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Golf retailers taking a shot at the region

The failures of two local chains create a void that some national outfits are seeking to exploit

GolfTEC in Burlington, MA offers technology based critiques and improvements in the golf strokes of its clients. Client Mark Woods takes a practice swing in one of the bays outfitted with Sevapro technology and software. GolfTEC in Burlington, MA offers technology based critiques and improvements in the golf strokes of its clients. Client Mark Woods takes a practice swing in one of the bays outfitted with Sevapro technology and software. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Cindy Atoji
Globe Correspondent / April 12, 2007

When avid golfer Scott Emberly moved to Boston from Canada seven years ago, he noticed there were few places to shop for golfing equipment.

"I was expecting more choices and was surprised by the lack of options," says Emberly, vice president at public relations firm Morrissey & Co.

But analysts say the retail golf market has changed, and national chains are infiltrating New England to vie for the region's 1.5 million players. Two retailers, Golf Galaxy and GolfTEC, which have made inroads into other parts of the country, have recently opened or are opening stores soon, while their competitors are scouting locations.

"The time is ripe for change," says Bob McGee, editor of trade magazine Sporting Goods Intelligence. "Things are definitely happening very quickly."

New England expansion is coming when the golf industry nationwide hasn't grown in years, with the number of players remaining at 27 million and the number of rounds played annually at just over 500 million, says Joe Beditz, chief executive of the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla.

Golf retailers have also been consolidating, and the New England market has been a tough sell. The family-owned Wayland Golf chain, which operated seven Boston-area stores, closed three years ago. Golf Day shuttered in 2000 after its Revere parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, although the name lives on at The Sports Authority, which purchased the trademark.

But the closing of these stores left a void in the market, possibly fueling expansion plans for competitors like GolfSmith and Golf Galaxy, says Mitchell Kaiser, a retail analyst with Piper Jaffray and Co.

Dick's Sporting Goods, which gets 15 percent of its sales from golf apparel and goods, has moved aggressively into New England, opening 33 stores in the last few years, including 14 in Massachusetts, says Jeffrey R. Hennion, Dick's chief marketing officer. More Dick's stores are opening this year, in Saugus and Dartmouth.

Golf Galaxy, a 64-store subsidiary of Dick's, is scheduled to open in Milford, Conn., this month, one of 15 to 18 locations it plans to open this year nationwide; none are in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Denver golf instruction company GolfTEC opened in Burlington last month, the first of nine stores planned in Greater Boston over the next three years. GolfTEC uses digital video, biofeedback technology, impact analysis, and motion evaluation computers to help golfers develop their swing, says Boston-area franchisee Dana Hooper.

Hooper plans to open in Needham and Walpole this summer, and possibly in Cambridge and downtown Boston next year.

GolfSmith, a 65-store Austin, Texas, chain, won't discuss details about coming into the Boston market but "it's definitely on our radar screen," says Debbie Laudermilk, GolfSmith director of investor relations.

Ben Starr of Atlantic Retail Properties said the major chains have been looking for locations for a couple of years but have been unable to find the right real estate. Some question if they will ever commit to New England.

"The trend we have seen is reduction in golf space," said Robert Sheehan, vice president of research at KeyPoint Partners, a Burlington real estate tracking firm. "The proof is in the pudding. Show me those stores."

One issue: Golf enthusiasts aren't wild about national chains, which account for only 15 percent of golf retail sales, says Kaiser. "Golfers can be snobby," he said. "The more advanced players don't want to buy from a big box store."

Indeed, regional players pose a formidable challenge, and they're stepping up their game. "We are not going to stop at three stores in Massachusetts," says Michael Britt, operations director at Golfer's Warehouse, a Connecticut chain .

Troy W. Upham, president of the five-store New England franchise of Edwin Watts, says that its Attleboro location, which opened last fall, is part of the company's goal to serve more customers. "We are continually looking at adding stores and finding locations that fit our model," says Upham, who is the only franchisee in the 60-plus store chain out of Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Upham would not say how many stores he is looking to add in New England.

Leigh Bader, longtime owner of Joe & Leigh's Golf Shop in Easton, one of the largest on-course golf retail outlets in the country, said the talk of competition is nothing new.

"It's inevitable that the chains are arriving, some sooner, some later," says Bader. "Sure, we'll feel the impact, just like we feel the impact of a gas station that sells used golf balls. There are only a finite number of participants who are potential consumers."

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