Amateur golf, not the professional golf on TV, has been the subject of many articles in recent years, and there have been few, if any positives when the subject is participation. Course closings, dramatic drops in play, retail chains selling golf equipment going out of business… and the list goes on. 

There is a melody in the wind, distant, but if you listen closely it’s growing. Reduced to numbers, it’s this: By The Year 2020, The Number of Americans Over 65 Will Increase by 55 percent.

Think of it this way. You own an Italian restaurant and you hear that Italy is closing and moving down the block. I don’t think the entire country will be dropping in, but you can bet I’m expanding the menu and sprucing the place up.

I realize that reaching 65 doesn’t mean automatically retiring and taking up golf and that some in this category already play, but if you just look at hard numbers the message is irrefutable. There are a whole bunch of folks that, starting in 2020, could have a positive impact on a game that has suffered participation losses. One could even conclude that now is a good time to formulate plans and programs to capture a chunk of this significant market.

What kinds of plans, you might ask. Well, to start, the industry has several organizations with well paid, skilled people who are more than capable of tackling such potential. Since I brought it up, I’ll throw out some thoughts, but I’m simply another amateur voice.

To start my big picture objective, I would engage the Golf Channel and get them actively on board. Why so much emphasis? Go back to the participation statistic. If we can’t get them on the bandwagon (they’re a for-profit business, and their business is golf) it’s time to head to the 19th hole and a cold one.

What is on the bandwagon? Again, I’ll repeat, they’re the golf marketing experts. I prefer to be regaled by the quality and depth of their insight. Should they ask me, if it were “my restaurant,” I’d say we need a definitive culture on speed of play. Bringing in new players to “enjoy” slow play invokes the response “too slow, no fun” as they leave the premises.

Slow Play

I’m a very strong advocate of 3.5-3.75 hour rounds. I play with other old people and we have no problem with those times. We could run around and crowd the folks in front, but that’s just as objectionable as a 4.5-hour round.

“No Fun”

If we approach this (or any) group and say that golf is fun, we are being disingenuous. Golf is fun only if you are clear that the definition is the joy of overcoming a very difficult challenge. No one will defeat the game; the fun comes with small victories. Now Top Golf is fun, but it isn’t golf unless swinging one-handed while holding a cell phone in the other is the long lost magic move we’ve all missed. I still take the grandkids, though. It has beer and excellent viewing. 

Senior Lessons

I watch young, supple instructors showing swings that if I attempted I’d need a lifetime pass to the Chiropractic Institute. The market here is a 65-year-old group. They aren’t flexible, and many have scars and lesions from surgeries. I see the Golf Channel running a series on lessons specifically oriented to the physicality of the majority. My restaurant customers don’t like really spicy food, and I don’t try and teach them how to enjoy it.

Course Setups

Courses are set up with range flags tuned into tee markers. If you comfortably hit the ball to the green flag, play the green tees. Why? Go back to the paragraph on “too slow, no fun.” In this instance, the green tees allow the occasional chance to hit shots into a green that provides an “occasional victory.”

This issue isn’t about perfect ideas that guarantee success. It’s understanding that the amateur game is facing an opportunity that’s unique and significant to long-term stability.

Now, being honest, this story doesn’t really apply to GolfWRX readers. They already play, in fact; some may play on courses that have plenty of customers, thank you very much. It really applies to those in industry leadership positions and it would be nice to see some positive programs emerge. It would also be nice to pick up 20 yards. Call me negative, but I think the odds are about the same. 

It’s a positive opportunity; gotta keep pushing!

Your Reaction?
  • 325
  • LEGIT27
  • WOW1
  • LOL2
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP5
  • OB1
  • SHANK27

Previous articleBobby Gates WITB 2017
Next articleGraphite Design's new Tour AD F-Series fairway wood shafts
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.

34 COMMENTS

Not seeing your comment? Read our rules and regulations. Click "Report comment" to alert GolfWRX moderators to offensive or inappropriate comments.
  1. Barney-Come visit us in The Villages. Twelve regulation courses (10 are 27 hole layouts) and 36 executive courses which can be harder than the regulation courses. The largest golf complex in the world and more courses to be built. 55+ mostly retirement community with some real world beaters from all over. Always looking for ways to increase golf participation and speed up play. We like “out of the box” thinking. Would love to play with you again and swap war stories.

