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Is golf participation really dropping? (Part 3)

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Let’s cut to the chase. Has there been a precipitous drop in golf participation or is it the hand wringing of borderline operators? I promised an analysis based on fact and will proceed accordingly.

Before I start, I want to talk about professional golf: the PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com tours. This is not golf as far as a participation issue. It’s TV entertainment played by the most skilled golfers in the world. Take away TV and the purses would be peanuts with the PR folks desperately looking for sponsors.

As a percentage, professional golfers represent some 0.05-to-0.07 percent of all golfers, but if you read the golf magazines and listen to golf commentary and you might think that they were golf. No business model focuses on 0.05 percent of the market for decision making, yet the ruling bodies are greatly influenced by these stars and it’s almost as if the other 99.95 percent of golfers don’t count. Yes the pros are a factor in showing us the game at its highest level and yes they can be considered a positive influence. When you see the participation hard numbers, you will also see that while they’re a factor they haven’t moved the needle.

Add in the elite amateurs (another miniscule group: about 3.4 percent of golfers who play almost to a professional level) and we see more examples of an industry that focuses on the minority. Look up courses on the internet and you’ll find language such as, “Come play our 7200-yard, ultra-challenging course,” etc.

Really, if all the amateurs in the U.S. who could actually play a 7200-yard course were to play golf at the same time, there would be still be tons of empty golf courses in this country. But I digress…

This segment is about a statistical evaluation of participation. My primary database is The National Golf Foundation (NGF). The NGF is sponsored by the various facets of the golf industry and produce a variety of studies on participation. I promised facts not opinions, but others besides me have accused the NGF of painting the numbers in the best possible light. I prefer to look at the data and state the obvious.

  • The NGF reports a core base of some 25 million golfers, down from 30 million in 2000.
  • Some 40 percent of that total is a category called occasional golfers, who are age 6 and up who play more than once per year. In 2000, they accounted for about 9.1 million golfers. In 2012, that number grew to 11.6 million golfers.
  • Then we have core golfers, who are age 6 and up who play more than eight times per year. They accounted for about 19.7 million golfers in 2000, but only 13.7 million golfers in 2012.
  • I like to focus on what the NGF calls avid golfers, which are folks (age 6 and up) who play more than 25 times per year. In 2000, there were 10.2 million avid golfers, but that number dropped nearly 4 million to 6.4 million in 2012.

Why focus on avid golfers you might ask? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on getting the members of the other categories to play more? In fact, if you look at the occasional category you’ll see that it actually increased from 9.1 million in 2000 to 11.6 million in 2014. This would be an example of selective analysis, something for a cheerleader. I could point out this fact to the exclusion of all others. But when you look at the accumulated numbers, one thing is evident; there has been some success getting new players to the course, but it’s been overridden by the fact that they don’t continue playing.

I’m not going into the population factor in detail; over the years we had a significant increase as golf went up AND down. Today’s Caucasian population rate of increase is down, so overall increases come from minorities who are not inclined toward golf as a group. I could turn this data alone into a very negative assessment, but let’s just say population isn’t a positive factor.

In the marketing business this is very serious. The hard job is new customers, and when you get them and can’t keep them you have a major problem.

When I looked at the numbers in greater detail I learned that the avid category picked up the tab for some 71 percent of all golf-related expenses. So a modest increase in the avid category has greater impact than a more significant increase in the other two. If we add in the golfers who play more than eight rounds a year, we now have 94 percent of golf spending.

What about junior golf? What have all the industry sponsored programs achieved? It’s down 10 percent since 2000 and more than 20 percent since it peaked in 2005. That could be the subject of a study unto itself, but the bottom line is that it isn’t something of promise for the future. You can join the NGF for $125 a year if you want to peruse their data.

During the last 14 years there has been a variety of articles blaming weather, the economy and a variety of short-term influences. I maintain that over 14 years these influences have been mitigated.

Why are golfers leaving? In all surveys there is one dominant theme; too slow, no fun. And, for the record, too slow IS no fun.

This will evoke a response from those who say I’m ignoring cost. Not at all; I’m just focused on optimizing value. More than 145 courses closed in 2013 and the vast majority had greens fees and carts under $40. Value first, cost will follow. There was very inexpensive tennis during its decline.

There probably isn’t a reader that can’t point to one specific negative factor that is beyond my boundaries. There is the whole concept of disregarding rules and using “fixes” like 15-inch cups.

I understand the thinking behind all that, but with the overall objective of increasing participation I’ll stay focused; golf needs more avid players. We know who we want to get more involved in the game and we know why they are leaving. Let’s give the plan for bringing them back a 100 percent focused effort. If it shows no progress after a credible time period then we can go off the reservation.

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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.

106 Comments

106 Comments

  1. Billy

    Aug 3, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    How about the fact that 18-30+ Year olds have left school during a terrible recession and can’t afford to shell out $45.00-$100.00+ a round. Look at the number of young adults still living at home. As the economy improves I believe you will find a large number of people returning to the game or trying it for the first time. It’s hard to get a 4 hour round in when your working 2 jobs.

  2. Uphill both ways

    Jul 24, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    How about blowing up the P.G.A? A bunch of bloated, arrogant, wanna be’s that have such an air about them that handing your hard earned money to them is off-putting to say the least. As a group they love to trash people behind their back. The swings on the first tee, the clothing, the outdated equipment, etc. The game is still predominately a white elitist sport and the only people the P.G.A. tries to invigorate are the deep pocketed demographic mentioned. Why don’t private courses donate old member equipment to public joints for cost free loaners? Why does the P.G.A. not come out and say publicly that if a guy who plays four times a year really shouldn’t worry about playing by a strict set of rules? These people want to drink a couple beers and mess with their buddies. Who gives a shit if he doesn’t mull through his five options for proceeding from a lateral hazard nd ten minutes later finally pull the trigger. Bifurcation anyone? Hell yes, but that’s a story for another day. I digress. Having been on the non-professional side of the golf business (caddie master) for 15 years I have seen too many of these prima donna’s troll the clubhouses and practice tees with a rotten air and elevated opinion of themselves while seldom offering genuine words of encouragement to 30 handicappers. For the sake of this game someone please tell these guys that they are there to protect and serve the game not to act like they’ve conquered it.

  3. pali

    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:13 am

    i just go to the range, plunk down $6.00 and hit 50 balls. then i go to the practice green and putt. ninety minutes worth of golf for $6.00. it’s not the course, but at least it’s satisfying.

  4. EHowman

    Jul 12, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    One thing that I find interesting in all the “grow the game” and “players are leaving the game” stories is the absence of recognition that, quite simply, Golf is a very difficult game. Unlike many sports that can be picked up and played with some degree of success (often with no equipment, training, coaching, or significant skill), Golf is the hardest game out there. You’ll never hear the USGA, or PGA, or state golf associations come out and say “Yep, Golf is one of the most difficult games ever”, that would be rather counter productive really.

    In all honesty, as an avid golfer who has tried to bring quite a few people to the game, the primary thing that kept these prospective players from sticking with it, was the difficulty. For avid golfers, who have made it past those initial frustrating hurdles, (a process that can take years) we’ve learned to love and thrive on the difficulty. But for many, whiffed shots, 1st tee stress, chunked wedges, 4 swings to get out of a bunker, 6 balls in the water, 4 putts, etc. is more embarrassing struggle than homage paid to the patron saints of Golf. Golf has always been difficult, is still difficult and will always be difficult, and that’s as it should be, it’s one of the things that makes golf so amazing. Not even 15″ cups will help, if it takes 7 shots to get to the green. And I’ve seen plenty of players take 7 shots to get to a 300 yard par four green!

    • KNUCK

      Jul 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      exceedingly difficult, no question – but in spite of all the difficulty it’s the one 40-foot putt you dropped on #8 and the 275-yard drive you hit on #18 that will keep you coming back

    • Dan

      Sep 4, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      Agreed. If its too hard, how about free group lessons at the course?
      That might get some people to take up golf. The $99 “get golf ready” idea is good, but I haven’t seen anything at any of the courses that promote it.

  5. bradford

    Jul 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Grab two friends and teach them to play…Not only will you have friends for life, but the game will grow because of it.

  6. Ben Cruz

    Jul 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Looking for one cause is a fool’s errand. Interesting to read lots of posts insisting it’s either cost OR pace of play. It’s both and more.

    Comments on Barney’s Op/Ed are self-selecting. GolfWRX site visitors would likely be avid golfers. The many who commented on July 3rd (a workday) would be either independently wealthy, retired, or unemployed – none of these subgroups representative of mainstream consumers.

    To be sure, Barney points to the importance of (and need to focus on) avid golfers rather than on the populace as a whole. Makes sense if there is, in fact, room for an increase in the number of times avid golfers play per year. If an avid golfer is one who plays “more than 25 times per year”, you’d have to consider whether that’s an average or a median figure. You’d have to wonder how many avid golfers already play as often as they can so that it wouldn’t be possible for them to play much more (due to time and cost constraints).

