Barney Adams - Idea Man With Iron Will

By Jeff Janas and Jeffrey A. Rendall; Photos Courtesy of Adams Golf


Adams Golf's Website

PLANO, TX – Everybody wants it; few ever get it.  Some people fall into it, while others blaze their own trails.  It’s the purpose in life for many, and the thing most people (outside your family) will remember you for.


Sounds pretty heavy, but the ‘it’ referred to above is a career that you love.  So much of our early lives is spent building towards an avocation.  Primary instruction teaches you skills and discipline; secondary education adds specialization and refinement; and graduate learning injects professionalism into the mix.


Then you go to work in the field you chose, and it’s at that point where the preparation stops and the rubber hits the road, so to speak.  You either move up, sideways, or out.  One thing’s for sure -- you won’t get far if you’re not passionate about what you do.


Just ask Barney Adams.  Adams is a rare type of entrepreneur, whose love and passion for the game of golf drove him to the success he’s achieved.  Like most truly successful people, fame and fortune wasn’t handed to him – and the outcome for many years was definitely in doubt.  Adams persevered, and now his name is prevalent at the highest levels in golf.


Adams graduated from Clarkson University in 1962 (with a management degree), then worked as a field engineer at Corning Glass for eight years.  He began his entrepreneurial ‘life’ in 1970, acting as a consultant to troubled companies with management problems.  Ultimately, he ended up in California’s Silicon Valley, specializing in the semiconductor industry.


In the early 80’s, he took his management consulting experience to Texas, where he tried to help long-time friend Dave Pelz save his struggling golf equipment company – an effort that Adams said, ‘Unequivocally failed,’ due mostly to poor economic factors in the region at that time.


Barney’s experience with the failed company taught him one thing, however – that he loved working with the game of golf.  It was one of those things where you know it when you see it – his passion for the game would move him towards starting his own company in 1986.


It took nearly eleven years to break through, however -- but break through he did, with the revolutionary new ‘Tight Lies’ fairway woods.  Quite frankly, the Tight Lies’ success was due to a good idea, one gathered from his experience as a club-fitter.  Players were asking for an easy-to-hit club to replace long irons, and Adams gave it to them – by lowering the center-of-gravity of the club and increasing the size of the club face.


Perhaps a simple sounding idea, but one that’s taken the golf manufacturing industry by storm.  To coincide with this profile, we tried out Adams’ IDEA Irons, and we found that there’s no doubt that concept becomes reality.  And there’s no better person to tell the Adams story (and the thinking behind the Idea Irons) than Barney Adams himself:

Barney Adams


GTMA:  You had a fairly long journey in getting your company started, and it basically began with a failed business.  What was it that motivated you to keep going through all the hardships?


Adams: The Pelz Golf business failed for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the poor Texas economy, which was oil based at the time – it crashed, everybody had financial issues and we couldn’t get funding. 


But the bottom line is, through all of the grief, I really looked forward to going to work everyday -- I loved what I was doing.  As opposed to just having a job and enjoying the job, the challenge of the job, and so on…  I now got to work on something where not only the job, but the product, was a source of passion for me.  And that’s what got me through all of the tough times.


GTMA:  When that early golf business failed, you purchased the assets of the company at auction? 


Adams:  Right.  And when I did that, I didn’t have a plan or a product in mind.  I just knew I wanted to stay with the business.


GTMA:  Did that experience teach you any lessons about how you wanted to run your own business?


Adams:  Well, it probably taught me more about what not to do -- and that’s a great lesson, I might add.  Because we had some tough times, and you learn when you have tough times… you learn a lot fast.


GTMA:  Without a doubt.  During the ‘interim’ period between establishing your company and the giant success of the Tight Lies clubs… that’s a long time to keep going.  Was it passion again?


Adams:  That’s absolutely right.  When I speak to entrepreneurial groups, I tell them if they don’t have passion for their product… you can’t do it if you’re just in it for the money.  Things get just too hard, too ugly.  You can always just get a job, and working for financial reasons alone isn’t enough.


I was just lucky, in a way.  Whatever turns the road took, I still enjoyed what I was doing.  In my custom fitting days, for example, I’d work at our little shop from roughly eight ‘til two or three in the afternoon, then go out to the Haney golf ranch, where I was the custom fitter and repair guy -- and worked ‘til they closed at nine or ten at night. 

