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Opinion & Analysis

Why do we care about amateur golf? (Part 2)



In the first part of this series, we traced the rise and fall of tennis and postulated the conclusion that it was a natural condition seeking its reasonable level. There are those who say all the hand wringing about golf’s decline in popularity is nothing more than a reaction to a normal occurrence. In other words, let it find its level and move on.

Furthermore, golf is a game; something people do for enjoyment. Despite the sanctimonious tones of some TV broadcasters, it’s still a game. The job of broadcasters is to create an environment where people watch, get emotionally involved, tell their friends and increase viewership. This positively effects ratings, which is used to extract more money from advertisers. Nothing wrong with that; it’s the business side of things.

An abandoned golf course, however, does not equate to an abandoned tennis court. Besides the pure acreage difference, an accompanying issue is that a golf course is an employer. Jobs range from managers with advanced degrees to on-course maintenance employees, which can mean dozens of jobs per course, and I count people losing jobs as part of the overall issue.

I’ll give a brief nod to the values learned on the course. It’s been written about extensively, and I’ll suffice that the values are real and recognized. It’s better for me to leave that detailed analysis to the experts.

I will say that I’ve had conversations with many professional athletes from other sports over the years and if young potential golfers could listen in they would come to the game in droves. These are elite athletes who have tested themselves against the very best in their sport and love golf because it pits them against their toughest opponent: themselves.

Most sports are about reacting in a competitive environment. Golf gives you all of that challenge and, to make things even more intense, time to think about it. The great NBA point guard of yesteryear Earl “The Pearl” Monroe once said, “I don’t know how anyone can guard me. I don’t know where I’m going to go.” In golf, you have time to ponder a variety of choices and must have the mental will to execute your choice to the best of your effort.

Years ago, I was at a charity golf event watching Julius Erving, the 4-time NBA MVP known as “Dr. J,” play the last hole with his team one shot ahead. He chipped a shot over a water hazard close to the flag and made the short putt. Afterwards, I asked him why he didn’t chip wide of the water to take it out of play. “Gotta come in through the front door,” he answered, revealing the inner workings of the mind of a champion athlete. He didn’t want to be in his comfort zone; he wanted to test himself.

Then there is “THE” reason why golf should flourish, or more accurately, 3.9 BILLION reasons. You see, through a variety of efforts, golf raises $3.9 billion annually for charity, more than all other sports combined!

I got this number from a PGA Tour official and my first thought was that the number had to be overstated. WAY overstated. I contacted Golf Digest and was told that their staff reacted just as I did, but upon deeper investigation ascertained that it was a realistic number. I guess you must consider that a vast majority of U.S. towns — cities of every size — have one or more charity golf events; everything from sending the band to state to funding cancer research. Add in the professional tours, the USGA and you can see how it gets to be such a huge number.

My response to Golf Digest was subtle, at least for me.

“Why in hell isn’t this performance an annual issue with $3.9 billion the entire cover.”

I was told that there just wasn’t enough interest. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. This should be tracked and reported annually. Every person who plays (or contributes) should take immense pride in the accomplishment.

We are not going to let the drop in participation be registered as normal ebb and flow. Starting in part three of this series, we will define the drop in specific numbers and begin the process of goal setting.



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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 [email protected] 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.



  1. Joe S

    Jul 1, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Mr Adams,

    I’m hoping you might give some suggestions or lead the charge for affordable lessons. Tennis lessons are often half or more off for an hour vs golf instruction. I thought the golf pros of yesteryear were known as teachers at each club…now they are clothing salesmen and tee time checker-inners instead. Is it the fault of the employer or the pro? I’m not sure(?), but go to any club USA’s monthly newsletter and you always find all kinds of affordable clinics for all ages for tennis but golf has next to nothing…except $100 per hour lessons. People will play when they learn the game with quality instruction…this in my opinion could and should be where the ‘boom’ may come. Clubs can’t compete with the jumbo net retailers on price or selection but they could teach people in droves and more easily grow their bottom line.

