same amenities for a lower greens fee.

    • Oldplayer

      Jun 21, 2014 at 6:02 am

      Great comment!! Totally agree.

  23. Markb

    Jun 20, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I wondered if anyone would get around to examining the tennis analogy and I’m glad Barney has. I look forward to his analysis of WHY Tennis dropped in importance in the mainstream US sporting consciousness. If we can gain insights into the WHY, maybe we can apply it to Golf.

    I agree, there’s no arguing the facts of the decline. Tennis (along with Bowling I might add) formerly enjoyed a much greater niche in the public media, and a much greater participation among the youth. I remember actually caring about the next big match between Borg and Lendl etc., now I could not tell you who won any of the Tennis majors, except for Nadal who always wins the interminable French Open.

    So what went wrong? Did we simply get sick of watching 4 hr matches between petulant, grunting foreigners, thus losing our ability to identify with them? Maybe. Do American girls care less about the LPGA when every third participant is named Kim? Maybe. But as interest among US girls drops, I’m sure interest among Korean girls has gone up, much like interest in tennis seemed to shift to eastern Europe even as our interest declined.

    Americans also used to care more about horse racing, boxing, track and field, the America’s cup, alpine skiing and (dare I say it) baseball. Now they care, watch, and participate less in all these sports.

    Heck, maybe we simply care less about ALL sports. Our youth seem to be morphing into a generation of soccer-mom-shepherded dilettantes who shuttle from one brief baby-sitting activity to another, never fixating on anything for very long or very deeply. Mom drops them at golf camp every day for a week, then they’re on to the next camp and never pick up the sticks again till next summer. When they get home, they rush to the Xbox, they don’t chip around the backyard or bang fuzzy balls against the garage door.

    • marty

      Jun 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Hahahah true.

    • Craig Smith

      Jun 20, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      You’re getting closer…

      The main problem is the price of youth athletics. You want to play baseball in the summer? It’s not Little League once a week anymore. It’s private clubs, traveling every weekend, playing 70 games. To belong to a REASONABLE club will set you back 4-5K for the summer, counting travel and hotels and food. You have a girl, too? Expect the same for volleyball and/or softball. The dads in their 30’s/40’s with disposable income are paying for youth sports, and dropping golf.

      • Mike

        Jun 21, 2014 at 10:58 am

        Sound like where i live. North Fulton county in Atlanta. Kids are becoming ‘specialists’ at the age of 10 or 11. 8 year olds go to howie McCann (yep brian McCann’s dad) for hitting lessons and Leo Mazzone for pitching lessons.

        Dads living vicariously through their kids…. Ugh.

    • paul

      Jun 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

      My son hits balls at a net and is wrecking my lawn beside the garage. 2 years old. Loves golf. We also putt on the practice green at a course down the road.

  24. EF

    Jun 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Barney,

    You may recall my response to your earlier article. I was concerned that we were headed down a 5-part series on teeing it forward. It sounds like you are actually going to look at this thing for real, and I think that’s a great thing.

    Looking forward to reading the rest.

    • marty

      Jun 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      I tee it forward. I have no shame. Golf is way more fun with more g.i.r.

      • James

        Jun 22, 2014 at 9:44 pm

        I absolutely agree with this comment. Why would you not want to hit more short irons, resulting in more greens hit and lower scores? What is not fun is having to use a 3rd shot to get the ball on the green on par 4’s because you’re hitting into the green with a long iron constantly. It’s an exhilarating feeling to have a putt for birdie and having to settle for par, rather than having to try and save par on every hole.

        Every now and then, I play with one of the pros from the range I work at, I have no shame hitting from the whites while he hits from the tips. I could play from the tips too if I wanted to spend 4 hours of my time feeling miserable, but it’s just not worth it.

    • george

      Jun 20, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      They should charge more for longer tees. I’ve seen too many instances where people are obviously not capable of playing from that far! One friend says you get more value out of it no matter how bad you play… Let’s just charge them more for that “value” and I don’t have to deal with convincing my friend to tee more forward EVERY SINGLE TIME we play golf!

      • kloyd0306

        Jun 21, 2014 at 10:09 pm

        I suspect that you really mean “paying more for PLAYING from the BACK tees”……..

        That simply won’t work – golfers who like to be beaten up by playing from tees that they are not capable of playing from, will still play from those tees, plus, what’s to stop them from paying for golf from the white tee markers but marching to the back tees anyway!

  25. Philip

    Jun 20, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Question – could you tie the rise and decline of tennis to tennis icon(s)? I think when people are interested in a superstar (or a few over a period) the interest in emulating the stars drives interest. As such, “Tiger” anyone? I believe when Mr. Palmer was hot in golf that the numbers of golfers actually doubled. How about the explosion of golf courses for the more average person when Mr. Ouimet won the U.S. Open?

    • marty

      Jun 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Tennis died in America when Andre agassi retired.

  26. DB

    Jun 20, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Look forward to this discussion, thanks Mr. Adams.

  27. tmk

    Jun 20, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I have seen many articles recently, quite a few on this site, about the great concerns with the lessening popularity of golf. As an equipment manufacturer, I understood that your livelihood could be impacted, and, as such, fewer golfers is a seriously bad thing. As a golfer with no skin in the game, I’m not sure it really matters to me if there are fewer players or tv ratings are lower. What am I missing? Why should I care? The courses I play are well established. There is no risk they will be going out of business.

    • Joel

      Jun 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      I think what should concern us golfers with no skin in the game is just how “well established” and safe our courses really are. It is immensely expensive to operate a golf course that looks like crap and even more expensive still to operate a “nice” course. Golf is still a business and if even a well established course starts hemorrhaging money from decline in paying players and increased cost due to water and regulations than I tend to think that no course is guaranteed to be there five or ten years from now. Just my two cents…

    • ca1879

      Jun 20, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      I must admit that the “grow the game” sentiment doesn’t have much traction with me either and I’m also not all that concerned that courses that were built on shaky business plans are closing. The economic and demographic landscape of our country has changed since the 70’s, and marketing the traditional form of our game into that new mix, especially in an era of increased entertainment options, will always be a tough haul.

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Opinion & Analysis

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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