    I’m an avid golfer. I probably log 45 rounds a year. What keeps me from playing more often is (1) other commitments (so “time”) and (2) cost. I’m spending too much time and too much money playing golf. I won’t be able to sustain this. Part of the time expenditure is combing the web finding the lowest cost at which I can play a decent course. I simply can’t spend upwards of $45 a round 40 times per year. And neither can my golf buddies. And I can’t afford to have others mow and do gardening, home repairs and maintenance, wash my car, clean my house, and run my errands. I’m one of many victimized by the deep 6-year recession. The point here is that lack of money exacerbates the pressures on my time.

    One has to wonder how these surveys are conducted – how the sample is compiled, who responds. A parallel is skiing – a sport that the poor can’t indulge in and which takes quite a bit of time to participate in. When I lived near a ski area years ago, you could have asked me if I were a skier. Answer: No. Some surveys would stop right there. No reason to ask more questions. I don’t even ski. Would I like to ski? Answer: YES (emphatically). Why don’t I? Primarily cost. Secondarily time. But is the survey capturing that? Maybe not (because it’s focused on the responses of those who self-identify as skiers).

    Barney is right to focus on Value. But what is value? I think Barney sees it as (I’m simplifying): Am I willing to pay $50 to play golf if I suspect the round will take 5-1/2 hours? Would I be significantly MORE willing to play if the round cost $55 and took only 4 hours? Would I (as an avid golfer) play 20% more often? The calculus will differ for each person. But for those who simply can’t afford a $50 round 40+ times per year under any circumstances, the answer is clear. How many avid golfers face a similar barrier?

    Another analogy: A Mercedes Benz might be a great value in terms of total cost of ownership over 5 years, partly because of resale value. OK, so logically everyone SHOULD buy one. But not everyone CAN. And it doesn’t matter if I am an avid car buff.

    A related point: I read a couple of years ago about a golf course that was closely monitoring the length of rounds of golf. They offered players a $5 token good toward their next round of golf if their group logged a full-round time of 4 hours 15 minutes or less. And it worked to bring in more golfers, increase rounds per year per golfer, and an increase in golfer satisfaction. It significantly increased profitability of the course.

    Golfers feel (and take more kindly to) unspoken pressure from their fellow players to keep pace. There is less friction between golf staff and players. In fact the policy promotes a positive vibe. A marshal gets freed up to time rounds and give out tokens. Why has this approach not been adopted by courses nationwide?

    Lastly, I’m very unhappy about courses requiring all players to pay for electric golf cars even if they are walking the course. This amounts to walkers subsidizing the golf rounds of riders.

  7. Bowman

    Jul 10, 2014 at 7:45 am

    The largest change I would make after spending countless amount of hours on a golf course would to make sure that all golfers treat eachother with respect regardless of the skill level. Often times I’ve noticed the group in front of you is hated because you have to wait, or you watched them miss a putt and they suck. You often hate the group behind you because they hit to your feet on every hole or they’ve continuously out drive you even with the $400 driver you just bought. My point is that after reading many of the posts above, outside of pace of play, golf needs to be more enjoyable and all players should make sure the hatred stays off the course. Too much embarrassment as it is…

  8. James

    Jul 9, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    The economy has driven most people away from golf. It’s an expensive proposition to play golf. This same scenario happened in the 70s when the economy went flat then. What attracts new players to the game, in my view, are the avid players that befriend and bring people into the game. What kills it is not recognizing the core constituency of golf are these avid players because they help develop more avid players. Maybe stopping all the gimmicks and the courses making it so the avid players love it would do more good than harm. Actually marshal the courses and make people keep up the pace of play, maybe offering cart fee deals to the avid player, and so forth would do more for the game’s growth than anyone thinks since again it is the avid player who draws in others that become avid players. Right now, I know a LOT of avid players who are pretty well ticked off at the gimmicks and lack of access due to constant tournaments on courses than anyone else. I can tell you for a fact that people hear the negative comments these avid players make too about the courses, slow play and so forth. This means those considering playing don’t because they think this person who plays a lot complains about the courses and game so why should I even start.

    Equipment and green fees have gone way up. Another problem in terms of courses is that the US has too many. They were overbuilt in the economic boom of the 90s and early 2000s. Energy prices and other price increases have driven up the cost of play in these down economic times as well. This too keeps people away from the courses including avid players.

  9. Dan

    Jul 9, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I think its going to come down to this:

    Either golf courses will have the balls to enforce pace of play rules (just like they do in the UK/Ireland) or they can continue to lose the Avid and Core players.

    Its a choice: Keep your loyal customers or try to pander to the non-golf capable casual player b/c you want even more customers.

    Only by making it a 4 hour round can you attract more customers in this very busy world we all live in

  10. Pat M

    Jul 9, 2014 at 11:38 am

    It’s the economy. I see realtively cheap muni course in Florida slowly dying since 2008 and it is not getting better. As Tony has said, the majority of Americans are getting poorer. Food inflation and other forms of inflation keep going up. Golf versus health care and food? Golf loses.

  11. Bethpage Golfer

    Jul 8, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    I dont see golf declining in the least………………

    I play at Bethpage 2x a week and its becoming a bit of a chore just dealing with environment at the course.

    1.Slow Play:

    Complete lack of marshaling or any effort to manage time on the course. Doesnt matter how far behind you fall, they will not say anything, although I had one greenskeeper yell at me for chipping next to the tee box, while I was waiting for the group in front to reach their 80 yards drive. No Signs stating where you should be after 2 hrs or whatever.

    I will say they have cleared alot of brush to speed finding of lost balls.

    2. Ridiculous Tee Box strategy:

    Blue – White – Red. Ladies tees are only a silly 10 yds shorter, including the Red and Blue courses, two of the longer layouts. Blue tees have some very looong back tees. No senior tees and alot of older folks and women play. And they are the fastest players. 150 Yd drive, walk out and hit it again. I’m an 8 and I play the whites, why? its a fair test for me and I know that hitting FW and 4 Irons all day is not where I belong.

    3. Complete lack of effort to attempt to improve situation:

    No signs, banners, videos promoting fast play, where to leave the cart, to line up putts while others are putting or any mention of a max score. Any sort of suggestion as to which tees you should play based on avg score. NOTHING

    4. Getting a f#%king tee time in the morning:

    Barney, There aint no shortage of avid golfers anywhere in the NYC-Conn-NJ-Long Island Area. There is, however a ridiculous shortage of Tee Times where I live, especially early ones. I have two 6 year olds, a house, a pool and trying to be home by 12 Noon or 1 PM to salvage the rest of the day is like winning the lottery, even as a single. The tee time system is manipulated, outings are held on public courses denying access to that course for the day.

    And yet some how you can pre-book a tee time on Bethpage Black at NY Golf Shuttle. http://www.nygolfshuttle.com/reservation

    How does that happen? At a state facility?

    I really dont care about the cost, which used to be a bargain, now paying $48, $53 or $80 just to walk, doesnt seem cheap, but so be it, its a great place. The folks working there are state employees, many seasonal. Where’s all that money going? Not on signs that say “Fix your ballmark” or “please Rake Bunkers” or “You should reach this hole in 2 Hours”

    And Dont bother to complain, the attitude is “If you dont like it, someone else will gladly take your tee time”. Supply and Demand, I get it.

    5. The golfers:

    Most out here are pretty good guys, most wish to finish and get out of there, dont fool around and can play. Guys on the wrong tees all day long. Either guys can really play the blues or its not even close. 100-200 yd drives on a 458 yds Par 4. Fairway woods either grounded or lost in the woods.

    Waving up on a par 3 when the next hole is backed up? You should see the looks I get.

    2 Minute pre-shot routine. Yeah we need tv golf heads telling us about getting to a happy place before we hit. The pros with slow play should be called out on it. Someone on Golf Channel totally ripped Daniel Summerhays (playing at Bethpage no less) for his slow play and indecision.

    Saw a guy in the fairway hit a ball back at the tee b/c it came too close to him. His group was 2.5 holes behind after 9 holes. Not kidding…..

    4.5 hour round is a moral victory.

    6. If golf is hurting, why are there so many golf stores on Long Island? Golfsmith, Golf Galaxy, PGA Superstore all in spitting distance of each other in Westbury. Throw in NY Golf Center, another GS and plenty of small shops. Why does it cost $150 to get Fit?

    And guess what? I just bought my clubs on Ebay new for 1/2 price and likely buy Cobra Woods on E bay, why? Why Not? I dont even care about the cash, its just that I dont like paying more for anything than I have to.

