The pile on the sport of golf is officially underway. I’ve received at least a dozen links to different stories about troubling times in the golf industry. We all know about Nike, and I received an email today about 800 courses closing over the past few years. Rumor has it that a TaylorMade sale is forthcoming and at a deep discount to annual sales; another one says Golfsmith is headed to a bankruptcy reorganization to clean up the business prior to a sale, and the list goes on. On the golf course side, the very high-end clubs and low-end clubs are OK, but the great majority in the middle are nervous… as in very nervous.

This article, while influenced by all the negative, isn’t about that. It’s about the game and marketing it to attract new players. Not professional golf, however; that’s television entertainment, is very successful, and is a world unto itself. This is about the game we play.

I watch (and read) the golf commercials promoting the game, and the consistent message is, “Play golf, it’s fun.” I think to myself, “Who authorizes these things? Is this someone’s relative who works in an ad agency who doesn’t play the game?”

So let me propose a “white paper” from which the bright advertising folks can come up with effective campaigns.

Golf is not “fun” in the traditional sense of the word. Golf is hard; it starts hard and stays that way. Fun is ice cream, sunny days and symphonies. Golf, on the other hand, says, ”Here I am, you sap. Do you have what it takes?”

And that’s exactly why it’s such a great game. We get to play against ourselves and the course in the company of friends. I mean, I read where Top Golf is fun and a great lead-in to the game. And you know what, Top Golf is a lot of fun. I know because my grandkids and I went, and we hit balls at targets, got points, drank beer (well, I did), had a competition and a lot of laughs. I kept track; I got points for two shanks, three skulls, one near toe-whiff, and on each occasion I was trying to hit a decent shot. Point is, Top Golf isn’t quite golf, in the fact that you’re not penalized for a poor shot, but rather you earn points. In the real world, I carry a ball retriever because I’ve grooved those shanks and skulls, and at no time do I remember associating them with fun on the course. I’ve not played Foot or Frisbee Golf; I’m sure they are fun, and I’m also sure they are not golf.

A great example of my point happened recently. I’m fortunate to play fairly regularly with Frank Beard, a phenomenal player with 14 PGA Tour wins, and at 77-years-old, we’d all kill to have his game. I’m talking to him on the range the other day and he’s showing me this swing thought he’s working on. I stood there thinking, is there some way to tell this story? This is real golf — a game you can play as a kid, adult and as a senior. It’s a game that will drive you nuts, and just when you think you have the “move” down, it turns out to be a quick source of duck hooks. A game where you make friends for life as you go on course and try to beat each other’s brains out. Public, private? Golf doesn’t care. Hungover, healthy? Golf doesn’t care. Back pain, bad mood? Good mood, new vitamins? Golf just sits there and waits for you to give it your best shot. You know going in that you won’t win because regardless of your skill level, you can always improve. For those of us in the less-skilled division, it’s small victories — the shots you remember are the ones that bring you back.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great professional athletes in my club-fitting days with hand-eye coordination that I’d kill for. Some got pretty good while others quit in disgust. That’s the thing, though, golf doesn’t care if you’re an ex-jock, cop, fireman, computer designer, movie star; I’ve yet to find a profession where golf rolled over and said, “OK, for you I’ll make an exception.” Golf also has an unimpressed attitude about “could haves” — you know, the “he could have played the Tour” players that never quite made it. It’s a bit like life; nothing is handed to you, you just have to go out there and do it.

And while I’m writing about facts, someone will soon do research and learn that there are literally millions of women who could take up the game and change participation demographics for the better. That hasn’t happened to date. There are lots of reasons, or perhaps speculations, and I have my own; women are smarter than men. We will play, hit balls and take lessons, determined to overcome golf’s challenge. Women, on the other hand, seem to realize there are more fun, worthwhile things to do. And I write this acknowledging some fine women players who do not make my quest any less-frustrating.

And there is both the issue and the answer. Golf isn’t fun — at least as the word is normally used. Golf is difficult, and no matter how long you play you will still be working at it. Ball in your court Mr. Advertising person.

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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.

71 COMMENTS

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  1. Golf participation plateaued in early 2000’s and is now on a decline because the huge wave of WWII Baby Boomer generation is now in it’s 60’s and is becoming physically decrepit and mentally feeble. The next generations cannot afford to play golf and the young only play video games to sate their fantasies without physical exertion. It’s so obvious. We are witnessing the decline of American society as it hides in it’s political and emotional correctness. We are growing weak and it shows.

  2. Fun in golf is the challenge to do better. No matter how good the score there is always better. How to be better is to take the ego out the door and close it. To be the best one can be is to be able to control the ball which is to be able to control the spin. Swing mechanics block the players ability to create the shots that lead to fun outcomes.

