Pink golf balls. Lighter clubs. Fashionable, high-tech shoes.
Although the teenage phenoms who have sparked talk of a younger, female Tiger Woods won't be at the Southern California Golf Show as it opens today at the Long Beach Convention Center, signs of their influence certainly will.
From the smallest operators to industry giants, many of the show's 125-plus vendors will be showcasing products aimed at a nontraditional audience: women.
The vendors' presence at a trade show for a sport that has long catered to men reflects just how much attention women's golf is garnering these days, industry experts say.
The attention is partly due to a new wave of marketable young players like Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie, who have drawn the attention of fans and manufacturers.
But the pool of recreational female golfers has expanded significantly as well: Their ranks grew to 6.9 million in 2004, a 31% increase from 1993, according to the National Golf Foundation. That compares with growth of 5.2% among men in the same period, to 20.3 million.
"What you have is a lot of people responding to this new market," said Susan Reed, editor in chief of Golf for Women magazine, whose March-April cover features Creamer. "They sort of realize what a great growth area designing with women in mind is."
The Long Beach show, which runs through Sunday, offers hints of what this growing category may offer in years to come -- in particular for products engineered specifically for women, not merely those adapted from men's designs. Although products for women are not new, more companies have responded to the demand by boosting their spending on research, development and marketing, Reed and others say.
At Nike Golf's booth, women can slip on the company's new SP-6, retailing for $130 a pop. The lightweight women's golf shoe -- designed with the input of another leading young pro, Grace Park -- sports a sole whose grooves are meant to keep feet on the ground longer during the golf swing.
The draw at Covington, Ga.-based Precept, Bridgestone Golf's mid-tier recreational brand, is the Creamer-endorsed Lady SIII line of golf balls. They are available in pink, yellow, baby blue and white, and feature a softer core intended to produce greater distance for slower swingers. (The Lady SIII follows the top-selling MC Lady, which became so popular among men that Precept came out with the Laddie -- renamed in part to soothe the male ego.)
Another article that isn't shy about its target market: Nickent Golf's Goddess Collection, a set of 10 clubs engineered for the recreational female golfer. The clubs, at $699 a set, are lighter than their counterpart for men and have altered features -- such as the so-called lie and loft -- to make them easier for women to use.
"This isn't a man's set that's been modified to fit the female," said Jon Claffey, marketing director of City of Industry-based Nickent. "This is a set that we designed from scratch with every detail in mind, from the size of the hands to the range of the motion in the swing."
The targeting of female customers isn't limited to big corporations. Alias Footwear, a two-person operation in Santa Cruz, is displaying smaller sizes of its street-style golf shoes, originally made for men, to capitalize on their stealth popularity with women.
And women checking out group packages at the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort in Death Valley National Park may hear a pitch for a nonintimidating course.
"The pace of play here is not forced. People tend to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife and are not rushed to complete a round in record time," said Phil Dickinson, a spokesman for the resort.
Golfers not interested in female-specific products need not fret. Free custom fittings for clubs are available at the Long Beach show, as are one-on-one lessons with PGA pros and time with a swing simulator.
Although some women golfers shy from female-specific gear, insiders predict that those products will take up increasing floor space in shops.
"I think the industry is now looking at women as a viable growth force in the game," said Ron Sirak, executive editor of Golf World magazine, "and they are changing their attitude in terms of marketing toward them."