    I dont see the problem……

    You want me to play more? Make it easier to schedule and just a 20% faster to play. 4hrs walking doesnt seem that hard to accomplish does it? Idont even care if your a bad player, just know how to get it done in 4 hrs. You’ll get better if you play more……

    You want more Avid and Core golfers? Then make it easier and quicker for them to play, not the casual and incompetent.

    • John

      Jul 9, 2014 at 12:46 am

      I lived in Manhattan from 81-89 and 2 buddies of mine and I would take the train to Bayside where we had stashed a car for cheap. Then drove to Bethpage trying to get there by 7-7:30 on a Saturday morning. When we arrived the wait was 2.5 -3 for the black, 1.5 -2 for the red and blue. Yellow and green were shorter, but there was a reason. The courses weren’t as good. Everything you are describing was exactly the same then. We usually would tee off around 10, finish 3ish. If we got there late, say 8:00 or so, we’d tee off at 11 and be lucky to finish by 5. It was horrendous, but we did it for years. NYC doesn’t have many options and there’s a ton of people. Everyone wanted to play the black. I do remember one sign that said something like “the black course is suggested for skilled golfers” . Lots of good players, but lots of “unskilled” golfers as well. Which really isn’t a problem, if you get on with it! It only takes a few doofus groups to gum up the whole course. The usual BS. Playing from the back tees, foozling drives into the crap, waiting to hit second shots on par fives from 300 yards and then topping their 3 woods, which they shouldn’t have in their bags in the first place, and worm raping them 50 yards. Even worse, since everyone used persimmon and mostly blades until the Eye 2 caught on, many of these guys hit two irons as a “safe club” on some holes. You can guess how well that worked out.

      I’m sorry to hear things haven’t changed, except we only paid around 20 bucks. You would think it would be better now, especially after the open.

      Barney, I guess you could say about slow play, “it was ever thus”. I have gone on vacations to Scotland and they simply don’t put up with this nonsense. Everyone gets on with it and there is much “move along lads” self policing. You say “move it along” here and you’re lucky not to get a sand wedge up the side of the head. People don’t get it, and they are often a**holes about when you try and educate them no matter how nice you try to be.

    • Square

      Jul 9, 2014 at 4:59 am

      Bethpage raises a number of good points but some of his frustration is tied to the market where he plays golf. Independent of the region of the country you play, I’m in 100% agreement with regard to slow play and folks playing the wrong tees. I wish there was a day in the week where the golf course would modify the type of play at the course. I know it sounds crazy but one afternoon a week, after 3 or 4, I would love to see our course only allow golfers play a point system where there was no putting allowed. Your score was how many strokes it took green. Inside 10 feet was a one putt and outside 10 feet was a 2 putt. I could play 18 holes that way and strike the ball and be done in 1.5-2 hours. There would be plenty of other days to include putting in the round. Of course, this wouldn’t be a score to include on your handicap, but it would be fun.

    • Pat M

      Jul 9, 2014 at 11:39 am

      A sampling of what is happening in NY and CT is not representative of th the whole country. Loads of people are leaving CT too because of taxes and other factors.

  12. Philip

    Jul 7, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I am a relatively new golfer, about 5 years, but fit firmly in the “avid” category with +50 rounds a year. As a newcomer, my opinion is that golf has some huge challenges: 1) demographics have been and will continue to change in such way that is bad for golf; 2) people have less free time than they used to have. There is nothing the golf industry can do about these trends. They are what they are. But the other issues that are frequently stated, i.e. cost, difficulty – they have been around for 70 years, so they are not what is causing the decline.
    I applaud Mr. Adams for one thing, focusing on the core and avid golfers. Too often the golf industry seems too focused on the number of golfers. This is wrong and is never going to work. The focus needs to be on how to get the more core and avid golfers and how to get those golfers to play more often.
    My humble opinion, even with +50 rounds a year the reason I don’t play more is the amount of time it takes and the amount of time I have. When I talk to people who used to be avid or core golfers and are no longer, the reason they state is lack of time. This is going to be golf’s issue – my only two thoughts: speed up play and make 9 hole rounds easier to obtain.

  13. Double Mocha Man

    Jul 6, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Wake me up when the speed of play increases.

  14. RG

    Jul 6, 2014 at 4:09 am

    The elder generations are dying off and younger generations are not joining the game because this is the video game generation. They have leagues and organized tournaments. Many of these tournaments have prize money in the triple figure range. Video games don’t get rained out, you can play with others from all over the world, get a world ranking and you don’t have to get mom or dad to drive you. Also For the price of a new driver and a greens fee you can play the latest EA golf game an infinite number of times and receive a world ranking.
    Outdoor sports will always be around but this generation thinks that there is no difference between Kinect and the real thing.
    We are living in a digital world and this generation wants instant gratification. If a video game is to difficult you can change the settings, you can’t do that in golf.
    Kids these days don’t play catch, pick-up football or basketball, throw a Frisbee. Heck my step-son doesn’t even know what jacks are. So understand, the younger generations aren’t going to spend the money on something that takes 5 and a half hours that you may or may not be able to do depending on the weather. They didn’t grow up in that world.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jul 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      My guess is that 1 in 10,000 EA or WGT golfers can equal the scores in real life that they shoot online. Ego gratification is easy. But the walk, the camaraderie, the fresh (sometimes wet) air, the stories and the gin & tonic in the grill afterwards is unmatched when playing the real thing.

    • David

      Jul 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      Oh please, not the ‘kids these days’ argument. My son (8) loves video games, but he also plays golf, soccer, tennis, and basketball. And he’s not unique, the soccer league is very popular among the kids in the area (urban Los Angeles) and the same kids show up for basketball in the winter. At school I see them playing sports every single recess. Perhaps your relative is a slouch, but there are millions of active kids out there.

  15. Don

    Jul 5, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    I have been trying to get my buddies to move up to tees that are appropriate for our distances and ability. This is not easy. And over the years, I’ve watched older guys, 70+, who should move forward, and won’t, because the next tees are “ladies” tees. So they can’t even reach the green with a 3 wood. That’s not golf. I hope when I get to that point, I won’t care what the tees are called.

    But, my first proposal for the golf industry is: Get rid of the name “ladies tees”. Period, end of discussion. It will take a while to go away, but there needs to be a change to something like Tee #1.

    Second, the existing ladies tees are usually too long for actual ladies, youngsters, and super seniors. Every course should have the most forward set of tees no longer than 4500 yards instead of 5000+.

    Third, when consumers are faced with multiple sizes of a product, say in beverages, there is more comfort in choosing the middle. I’m sure it’s true in choosing tees for people who don’t want to play the front tees. Tee distances should be set up something like this:

    Tee 1: 4500
    Tee 2: 5300
    Tee 3: 6000
    Tee 4: 6600

    There needs to be new tees forward of today’s ladies tees! Now, using the comfortable “middle ground” will at least give people a fighting chance. Or maybe having two sets in the middle is still a source of confusion. If so…

    have 3 sets, with two of them being shorter than today:
    Tee 1: 4500 Gold
    Tee 2: 5700 White
    Tee 3: 6600 Blue

    The thinking being that if golfers won’t move up voluntarily, just move them up secretly! Now, I’m not talking about avid low-handicappers. I’m talking about average recreational golfers, the ones who need to move up.

    • MHendon

      Jul 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      You just can’t get past guys ego’s and you can’t force them to play the proper tee’s for their ability. Many times I’ve offered to move up a tee to make things more playable for the guy who’s joined me and they always say no that’s okay I’ll play the one your playing.

  16. Hellstorm

    Jul 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    The value that Mr. Adams mentioned is the exact reason that golf is declining. As and avid golfer, lots of factors influence my perception of value, especially when talking about investing $50-60 for a round of golf that can be unpredictable at best. Have the courses gotten more difficult….some. Has the fancy equipment helped negate that…sure. To me, the value is eroding because the business of golf fails to see itself for what it really is…..a service/hospitality industry that should put the customer first. This is not true of all the courses and it does not really encompass any certain price point, but it would be fairly easy to rate every course on actual value. In the last few years, I have played courses ranging from $7/nine to $365/round and everything in between and I could tell you exactly how i rate them on value. The beauty of that is I can go right on the internet and praise or trash a course as I see fit for everyone to see. I think the more you love to golf, the more your opinion of value changes to the better. The key is getting that guy who golfs 1-2times/year to see more value in getting out another couple of times. I think that starts with providing people with a good experience and taking the extra couple of steps to make sure people have a good time. If that means keeping up the pace of play, price adjustments, better service….so be it.