    • Barney adama

      Jul 1, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      As for the check-er -iners and shirt salesmen unfortunately that is an employer issue. Here’s what I know and it would take some searching. Most assistants are capable teachers and earn very little. I’d think there is a cost-effective opportunity there. Many ranges have lower priced instructors for new players. There are PGA sponsored programs to get folks started and they are very cost effective. It’s also a value proposition. You can take a mediocre lesson a month for a year for $50 ea or 4 great lessons at $100 and be further ahead for less money. Just don’t listen to your 18 hcp buddy there’s a reason ( or 10) he’s an 18.

  2. Bruce

    Jul 1, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    The USGA sure fails at its task of promoting golf. They focus on regulations for the Tour Pros and then slap them back on those of us that pay the bills. Issues like club driver construction, ball changes, long putters, and wedge spin may impact the pros but only penalize the rank and file digging in the dirt. No wonder the game is in decline: let people play and have fun. If you want to play for a million dollars, then abide by the rules of the USGA.

    • W Mass

      Jul 2, 2014 at 7:04 am

      Also may I add to your comment the cost of equipment which the professional ranks because of their sponsor deals hikes the price of equipment.Also the cost to play certain courses around the globe e.g St Andrews or any other course on the Open circuit with their rip off fees for a round keeping these clubs as elitist.Any wonder why everyday Joe doesnt want to play the game.

  3. Daniel V

    Jul 1, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Will you be discussing ” Golfing Mentality” later on in your series? I see that you touched on in it a bit by differentiating between Recreational and Pro (College/ Golf is challenging. When you start playing it, you are very very bad. It has a huge learning curve for most individuals, and while you don’t need to have great height, speed, or strength, to be a scratch golfer requires some solid coordination an physical abilities. I see a tie-in with equipment manufacturers promising extra distance, and accuracy as a panacea, rather than having a player invest hours on the range, and money through lessons. I just wonder how many people try golf for a few weeks, and then quit, because they aren’t as good as the players on T.V.?

    I know that this series is just beginning, and I am anxious to read the rest of it. I am hoping that you touch on this topic in the future.

    • barney adams

      Jul 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Forget as good as TV how about airborne. I have more coming on that subject; good point

  4. Super Tuna

    Jun 27, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Mr Adams:
    I’m presuming you’ve seen the Outside the Lines investigation and the results? It could be suspected that along with lack of interest no one really wants to dig into how that number actually breaks out.

    But that is a story for another day.

    • barney adams

      Jun 27, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      please show me where to look just in case, you can email me.

    • barney adams

      Jun 27, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      DUH,me. I had read it and forgot ! yes, now that I did again i am quite familiar and while i didn’t get into numbers my point was golf raises money for under the radar charity ; the wheel chairs for the Senior Citizens home, sending the band to state etc…. of that 3.9 B figure this is the vast majority and is a great tribute to the game.

  5. DC

    Jun 27, 2014 at 7:28 am

    I hope at some point this discussion focuses on – or we can have an honest to god debate with the big OEMs about – the *cost* of the game of golf. Everyone wants to talk about everything else – except cost.

    I dont see the cost of those $500 drivers or $300 fairway woods going down – do you?

    I have discussed this with other OEM folks who look at me like I have 4 heads. When is a manufacturer going to take a real hard look at creating a beginner set of clubs that is actually AFFORDABLE and not a complete piece of junk? Price it barely over cost if you have to. But the beginner sets you see are normally way overpriced or complete junk – or both.

    I hope that one of your goals in drawing more beginners into the game is finding a way to make it more AFFORDABLE. I have no issue with the rest of the OEM’s lines being priced the way they are. But why not put *something* affordable out there?

    • barney adams

      Jun 27, 2014 at 11:34 am

      a subject worth discussing in detail, which i’ll do at a later date. you may be surprised about the facts.

