As the president of adidas Golf, Jeff Lienhart has been overseeing the brand through a significant transitional period. In October, adidas formally completed the sale of its TaylorMade, Adams Golf, and Ashworth brands to an affiliate of private equity firm KPS Capital Partners. It was the culmination of a long‑term strategy in which adidas sought the divestiture to focus on its core competencies of golf apparel and footwear.
Lienhart recently took the time to chat with the NGF about the most significant changes for the company since parting ways with TaylorMade, the brand’s approach to design, and adidas’ place in the golf industry, its direction and what the future may hold.
What’s your background in golf and how did you get your start in the industry?
“I grew up playing the game and benefited from having access to a nice country club at home. We summered in Northern Michigan and I actually had access to a small 9‑hole course which I grew up on. I’ve had a passion for golf since I was probably nine years old. Then it was interesting, my wife went to work for a sports company out of college and I realized for the first time that you could actually pursue your passion when it comes to the business. So I started pursuing the golf category just because of my love for the sport. My first opportunity was with a golf company you never hear about anymore, but was Powerbilt Golf. Coming right out of college (West Virginia University), they gave me my first opportunity and then I’ve basically spent the entirety of my career around the category.” (Lienhart spent 14 years with Nike Golf and then three with Hillerich & Bradsby Co. – managing global business development for brands such as Louisville Slugger – before joining then TaylorMade‑adidas in 2014)
What have been the most significant changes for adidas Golf since parting ways with TaylorMade?
“It’s interesting, the offenses were consistent with each other, but we were definitely running the two brands somewhat independent of each other – leveraging where we could for obvious reasons. Our opportunity now is to really latch on to all the success that the greater brand is having all around the world and find our synergies and points of leverage within the brand to really accelerate the growth. The important thing for us is that internally we live out this mantra that we’re ‘born of sport, rooted in golf.’ This keeps one foot firmly planted in the fact that we’re part of the world’s greatest sport company. But our other foot is firmly in the game of golf and no one around this building or working on the business of golf can forget that’s who we are and the consumer we’re working for.
We were riding pretty high when we were drafting off the success that TM was having as the behemoth in the golf industry. Now we’re seeing in the sports world that the fastest‑growing sports brand is adidas. We have a strategic business plan that takes out to 2020 and beyond. Fortunately for us, it was relatively consistent with what the Mother Ship, adidas, was crafting within their four walls. Now, as we join ranks with adidas, we’re able to combine the strategic business plan where it makes sense and really have a very focused, clear vision for the future.”
What are you most excited about now and what is your perspective on adidas Golf’s place in the golf industry?
“We’re excited about the opportunity. With TaylorMade, the challenge was always the idea of these two brands co‑existing with each other. Now we get to be a part of the bigger brand. So latching on to some of the strategies that adidas has overall and then modifying them where appropriate for the game of golf. The other thing I think that’s really beneficial for us are the resources that come with it. In the past, we’ve spent a lot of money on consumer research and will continue to do so, but the great thing for us is that adidas also invests there, a significant amount more than we did previously. Now we’re able to use their strength and knowledge there to help us as well. The resources are far more plentiful with adidas then maybe they were previously.
What are your expectations for the future of adidas Golf?
We have lots of opportunity for growth, but what we’re focused on is quality growth. In the specialty channel itself, primarily green grass, we still have points of distribution that can be explored, relationships that can be deepened. That’s really our focus. Our market shares right now are headed in the right direction. We’re number one in apparel in the U.S. and a strong number two in footwear and headed in the right direction.”
In the golf apparel industry, we’re seeing a shift toward this golf‑lifestyle trend, with versatility on and off the course. How does this affect your approach or design going forward?
“Having spent almost 20 years in and around the golf apparel and footwear space, fashion trends are always shifting. This team has done a pretty good job recognizing the shift and in some ways leading the consumer as well. We’ve actually segmented our product line so that we are addressing the different fashion needs of our consumer. At our core, we’ll always have adidas Performance; that’s where you’ll find all of our technical stories like Climachill, Climawarm, Climaheat and our more technical fabrics. On the fringes, we’ve designed two other silos. One,adipure, which is more classic, with sophisticated design cues and is a little more elevated. And then on the other side of the spectrum, we’re launching another that is more non-traditional with a little more urban inspiration. It’s product that can be easily worn both on and off the course. These three silos really allow us to appeal to our customer regardless of what they’re doing or where they’re playing.
Of all the categories in golf right now, apparel is the one that isn’t confined by the boundaries posed by the game itself. There’s a tremendous amount of apparel opportunity around the game, but also away from the game as well. Because as we all know, those passionate about the game itself, it’s a lifestyle. You carry that lifestyle with you whether you’re playing golf or hanging with your boys.”