  17. John

    Jul 5, 2014 at 4:52 am

    While cost is certainly an issue with equipment, green fees, lessons, range balls, etc. The biggest factor in golf’s malaise is definitely time, or lack thereof. Our society/culture has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Almost every family I know has two wage earners, parents are overworked, stressed out money making machines, and of course, even with all that work being performed there still doesn’t seem to be enough to go around. The public schools are in decline, college costs a freaking fortune, as does seemingly everything else. You have to do something with the kids so there is soccer, little league, etc. which is far cheaper than golf, takes less TIME because some other overworked chump is not spending all his extra TIME catching up on the smartphone cause he’s coaching your kid so you can spend more TIME catching up on your smartphone. We are just too busy just keeping up. When I was a kid starting golf in 1969 my mom, who didn’t work, would take me to the course, she didn’t even play, she went swimming next door at the pool while I played nine. When I got older she would drop me and I’d play all day and she’d pick me up before supper. Junior fees in those days was nothing, super cheap, but even if it was cheaper now (and you can make golf cheaper with savvy, creative spending) it wouldn’t matter. Kids are either over scheduled (leagues, lessons, tutors) so parents can get more work done, or under scheduled (home with video games) so parents can get more work done. Golf simply doesn’t fit in our screwed up socioeconomic system anymore. I guess this is another commentary on the oft analyzed punditry of “the decline of the middle class”. Golf used to be leisurely and relaxing. Now, it more often a “how do I fit this in” chore, and no one likes chores.

  18. Mark M

    Jul 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I’ve been reading the comments here with great interest. Have to say I disagree with a lot of what was said.
    This is my opinion:
    1. New equipment and balls ruining the game? No chance. At best made it easier, realistically made little to no difference. Don’t look at what the pros do with old courses etc because that’s not relevant to amateur golfers. Also, fitness and instruction are the reason why these guys are hitting it so long as well. Can’t believe in the magic powers of the pro v1 alone for this.
    2. Golf carts ruined the game? No. Yes there are less caddies, but most amateur golfers don’t play in the rarefied air of the country club where they would have had caddies anyway. Carts allow people to play late in to life.
    3. Game too slow? Yes, but don’t think the slow play campaign was anything but a ruse to increase profits for courses so they can continue to cram in tee times too close together. Want to save time – play 6, 9, or 12 holes. Or play off hours. Problem solved, easy work around.
    4. Game too expensive – has always been expensive. Major problem is less disposable income. Agree with that point. Cost of equipment and frequency of new product release is irrelevant – just because it’s new doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Old models are cheap at big box stores and in used bins at proshops, online or whatever. A set of clubs can last an average golfer 10 years or more.
    5. Game too hard – this is a big issue. It takes effort to get proficient at golf. Most people don’t have the commitment or work ethic anymore to do this. It’s the sad truth. People want instant gratification. Yes, new courses are set up for pros to play – so way too hard for most golfers, even avid ones. You can vote with your feet and don’t let your ego get in the way (play courses more realistically in line with your skill level).
    6. Too many other demands on peoples time – agree this is a huge factor. Difficult to see what can be done for this other than encouraging shorter rounds (6-9 holes).

    Obviously just my opinion. Take as such

  19. rockflightxl1000

    Jul 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Mr. Barney Adams, I like where you’re going w/ this and I like your use of actual data. However it should be of no surprise about the massive shock of decreased membership and courses closing. For god sake businesses that offer durable and life necessary services have gone defunct w/ this economic downturn. How much more for a game that is associated w/ discretionary income. I’m actually glad that the “avid” category dropped b/c it at least shows people are behaving rationally and not substituting out golf for food or shelter. Until there is a shift in income demographics too people w/ more discretionary income (i.e. baby boomers) then golf should see a decline until then. However to slow down the rate of participation in the “avid” category I think the golf governing bodies need to find a way to make the “golf experience” more worthwhile. For example if you’re in the “Avid category” then the price you pay for golf should be discounted from the other two categories of participation. What these prices are I don’t know but anyone on this forum would agree w/ me that if you are keeping the courses and equipment alive that you should be shown some “love” in the price you pay over the less participant. I know this reply may have tones of being discriminatory or elitist but if you’re doing the “heavy lifting” for the game then you should be rewarded.

    • barney adams

      Jul 4, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      I don’t think the numbers back up your argument. There were 6.9m Avid golfers in 1985 6.4m today and the population increase since 85 is some 40%.That’s almost 30 years and enough time to mitigate economic swings. The game is being rejected and as for all the social reasons as I said, I’m aware but focused on one fix

  20. Hale75

    Jul 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Decline in Partcicipation = Thinning of the Herd. The game of golf will be better for it.

  21. wallyp

    Jul 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Yes, the latest hi-tech clubs are expensive, especially when custom-fitted. Clubs from three to five years ago are on Craigslist for a fraction of the cost. The three to five strokes that better clubs might get you add hugely to the cost.

    Yes, I would love to play some of the fancy courses. But here north of Atlanta I play at a nine-hole local with pretty good greens for $15 for cart and green fees. Or, I can play at a fancier course for $25 for unlimited twilight play, cart included. Or, I can walk at a local nine-hole “cow pasture” course at $10 for unlimited play (and thus unlimited practice in everything except putting).

    You can play at a reasonable cost in much of the country – you just won’t have the deluxe equipment and surroundings.

  22. Andy H

    Jul 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Golf is in decline for one reason and one reason only. This generation of parenting has taken away all of the free time that the parents actually have for themselves. God forbid that we don’t put Johnny in three baseball leagues in the same season! All of these avid golfers are being moved into the avid parenters category.

  23. Chuck

    Jul 4, 2014 at 7:27 am

    As an avid golfer who does not own a golf equipment company or a golf course construction company and who is not tasked with growing the membership of a golf association, why should I be concerned about rates of participation?

    I just want to walk, carry a simple bag of steel-shafted clubs, play on a classic course designed by (or in the manner of) the golf architects of golf’s golden age, and avoid crowds.

    How does increased participation in the game help me?

    • Straightdriver235

      Jul 4, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Here, here!!! I guess we could only say that it is a generational obligation, but clearly it is not your fault, nor mine, if the big money thinkers in golf got it all wrong with their financial projections and now must take the losses or ask us to do it for them. Close by a fine golf course has been shuttered; houses are built heavily around it; it used to be a “player’s course.” I miss it, but it is not really bothering me that it closed… I wasn’t stupid enough to buy a house on it.

      • Hale75

        Jul 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm

        AGREED! The only people sounding alarms on golf’s “decline” are the same folks that were responsible for over-building courses during the Tiger Boom and perpetuating the idea that golf is a game for the masses so they can sell more equipment. Golf has always been time consuming, expensive and incredibly difficult to master. We may be experiencing a “thinning of the herd”, but it’s probably overdue.

    • Philip

      Jul 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Supply and demand. Less players means less courses and worse quality of the steel-shafted clubs and the bag. So increased participation in the game will definitely benefit you.

    • MHendon

      Jul 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      +1

    • Mark M

      Jul 4, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      It helps you because it gives you more options for equipment which is indeed very expensive new but can be found for very cheap when the next newer model comes out and it helps you because more courses = more supply relative to demand, therefore cheaper prices.
      We can’t assume that we are all in our little golfing bubbles where trends in the overall industry won’t affect us.

    • rgb

      Jul 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Bingo!

  24. 4pillars

    Jul 4, 2014 at 6:54 am

    Your figures do not seem to add up

    11.6 occasional plus 13.7core plus 6.4 avid equals 31.7 m golfers not 25m

    • barney adams

      Jul 4, 2014 at 10:40 am

      Avid is part of Core so if you take 6.4 from 31.7 its the 25.3

  25. Tom

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    And don’t forget the “holier than thou” USGA. Their decision on the anchored putter was pathetic and shows what lousy stewards of the game they are. When Sam Snead putted croquet style they stopped it immediately. Anchored putters have been around for years and are the only reason some older folks can (or will) still play. Others, like Tim Clark, have never putted with anything else. The USGA is like a caricature of an old elitist white man with no regard for the realities of people’s lives.

    • Chuck

      Jul 4, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Why pick on the USGA? The USGA, almost alone, is doing the things that most of the commenters here favor. Encouraging walking. Campaigning for faster play. Youth golf initiatives. Operating the GHIN system for handicapping to encourage players of all levels to compete with better players. Talking about less water usage and ‘firm and fast’ courses. Fighting the Casey Martin golf cart fight.

      I always thought that the USGA should be “more USGA,” and not less.

      I’m sorry they didn’t ban long putters and anchoring a long time ago. I’m sorry they didn’t beat Ping in the Eye2 lawsuit. I’m sorry they don’t do more to push back on equipment now.

      I’d like a stronger USGA, not a weaker one.