      • Jerry

        Jun 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        I agree that the cost of golf along with the time commitment has become an issue. I also agree that the networks have created problems with the way they do their broadcasts. Players playing from the wrong tees, playing like they are pros (waiting from greens to clear and can’t get the ball there)all because of what they see and hear from watch TV.

    • Steve P

      Jul 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      Quality golf equipment has NEVER been more affordable that it is right now. You can buy a complete set of Adams Speedline Irons and Woods with a bag, a putter, and headcovers for 400 bucks. Real titanium driver, stainless heads on all the other clubs.
      & You can buy a brand new RBZ driver now for under 100 bucks anywhere.
      If that’s out of your price range, go the used route.
      I’ve been on the equipment side of golf since the mid ’90’s.

      Golf is MORE AFFORDABLE, both in equipment and greens/cart fees than ever before. And if you’re one of those that still can’t afford it… maybe you should be spending more time working anyway.

  6. Bryan

    Jun 27, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I think a change is already coming in golf that will attract more people. Its concussions. More and more parents will start steering their kids away from more traditional sports like football and hockey just based on the long term effects of head injuries.

    The Tiger Woods effect has already ballooned tournament purses to where a good player can make a great living playing golf. The other thing Woods has done is bring the more traditional athlete persona to golf and made it so that people look at golfers differently than in the past. Obviously cost is a factor when you talk about any sport, but I see my friends dumping thousands of dollars on their kids to play baseball and other sports. In the winter, they are taking them to the indoor hitting centers, buying them $400 bats and expensive gloves and paying to travel all over. Many of the schools around my area are also “pay to play” meaning that parents have to cough up money for their kid to play any sport. Golf is expensive for us because we want to travel to nice courses and hit fancy new drivers; but for a young kid its not that bad. Many courses have junior rates and make the kids walk and its the same price as a trip to the batting cages. They have junior lesson programs and clinics at many places.
    While golf is not as viable an option for kids in more depressed urban areas as say basketball or football, it still has a place if somebody really wanted to do it.

    Where golf is different from other sports is that it can be enjoyed into a much later age than other more physical sports and it can be played in a group or individually. I played hockey for many years but quit a few years ago because it was too inaccessible. There is one ice rink in our area and ice time was at a premium and very limited. However, there are 7 golf courses that are the same distance from my house as the ice rink. I think the programs by the USGA completely miss the mark for trying to attract new golfers or entice old ones back. Those 15″ cups and teeing it forward are all gimmicks that dumb the game down…kinda in the same category as everybody gets a trophy now, not just the winners. I think they would get further ahead by helping people get better at golf and finding more creative ways to get people to want to go out and play.

  7. Paul

    Jun 26, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    I personally don’t believe any kid would reconsider trying out golf with the knowledge that it donates nearly 4b every year to charity.

    It’s a wonderful thing, but it is a non-issue when it comes to the growth of the game

  8. roger

    Jun 26, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    Great article, sends great pride in Golf as a message.
    Thanks for the figures!

  9. LJW

    Jun 26, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    My high school raised money for the band with bake sales, car washes, fish frys & softball games. We didn’t have a golf course and no one played golf. Point being that if golf went away the local band would find another way to raise the money. But it is nice that golf involves itself in charity. I understand the PGA tour raises large sums for very deserving charities. I also read that as a percentage of total revenue it was a not really a great story. Maybe that will increase over time.

  10. Pingback: Barney Adams: Why do we care about amateur golf? |

  11. Chuck

    Jun 26, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    The terms I like to use in serious debates about golf policy:

    Recreational golf – the term for average players, be they daily fee golfers or even club golfers. If you are a 36 hdcp. or a 3 hdcp.; you are a recreational golfer.

    Elite golf – the term for championship players who play on professional tours, for NCAA institutions, or in the highest level amateur competitions.

    Between “recreational” and “elite” we can draw a pretty clear line as to which golfers are now (technology-assisted) obsoleting classic courses, and which golfers are not. It isn’t simply a “pro” and “am” distinction. I’ve seen NCAA kids demolish a U.S. Open course. So it isn’t a matter of “the Tour” or not.

