Twelve percent of the adult population will play at least one round of golf this year. Hackers may drive, chip and putt with hand-me-down clubs, but if you take the game seriously, you'll be forking over a portion of the $6.2 billion spent on golf equipment and merchandise each year.
What are those in your foursome buying? Probably specialized clubs. "They give more experienced golfers an edge," says Rod Warnick, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst who researches recreation trends. The need to improve on the game is behind the success of Callaway Golf's Big Bertha, a driver with design innovations that give you 10 or so extra yards off the tee. Following in Big Bertha's footsteps are a slew of other, lower cost specialty clubs to get you into the swing of things.
Even golf balls are now designed to match a player's skills and abilities. If you're serious about shaving a point or two off your handicap, ask a golf pro which dimple design will affect your spin rate and driving distance.
Among the latest in golf gear are new and improved rain suits, special towels to keep clubs dry, iron covers, soft-spike shoes, golf videos and a seemingly endless supply of designer golf apparel.
American Express is getting into the game, too: Its new Golf Card lets members earn points good for equipment, instruction, green fees and golf vacation packages. For information, call (800) AXP-GOLF.