  26. Bernard

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    I’m not sure golf is in decline. I’m sure the middle class is. Considering the landscape of modern life it’s a surprise it’s not doing worse. 4 hours at a gym will do way more good than 4 hours on the links. If you have kids, they now have ‘activities’ and they need to be chaperoned everywhere. Kick the can in the street does not cut it anymore. Time & money for the masses is disappearing.
    Also the game suffers from the delusion that a $400 piece of equipment will make a $2 swing work. It suffers from the blowback of pros using wedges to approach greens that once took a 5-iron hit. Like tennis the pro circuit has become BORING because of the technology.
    I would suggest the game undergo a purification of sorts. At the pro level, limit the technology. Balata balls, muscle backs, 250cc woods and real putters to start.
    On the recreational level, shed some pretense, be more casual and less haughty. Emphasize skills and athletics. Honor the creativity of the game. Encourage walking and caddying. The one piece of tech this crank would like to see is all terrain Segways to replace all golf carts. That would speed up the game.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jul 4, 2014 at 12:40 am

      The Segway x2 is already here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgKUqX0Vw5o

      • Bernard

        Jul 4, 2014 at 10:40 am

        That is so awesome. Hope it catches on.

      • MHendon

        Jul 4, 2014 at 5:09 pm

        That’s awesome, it would definitely speed up play since each player could go straight to their ball.

    • Straightdriver235

      Jul 4, 2014 at 9:33 am

      Bernard,
      You are a genius, but an idealist. They must brand you a Luddite. For way too long the pro game has had too much influence on the regular game… course conditions, too fast greens, obsolete classic courses that still play tough for the average serious golfer but destroyed by the pros. I am afraid the cat is out of the bag and you’ll never get it back in… only with long putters and here and there at the edges will the lords of golf cut back on the industry. A war took place between capitalist equipment manufacturers and the association meant to preserve the integrity of the game… but guess what, these overseers were capitalists themselves… So we have seen caddies, wooden clubs, balata balls go by the wayside… these commercials about RZN, and that guy dressed up as all kind of old curmudgeons is cute advertising, but there is truth in the underside… “what is wrong with shorter and more feathery?” Truly the golf cart did more to damage the underlying socius of golf… the idea that a kid could make some money, be around golf, that players walked to course, that all this pavement didn’t have to be laid down… A good caddy has a 3 to 5 shot influence per round on a skilled golfer… We really have no business paying attention to the pro game as we do, since to compare our games to them, given the lack of caddies for regular folk, it is not the same. The cat is out of the bag. Tour pros are simply players who could survive the 8 to 10 years of being forced to carry their own bags until they reached the ranks where caddies are the norm, or whose early games were not destroyed by the negative impact of a golf cart. My guess is that Tim Herron, Bob Murphy and the likes came from wealthy families. Then there is the equipment hocum, they don’t tell you you need to take steroids to take advantage of the shaved 3 wood and driver club faces, or that you can start hitting your 7 iron 200 yards if you deloft it 4 degrees and add in a number of other factors…. one could go on for days… the game is in dire trouble… look to its lords for the responsibility.

      • Bernard

        Jul 5, 2014 at 10:05 am

        Thanks, more luddite than genius for sure. I love Nike running shoes, but that ad does not endear me to their brand. No matter, I change equipment like my cars or women, rarely.

        As to the USGA and the equipment companies, where would ML baseball be if players were allowed to use alloy bats?

        • MHendon

          Jul 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm

          It might have a few more fans because chicks love the long ball, but it might also have a few dead pitchers because 60 feet 6 inches ain’t that far away! lol

  27. 3 putts

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I have played golf for 20 years and I don’t think slow play is just a new thing that’s popped up in the last 5 -10 years. I remember groups having a reputation as slow or people holding the course up since I started golf. Sorts not pretend that’s its new but I do believe its more prevelant. I also think there would be a direct correlation between the “new” course designs that incorporate long lengths from every set of tees and increase of difficulty around the greens. Golf isn’t any harder but the courses are. The courses of yesteryear have fallen behind if they don’t have some excellent layout to account for the lack of 7000+ yard teeboxs. It’s a selling point. Bethpage black and pebble beach are tough that’s why the can host a US Open. And they are slammed during peak season. People like the challenge but it makes the game take longer. It’s not your old 6000 yard 9 hole course with two teeboxs to call it 18 that you’ve played a 1000 times and only need to eyeball the pin to know what club to hit on every par 3. Need a laser and a caddie on some courses to have a chance, consider the top 100 courses in golf digest. I think there is still a demand for easier, friendlier courses. Where retires that picked the game up late, adults trying at first and young kids are welcomed and not told to hurry up cause the course is quicker to play than the 8000 yard Pete Dye course that you have to go to the ladies tees to make it fun and not hold everyone else up. I see this because I used to play mini tours and my roommate just started. I see his struggles and his perspective vs mine. Big difference, like 100 yards off the tee. Don’t forget how hard it was to learn and how it can be embarrassing to mess up in front of others as an adult.

    • MHendon

      Jul 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      I hear a lot of what your saying but in truth most of the problem is the male ego. We see pro’s hitting 8 degree drivers and think that’s what we should play, we see them hitting 2 and 3 irons and think we should to, we see them playing the back tee’s and well, we’ve all seen many players that had no business being back there. Golf course architects can’t design around people ego’s without making the game much less of a challenge for the advanced golfer. That’s not really fair either.

  28. terry wittek

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    course design is absolutely killing the game as well as the equipment. watching my 70 year old dad play is very sad. most courses being built now are designed for a full carry into the green with zero option to run it up..ZERO. its a joke. we jumped on the tiger train and forgot about everyone else. i watch old people struggle and kids struggle. the industry is killing itself. we are locking out the people that matter most: retired people with nothing better to do than to spend money on golf and the future. the game is no longer the game for a lifetime. its not. we need to bring it back to reality. who cares if its too easy for the pros.

    one thing course designers should think about:
    front 6, middle 6, back 6. golf courses need a 6, 12, and 18 hole option. its a no brainer. sell tee times for a morning league before work. play 13 to 18. come back after work and buy a twilight pass.

  29. paul

    Jul 3, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Time is certainly the biggest factor. At my local course they now mow the par 5 rough shorter for the weekends. It helps.

  30. Dingo

    Jul 3, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    It’s good to see an industry professional take the time to write and respond to an opinion piece. Kudos, Mr. Adams. Candor in both playing and industry professionals is a great thing to see, and is, I think, good for the game. As others have mentioned, professionals or other industry associates being proactive at the courses, practice ranges, or media sites is a great way to encourage people to continue playing. Golf is a social game just as much as it is a technical one.

  31. nikkyd

    Jul 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    My home course is an 18 hole 6,800 yard layout on lake superior. It stands adjacent to one of the most expensive public campgrounds in minnesota. One would think that the place would be jam packed with tourists. Well, unfortunately it is not. All of the tourists just sit by their campers. Enjoying the cool breeze by the lake. These are the people driving 180 miles north from minneapolis/st.paul trying to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city life. Its like a private course most of the time. Only the locals play, and our full unlimited memberships with carts only costs $850 and $750 for seniors. It sure would be nice to see some out of towners every once and a while. Maybe do a little hustling! Trust me! The greens dont break towards the lake!

  32. Mark Eades

    Jul 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Today’s youth are much more involved with gadgets and social media to invest the time to learn a game that will take up 4-5 hours just to play and all the extra time practicing and lessons so that they can actually get better to enjoy the game. Not to mention the $$$$ it cost for equipment now a days. It does not help much when their parents are just as caught up in the same stuff and stopped raising their kids and taking the time to invest in such a wonderful game. Just look around next time you are out at how unengaged some families are with each other and how engaged they are with their gadgets. Pretty sad. Rant over.

    • Mark Eades

      Jul 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Case in point as I look out at our practice facility and see 2 kids flailing away as Dad sits on his smartphone totally useless looking at everything but his kids. I guess I was lucky with the Dad I had.

  33. terry wittek

    Jul 3, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I ask the question: in terms of equipment, what’s difference if you are playing a 6500 yard course and hitting a 250 yard tee shot versus a 7200 yard course and hitting a 300 yard tee shot? in the first scenario you are playing equipment from 1988 and in the second you are playing equipment from 2014. No offense to you Mr. Adams (and my dad even has some blame for this), but equipment companies are ruining the game. I was perfectly happy hitting the ball 250 yards on a 6500 yard course. I don’t need new equipment to help me hit it 300 yards on a 6500 yard course and then have some yahoo come in and make the course 7200 yards. Now I’m paying more for equipment and more for green fees because the maintenance costs of the course just went up. its insane that we do this to ourselves. the average player in effect is paying more than the better player even though they are playing the same course. the course was redesigned to accommodate the better player which is less than 1%. now the average player is playing 2 tees up and paying more because of the better player. dumb dumb dumb. there were a tornado of events that happened in the 80s and 90s that brought us to were we are today: the metal driver, cameras, launch monitors, fitness, 2 income families, charging 200 an hour for lessons, longer courses, big bertha, the killer whale, the multilayer ball, deeper grooves, COR, tiger woods, management groups, the trampoline effect, the PGA merchandise show charging an arm and a leg to attend, the PGA college, etc. the game was fun 20 years ago. and less stressful. you didn’t mind playing a bad round. now you pay $150 and play a bad round, it ruins the rest of your day. if you stopped driver technology at say…the big bertha and ball technology at the wound balata ball and iron technology at the ping eye 2 and combined that with all the teaching technology we have today, I guarantee the game would be easier for the average person. when I was 16, I could hit every fairway. I could draw and fade the ball at will. Today, I can’t do that because the ball doesn’t spin. my swing and the way I like to play golf does not work with today’s technology. pros can handle new technology because they are pros. but the new technology has created a huge separation between pros and ams. your average am can’t handle the new equipment because the clubs are too long and the balls don’t spin. equipment companies are the ones most worried about the decline in play because they have the most to lose, yet they are the ones causing the most damage. bring back the balata ball, bring back the time when metal and wood drivers coexisted, and bring back metal spikes.