  2. “Senior Lessons
    I watch young, supple instructors showing swings that if I attempted I’d need a lifetime pass to the Chiropractic Institute. The market here is a 65-year-old group. They aren’t flexible, ”

    Boy, I’m 70+ and as a Starter for my local GC I watch hundreds of seniors play hole #1 and hole #18. Seniors are not flexible and they hit the ball fat or thin almost every time. Divots, if they get a divot, are on the wrong side of the ball. Good senior instruction would help us get that divot moved to the target side of the ball. Getting that swing-bottom on the target side of the ball when we have a short backswing is no easy task and we need good senior instruction to help us. I know – I’ve been working on that divot problem for 3 years and I still am VERY inconsistant.

    • Depending on the changes needed, a good number of Sr’s don’t want to regress in their current ability for any length of time (you have to put in the work for changes to take place) given they are on the wrong side of the expectancy equation. Also hard to tighten things up with all the moving parts added to their swings in hopes of generating more power/longer back swing.

  3. You need to redefine Golf in general, for older golfers. The scoring system is actually absurd, to say you get a par (most people think that means average, i know…) when you get a ball in the cup on a 400 yard par 4. Most Seniors, older ones, cant hit a Driver a 160 yards or better. He couldn’t make par if his life depended on it.

    Green tees will help, but getting older golfers to understand that you should play to the slope number of a golf course to start out is your target. If your playing a 125 slope course, and your a 1st or 2nd year Senior Golfer you should consider that PAR, not 72 on a course that you stand a better chance at getting struck by lightning than to actually shoot a 72. Hell most couldn’t do it from the 150 yard makers on any course.

    I have personally seen many guys quit because Golf is to hard, you got to make it easier at least starting out, so people have time to improve and engage the game properly. After all the par / birdie etc system was just made up for TV.

  4. At 35 I feel nothing but optimism for the game of golf. The fundamentals of the sport are too strong for it to do anything but grow. Such a pure feeling is the well-struck golf shot *Costner voice*. Golf also has tremendous physical benefits. GolfWRX plus teaching pros sharing information all over the internet combinated with video on your cell phone and launch monitors for $500 (and dropping) will have a profound effect over the next 5 years.

    • Think about how small a percentage of ‘golfers’ are on wrx and are even 2% as informed as most on here, its basically non existent. I with with all the online golf forums worldwide (some will have overlapping members) you might total up 1% of the total golfers. As anyone who has worked within the industry can tell you, marketing works on the lemmings and they also have pretty steep delusions of their actual ability.

      I actually see things differently in that the fundamentals are too hard (it’s not an easy game, physically or mentally) and that is what hinders it. Its only a select few who crave that challenge, not even close to sustainable numbers to grow the game. It’s a niche sport, always has been, always will be.

  5. So what you’re saying is that you just couldn’t hold out long enough to cash in and help all these Boomers with Adams gear! I’ll be my typical self and be the naysayer, but your forecasting leaves little to be desired based on your previous position and the eventual outcome. Golf is expensive (relative to location, rural is much cheaper), takes too long (5+ hrs isn’t acceptable, never has been) and is competing with a host of other entertainment offerings to spend your money and time on that are cheaper and can take less (or longer if you so choose) time to partake in.

    Private will have to continue to get creative on pricing and payment structures (initiations will have to disappear as who at 65+ will want to join a place and being paying for 10 years for something), low to mid level public will be fine as people will gravitate towards that level if they still want to get more bang for the buck vs. quality (conditions, amenities) course.

    Another thing missed is how Boomers are now doing more with family as their kids are pressed for time and take on more of a parenting roll to help as their kids are all working, not many single income families anymore. Of the 6 ‘golfers’ on my street (3 retired, 3 under 40), 1 places once a week for 3 months, I play 8-12 times a month, the rest might play 5 rounds a season.

    But the #1 reason, it’s very hard to get good at or play to an acceptable level, people don’t want to bother with the frustration, more so if they were good golfers with a declining ability that they can’t accept. But what do I know.

      • I can see the reason as to why you have “no women, to handicap your performance” you can barely form a functional sentence, even while disregarding your disgusting overuse of elipses. Something tells me in 2020 you will be in the same bucket this article is describing, either that or you need to do some reading other than the 120 you read on your scorecard every weekend.

    • “the brutal reality that most “seniors” are sedentary, decrepit, obese, weak, uncoordinated, clumsy, bitter, depressed, delusional and outright physical and mental failures”

      A generalization that bares examination. Seniors are usually defined as 55 and up. You comment may be applicable to many of those over 80 or 85 because their bodies and brains are worn out due to LIFE. Those who are 55-70 are probably in better health than any generation of that age previously. It’s also the generation Adams is talking about. If you go to rec centers around my area you’ll see that the overwhelming population during the day is gray hairs even tho they are a relatively small percentage of the total population here. A large portion of boomers did not work grueling jobs like their parents which means they aren’t physically worn out. Also, a much smaller percentage smoked than the previous (Greatest) generation.