Adams IDEA A1 Pro Set


And I never thought of those as long hours or anything else.


GTMA:  You just enjoyed what you were doing.


Adams:  I just enjoyed what I was doing.


GTMA:  Then you struck gold with the Tight Lies in the late 90’s.  Even with all the financial success of the latter half of that decade, you kept the products coming – introducing the IDEA irons in 2002.  How was the IDEA concept developed?  


Adams:  Well, putting things in perspective…


Number one, we now have twelve people in Research and Development.  When the IDEA irons were started, I think we had something like four or five.  But the point I’m making, is that we now have a very sophisticated R&D section -- not only in people, but in equipment.  There’s a launch monitor laboratory… just very sophisticated stuff, things that are eons beyond my personal capability of understanding or operating or anything else.


They’re the guys that designed the IDEA irons.  And the way we work now, because Chip (Oliver G. ‘Chip’ Brewer III) runs Adams Golf -- I’m not really involved in the day-to-day operations anymore – it allows me to have more peripheral involvement.


But when I come up with ideas and so on…  I know the R&D guys real well and I have a good relationship with them and just say ‘have you ever thought of this or have you ever thought of that?’


GTMA:   But was there anything in particular that led to the unique IDEA hybrid concept?

Barney Adams


Adams:  Well, a few years back, I had a knee operation, and I was laid up for a period of time.  From the back of my house, I can see a golf course – particularly, a par three over water -- and I kept watching guys hit ball after ball into the water. 


And if there’s one thing I learned when I was a custom-fitter, it’s that making a good set of clubs is really all about efficiency.  You might hit your eight or nine-iron the appropriate yards -- whatever it is for your swing.


Let’s say you hit your eight-iron 140 yards for the sake of argument.  And then what we do as golfers is -- we always add ten or twelve yards per club, so when we get down to the five or four iron, we’re somewhere in the 180 yard range. 


The only problem is that very few people consistently hit their four or five-iron in an equal gap relative to their eight-iron.


And the reason we don’t is because we’re less efficient with our longer irons than we are with our shorter irons -- because of the lack of loft and the greater length of the club tends to exacerbate the inefficiencies in our golf swing. 


The bottom line is that we lose efficiency as we go through the set.


GTMA:  Some people call them flaws, you’re calling them inefficiencies.  Spoken like a true engineer! 


Adams:  I’d watch guys play this hole over water, and see them pull out the right club for the yardage -- and then be inefficient with their swing.  Then golf ball after golf ball went into the water and I thought to myself, ‘you know, we’re making clubs wrong.’ 


When you design a set a golf clubs, you come up with a particular look -- let’s just say you bring up a prototype and you have an eight-iron which is one of the transition clubs, and it looks beautiful, and you look at the same design in a four-iron, which is another transition club, and that looks beautiful, too.


Well, with today’s computer programs, you can just hit a command stroke and say, ‘okay, we’ll just fill out the rest of the set’ -- and it will do it for you. You don’t have to design each individual head.  Because of the computer, they’re all weighted properly, have the proper lie angles and so on and so forth.


GTMA:  They’re almost cookie-cutter.


Adams:  Exactly right.  That’s the way almost all golf clubs are made these days, from a design standpoint.  Now, if you think about it in terms of a mathematical formula, then take advantage of the variables -- the constant has to be what the player provides, such as swing speed, efficiency, and so on. 


That’s great, except what the player provides is hardly constant.


So you now have two variables multiplied together, and therein lies the problem with the longer irons and so on. 


So I thought to myself, ‘okay, instead of designing a set of clubs that way, why don’t we just design a set of clubs to hit a shot from point X to point Y?’ -- design a particular club to hit that exact shot.


It’ll still vary some with swing speed, obviously.


GTMA:  Right.


Adams:  But it doesn’t vary as much as you might think, because the faster swinger might hit it 180 yards, and a slower swinger might hit it 160 yards.  The club doesn’t really change that much. 


That’s how people play golf, but you’re designing a club for the particular shot.  Then, when you’re done, instead of key stroking the computer to have the set flushed out – you start all over again and design a club for another shot and then do that throughout the set of irons.


So instead of designing from the inside out -- i.e, from the club head outward to the variation, you design from the outside in -- i.e, from the shot into the set.