  3. To me it depends on how seriously you take the game. If you are out there to drink some beers with your friends and get away from the home or the office, it’s probably is fun. Some of us work hard at the game and can find moments of satisfaction, disappointment, frustration, and yes fun. But it’s a mixed bag. Is golf fun? Sometimes it is. And, sometimes it isn’t.

  4. As one of the few who plays both ball golf, and disc golf (NOT FRISBEE golf), I will have to say that the same frustrations apply. It’s just as easy to release early, or grip lock, and in effect, duck-hook or slice your throw.
    Tree bounces are far more prevalent. “It’s only a 4 inch wide trunk to the side of a 20 foot wide fairway” you think to yourself. Then you hit it, and your disc bounces 30 feet to the left into the woods. Then you’re stuck straddling a bush trying to throw around tree and praying you just make it back to the fairway. But you’ll probably just hit another tree.
    I three putt less is DG, but it still happens. The ‘gimme’ distances are just different. 4 or 5 feet, you’re good. 10 foot, you make consistently if you’re good. outside 10 feet, I’ll probably 2 putt. Unless your putt misses, hits the ground on the edge of the disc, and then rolls. Behind you.

  5. Golf is always fun if you think that at same time you could sit and look at your email inbox and answer emails. Where would you rather be? Having fun or being a slave to the men. Fun is when you wheck it over 300 yards and when you inbox is empty and you can look at vids from your last visit to the golf range.

  6. Sorry Barney I have to disagree with you on this one. Golf is very fun to me. Maybe that’s because I’m able to play closely to the way the game was meant to be played but more importantly I try not to take it to seriously.

  7. One last point regarding the demise of golf. Golf is hard, takes time, and today’s generation of everybody getting a trophy (right now) does not appreciate the work necessary to be successful. Add that to short attention spans due to all of todays distractions (social media, music while playing, etc) and real golf does not stand a chance.

    • Steve C, that was my reaction as I read the story. There’s a generational difference in attitude, and I’m not sure as many millennials have the attitude that golf — as skillfully described by Barney — requires.

  8. My wife always gives me the business about how I get to go out and have fun playing golf. I have always told her I wasn’t having fun (as this story clearly states). Her response is “Well, then why do you go play?” It’s not possible to explain this reasoning, lack of common sense, idiocy , illogical behavior, etc. to someone that does not play the game. That all having been said, there are a few rare occasions that I have had a good time. But it was about the company, not the golf itself. Sadly, I am just as angry at the end of a round whether I shoot a 85 or a 70. I tell all my non-golfing friends to avoid the game as its not worth the frustration!

    • and my reaction is just the opposite. I tell my friends that at 77 I’m out there beating my head against the same lack of talent wall I’ve always had and I love every minute. Do I have fun Like a video game etc.. and the answer is ” Thankfully ,no” This is golf, it’s so much more.

  9. Hmmmmm. If golf is retreating at the rate you say, and pro golf is doing so great as tv entertainment, who, in a few years, is going to be watching those pro golfers on tv? Surely not those women who have found smarter things to do. Anybody remember when pro bowling was BIG on tv? Those guys were good too. Just saying.

  10. Frank Beard – a name I haven’t heard for a long time. I loved his one-page columns at the back of Golf Digest years (decades) ago. Seemed to be a straight-shooter (in golf and the written word). Glad to hear he’s still doing well.

  11. I think the main source of “NO FUN” is when you play golf and your game continues to regress. If you play your home course fairly often and shoot pretty close to the same score, that outlier where you shoot 5 strokes below your handicap becomes fun… no, wait, not fun.. it’s exhilarating. “Fun” is always what you make of it. Fun can turn sour in a heartbeat with the wrong frame of mind. Fun endures if you know how to extract it out of a situation and cultivate it. Now that I have a 1-year old daughter I have plenty of fun in my life. But getting out once a month or so to play golf with good friends has become a different type of fun. Would I like to play more like I have in the past? Who wouldn’t? Golf has transformed into an escape… not from my family or the other things I love, but from reality for those 4+ hours.

    Golf is a game. That sentence could stand alone as a fair description, but it’s really so much more. The game I’ve loved since I could walk is a new chapter in many people’s lives. Stats show that more people are “giving up” the game or playing much less frequently. But to me that doesn’t mean we’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ to hit the links. We are more consumed than ever with “having something to do” rather than making sure the substance of that thing to do is worth our time. “This will make a great picture for instagram” or “I can finally update my Facebook status because we went on vacation” have become far more important than the value of both self worth and appreciation for what others do for you.

