American Express Publishing Corp. is about to tee off with a lavish new magazine. Next month, the Manhattan publisher will debut Travel & Leisure Golf, an upscale, lifestyle-oriented entry geared to affluent men.

On a nearby green, The New York Times Co. Magazine Group will launch Golf Digest Woman, a spinoff its highly successful men’s magazine.

“The golf market is very hot right now,” says Tom Brown, publisher of Golf Digest, which has the biggest circulation of any magazine in the field. “The sport has really become hip.”

Both publishers are trying to cash in on the buzz surrounding the once-staid, white-male-only sport. “With the aging of baby boomers, golf playing and spending have been quite robust over the past several years and is expected to continue,” says Paul Hale, managing director of the consumer magazines group at investment banking firm Veronis Suhler & Associates.

But the new titles will be joining a crowded clubhouse. Golf magazines have been rippling into the market over the past few years, with titles like Senior Golfer, Golf Illustrated and Golf & Travel having been launched or relaunched. With some 50 titles in all, observers wonder if there’s room for more.

“One might argue that the category is overserved,” says Mr. Hale.

Compounding the new titles’ challenges is the fact that the golfing population has remained stable, at about 25 million, for the past five years – despite more women and minority golfers, and Tiger Woods.

While both publishers say they’ve found underserved niches, Golf Digest Woman makes a better case. Thirty percent of all new golfers are women and there is only one magazine, Meredith Corp.’s Golf For Women, that caters to the 5 million female duffers.

“There’s a real need for an editorial publication that addresses women, says Priya Narang, media planning director for DeWitt Media Inc.

With manufacturers developing new equipment designed for women, and clothing designers like Ralph Lauren, Nicole Miller and Liz Claiborne launching golf lines, there’s also demand from the business side.

“Those publications are good places for advertisers that want to reach women,” says Ms. Narang.

Even though the odds are on its side, The New York Times Co. is following its historically cautious launch style. The magazine was conceived two years ago as a special section within Golf Digest, appearing six times a year.

In April, it will evolve into a stand-alone title that will be mailed five times yearly along with Golf Digest to the 235,000 subscribers who requested the supplement. It will not be sold separately.

Golf For Women

The new title will be considerably smaller than Golf For Women, which has a paid circulation of 328,000, and is “a profit center for Meredith,” according to Publisher Robin Domeniconi. In the six months ended June 30, 1997, Golf For Women saw an 8.4% increase in circulation, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, with single-copy sales at the newsstand rising a whopping 88%. This comes at a time when most magazines experienced declining newsstand sales.

With the power of Golf Digest behind the New York Times Co., some observers question the restrained approach, wondering whether the company is overly worried about cannibalizing Golf Digest’s own subscriber base.

But the editor of Golf Digest Woman, Liz Comte Reisman, defends the strategy. “There’s high hopes for this to hit its stride in a couple of years.” While newsstand sales are a long-term goal, says Ms. Reisman, “you can’t dive off the Empire State Building without a parachute.”

Ironically, American Express is diving in headfirst with Travel & Leisure Golf, although it is expected to have a harder time convincing advertisers and readers that the new publication warrants their attention. With a substantial though undisclosed budget and a wide mailing of solicitations, the posh book will debut with a guaranteed circulation of 200,000, half of which will be unpaid. The book will appear four times in 1998, and will be available at newsstands. It will move to six times annually in 1999.

Travel & Leisure Golf will rely on its prized database of American Express cardholders for readership, a strategy that has been successful for its flagship title Travel & Leisure, as well as Food & Wine and Departures.

“We can identify people that travel frequently to golf resorts and are high spenders. They’ll be attractive to advertisers,” says American Express Publishing president and chief executive, Daniel B. Brewster Jr. The average reader is a 47-year-old male with an income of $155,000, who plays 44 rounds of golf each year.

Real estate and cars

Rather than providing golf tips, which the bulk of offerings concentrate on, Travel & Leisure Golf will be “a lifestyle magazine seen through the prism of golf,” says Mr. Brewster. “We’ll emphasize real estate, second homes and unusual destinations, as well as food, travel and apparel. Even cars.”

Contributing writers like John Updike and Mike Lupica will work with Editor James R. Gaines, formerly managing editor of Time, Life and People. American Express Publishing is managed by Time Inc.

Publisher William G. Ridenour was snagged from competitor Golf World, which, like Golf Digest, is a New York Times Co. publication.

But some are skeptical of Travel & Leisure Golf’s chances. “It’s a good audience that advertisers want to reach,” says Roberta Garfinkle, media buyer for ad agency McCann-Erickson. But Ms. Garfinkle notes that the pool of advertising dollars is limited and most golf books already include travel sections.”They’ll have to do something different to make advertisers want to switch.”

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