    • MHendon

      Jul 3, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Lol wow I’m not so sure the higher spinning balata ball made it easier for the avg player. Seems I remember a lot of big banana slices into the woods from those, not to mention they cut up real bad.

      • terry wittek

        Jul 3, 2014 at 9:26 pm

        Its easier to curve the ball one way or the other with balatas. there’s more room for error. i can aim left and cut it. if I miss the cut and hit straight, im in the second cut. if I draw it (miss) im in the left rough. a fade is in the fairway along with my original plan to cut it. and too much slice, im in the right rough. with today’s balls, you have to hit a perfect shot to hit the fairway. and with the longer drivers, misses are exaggerated quite a bit so if you try to play a fade and pull it, you are way left in the trees or OB. and vice versa. amateurs are not skilled enough to use the equipment designed to make the game easier for us.

        • MHendon

          Jul 4, 2014 at 1:46 am

          What your describing is working the ball both ways which is a trait of a better golfer not something the core or occasional golfer is even remotely capable of. The majority of those golfers all pretty much do the same thing the over the top cutting across the ball slice. I think you made some pretty good points but the low spin ball is definitely better for most golfers.

    • Bernard

      Jul 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Love the rant! I also miss balata balls.

    • 3 putts

      Jul 3, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      I agree. Even metal vs titanium. Big Bertha and balata/professional = driver, 8 iron on a 400 yard par four for me. 975j and prov1 = driver, sw. My local course became pitch and putt for me from that point on. That’s when course design started to change is when the better golfer could overpower a course. Destroyed well thought out holes that demanded accurate shots. Par was a good score before the equipment change. Now even the mini tours are birdie feet.

      • MHendon

        Jul 4, 2014 at 1:56 am

        I just simply don’t hit driver on a lot of holes I use to. But you have to admit it sure is fun to watch that big, high, low spinning drive fly through the air for what seems like for ever.

  34. Mitch Balzer

    Jul 3, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Slow play surely is a huge detriment to the game. It’s a 5-6 hours commitment and for most that’s a weekend commitment when you have a family at home. I can tell you living in Southern California I haven’t seen the people leaving the course and speeding up play.

    I’ve heard about courses toying with incentives for sub 4:30 rounds. The 15″ cup idea I think is a joke and should be reserved for stacked muni’s only.

  35. Rusty Cage

    Jul 3, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    The game of golf can get away with either one of the twin pillars of death – slow play and cost, but not both at the same time.

    Frankly, it’s insulting to think that golf course operators are conspirators in charging individual players $40 and up (on average) for a 5 hour+ round and that we should all be grateful for the privilege of hitting the course once a week on the weekend. Something has to give, and it has to be either speed of play or cost (if not both).

  36. Mike Belkin

    Jul 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Let me start by saying thank you, Barney, for starting a healthy discussion around the pressing issues golf now faces. The drop from 10.2 million avid golfers to 6.4 million in the past decade or so is a serious problem that can’t be overlooked. That said, I’m surprised and disappointed that you did not mention the issues the game faces around declining participation in the Millennial segment. Seeing your articles and the recent Project M by NGF inspired me to contribute to WRX: http://www.golfwrx.com/227149/not-making-the-college-golf-cut/

    To grow the game, we need to focusing on the PROGRESSION in the golfer lifecycle:

    -You go through the first tee, what happens when you turn 17 and don’t have a set of clubs and live in the
    inner city?
    -You play high school golf and don’t make the varsity team, then what?
    -You play college golf, move to NYC, how do you play as a young professional?

    The industry need to align it’s support around golfers from one stage to the next. No golfers are the same, however those 35+ are most similar. There is an ever-changing landscape in 6 year cycles from junior golfer to college golfer and then young adult golfer.

    Finding the proper transitional programs to keep golfers engaged is pivotal for the golf’s long term viability.

  37. Thomas

    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Yes,golf to some is a game. But, in order to play at an elite level,or at a respectable amateur level one must have a reasonable degree of athleticism. I have never seen a good golfer who wasn’t athletic. The problem of many new golfers is they come to the came without athletic ability. They didn’t play other sports or ever trained their bodies to perform certain movements. Balance is essential. Strength to hold a club. Not muscles either.
    Most new golfers lack coordination and they don’t think golf is a sport at all. They swing away without any understanding swing mechanics or why a ball travels a certain distance. They just event invested in the time to learn. Golf is learned in a day or week, or in a month of Sundays. It is game for life. It doesn’t come from hitting a bucket of balls. It is more complex and difficult if one wishes to accept golf as too difficult to learn. My pet peeve is to watch folks at a driving range and do the same thing over and over again and walk away mad. Golf professionals would help grow the game if the would offer tips to new players at driving ranges. Instead, they wait for someone to ask them for help. I wouldn’t take a lesson from someone I didn’t know. If the teaching pro’s would go out of their way to offer help they might just see their student roles increase. I practice at a facility where there are a number of golf teachers on staff. Yet, I have never seen one of them walk up to a someone on the range and offer help. It starts with helping others improve.
    I have lots to say Mr. Adams which have never been talked about. Why, because the so called experts are not experts at all. They are mainly marketing guys and not that good at that either.

    • barney adams

      Jul 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      re; lots to say; why we’re here

    • nikkyd

      Jul 3, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      The golf pro at my muni a few years ago was a great and fun guy. Great golfer, 15 cocktails in him and he could still shoot under par, (probably while holding his gin/tonic in one hand and club in the other) . I asked him if he could give me some lessons and he told me that “im blessed with the ability to play good golf, but im not shit for a teacher” . I totally understood what he meant by that. I just wish he would have bit the bullet and at least tried to help me. It seems like a lot of these golf “pros” and “instructors” are doing it for vanity. Which is hilarious because they work part time at Dicks sporting goods stores

    • MHendon

      Jul 4, 2014 at 2:12 am

      This comes back to what I keep saying about the real reason golf can’t and probably never will grow any bigger than what it is, COST!!! They say it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become and expert a something. Well in golf everyone of those hours is expensive. I can get past the cost of equipment because that’s a one time expense (unless you’re one of these neurotic wanna bees who feels they got to always have the latest and greatest stuff on the market). But every round of golf is expensive, every bucket of balls is expensive, unless you live on the course you play travel to and from the course is expensive. It’s just simply cost prohibitive for most people. Throw in how difficult the game is and you can see why most people would say why spend this much money just to be frustrated.

  38. God of Golf

    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Speed of play!
    Lots of factors effect this:
    -People mimic tour pros slow play on tv.(look from every angle, 10 practice swings,etc)
    -Lack of courtesy regarding holding up other groups on course.”I paid my money screw them”
    -Playing tee’s that are way too hard for someone’s game (Ego).
    -Courses not pushing pace because they are afraid people ($) will not come back to play! (actually more will play there IMHO)
    -CELL PHONES. (Leave it in the car ok????)
    -Just not being aware of shot as you approach ball.(distance, wind, pin position, potential hazards)

    How do you fix these things??

    If I were the “God of Golf” I would have starters say on first tee to foursomes…

    “Welcome to XXX Golf course where we play the old fashioned way: Fast and respectful! We also have PGA tour rules for your enjoyment and we play in under 4 hours.

    Just like the pga tour we allow no cell phones. With slow play we put you on the clock and if you have a 2nd offense your credit card will be fined, just like on the pga tour! Yes you get the big boys rules here guys!

    We support the USGA handicap policy of adjusting scores so if you are over your limit on a hole just pick it up and enjoy a free water that we supply just like on tour!

    Our goal here is a fast paced and fun round for everyone. Studies show fast pace golf has not negative effect on amateurs scoring and may actually help. After your round if you beat a 3:45 round pace we give 50% off on your first drink in the 19th hole!

    Now who is hitting first and why isn’t your ball in the air yet????

    Ok…back to reality….