    I love golf because it’s not something you can own. And on the flip side, golf is not something that should own you either. It’s one of the few things you can do poorly and still want to come back and do again. You can be upset with golf, but never truly scorned… in the end it all falls on you the individual. Golf doesn’t need you and you don’t need golf, and that’s exactly why it’s fun.

  12. I hate all this hoopla about making golf easier. The true golfers enjoy a challenge (within reason). And if you are more casual and want golf to be easy, there ARE options out there. I’ve been to a ton of courses that are very wide open and more player friendly. Most also have at least 3 sets of tees to choose from. So teeing it forward is an option too. Don’t have time for a full 18? Most courses have 9 hole rates, so play 9. Golf participation, IMO, is most affected by the cost. Not just for playing, but equipment too. I don’t claim to know what the fix is. But the issue certainly is not because golf is not as “fun” as playing Candyland with my toddler.

  13. Golf is plenty fun under the right circumstances. Such as……when you can play in 3 and 1/2 hours. A five hour round is awful and the definition of no fun. As for the eulogy for golf that we keep reading about, you could’ve fooled me. I don’t play as often as I would like, but I have seen crowded golf courses this summer in North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. I see a billionaire marketing a set of clubs for $ 3000 and new Drivers from the big name manufacturers in the big box stores for nearly $ 400 — with new versions right about the corner. Of course at $ 400 I won’t be making too many impulse purchases. Scotty Cameron putters are kept behind a plexiglass case so they won’t be stolen. Nice. That’s ok….I can 3-putt with something cheaper.

    But what the golf industry lost sight of is this generation’s obsession with time or the lack thereof. Reconfigure golf courses to 12 holes and make twilight rates earlier and more affordable, and people will play. To me, the golden age of golf was back in the 60s when everyone played with wooden woods, irons with a sweet spot the size of a tick and balls that we wouldn’t even hit on a range now. And people loved the game, didn’t complain about it being “too hard” while they adored Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus cuz they looked right at them in the gallery. Those were the days, but give me the chance to play 9 holes with 10 or 11 clubs in a bag I can easily carry without waiting for someone plumb-bobbing a putt in front of me and the game is magic again.

  14. Women are not smarter than men. Give me a break with this P.C garbage. Women are more emotional and far less logical, they’re very easily influenced by a monkey see, monkey do culture. What sort of lifestyle is hyped up in the MSM to influence them? Oh yes, the degnerate Culrtural Marxist society that is destroying us both socially and financially. And who falls for it the most? Women of course, zero logic. If the traditional values of the West was still considered cool, more Women would be playing.

  15. I think you’re wrong Mr. Adams. All sports are difficult and can be “not fun” by your definition. I’m an old baseball guy and if you get a safe hit 30% of the time you’re an amazing player. Quite difficult to hit a round ball with a round stick with a ball thrown fast and with curvature. Still, that one great hit every couple of games is what you chase and the chase if fun. Same with golf. Not every round will be great but parts of it might be. The fun is chasing that better score or hitting a few more good shots in a round. Challenge is fun too. It invigorates the mind. If everything was easy we would all get bored with it. This is why golf is fun, it is the chase and the challenge.

  16. Sorry Barney but this was a big ol’ shank of an article. Golf is fun, but it’s not easy. Most things that are fun aren’t easy. Are marketers mis-representing themselves by saying “golf is fun”? Heck no. They get paid to promote and sell stuff and nothing about that tag line is misleading in the least. When you were selling clubs would you have told a potential new golfer that the game really isn’t fun but hey, come buy this club from me for hundreds of dollars?

    I enjoy practicing and working on improving my game and putting practice into play every week on the course. Seeing a long putt drop, hitting a big drive down the fairway, or sticking a wedge close is what fires me up and keeps me coming back for more. That is why the game is fun to me, but those same things don’t define the game of golf for other folks.

    A close friend of mine only gets to golf maybe once a year on his birthday because of family and work conflicts. There are a lot of shanks and lost balls that day, but it’s a blast and he’d never say otherwise.

    Frankly, if I were a marketer or in advertising role in the industry I don’t think there is a single productive thing I could take away from this article. Additionally, one of your final paragraphs about women being smarter than men as the rationale for not taking up the game is utterly ridiculous. It might be time for you to hang up the poor efforts at “writing” and focus on doing some real things to help grow the game.

  17. Ah, the women; exemplars of the worthwhile and conscience to us all. But before they were women they were cart girls… . Somehow they transitioned from flirting to wisdom, while we just kept golfing, Peter Pans locked in eternal battle with Captain Hook and Captain Slice. We never grew up and put aside the things of youth because golf is the opium, the green dragon that clouds our mind even as we chase him from hole to hole; $75 to $150 for a hit that lasts 4 hours and we can’t get enough.