Adams IDEA Iron Set


GTMA:  You also offer a different type of shaft, part steel and part graphite. 


Adams:  Yeah, we’ve been doing that for years.  Again, we offer a variety because… for people who want the graphite feel, but the consistency of steel – that’s what they get.


But for people who want graphite only because they have it in their head that there’s something ‘magic’ about graphite… fine.  We’ll give them graphite or steel, whatever the case might be.  


The bottom line is, what you have here is a different philosophy.  And what I did was, I went to the engineering guys and just talked to them on a conceptual hybrid -- and they picked up the ball and ran with it.


GTMA:  You have four different versions of the IDEA clubs, IDEA AI, IDEA A1 Pro and the women’s irons as well.  Why four different versions?


Adams:  Varying skill levels, and whatever looks good at the address position. 


Women, you have to give them clubs specifically designed for women, even though they probably can play some other designs -- it’s just something they desire.  They want clubs designed just for them.  


Then other people like more offset, some people less offset.  You know, it’s races for horses.  Personal preference all the way, though they’ll get great performance from each type.


You should choose which one’s right for you based on how it looks to you at address position.  Some people like a thicker top line, some like a thinner top line.  Some like more offset, some like less offset. The golf ball doesn’t know what your handicap is, but if you like the looks of something, it might help you swing better from a confidence standpoint.


GTMA:  You said the IDEA irons “have a visible innovation that shows up in the golf shot.”  Would you elaborate on that statement?

Barney Adams


Adams:  Sure.  Your ‘visible innovation’ is that the clubs don’t look alike. 


Go back to what I said before.  If I asked you to visualize a set of Ping I-2s -- well, you know what those clubs look like.  Then, if I told you to visualize a set of IDEA irons… if you saw the five-iron, it doesn’t at all mean you know what the three-iron looks like.  It looks completely different, and that’s my whole point.


Each club looks different, because each club is specifically designed to hit a different shot.


GTMA:  In the IDEA irons, some clubs are cavity backed, and some aren’t.  What’s the technical difference?


Adams:  That’s exactly right, because the whole principle is shot first and club design second.  We don’t necessarily have to worry about matching them up.


The simple difference is the ease of playability and getting the ball airborne. If you can achieve that, you help about 90 percent of the golfers.


Even a tour player likes playing clubs that are easy to hit -- especially when they’re under the gun.  That’s why the ‘i’ wood, the hybrid club (Adams IDEA i wood), is so popular on tour.


You have to have the courage to come out with something that no one’s ever done before.  And I find it very interesting that when we first came out with the IDEA concept, a lot of our competitors said ‘ah, well blah blah blah, -- you know we looked at it and we don’t think it’s that good.’


And now a lot of them are building hybrid club sets.


GTMA:  Part of your success with the Tight Lies clubs was your decision to telemarket them to golf shops and retailers, then you followed it up with an astoundingly successful 30-minute infomercial. 

Adams IDEA Womens 11-piece Set


It’s arguable that your success has come from developing, then maintaining your niche in the market -- both from a club development standpoint and a from a marketing/sales standpoint.  Do you plan on changing any of your marketing strategies with the IDEA irons by taking more of a conventional retail approach?


Adams:  I think we’re there now. I think we have 52 sales people in the field now.  And I think we have great customer service and help them with their inventories and do demo days and all that good stuff.  I think we’re pretty much in the conventional mode when it comes to that.


GTMA:  In your early days you started out unconventionally.


Adams:  You really had to -- you couldn’t play with the other guys.  It was just too competitive to do it the conventional way.


GTMA:  With the IDEA irons, what is your intended market, and do you feel you’ve come close to hitting that target audience?


Adams:  Oh yeah -- 99 percent of all golfers don’t hit their long irons real well.  So it’s a pretty easy marketplace to reach at the end of the day -- and by the way, half of them don’t judge clubs properly. 


For example, I can’t judge when I hit it good, and when I hit it great – and neither can the average golfer.  So you don’t judge a club’s success by the good shots, you judge them by the mis-hits. 


The i-wood, the hybrid club -- when you mishit it, it’ll get you on the edge or close enough to the green that you’ll have a shot to get it up and down.  But if you mishit a three-iron, you’ll be lucky to find the damn thing.


It’s that simple, don’t judge a club by your good hits -- and that’s a mistake a lot of golfers make.