    • Billy baroo

      Jul 3, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      I like the way you think sir completely agree

      • Straightdriver235

        Jul 4, 2014 at 9:55 am

        agree, too, except no foursomes allowed… ever, and ditch the carts if at all possible. Instead of carts, why didn’t the technology go more toward the walking cart that follows the player if they were running out of caddies?

    • AW

      Jul 9, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      All that’s fine except for PGA rules on lost balls and OB (you can play those when you have PGA galleries to assist in finding balls). Make it a 2 stroke penalty and play it like a lateral or where you think it was lost. If every jamoke has to start driving back to the tee or where he hit his last shot, we’ll have 6 hour rounds, not 4 hour rounds.

  39. Clayton Petree

    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    It has to be slow play. Golf here in NW Washington is pretty inexpensive – we have 9 courses in my County (next to the Canadian border), down from 11 5 years ago but they were both small 9 hole types in strange places and only about 200,000 people living here. Of course, the Canadians come down here in droves because their courses are so darn expensive up there.

    The key is that it’s not just about total round time. It’s not like just because you finished in 4 hours, you didn’t hold 3 groups up behind you. Case in point – last week we teed off at 7:40 am. There was a 3 hole gap between us and the group in front of us. We reached them by hole 5 and had to wait and wait and wait. The course marshal comes by and we ask if he will help us play through. His reply? Well, you are on track for a 2 hour 9 so what do you want me to do? Meanwhile, there’s 2 groups on the tee – ours and another that caught up to us as well. None of us were rushing but we just know how to play golf and not fart around. We can easily finish in 3 to 3.5 hours with zero rushing. Anyway, THAT is why people are leaving the game to do something else.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Jul 3, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Clayton… it sounds like you were playing Shuksan or North Bell.

  40. michael

    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Its all about greed,you just can;t fix stupid.

    Call tim finchem ask him for the money to feed your family!!!!!!!!

  41. MHendon

    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    My feeling as an avid golfer, cost is the most deterring factor. I avg 6 rounds a month during warm weather and usually play for $24 or less. I would play more but that’s simply all I can really afford. If I where paying $40 a round I’d be reduced to 3 rounds a month. Playing that little makes it hard to play well which makes the game less fun. When you figure in the avg U.S. income is $28,000 a year the $40 dollar round you mention as not being the issue in drop of play is just flat wrong. I’m sorry Mr. Adams but as a man worth millions I believe you’ve lost touch with what most people’s reality is.

    • Barney adama

      Jul 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      Well first you’ve pegged me as the wealthy cad I’d like to be but seem to have come up short. Second I thought I was clear but for the record value before cost. Value is a big word so if you want the full meaning you’ll have to read on. A guaranteed 5+ hr round on a poor layout in lousy condition ? Nope can’t make that cheap enough.

      • Straightdriver235

        Jul 4, 2014 at 10:00 am

        Years ago I played a course in Colorado with sand greens, you lost your ball in the middle of the fairway because the grass was too high, on one hole you hit over a huge rock with an arrow painted on the rock indicating the direction of the sand green… my brother almost aced that hole… It was crap, but totally charming… one of the funnest rounds I ever played. A golf in the kingdom experience. Crappy courses can be fun… Would I join that club? Perhaps, depends on other factors. Davidoff cigars at $25 a stick are nice, too, but if I can get a Fonseca for $3.50… which delivers more fun for the money?

      • MHendon

        Jul 4, 2014 at 11:01 am

        Lol I was about to apologize for pegging you as a wealthy cad until I realized this response was from Barney adama instead of Barney adams. Nice try buddy.

  42. O'Doyle Rules

    Jul 3, 2014 at 11:07 am

    It could be due to a number of factors; cost, time, economy but I can imagine the number of “occasional” golfers only increased because the “core” and “avid” golfers decreased, not because of new people picking up the game.

    There is a good chance they all didn’t give up the game all together,they just trickled down into the other categories.

  43. Jeremy Beale

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I am going to go out and say it. Golf is no longer a sport or a recreational activity. It had become it’s own lifestyle. With the various media, business and non-profit affiliates it had become the past time of the people.

    On that note, it should be said that no one factor can to be to blame for the decrease in its popularity as there are far to many outliers to pin point a cause.

    In most analysis they try to pin point the cause on population–who they see playing the sport, who they see watching the sport and as you have said who we see competing in it as well. But, that is just another statistic and another outlier in the questions as to why golf is decreasing in popularity. That barely even scratches the issue to an even bigger question.

    The question we all want to know s who actually is actively playing the sport. It is there the industry will find the lifeline of this sport.

    In my opinion anything that deals in money starts with money. I would venture further to say the decrease is as a result of the industry as they are the ones who sell the sport, thus making it accessible to people, but sites such as the NGF fall short in providing extensive research on who is playing as they simply provide population. I like to look at other sources as well.

    Looking at others sources such as Golf Digest and Golf Week we see their primary consumers are age 35 and above who make over $80-90,000 and a nearly equal amount are married with around 2-3 children. This level income family makes up for nearly 65 percent of there market. So, there might be something to that statistic.

    Who are the other 35 percent? And are they actively playing this sport? Or are they falling victim to this thing everyone calls the lifestyle. I would now quote the cliche of quote not everyone can live the lifestyle. I would say this because what was becoming an all inclusive sport, an activity that people such as Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods–professional icons shaped for the people.

    The sport is or has once again become a sport for the elite. Not the elite who make a living off the sport the sport, but the elite who can afford to buy into the lifestyle. Who is buying memberships, who is buying the newest gear, who is paying to play on what courses and who is paying to compete?

    People need to know who is buying into the lifestyle. I think the industry may need to reevaluate there statistic and ask who really is playing this game. I think the statistics need to include the market, population (consumer) and population (playing). What we cannot do is blame everything on the fact that the sport is slow or boring because more people than not know that coming into the sport.

    Also, on the note of players getting payed to play. Not every pro makes millions by simply playing. Most are entrepreneurs who have made their money from investing into their own businesses such as apparel, non-profits and side businesses. Others get it simply by placing consistently and investing. If they are not doing one or the other they scrapping the bottom like the rest of us.

  44. Steve

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Mr. Adams (no offense, Barney) and those of his ilk continue to miss the point. The game has always been hard and it has always been slow….although it is getting slower. I contend the golden age of golf was in the 60s and 70s (I am 57) when people used (real) woods, irons were blades, and Karsten Solheim had yet to create the concept of “forgiveness” in a golf club. Yet people flocked to buy clubs with a sweet spot the size of a thimble and golf balls that would cut if not hit properly.

    Arnold Palmer looked you in the eye (or made you feel like he did) in the gallery. You wanted to be like him. Tiger Woods looks right through you. I don’t want to be like him. You?

    Men/dads played golf on weekends without asking the wife if he needed to be around – sexist yes, but that is how it was. Parents nowadays are more involved in their kids’ activities and in the life of a busy, 1 or 2-income couple, time is a precious commodity. With driving time, not many people find the appeal of a 5 or 6 hour romp on the golf course on a Saturday or Sunday very appealing. In a related way, the 9 hole round of golf nearly became extinct until just recently. Not many courses have a 12th hole back at the club house, so you are committed to a all-day excursion.

    Entertaining on golf courses was the norm…it was envied. Now? Business people in many walks of life worry about the “optics” or even corporate ‘rules of engagement’ of being away from the office on a golf course.

    I could be the “target” Barney Adams is writing about. I am an avid golfer, but play less than 20 rounds per year due to work, yard and family commitments. If I can get out an play 9 holes in the evening at a local, public course, avoiding its League play, I am happy. Bottom line, that is just how it is.

    Lastly: I still snicker at the thought of the golfing elite who bemoan the “decline of the game”…when the majority of them can’t recall the last time they had to call a golf course for a tee time or endure a 5 hour round. Pebble Beach charges $ 500 a pop for a round of golf and is sold out for the year. Pinehurst # 2 will do the same and live off of its US Open fame this year. They are not unique.

    Manufacturers bring at least 2 new Drivers out per year…priced at $ 300 to 500. Scotty Cameron putters are kept under lock and key at certain big box retailers.

    I have to ask….how is the game suffering again?

  45. cliff

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Would sending 2somes out every 5 minutes help instead of 4somes every 10 minutes? 2somes play faster and are easier to play thru if needed. There would be less standing around waiting for people to hit. Sometimes I wait 3-5 minutes just to hit my second shot in a 4some.

    Was always curious if it would yield faster play.

    • Shallowface

      Jul 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Been advocating this very idea for years. The biggest waste of time in golf is having to watch three other people play. And a big reason why people don’t play more is that it has become next to impossible to get four people to show up in the same place at the same time. Sure, twosomes can be paired, but the awkwardness often results in the slowest group on the course.

