Written By: Tony Covey

What does the future hold for Adams Golf?

Now that Adams HQ has been closed what will TaylorMade do with the brand? Will Adams continue to do what it does from TaylorMade’s home base in Carlsbad? Is it destined to become a brand exclusively for old men and hackers, or will TaylorMade effectively kill off the brand entirely?

After nearly 3 years, real answers are finally starting to emerge.

3 Years in Limbo

It’s been nearly 3 years since TaylorMade acquired the Adams Golf Company. While many predicted TaylorMade would eventually destroy the brand, that hasn’t happened yet…not totally anyway. Nevertheless it has been a period of great uncertainty with golfers, and likely those inside the company as well, unsure of where Adams fits in the larger picture.

Given former TaylorMade CEO Mark King’s statements at time of purchase, it has come as no surprise that as Adams worked through its product pipeline, we’ve seen a gradual but undeniable shift in the scope of Adams’ offerings. Most apparent in its iron offerings, the company no longer offers the proverbial something for everyone.

From day one of the acquisition, the suggestion was that TaylorMade would focus its offerings exclusively on better golfers (a story no one actually believed), while Adams would be positioned for the average golfer and senior players.

The problem with that strategy is that, in the context of the golfing population and the marketplace, TaylorMade’s claimed wheelhouse, the 0-4 handicap demographic, is basically non-existent. It’s the extreme edge of the bell curve. It’s not a money-maker. In the real word where success is measured in dollars, and TaylorMade’s marketing targets everyone and anyone with money to spend on golf clubs, the two brands have remained direct competitors.

When it comes to absolute marketshare, that’s not all bad. In a year where TaylorMade’s numbers are off, the overlap in product means that the larger TMaG empire can still lay claim to 1 of every 2 metalwoods, and 1 of every 3 iron sets sold.

The consequence, however, according to TaylorMade’s new(ish) CEO, Ben Sharpe, is that lack of differentiation between brands has “caused confusion on the part of the consumer between what is TaylorMade, what is Adams, and what’s the difference”.

That’s about to change.

A CLEAR PATH FORWARD

On the heels of the shutdown of Adams headquarters; arguably for the first time since the acquisition, there is a real, and potentially viable, plan to actually differentiate the two brands, and the dividing line isn’t drawn where you likely think it is.

While Sharpe doesn’t shy away from the fact that there are clear savings associated with closing Adams headquarters, the biggest benefit of moving the Adams team to Carlsbad is realized through closer cooperation between product teams.

“If the Adams guys are speaking to the TaylorMade guys then we’re making sure we’re offing a complimentary position rather than a conflicting position”. – Ben Sharpe, CEO, TaylorMade-adidas Golf

During his first 100 days in office Mr. Sharpe asked lots of questions. Among those was one he posed to the employees of the TaylorMade Golf Company:

“Why do you love the game of golf?”

As you might imagine, the answers were wide-ranging. Some talked about hitting the perfect shot. Others talked about time spent with family and friends. For Sharpe, they key takeway was that it’s both possible, and reasonable to divide golfers into two groups.

“There are people who want to compete and there are people who just want to play”. – Ben Sharpe, CEO, TaylorMade-adidas Golf Company

Think about that. Some golfers compete. Others just want to play.

Play. As in have fun, enjoy yourself, and don’t get worked up about the number you write down…if you even write a number down at all.

Can you see where this is going?

TaylorMade will offer what I suppose you could call mainstream products for the competitive golfer. It will continue to innovate and compete with Callaway, Titleist, PING and others. Adams will be positioned in a space that Sharpe describes as more fun, friendly, and inviting for golfers who just want to go out and play.

Play.

That’s fairly open-ended, and I suspect we’ll have a clearer picture of what that actually means when the next generation of Adams products is announced, but what I believe we’re talking about is a strategy that focuses almost exclusively on the recreational golfer.

We’re talking about a brand, not for the highly competitive golfer, not for those of us with a standing two dollar Nassau, almost certainly not for those of you who play by the absolute letter of the USGA’s rulebook, but rather for the guy simply looking to have a good time on the golf course.

Could that actually work?

Given the undeniable role the PGA Tour plays in retail success, I’m far from certain that it’s possible to be successful with what will likely be a recreational line with almost no Tour exposure. The Adams hybrid legacy is likely to continue on tour, but that’s almost certainly the full extent of it.

I could argue that the recreational golfer likely represents the majority. I could also point out that as group, the purely recreational crowd isn’t currently being specifically targeted by any major OEM.

I could just as easily argue that it doesn’t need to be.

Unless we’re talking about non-conforming, something clearly distinct from what’s already on the shelf, or at an absolute minimum, something significantly cheaper than offerings from competitors, do the wants and needs of recreational golfers really differ from the rest of us?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Adams as a Vehicle for Growth

I’d wager the plan for Adams is directly tied-in to something else Sharpe and I spoke about during our 30 minute conversation; his belief that the best way to grow golf is through positivity.

If you consider what’s being discussed in the various grow golf circles, including TaylorMade’s own Hack Golf initiative, much of the focus is on fixing things that are perceived to be broken with golf.

  • Golf is too expensive.
  • Golf is too hard, we need to make the holes bigger.
  • Golf takes too long, we need shorter courses, faster play, and the option to play fewer holes.

Sharpe doesn’t think that’s the best approach. To grow the sport, those with a vested interest in doing so should be talking about what’s great about golf rather than focusing on what’s wrong.

Could the Adams brand be used as a vehicle for growth? Maybe I’m reading a bit too much between the lines, but some of what Sharpe told me certainly suggests that possibility.

“Adams can be a lot more than just another golf equipment brand. It can represent a movement about trying to bring excitement, fun, and entertainment into the game. It can, if we get it right, go beyond just products”. – Ben Sharpe, CEO, TaylorMade-adidas Golf

It almost sounds like HackGolf 2.0, presumably without the gimmicks.

The End of Adams

No doubt fans of the brand will see this new strategy, whatever it proves to be, as the nail that seals the Adams coffin. To an extent that may be a fair appraisal. The new positioning comes with an implicit non-compete clause with TaylorMade. For those holding their breath for the next great Adams club for the better player, it’s time to exhale and move on.

Adams will never again be the Adams that so many of us loved. That much is certain.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, possibly even delusional, but if the new Adams is able to offer something new, unique, and most importantly useful to the recreational golfer, maybe Adams fans can find some solace in talking about what Adams is instead of lamenting what it once was.