    There may be other subgroupings worth distinguishing; daily fee players; club players; top level amateurs, Tour professionals, etc.

    But the USGA knows, and they are on it. Technologically speaking, the USGA knows very well that they have a serious problem with all (pro and am) elite golfers, and absolutely no problem with recreational golfers.

  12. MHendon

    Jun 26, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Mr. Adams
    Golf has a great and detailed history of teaching both honesty and integrity through self officiating along with charitable giving. I don’t think anyone doubts the values that golf teaches, however with all that is good about the game you, I, and everyone else who is a member of this site loves it also has a long standing history as an elitist sport. Elitist not because others are intentionally being shunned but elitist because the cost is so prohibitive for most people. The golf powers that be with all there efforts to bring more people to the game through the extensive marketing of Tiger Woods has failed to address that one critical issue. Stepping on a baseball diamond, football field, basketball court, or tennis court is free for most kids and adults. How can golf ever compete with that?

    • Jerry

      Jun 27, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      Our PGA section along with the local Pros have started a team golf program that has attracted a lot of young new players. Parents are finding out its cheaper than playing select baseball or softball. All the travel and associated cost for those programs run the parents well over %500 a year playing 50+ games a year mostly on the road. Where the team golf is the cost of the shirt and maybe a cap and playing local courses setup for young players to make it fun. From all reports I have heard those who are playing are really enjoy it. This concept should grow as parents start looking at cost and travel with the other sports of summer. I also agree with another comment about the head injury issue. I have a lot of parents thinking twice about football and there sons involvement. I know with all my football injurys know causing problems in my old age, I wish I had spent more time in my youth learning the game of golf.
      We also need to make sure lessons for the middle and lower class income people don’t run them out of the game either.

      • MHendon

        Jun 28, 2014 at 12:37 am

        50+ games a year? Wow youth baseball is much different where you live than here. However you say that’s costing parents well over 500, what would 50+ rounds for these kids cost? Don’t get me wrong sounds like a nice initiative but it still doesn’t address the issue of how expensive the game is for everyone else. Where I live I can step on a tennis court for free, same with a basketball court, or baseball field. Of course the one advantage golf has over those other sports is you don’t need anyone else to play.

        • Alfredo Smith

          Jul 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm

          50 rounds of golf for kids in my town (SF Bay Area) would cost $50… It’s $1 for our new 9 hole and $1 after 12pm on two 18 hole courses. We have a great junior program at Chuck Corica GC

  13. 4pillars

    Jun 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    This seems to be a very weak cause and effect argument, if amateur golf declines then charity contribution also declines.
    What evidence have you for this, as others have pointed out the charity giving may continue through another route.
    I must say that I am not clear about the direction you are taking with this series, I thought it was how to reverse the decline, but it seems more what will be the add on effects of the decline.
    There is an argument that disused golf courses are more ecological.

    • RG

      Jun 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      Individuals become elderly and eventually expire. It is the elderly and middle aged adults who make the vast majority of charitable contribution. If you don’t add to the pool by bringing in young amateurs, eventually it will diminish.
      Mr. Adams argument and logic are sound, the only weakness here is your feeble retort.

  14. paul

    Jun 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    I would still spend lots of money on golf and give money to charity with or without the PGA. I may skip an annual charity tournament I attend and just donate the money to the same charity directly this year.

    • Barney Adams

      Jun 26, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      As I re read what I wrote it appears that I’m giving credit to the Tours. Bad job, me. Their office supplied data which I confirmed elsewhere but the vast majority of charity giving comes from local events

      • Hunterdog

        Jun 27, 2014 at 10:59 pm

        Mr. Adams – I will agree that recreational golf is a terrific platform for charitable fundraising. While I complain about the 6th Captain & Crew of the year, I’m there every year with check book out; sure beats the wine and cheese circuit! Where I live, during these events, I see a lot of younger players. Often their games are built on trying to hit that damn little ball as hard they can; but I often see a few start to learn how to “play” the game. Maybe the Tour is not in the golfing future but some single handicaps have come about. And we all know once hooked…..