      The problem lies with the people running the game. They want to go back to the 80s with tee sheets filled with foursomes every eight minutes. Times have changed. People have changed. Those days are gone forever, but the PGA of America is the most resistant to change of any business organization in history. And if they’re not careful, they’ll be going the way of the blacksmith. There are municipalities that have decided the golf business can be run just as well and much more cheaply off the corner of the desk of a clerk in Parks and Rec and with employees working for free golf collecting the money.

      Two can play faster than four. And it is much easier to find one other person to go that it is to find three. This is the solution that can save the game. My suggestion: give it one day a week and see what happens.

  46. SwingerWinger

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:20 am

    So where did the avid golfers go? Why did they leave? Can we ever get the ones who left the game back or do we need to develop new “avids” to replace them?

    • Craig Smith

      Jul 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      They are driving their kids to out of town baseball/softball/soccer/basketball/volleyball tournaments. That’s where they are. the guys with the money to play are spending it on their 10 year old to play something else.

  47. Neal Bell

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:09 am

    IDEAS
    * smartphone app that tracks pace of play, rewards efficient players with clubhouse discounts and preferred (early) tee times.
    * re-brand golf as a fitness activity. Limit golf carts to those who have a doctor’s note. Revive youth caddy programs (basically, operate like they do in Scotland/Ireland).
    * re-configure layouts to allow for 6-hole rounds.
    * Choose days where the holes will be cut larger – this will appeal to casual golfers, youth and anyone new to the game.
    * Set a “max strokes” limit, after which the player must pick up and move on. (this could be in line with Equitable Stroke Control for those maintaining a handicap). Put this information right on the scorecard.
    * Operators need to quit being so precious about the game. It’s simple fun: hit the ball until you knock it in the hole. A lovely way to spend time with friends, outdoors.

    I predict that innovative operators will re-ignite participation in the game. In a few years some of these ideas (and others not listed) will be commonplace.

  48. Thomas Bower

    Jul 3, 2014 at 10:08 am

    As an avid golfer for over 50 years I have seen a steady decline in the respect for the game and in general fellow golfers. The pace of play in most cases is brutal and often times caused by golfers being delusional about the distance they can hit the golf ball – this I believe is directly related to TV coverage of the Pros.
    There is also continual slow play on and around the greens as people who could miss their shots in half the time that they take to miss them mark, remark, line-up and re-line every putt – this is directly attributable to those that watch the Pros play on TV.
    Years ago a foursome would walk 18 holes in about 3 – 1/2 hours on courses measuring 6400 to 6800yds. Now it is common place to see the time spent on the golf course well over 4-1/2 hours – this is insane and is the real reason why people leave the game.
    The game is no more difficult than it was 50 years ago and with many of the technological advancements is somewhat easier – but we still spend way to much time trying to complete 18 holes.
    The pros are great, but the average golfer is not and we should therefore spend our energy convincing the average golfer to miss his shots in half the time they are taking to miss them now!!

  49. JEFF

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:52 am

    No one should get paid that much for playing a game. And I would watch more golf if the morons who announce would shut up half the time ….not to mention all the commercials…… I used to watch golf on tv but might as well turn it on at the last 3 or 4 holes.

  50. DB

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

    So golf is too slow…

    And not fun…

    How do you fix that?

  51. DC

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Its great that you talk about the greens fees for two sentences but you completely ignored the COST of the game – the total cost. The cost for a beginner or new player isnt just the greens fees, its everything else.

    No OEM to date has put out what I would consider a high quality beginner set at a reasonable cost. Most mediocre sets start at $400 and go upwards of $800. And lets be frank, anyone on GolfWRX knows the quality of these sets and the cost/quality of the shafts in most of these clubs. This is just not reasonable. OEMs are obviously in business to make money for themselves and for their shareholders – no one would deny that or argue they should be otherwise. Thats not in question.

    But for example I’m tired of seeing the TMAG folks get together and talk about things like 15″ holes or creating a non-conforming line of equipment or being excited about foot-golf – because we “need to get more people involved in golf”. But no, talking about how expensive their equipment is – well thats like the third rail, no one wants to touch it. How about TMAG putting out an at-cost high quality line of beginner clubs? Or recognizing that a new bag full of clubs could easily cost you over $2,000?

    In a world where kids can choose between soccer, baseball, basketball and tennis – 4 sports with almost no cost to pick up – how much long term sustainability exists in this economic model?

    The barrier to entry for golfers is extremely high and until we confront this issue I dont imagine these participation numbers will get any better.

  52. David Cameron

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

    The continuous churning of equipment rules in response to the professional issue has generated a need for major capital equipment expenses by amateurs wishing to keep pace . I like to grooves in my irons just the way they are and I have no intent on changing to suit the whim of the sanctioning agency.

    Different rules are neede for pros with rule stability to amateurs Regulate the ball to reduce performance not clubs

  53. Derek F.

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I am 29 and started playing seriously again last year. I’ve played about 13 times so far this year. My biggest problem being from the North East is the crazy prices and short season. I end up playing more golf in the fall rather than summer, due to price breaks and deals. At 62$-72$ a round with cart up here for an average person its pretty easy to see why less people play 25+ times a year.

  54. Matt Q.

    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Have you considered other influences? For example, in 2000, Tiger was at the height of his powers and golf was “popular.” Also, discretionary spending might have been affected considering a recession accounts for nearly half of the sample years.

    • barney adams

      Jul 3, 2014 at 9:37 am

      Considered, yes and yes, influenced significantly;no and no

      • Tony

        Jul 3, 2014 at 11:03 pm

        How is discretionary spending not a factor? The purchasing power of most Americans has fallen continuously over the last two decades. The costs associated with golf place regular play beyond the reach of most Americans.

        As an ‘avid player’, the reason I don’t play more often is because of the high costs of green fees. I would likely suspect that cost is the single greatest inhibitor to turning ‘occasional’ or ‘core’ golfers into ‘avid’ golfers. Swinging a club is not intuitive, and it takes a lot of practice to become confident with a club. Meanwhile, golf is one of the few sports out there that charges high fees to even practice. My wife is currently making the transition from ‘occasional’ to ‘avid’ and the amount of money I’ve spent on lessons and range balls is pretty ridiculous. I’m fortunate in that I earn an above-average income, but this is a very real cost that is prohibitive to a large portion of the population.

        The high costs associated with practice/playing prevent new players from getting better/increasing their confidence. This in turn has a direct impact on the speed in which they can get around the course and the amount of fun that is had.

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking about slow play

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Ryan has guest Rob Miller, from the Two Guys Talking Golf podcast, to talk about slow play. They debate on how fast is fast, how much time should 18 holes take, and the type of players who can play fast and slow.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

If Jurassic Park had a golf course, this would be it

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I have had the good fortune of playing some unbelievably awesome tracks in my time—places like Cypress Point, Olympic, Sahalee, LACC, Riviera, and a bunch of others.

However, the Bad Little 9 is the most fun golf course I have ever played…period.

Imagine standing on the first tee of a 975-yard track and praying to God almighty you finish with all your golf balls, your confidence, and more importantly, your soul. Imagine, again, for example, standing on a 75-yard par 3 with NOWHERE to hit it beyond an eight-foot circle around the flag, where any miss buries you in a pot bunker or down into a gully of TIGHTLY mown grass.

Sound fun?

I have played the BL9 twice at this point, with the first time being on a Challenge Day in November. It was cold, windy and playing as tough as it can. My playing partners Chris N., Tony C., and I barely made it out alive. I made four pars that day—shot 40—and played well. Do the math, that’s 13 over in five holes on a course where the longest hole is 140 yards.

It’s a golf course that makes zero sense: it’s punishing, it’s unfair, it’s crazy private, and on “Challenge Day,” it’s un-gettable even for the best players in the world. Rumor has it that there is an outstanding bet on Challenge Day for $1,000 cash to the individual that breaks par. That money is still yet to be paid to anyone…keep in mind Scottsdale National has PXG staff playing and practicing there allllll the time. To my knowledge, James Hahn has the lowest score ever at one over. That round apparently had multiple 20-foot par putts.

The Jackson/Kahn team which is responsible for the two big courses at Scottsdale National (Land Mine and The Other Course) were tasked with a challenge by Mr. Parsons: create a 9-hole course with ZERO rules. Take all conventional wisdom out of it and create an experience for the members that they will NEVER forget.

In this video, you will get a little context as to how it came together straight from the horse’s mouth, so I won’t get into that here.

I will end with this before you get into the video.

The Bad Little 9 sits in a very exclusive club in North Scottsdale, most will never see it. HOWEVER, what the idea of it represents is a potential way into bringing more people into the game, making it more accessible, saving real estate, playing in less time and having an experience. Hell, YouTube made short-form content a necessity in our culture. Perhaps the idea behind the Bad Little 9 will inspire short form golf?

I’m in.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!

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Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.

Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?

I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.

First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.

How Does This Happen?

Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.

A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?

OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.

Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.

The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.

You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.

Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…

With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.

It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.

What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?

There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules,  technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.

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