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The Great Opportunity in the Golf Industry

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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!

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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.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Scudder Graybeal

    Sep 1, 2017 at 10:31 am

    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. Charlie

    May 21, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    “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.

    • setter02

      May 22, 2017 at 7:17 am

      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. Dave R

    May 20, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    I’ll bet you are the grouch that complaines your milk is to warm

  4. Dave R

    May 20, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    Bogey golf mabey for you buddy. Ever read what you write ? Not likely eh!

  5. Dave R

    May 20, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Mike finally someone who makes sense on this form good for you ,couldn’t agree more .

  6. DaveT

    May 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Hooray, Barney! Somebody needed to say this.

  7. Kromulous

    May 19, 2017 at 9:18 am

    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.

  8. JLG

    May 19, 2017 at 2:20 am

    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.

    • setter02

      May 19, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      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.

  9. ROY

    May 18, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Think BA is being a little too optimistic with his 55% growth in the 65+ age bucket over the next 3 years – not gonna happen

  10. setter02

    May 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    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.

    • FH

      May 19, 2017 at 1:10 am

      ….. but your handicap is you don’t know jack sh_t

      • Jebaited

        May 19, 2017 at 8:43 am

        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.

    • Steve S

      May 19, 2017 at 8:42 am

      “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.

  11. AceW7Iron

    May 18, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    “Senior”

    As in…I just had a SENIOR moment

  12. AceW7Iron

    May 18, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    I only invest in senor A flex shafts now…this is why…
    Resale will be so easy by 2020

  13. Matt

    May 18, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    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.

  14. Bishop

    May 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    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.

  15. God Shamgod

    May 18, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    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.

  16. xjohnx

    May 18, 2017 at 9:34 am

    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.

  17. Huh?

    May 18, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I am curious to know why that man in the feature photo is wearing two wrist watches.

    • guessing

      May 18, 2017 at 11:16 am

      one is an actual watch the other is GPS unit.

    • talljohn777

      May 20, 2017 at 1:21 am

      One is to monitor his heart. The other is to monitor his insulin levels.

  18. Stewart Graham

    May 18, 2017 at 7:09 am

    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.

  19. Ian

    May 18, 2017 at 7:08 am

    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.

    • Dat

      May 18, 2017 at 8:40 am

      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.

      • George

        May 18, 2017 at 10:14 am

        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.

    • mike

      May 18, 2017 at 9:02 am

      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

      • Ian

        May 18, 2017 at 9:19 am

        Where is this utopia you speak of?

      • Jack

        May 19, 2017 at 12:05 am

        yes, exactly the point of the story. There are synergies to be had. 65 plus are retired and can play whenever they want and more often.

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Courses

Brough Creek National: The backyard course you wish you’d built

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted a golf course in your backyard.

Of course you have.

Now leave your hand raised if you actually rolled up your sleeves and made it happen.

Among the very few people left with their hands in the air are Ben Hotaling, Zach Brough, Evan Bissell, and Mark Robinson, the driving force behind Brough Creek National. That’s right. These guys are building a golf course in their backyard. From scratch.

The true beginnings of golf aren’t well-documented, but one thing’s for sure: people were playing golf at least 400 years before the first working internal combustion engine. Long before golf course architecture was a multi-million dollar investment before the first dime of revenue trickled in, courses were laid down largely by hand using the natural movement of the land. In that same spirit, Ben happened to notice that there was one particular shot in their backyard that reminded him of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, as it plays over their barn and to a green situated right in front of the road to the property.

Ben ultimately convinced his roommate Zach, whose family has owned the land for some time, that they should clear some trees and put in a makeshift green for their Road Hole. That was in 2015 and, while that’s technically the genesis of Brough Creek National, it was in 2018 when they started sharing their ideas in No Laying Up’s online forum section that things escalated rather quickly. Bouncing ideas off their fellow compatriots revealed great natural setups for a Biarritz/punch bowl combination, a Redan, and more. Before they knew it, they had a 630-yard, 7-hole golf course criss-crossing through the three-acre property in Kansas City, KS.

Road Hole green at Brough Creek National

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brough Creek National is that it has operated solely off of donations, which started with a weed eater here and a can of herbicide there and has since grown to a recent GoFundMe campaign of $15,000. These donations have allowed them to purchase grass seed and other vital equipment to see the project through. The community aspect of Brough Creek National is so important to what they’re trying to achieve that anyone who provides their name and address on the website is sent a free new membership packet (I happen to be member #209). Included are some stickers, a ballmark, and a welcome letter that states (among other things),

“We are proud to have you as a lifetime national member at our exclusive, member-owned (and maintained) club…The vision of Brough Creek National is to have a place for community golf modeled around fun for members and guests from all golfing backgrounds…Your dues will be assessed at the rate of $0.00 annually.”

Ben further emphasizes the importance of the community aspect by saying:

“I think Brough Creek stands for community. It’s like-minded individuals coming together and supporting something they’re proud of. It’s a smart, intriguing golf course, but it’s ultimately about making friends and that’s what matters. The quality of the golf course is almost inconsequential because the real purpose is to assemble this brotherhood of people who are passionate about the game of golf. We think it’s done in a way that sheds the elitist stigma that golf has often struggled with and we’re almost mocking that in a playful way.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone they have to experience the game a certain way, but we try to go above and beyond to be approachable and welcoming because we think that’s more important than status. Golf’s not a money-making business. It’s just not. So, why don’t we just take that out of it, come together as a community, and create something we can all be proud of?”