      If your outlook is that negative about ageing then you probably should take yourself out before you hit 65 and save the rest of us the cost of taking care of you as you age.

  6. Cheers Barney, great insight. In my demographic, among non-golfer mates (a mix of easy going mid-40’s gen x creatives and sportspeople), golfs garish ‘corporatizated’ appearance/marketing as well as the loud, ignorant guys you hear on the sidelines at PGA tour events, seems to sum up the game for them. I hope more retirees do start playing.

  7. I too, love the idea of using flags on the range as the tee markers (not that some of the young 30+ handicappers will heed the advice of an indication that they shouldn’t be playing from the tips). I feel like someone who is interested in actually playing from the correct tees, rather than swinging out of their shoes from the tips, then losing 2-3 balls per hole, will have much more fun, and it will definitely increase speed of play, as they’re not spending 75% of their time looking for their ball in the right rough.

  8. Athough I understand how the author, a man I greatly respect for founding Adams Golf, I believe he is missing the real reason why golf is in the position it is in and in fact this demographic shift is the problem.

    Golf participation grew greatly from the mid 90s to the 10s. Why did this happen? Some cite Tiger Woods but I think that is silly. Sure, some non-golfers picked up clubs for the first time after watching Tiger but the real reason for the participation bump was the baby boomer generation hitting prime golf spending age.

    The prime golf spending age is between 40 and 60 years of age. That is a time in someones life when they are likely earning the largest amount of money they will ever earn. They also have more time than they had when their children were young. They generally still have the physical health and stamina to play consistently.

    The people under 40 have tighter budgets and have more family commitments. The people over 60 begin to live on fixed incomes and many don’t have room in their budgets for golf. Of course this is contrary to the financial planning ads you see during golf tournaments, but most people didn’t plan that well for retirement (hmmm..$500 drivers?).

    The Great Recession hit the retirement accounts of many of these people now turning 65. Even if their accounts recovered, I believe it has altered their outlook on risk and spending going forward.

    I also notice that older folks tend to not spend as much on equipment. Maybe they don’t have the budget or maybe they aren’t as wowed by the latest stuff like they were when they were younger.

    The fact is that the boom the golf industry saw for 25 years until recently was due almost entirely to these soon to be 65 year olds. Now if those 65 year olds could somehow live like they are 40 again, maybe the boom would happen again. Of course, that isn’t possible.

  9. That’s the first time I’ve heard this idea of range flags that coordinate with tee markers. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. I would really like to see more people play from the appropriate tees.

  10. Dear Mr Adams,
    I could not agree more ,often I have senior golfers 70/80 years old come to me after a series of lessons from a a young pro who has told them they do not have enough pivot not only in the backswing but in the follow through position as well .When will golfers and hotshot pros understand that there are two swings one for the tour pros and one for the ordinary mortals .At the moment in the current crop of tour players I can’t see many making making the senior tour.Swing the club head not your body.Stewart Graham PGA GB A A Golf de Bondues.France.

  11. Hi Barney. Valid points, but as a 30 year old, your solution doesn’t excite me. It seems like you want “The Old Boys” club with stuffy dress codes and select membership. Regress is the word that comes to mind.

    • Precisely why golf is still a rich old man’s game even though we keep thinking it has changed. It really hasn’t changed. Unless you actually enjoy playing the $15 9 hole muni down the road from the 18 hole private GC/CC.

      • Well the thing is the times are changing. I dont know almost anyone who wants to/will join a private club at any point in his life. Sure it is a rich mans sport. In about 20-30 years you will see that keeping it this way as a rich old man’s game will be a bad idea. I am also 30 and only know a very few people I can actually play with. Everyone I know thinks golf is a terrible sport. You have to realize that many people in my generation do not want to live in the burbs. Everyone is moving to the city.

    • Im 31, i would love if there were more 65 yr olds out playing, they tend to play from 7-12 in the morning when us “younger” people are working anyway, and alot I know actually dont play weekends as they feel this is the time non-retired people can play. they pay membership fees like everyone else and allow courses to stay open and keep rates reasonable for the rest of us. TLDR more people playing lower cost and more courses stay open

LEAVE A REPLY