Golfers are making rounds on the Internet, too Web sites prove popular for advice, shopping, more

June 23, 1996|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- If you knew someone who could cure your slice, help you plan your Myrtle Beach vacation and get you Jack Nicklaus' autograph, you'd drop your 3-iron and rejoice.

That said, is there any doubt why golf sites on the Internet are so popular?

With no more than a computer, modem and sliver of cyber-literacy, every golf wish you ever had can be fulfilled -- except acing the 12th at Augusta.

There are, by some estimates, more than 3,500 golf-related sites on the Internet. And they are being consumed by golfers at a pace sprint-player George Bush would be proud of.

The GolfWeb site received an astonishing 1.5 million hits on the Friday of Masters weekend in April, although that number represents the total number of screens visited, not the number of visitors.

"Golf is detail-oriented, statistic-based and played by nuts," said Stu Schneider, editor of GolfWeb, perhaps the industry's top site. "That fits with people who use the Internet."

The alignment between Internet users and golfers seems worthy of astrology textbooks. Demographics among both groups are highest among college-educated, middle-aged males.

"The golf market is almost a direct overlay to the on-line market," said Rick Conkey, executive producer of igolf, a site launched last June. "It's a perfect match."

According to research by GolfData International Inc., 53 percent of all golfers use a personal computer in their home, compared with 34 percent of non-golfers. That has not been lost on the golfing industry, which has been sprinting to the tee box to tap the new market. Among the thousands of golf sites, three have emerged as leaders.

One is igolf (the i is short for interactive), which features commentary from sharp-tongued Gary McCord and advice from PGA "Teacher of the Year" Jim McLean. The site also features an online soap opera called Club Daze, which allows you to read the ramblings of inebriated, snobby golfers without paying the yearly club dues.

If you're surfing the net for the first time, a good place to start is the NBC Golf Tour.

Like many sites, it offers up-to-the-minute tournament results from the PGA, LPGA and at least a half-dozen tours you've never heard of, including the Forty Plus Tour.

The NBC site, launched in June 1994, also contains articles and interviews from Golf Digest and Golf World. Best of all, it has a links section that can connect you to several dozen more sites worthy of your attention.

If you're seeking a golfer's autograph or course listings, GolfWeb should be at the top of your list. It contains a database of more than 14,000 U.S. courses with information such as cost, total yards, architect and rounds played per year.

GolfWeb should receive a surge from its newly introduced on-line pro shop, which allows you to buy soft spikes without any human contact.

GolfWeb's listing of Chicagoland courses is respectable, but it falls short of the Chicago Golf Guide, a site launched last spring ++ from the Aurora home of Fred Kenott, a U.S. postal worker and golf nut.

"Chicago has the best public golf in the country," said Kenott, who receives no money for his work. "There was a big void of information I wanted to fill."

So Kenott, an 8.4 handicap who plays four times a week, created his own site, which lists more than 200 area courses.

Some courses have also launched sites.

"One of the golfers approached me with the idea," said general manager David Mortell. "It's a good advertising mechanism."

The Balmoral site includes a course layout and directions. Other courses will follow Balmoral's path. Some are expected to allow people to make tee times on-line.

Industry experts predict that the smaller sites will get sucked up by the giants.

"Anyone from us to Pete in his garage can publish a site," said Peter Morintz, executive director of sales and marketing at igolf. "But when it comes to resources required to maintain one, that's what the average person can't do."

Pub Date: 6/23/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.