Adams Golf offers accessories, too.


GTMA:  You’ve had some good success on the professional Tours this season, especially on the Champions Tour.  In the case of Adams Golf and particularly the IDEA irons, how will the professional Tour players’ success help you?


Adams:  Well, you can never put a direct cause-relationship on it, because it’s part of a package -- but certainly, when people like Tom Watson play your clubs and they are playing the IDEA concept, it tends to quiet down the nay-sayers, let’s put it that way.


You get your credibility from having professionals use your clubs, and that’s the main thing.  You still have to do the job, you still have to get the clubs into the everyday golfers’ hands and show them that it’s better for them and so on, but it helps the entry. 


You know, it’s very easy to buy the Calloway, Taylor Made, Titleist group, if you will – they’re the big guys, they have the most advertising and most shelf space etc etc.  At our level, we feel we have to earn everything we do.  We have to do it with performance, and that starts with making it okay to use our clubs.


Seeing the pros use ‘em helps make it okay to at least look at them.


GTMA:  It seems as though the equipment helps produce a certain level of confidence probably both in professionals and in the average golfer.  Is that your feedback?


Adams:  Yeah, absolutely right.  We get that all the time. 


Believe me, most of out guys on the Champions Tour have had very good careers and it’s very important that their equipment work very well for them because, let’s face it, they’re older guys, this is their last hurrah, and they sure as heck don’t want to take any chances with equipment that they don’t have confidence in -- because they don’t have that many years left. 


So the pressure’s really on us to put clubs in their hands that’s good -- and fortunately, we have that reputation.  That’s very gratifying.


GTMA:  Without a doubt.  Going back to the weekend golfer who is obviously one of your target audiences… having watched these guys hit these balls into the water and how frustrating that can be -- how are these clubs going help the average golfer take strokes off their score? 

Behind a desk or in the lab, Barney Adams' love of golf has brought him success.


Adams:  Better mishits, it’s that simple. Good hits are good hits.  If we all hit the ball good all the time, we’d all be on Tour and we wouldn’t be having these conversations.  Bottom line is that ironically, better mishits lead to more ‘good’ hits because you gain confidence.


GTMA:  Where do you see your company in five or ten years?


Adams:  Well, I hope it just keeps going.  We don’t look that far ahead. 


One of the idiosyncrasies of the golf industry…  Let’s suppose your calendar year ends December 31st for the sake of argument, and you have a wonderful year -- you now push all the buttons to zero and you start all over again for the upcoming year.   


Golf’s not like a lot of industries where you might’ve had a good year -- and you’ve got probably half to three-quarters of your next year already pre-booked because of the nature of the business.  You don’t have that luxury in the golf industry. 


You finish the year and you’re starting over again -- so our view is much shorter. We have to be on top of things.  If we solve the issue of continuing to grow year after year, the long range will take care of itself.


GTMA:  As far as the PGA Tour is concerned, with them keeping a close eye on technological developments, how do you think that’s going to affect the game and how you do business?


Adams:  I don’t think that’s going to have any effect on us.  The big issue today is the golf ball, and we’re not in that business.  The human cry has seemed to die down over the last couple of years anyway. There are 88 zillion golfers out there that would love to hit the ball better.  We’re trying to help them.



Adams Tight Lies i Wood


Help them indeed.  Adams is a pioneer in golf design, and he’s already helped millions of golfers conquer the dreaded long-iron shots – and the future can only get better.


Adams Golf’s sales in 1995 were a paltry $1 million.  Along came the Tight Lies, and sales jumped to $85 million in 1998.  Talk about growth.  The company also had the largest IPO in the history of the golf industry in 1998.


Barney Adams no longer works in obscurity, but he still probably puts in the hours.  That’s okay, he doesn’t mind… he loves every minute of it.  And one can only speculate that Adams Golf will continue its upward momentum, as long as the ‘Idea’ man is steering the ship.


Adams Golf’s Products

2801 East Plano Parkway

Plano, TX  75074


Toll Free:  (800) 709-6142





Available at your higher-end golf retailers and club pro shops.


Adams makes a full range of club products, from obviously drivers and fairway woods to irons, wedges and putters.  Consult the website for further information.


Our thanks to Barney Adams for adding his wisdom and enthusiasm to this review.

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