Legendary golf entrepreneur Barney Adams brings new passion for high-tech putter shafts
In the annals of modern golf, there is arguably no greater success story by an entrepreneur than Barney Adams.
In the early 1990s, Adams was a custom club fitter in Plano, Texas — his friends called him "Barnyard" — when he came up with the design of a fairway wood that he thought was better than those being made by the big companies.
He dubbed the club Tight Lies, and through the magic of cheaply purchased (at the time) infomercials in the early years of Golf Channel, Adams Golf became an overnight sensation.
"The short answer to why we were successful would be: luck," Adams, chuckling, said on the phone recently from his home at Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells.
Tight Lies set up Adams for life. He sold his company to TaylorMade in 2012 for $70 million and went into semi-retirement, happy to golf and fish.
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The problem is that when you've achieved something that so many other golf entrepreneurs dream of, you get a lot of emails and phone calls seeking your sage advice and support.
Adams offered a blunt "no thanks" to most because he understands just how brutal the golf equipment market can be for start-ups. But there was one idea that caught his eye, and he's once again, at the age of 79, eyebrow-deep in promoting a product he believes in.
Along with Blair Philip, who first approached Adams with the concept, and engineer Robert Stephens, the trio formed Breakthrough Golf Technology to make and promote a putter shaft that is unlike anything previously seen.
After years of dramatic changes to putter heads, Adams believes it is the first major breakthrough in putter shafts, basically since golfers went from hickory to steel.
BGT's claim for its Stability shaft is that through widening the shaft with layers of carbon fiber and adding an aluminum insert -- all while keeping the overall putter at nearly the same weight -- the torque is reduced. The conclusion: Less torque should translate into a more square delivery at impact.
The cost: $199 for a Stability shaft, or about half the purchase of a new, big-name driver, and the average golfer uses a putter more than twice as much as a driver.
"The challenge was," Adams said, "to make a shaft that weighs the same, feels the same, except that it won't oscillate during the putting stroke because of the weight of the head. The objective from the first minute was to bring the putter face back to the intended line.
"It took about two years for us to go through this very complex process, and we finally got the stability in the shaft we were looking for.
"Other people have tried to make thicker shafts, but because they're heavier, then you have to change your stroke to accommodate that, and it defeats the purpose."
On its website, BGT shows detailed graphs from testing of how much the oscillation is reduced by the Stability shaft. It appears to be significant.
"This is real technology," Adams said. "It's not a product gimmick. It's not a good-looking head or some grooves on the face of the putter. If there is an effect into the fourth decimal place (in testing), it's the real deal."
Adams said there are 53 professional golfers at various levels who have used the shaft, though he can't provide their names for promotion because he doesn't pay them.
"Most of them, frankly, sought us out," Adams said.
Justin Rose, who won the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup last season, had the shaft on his putter for a time in 2018, and LPGA Tour player Stacy Lewis put it into play.
Among the pros, Adams said, "They have to use it, and then they have to get in the hunt. And, hopefully, we've given the announcer an information sheet and they can talk about it a little bit."
Once again, though, Adams faces the enormous battle of getting the word out on a product -- and this time infomercials are not an option.
"I've only asked myself about 10,000 times in the last year or so," Adams said of getting back into the business. "Because it's very frustrating. It's very difficult. I'm on an eternal fund-raising cycle to find enough money to do the job."
The issue, Adams contends, is that golf stores are only interested in products from the most recognizable brands.
"Believe me, I went through this with the Tight Lies," he said. "We've gone out to talk to them about this shaft, and they won't give us the time of day.
"The problem is, they don't want to sell anything. They want product that people will come in to buy. They're not about developing a demand for something. That's not their business.
"You have to incentivize the potential buyer, who, on average, is a 52-year-old white male who needs to get off his butt to purchase something if he thinks it's going to help his game."
Adams estimated that to truly make an impact as a club maker these days, it takes at least $20 million for marketing and to pay pros.
"The one thing different today is that you can sell things online," Adams said. "But my answer to that is that's for people to have fun. You're selling a product, but it's basically a hobby. The big guys ... they're not going to pay any attention to you.
"Golfers are passionate about the game. They come up with some great ideas and are passionate about their product. But it's really difficult to make that work. People get really angry with me, but I have to tell them, "Sorry, that's the way it is.'"
This article is written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.