  15. EF

    Jun 26, 2014 at 2:13 pm


    Nice job keeping it going, and I’m curious to see where you head next. A couple thoughts:

    1) I’m not sure that there is a way to fix “public interest” in a game. And I sincerely wonder whether the modern suggestions – Tee It Forward, 15″ holes, playing by something other than THE rules as a matter of course – helps, or actually undermines this interest. Would Dr. J have cared so much about that shot if he knew he’d just get to pick up and move to a more convenient location if he failed? Remember when they tried to make Bushwood into an amusement park in Caddyshack II? Didn’t work out so hot for them. I assume you’ll get to that in the next 3 parts.

    2) Golf is not responsible for $3.9B in charitable contributions. Rather it is just a vehicle through which $3.9B in charitable contributions get made. If we look at it in the manner you suggest, the thing on the planet most single-handedly responsible for all charity would be ALCOHOL. It’s served at every charitable event, and it actually has a physiological effect on people’s inhibitions, thereby increasing the likelihood/amount of giving substantially. But I don’t think you’d ever see an article about how we need to bolster alcohol sales in any dips in the market because of its charitable effects.


    • Barney Adams

      Jun 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Dr J had a bunch of people watching and was way out of his comfort zone ( I would have been and at the time was a much lower handicap) I just admired his thinking.
      Alcohol. That’s a bit like saying the NFL is so successful because more is bet on games than all other sports. It is what it is. I take pride in what golf does at the lowest community level. Not the Tours the local fundraisers

      • Bluefan75

        Jun 30, 2014 at 11:43 am

        Mr. Adams, you bring an intersting perspective, and I am enjoying your pieces. But I must say that in regards to your comment about the NFL and gambling, that is exactly why the NFL is so successful. The number of people who claim to be football fans but couldn’t describe a slant pattern to save their lives, nor can you get them to watch a college game(harder to bet and find useful information), is staggering.

        I agree with the earlier post about charities finding another way to raise money if golf wasn’t an option. But I do like your point about why a golf course being abandoned is much, much worse than a tennis court being abandoned. That certainly makes a lot of sense.

  16. HBL

    Jun 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Mr. Adams – It appears to me that you, like many in the “industry”, equate the health of the game to the health of professional golf. I would agree that televised golf is probably a driver, of an extent, of golf (a game played by amateurs of varying handicaps, however, I think that golf would survive without such a huge push of the PGAT. I think if you looked at the $3.9 B you would see that the vast majority is raised by the local tournament committees; it is not clear but for a Tour event would that the money or some portion, would not be raised in some other manner.

    • Barney Adams

      Jun 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      I must have written poorly my emphasis is that most of the funding comes from amateur golf. As for equating with professional golf; stay tuned !

  17. ca1879

    Jun 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Even if you accept that $3.9B number charitable giving number, and I’m pretty sure it represents the most optimistic estimate possible, it still represents about one percent of the charitable giving annually in the US. Hardly a critical source of funds. And since it’s only the incremental gain or loss to charity that would come with growth or decline in golf that’s at issue, the actual effect, unless there is a total collapse of the game, would be negligible.

    It’s a sport and a pastime Barney, not a social crusade. It will grow or shrink due to reasons having to do with the game and it’s marketing, not it’s fringe effects.

    • Barney Adams

      Jun 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Not positioning as a social crusade. However golf reaches things like the band raising money to go to state, local needs which fly well under the national figure you mention. I’d say over 90% of the requests we got were for needs that used golf because there was no other vehicle. Crusade , no Pride yes.

