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Sports Illustrated tees off this month with an edition aimed at "avid golfers," another sign of just how attractive the nation's 25 million golfers are to marketers.

A raft of new, niche publishers are entering the course, and leaders Golf Digest and Golf Magazine are fighting back with an array of marketing tools to lure upscale advertisers.

The attraction of golfers is obvious: The National Golf Foundation estimates there are 6 million avid golfers-95% of them men-with an average age of 49 and annual income of $100,000-plus.

Nevertheless, golf publications haven't been immune from the economic slowdown's dampening of magazine ad pages in recent years. But publishers are confident a boom is coming, and that's the baby boom.

"Baby boomers have decidedly adopted golf and have spurred growth," said Peter Bonanni, publisher of Times Mirror Magazines' . "As boomers age, their interest in the sport" will grow.

On the ad page front, 1993 was a flat year for the two leaders, with Golf Digest running 1,343.6 pages, up 0.9%, and Golf carrying 1,076.6 pages, down 0.6%, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

A number of other players are now nibbling at the category's edges. Sports Illustrated's new edition will provide golf-related editorial and ads on a weekly basis to 400,000 subscribers.

Other special-interest titles include Senior Golfer, Golf for Women and Links, a travel-ori

This spring, magazine veteran Charlie Mandel will start publishing Golf USA, a national monthly supplement for regional golf publications.

The field also has its own newsweekly in Turnstile Publishing Co.'s Golfweek. (Turnstile is owned by Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications Inc., publisher of Advertising Age.)

The category leaders have fought back by tapping into more sophisticated marketing arsenals. The New York Times Co.'s Golf Co. includes Golf Digest, Golf World and Golf Shop Operations. The unit also provides market research to course developers, maintains a Golf in America database and offers marketers event sponsorships and custom publishing capabilities.

Golf offers similar opportunities through its Golf Magazine Properties.

Golf Digest and Golf say they are having increased success in signing such upscale national marketers as BMW of North America, Saab Cars USA, Rolex Watch USA and Polo/Ralph Lauren Corp.

"No other specialty magazine category has broadened its advertiser base like golf," said Martin Walker, president of Walker Communications, a New York-based magazine consultancy.

Publisher Ken Hanson said the key to added-value programs is to meet a true marketing objective.

"I believe in added value, but I believe in added value that helps advertisers do business," he said. "I'm not sure giving someone a free trip to a golf tournament accomplishes that."M


Shooting for the green

Sports Illustrated's new golf edition means even fiercer competition for ad dollars and readers in the golf publication market.

Magazine/Publishing company Circulation

Golf Digest (New York Times Co.) 1.457 million

Golf Magazine (Times Mirror) 1.204 million

SI Golf Edition (Time Inc.) 400,000

Golf for Women (Meredith Corp.) 277,512

Links (Southern Links Magazine Publishing Assoc.) 250,000

Golf World (NY Times Co.) 146,410

Golfweek (Turnstile Publishing Co.) 40,000

Golf Shop Operations (NY Times Co.) 17,000

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations; magazines

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