    Should we resist this sticky substance of a sport and, like the women you admire, ascend to a higher plane or should ‘advertising folks’ develop better marketing along the lines you suggest to attract more innocents to this addiction? Your proposition seems at odds with your value system.

  18. We made it fun, for the last two years we have played two man scrambles for lunch almost every Tuesday, the only time it is not fun is the Tuesday one of the guys cannot make it and we have to play our own ball.

  19. Barney, what are you smoking? You made your living off of “dumb” men who bought your products?? i understand the point you’re trying to make but belittling the intelligence of 90% of your customer base is preposterous. BY logical extension, if women are too smart to play golf, only dummies will play it. Therefore men are dumb. Dude, that is the lamest thing I’ve seen on this site. Never mind the gratuitous “smart women” comment too prevalent in golf nowadays. If you’re willing to turn golf into a gender issue, publish your remarks at a site geared for women. You totally sold out.

    • OK now, keep your shirt on Tonto. Barney is not trying to insult you or golfers in general but it seems you are taking it that way. Remember, never take it personally even tho sometimes it is! :)

  20. “You know going in that you won’t win because regardless of your skill level, you can always improve.”

    Which is why Mr. 58 should have walked away from the game that very day!

  21. Barney’s description of the game is very spot on IMHO. I don’t play for fun, never have. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the challenge, the comraderie, the exercise and the scenery……. but I don’t have fun. Every time I walk onto a golf course it’s to do battle. It’s always a battle between me and the course itself (and the designer, I guess), even in tournaments. I have won tournaments before and been completely disappointed with my performance because I didn’t play as well as I should have. I get the most fulfillment from playing my best on a really tough track. That’s probably the reason I seek out the courses I do when I’m traveling. I actually don’t think I got my money’s worth if I don’t feel like I’ve worked my a** off to get the score I got. Hey, maybe I’m a bit of a nut and that’s fine if you think so. But that’s just the way it is.

    This game is designed to kick your butt, work you in the ground and reward you only when you try your best. That’s why I love it.

    BT

    • Actually they sold the company to Taylormade, because it was cheaper to sell it than go to court over copyrights over ADAMS hybrids. Adams made some amazing products, but their hybrids were just about always known as the BEST in golf. I dislike his negativity in this article however. Golf is fun, but only you can let it beat your brains out and when that happens just have fun enjoying the scenery.

  22. Golf is fun for the camaraderie among friends, the anticipation of that round, the fresh air, the 3 incredible “pro-like” shots you hit per round and the gin & tonic afterwards.

  23. i definetely agree with Barney. I feel like golf is fun in a different kind of way. I often play alone because i like the challenge and i like being alone after being around people all week. I experience satisfaction more then fun.

  24. All sports are challenging and the enjoyment – for those who “get it” – is because it’s a challenge. This is why the push for 15″ holes is idiotic. You could make basketball a lot easier and – apparently – more “fun” by just having a huge waist-high barrel for the ball. I mean, why go through the effort and difficulty of throwing the ball up high to such a small target??

    I’ll take issue with the mention of “symphonies” – to properly understand and appreciate the complexity of the music you’re hearing IS a challenge. This isn’t Barney or Bieber, it’s Bach and Beethoven. *Playing* orchestral music is a challenge of the highest order, and takes a lifetime of dedication and 8 hours practice a day to be professional.

    The real semantic issue at hand is this; have we become so jaded and lazy that something challenging and difficult can’t be called “fun”?

    If everyone is so worried about golf participation, I suggest they look long and hard at the state of the middle class; incomes, time spent at work (including emails at home), increased prices and decreased salaries and benefits, unemployment and underemployment/multiple jobs, plus social media, kids’ activities, etc. More really good 9-hole courses might help. Overcrowding at existing courses is a factor too, certainly in the Chicago area.

    • Agreed. As a former musician, I have a draw to golf that is very similar. I had a lot of fun as a musician… same ideas; camaraderie, working but never achieving perfection, and mastering a craft. I was a much better musician than I have ever been a golfer. The irony is that an activity like golf requires determination to get better, but it is a hobby that most of us put in the garage for days or weeks at a time. Those that practice every day, like music, are envied.

      “Fun” might not be the single best word, but how does one describe the drive as an artist for perfection?