      • ca1879

        Jun 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

        No one is arguing that it’s not admirable or useful, just the actual effect of growth on the giving, which is a marginal effect. Charitable giving is something we should do because it’s the right thing to do, and I’ll put in my hours next year at the LPGA event we host to help maximize the dollars we generate, but not because it will grow the game. People do not take up a difficult and expensive sport in order to have donation opportunities. Again, we need to focus on the core problems, not the fringe effects.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Equipment tidbits for you to think about



One of the most fun things about being a golfer is that we all want to get better–hit drives longer and straighter, iron shots that find greens more often, pitches and chips that get closer, and putts that go in more often. And we all seem to take great pleasure in finding that next “missing link” in our bags that will help us achieve one of those goals.

Today I want to share some thoughts about how little things can often mean a lot when it comes to tweaking your equipment. On the surface, a golf club seems to be a pretty simple thing—a piece of metal, at the end of a tubular piece of metal or graphite, with a rubber-like handle at the end. But when that golf club is put into motion at 100 mph or so, a lot of dynamics begin to happen.

As we ponder the dynamics of the complex action of swinging a golf club and the broad set of mechanics that come into play on every shot, I thought I’d share some random observations I’ve made over the years about equipment cause and effect:

Increasing your driving distance: The industry has taken us on this dramatic quest for distance and power, and the average driver sold today is over 45” long. That’s two inches longer than the standard of 25 years ago. And while the humongous driver heads brag about “forgiveness”, the fact is that your longest drives (and straightest) will always come from dead center hits. It’s still a fact that a sweet spot miss of just ½” will cost you 7-9% distance loss, and a miss of 3/4” will increase that to 12-15%. I suggest you try gripping down on your driver an inch or more the next time you play and see if you don’t hit the ball closer to the sweet spot and see it consistently going longer and straighter. It’s been proven over and over again.

Examining iron specs: The “standard” way a set of irons was engineered for decades was that the irons vary in length by ½”, and in loft by 4 degrees. But the past few years – driven by the relentless quest for distance – we have seen the loft gaps increased to 5° at the short end of the set and as small as 2.5° at the long end. The harsh reality of this geometry is that almost every golfer will have much smaller distance gaps at the long end of the set than at the short end, where distance precision is critical. I have tweaked my irons for years so that I have smaller length and lie differences at the short end than the long, and that allows my distance gaps to be more consistent. Most golfers could benefit from examining their TRUE carry distances from club to club and then tweaking lofts and lengths to fix their gapping.

Fit your putter. It amazes me to watch how many golfers–even some of the pros on TV–and see the toe of the putter up in the air at address. Simple fact is that this makes the face point left because of the loft. I’ve become a true believer in putter fitting. A good fit will ensure that your putter really is aimed at the target, and that the lie angle allows the ball to come off the putter straight. Yes, the style of putter is a matter of personal preference, but a putter that is accurately fit to you makes this maddening part of the game much less so.

Watch your grips. We spend hundreds of dollars on a driver or set of irons, and we get disposable “handles”. It’s a fact that grips wear out. They get dirty. And they need replacing regularly. Take a close look at yours. Worn, dirty grips cause you to grip the club tighter to have control. And bad shots are much more frequent because of that.

Experiment. The toys are a big part of the fun of golf, so don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve long suggested all golfers should try the blade style short irons of one of your better player friends or pros, but experiment with other clubs, too. Hit your buddies’ hybrids, fairways, irons, drivers. Try different golf balls. [But I just can’t buy that tees can make a difference, sorry.] It’s fun.

So, there you have some random thoughts of the hundreds that swirl around in my head. Let me know your other questions about equipment, and I’ll try to address them in future columns.

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Off-Season training + Exciting announcement for Wisdom in Golf



There’s a time to play and perform in golf. Then there is a time for a break and group; then there is a time for training so that when the season for playing golf returns you are more PRO-ficient than ever. This is the anti-stagnation system.

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On Spec

On Spec: The DIY episode talking fitting, and personal launch monitors



This episode is all about giving you, the golfer, the opportunity to better understand your equipment and club fitting. Topics range from club length, lie angle, wedge fittings, all the way to diving into personal launch monitors.

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