If we’re all having an honest moment, not even Ben and Zach know exactly how this project is going to evolve, but one thing’s for sure: an emphasis on maximizing fun for the highest number of the golfing community is never a bad place to start. Those who believe par and total yardage are irrelevant in determining the amount of fun available to them should be in for a treat. To watch the project unfold, check out www.someguysbackyard.com and follow @someguysbackyrd on Twitter and @someguysbackyard on Instagram.

Below is an overview of the course, narrated by Ben Hotaling

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Opinion & Analysis

Brooks Koepka’s coach, Claude Harmon III, on BK’s PGA Championship victory, working with the game’s best, and more

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Coming fresh of the celebration of Brooks Koepka’s fourth major win, Koepka’s long-time coach, Claude Harmon III chatted with Johnny Wunder as he was just about to hop on a plane back to The Floridian.

Here are the highlights of their conversation.

JW: Claude how you doin’?

CH3: Uh, I’m hungover!

JW: Brooks is walking off the 18th green after another major triumph. What is the first thing you guys said to each other?

CH3: Well, obviously there was a lot of emotion in that moment, but he told me it was the happiest he has ever been on the golf course, and after everything he’s done, that’s a big statement.

For him to put in all the hard work and to fight as hard as he did on a golf course that completely changed on the last day and come out on top makes me extremely grateful to be a part of the team that supports that. I believe he will find out more about himself from getting through the final nine holes than he would if he would have had a parade coming in and won by seven.

JW: That’s a great point. It seems like he is more apt to win even more majors based on that back nine than he would have otherwise.

CH3: I don’t think if you were watching it on TV you could have any appreciation for just how difficult it was. What DJ did yesterday was impossible and having that up ahead applies even more pressure to a leader. Ricky Elliott and BK are looking at the scoreboard and seeing DJ and 3 under and having no idea how that’s even possible. It was that tough.

JW: I think Brooks stubbornness is part of his true greatness. Would you agree?

CH3: His perspective constantly was “I’m still in the lead and someone is going to have to catch me and this golf course is extremely difficult.” Even after all the bogeys on the back side, he still controlled the lead and kept that mantra. The crowd yelling “DJ! DJ!” actually didn’t piss him off, it woke him up and made him want to hit a good drive and show the crowd he was still leading.

JW: How did yesterday compare to Shinnecock? 

CH3: At Shinnecock it was an interesting situation because Fleetwood…posted before BK was even off and in that case, Brooks said it was like playing against a ghost. No matter what he does, Tommy isn’t going to make any more mistakes or change in any way. That’s a tough scenario when you are staring at a number that won’t move for 5 1/2 hours.

JW: What do Brooks and DJ have that people can learn from.

CH3: It’s funny because we hear these cliches in sports psychology all the time, but I believe those two are the living embodiment of ONE SHOT AT A TIME. They don’t look back. Ever.

JW: Speaking on DJ. I’m watching the back nine and thinking to myself this guy is playing out of his mind, it was literally a battle of the best.

CH3: We talk about it all the time in golf, what we always want is the two best players in the world going toe to toe. We had that yesterday and I hope as time goes by we can look at this final round as a battle we will be talking about for a long time. Best players in the world on a tough but fair golf course with the ultimate prize on the line. In situations like this when there is this kind of pressure and these stakes you can look at the leaderboard and see the cream rising to the top. Rory, DJ, Jordan all with good rounds on a really tough day.

JW: You met Brooks in 2013, he showed up in his mom’s beat up Explorer and don’t know him at all. What was your first impression?

CH3: I was introduced to him by Pete Uihlein, his old roommate, and at first glance, he had raw talent and a ton of speed, but no plan. At the time he was hitting a draw and was uncomfortable with that. He told me his current coach wanted him to hit draws, and I said well that’s your fault, not your coach’s. It’s the player’s responsibility to manage himself and the information he’s comfortable with. When we worked on him getting into a fade, he started to click and he turned to me and said “it can’t be this easy.” My reply was “it has to be this easy!” At that level, under the gun, it better be easy. [Golf is] tough enough already.

JW: What were his career goals early on?

CH3: Even then, he wanted to be an elite player who won multiple majors. I was coaching Ernie Els at the time who had just won his fourth major and Brooks was on the Challenge Tour. He was committed to getting there but needed guidance, someone with a plan that wasn’t just his golf swing. Obviously, it worked out.

JW: What would you say is the Harmon secret to getting the best players in the world to peak as often as you guys do?

CH3: My dad told me: “What you don’t say is just as important as what you do say.” At the Masters this year Brooks, in practice, was really struggling. Look, it’s Masters week and I’m not going to go in there and start putting thoughts in his head. At that point, if this is a shuttle launch, we are in the cockpit and there is no turning back. My dad always had his guys have a go-to shot that they “knew” they could hit. Brooks calls it his “fairway finder” which is a squeeze off fade with a driver. I told him to hit a couple of those knowing it might spur some confidence. After a few absolutely flushed missiles, his confidence went up and he turned to me and said…”fairway finder all day.” The rest is history.

JW: You coach DJ, Brooks, Jimmy Walker and Rickie. Describe each in one word

JW: DJ
CH3: Natural

JW: Brooks
CH3: Tough MF

JW: Rickie
CH3: Genuine

JW: Jimmy
CH3: Soulful

JW: Thanks old friend
CH3: Talk soon, thanks man.

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Podcasts

On Spec: Swing weight is overrated

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A deep dive into one of the most talked about but truly misunderstood aspects of club building: swing weight. What it really means, and why it isn’t the end all be all for a set of clubs.

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

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