      • I guess it depends. To some people, “fun” is sitting on a beach doing nothing getting hammered. Some would have to be there surfing or playing volleyball or something. To some, it’s climbing a mountain or hiking a trail, painting a picture or whittling a sofa. It’s a certain kind of person – not necessarily “the very few” though – who enjoy accomplishment rather than idle fun. But if golf weren’t “fun”, why would anyone do it? It’s expensive, it takes time and lots of effort – I guess you can call it “enjoyment” instead of “fun”, but that nitpicks semantics. The same goes for artists – most genuinely enjoy and love what they do, and far less than 1% could claim to be “doing it for the money”.

        So, maybe the disconnect is in the Tiger Factor, and companies like Nike’s expectations. YES, a lot of people “tried” golf because of Tiger, and quit because it was “too hard” or they sucked, or it was too expensive, took too much time, was too hard to Tweet while doing, whatever. It was the Tiger Bubble – and just like the Housing Bubble, the eCommerce Bubble, the occasional tennis or soccer mania, it was BOUND to subside.

        I suppose it could be called “unfortunate” that the Tiger Bubble burst almost simultaneously with the economy. (Wait – what was that crash – the stock market or Tiger’s SUV window? Was that breaking Tiger’s back or the back of the middle class?) Again, anyone who expects “participation” (aka “CASH”) to be UP when the middle class are working 60 hours a week – husband and wife – and barely making ends meet. As for Nike pulling out of golf – I’m sure the cash they paid Tiger didn’t help. As for 800 courses closing – specifics of where and why? I’ve seen a few close here with owners cashing out on the land. NOT lack of golfers.

  25. I have played golf for 56 years. Golf is fun for me. I play almost every day and always enjoy myself. Great shots still thrill me. Good shots make me happy, Poor shots don’t concern me.
    I play with people I like and one that I love.
    During our long Manitoba winters, I hit balls indoors at the Dome every day. I find that to be fun too.
    Barney, with respect, maybe you need an attitude adjustment.

  26. Great article. I have always been annoyed by the way the game is sold. It is sold more like a Zumba infomercial than the challenging game that it is. The reward is in the journey to meet it’s challenges. It’s more martial arts or mountain climbing of the soul but it is not “fun”. Fun is only in the fleeting moment everything went correctly. Thank you Barney.

  27. Hit a drive about 40 yards along the ground on a par 4 yesterday…..mad and a bit embarrassed I sucked it up and followed that with an arrow straight 5 wood to the left of the green about two yards off the putting surface. Was it fun? No and yes. I’m still a little mad at myself for that crappy drive and proud of the fairway shot. I can’t think of many things I do where the battle is truly against myself. I don’t think golf will die out but it may very well become a game that very few will play in the future with old clubs that they have to keep fixing because they are hard to find. I hope people in the future will be able to understand what a great thing golf is. My granddaughter loves it but my grandson can’t put down his phone long enough to get the beauty of it.

  28. Just had that round today. Started with a par, got on the bogie train, dropped a 25 ft. birdie putt on #7, then made the turn onto the DOUBLE bogie train. Stopped keeping score by #14 and enjoyed the rest of the round.

  29. Fun: “something that provides mirth or amusement”…that’s golf to me, and if Barney Adams is going to say I don’t play golf, I’d invite him to come play a round or reevaluate what he’s been playing all these years…

  30. Also, I’m going to take issue with your logic for why there aren’t as many women golfers as there could be. While you try to put a positive spin on it by making it sound like men are the dumb ones wasting our time and women are the smart ones finding “better things to do”. I’m not starting a debate about which gender is smarter or whatever, but your argument comes across as a veiled sentiment of “men have the drive to tough out the challenges while women don’t want to work hard”. I’m not asking you to take my word for it, but all I ask is you take a moment, step back, and reflect on those remarks and see if they could be construed in a patronizing or condescending way by someone else (namely of the opposite gender). I think the real reason behind the lack of women golfers is the history it has of being a man’s sport, and the boy’s club mentality that gets perpetuated to this day. While it’s not what it used to be, you can still find plenty of men that see golf as their time away from their wives/girlfriends/women/whatever and don’t want women to play. It’s present in everyday pop culture things like TV shows, movies, greeting cards, etc. that show men as the golfers and women as the nagging spouse that gets angry when she has to stay home with the kids on Saturday morning while the husband sneaks out for 18 with his pals. It’s even more apparent in the presence of all-male golf clubs. It’s a cultural issue that is not exclusive to golf, but a number of other sports: baseball, football, etc. I’m sure you’ve heard countless men in your lifetime crack remarks about nobody watching or caring about women’s sports. There’s your problem right there. The culture that men create and that some still perpetuate.

  31. Nicely written piece.

    “Fun” usually implies instant gratification. The reward from golf is greater than that.

    At times, golf can seem like meditation. No one ever called meditation “fun”.

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