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Golf Illustrated will tee off in early '95 with a new owner who believes he can avoid the financial sand traps that forced two previous backers to cease publication.

Tulsa, Okla.-based NatCom is behind the title's latest resurrection and hopes to hit paid circulation of 150,000 to 200,000, primarily through single-copy sales, when the every-other-monthly magazine makes its debut in April. Some of GI's former staffers, including Editor Al Barkow, are back on board.

"We plan to make it profitable right from the start," said NatCom President Gerald Pope, an avid golfer and special-interest publisher whose recreational titles include Bassin', Crappie World and Rifle & Shotgun SportShooting.

Mr. Pope is pitted against industry heavyweights Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and a slew of smaller magazines. On newsstands, GI faces stiff competition from Petersen's Golfing, a 175,000-circulation title that Petersen Publishing introduced in March with another GI alumnus, Publisher Dick Holcomb, at the helm. Turnstile Publications, owned by Crain Communications Inc. President Rance Crain, is also part of the market mix with Golfweek, a weekly aimed at avid golfers.

"Golf's a hot market but the field is getting a little crowded," said Jack Purcell, publisher of Links Magazine, a 2-year-old golf/travel magazine. "You have to have a distinctive niche that you can explain easily to your advertiser."

One of the first battles for NatCom will be to distance GI from financial problems that twice felled the 80-year-old title.

Its first death came in August 1991, when then-owner Robert Riordan closed the parent company, Family Media. Soon after, G. Eustis Paine, a sports agent/promoter, outbid NatCom for the assets and moved GI offices to Phoenix in 1992. The magazine last published in fall 1993.

Last year, the new corporation, Kachina Publications, racked up liabilities of $22 million and was forced to liquidate its $3 million in assets in bankruptcy. GI's several hundred thousand-name subscriber list was sold to Connecticut-based magazine entrepreneur Martin Davis for about $55,000.

GI's trademark name went to Magazine Communications Consultants, a New York-based newsstand circulation consultancy that sold name rights to NatCom.

Mr. Pope said a one-time color page ad is $9,000 and the cover price is $2.95.

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