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Sport-specific shoes are hard for consumers to justify. It’s just not practical for many consumers to buy a shoe that can be worn for only one activity. Convenience, cost effectiveness and versatility are important to today’s multisport enthusiast.

Golf shoes are no exception. Prada has designated the classic, kilties golf shoe as an acceptable fashion item. In turn, golf shoe manufacturers are developing outsoles and styling that allow players to make an easy transition from green to club house and beyond.

The changes in footwear come as the golf industry is trying to recapture the buzz it enjoyed two years ago. According to Golf World magazine, most golf companies reported sales decreases last year. “Nineteen ninety-seven was very exciting,” said Mirco Richardson, vice president, Walter Genuin, Chicago. “But the Tiger Woods hype has not materialized. It’s set everyone back.”

Sarah Killeen, marketing manager for Nike Golf , Beaverton, Ore., agreed that Tiger mania didn’t translate into year-round sales. “It’s been a process of watching Tiger mature,” said Killeen. “He was learning how to handle the [media] attention and keep his game up under immense scrutiny. . .Retailers didn’t want to miss out and stocked up in ’97. The challenge now is to get rid of the excess inventory and get fresh product out there.”

The weather did not cooperate, either. “El Nino was a big problem,” said Killeen. “In northern California courses were closed for six straight weeks.”

Feeling the pressure, golf footwear makers have broken into two camps. Traditional companies are continuing to focus on the more serious golfer in the 35- to 50-year-old age group and addressing comfort enhancement. At the same time, athletic and new, smaller companies are targeting 14- to 25-year-olds and tempting the young-at-heart with fresh designs.

Truly multifunctional and hip at the same time, Bite Golf has changed the way retailers, as well as consumers, view golf shoes. Bite has put soft spikes on hiker, skate-shoe and sport-sandal uppers, creating some of the most creative footwear for plantar fasciitis in the industry.

Dale Bathum, president of the San Rafael, Calif.,-based company, said that although Bite mainly appeals to 18- to 35-year-olds, the attitude of the golfer is the real mark. “We have 77-year-olds wearing our shoes. We go for the adventurous golfer.”

While most golf shoes are carried in green-grass and specialty stores, Bite has made a successful leap into department and family shoe stores. “Just For Feet is doing a 24-store test, and Nordstrom’s Seattle store carries two styles,” reported Bathum.

Brett Freidman of Freidman’s shoes in Atlanta said he is offering Bite for the second year. “We started carrying them because of the casual appeal and the fact that they offer sizes up to sixteen. We put them in our current catalog. They do very well for us.”

Golf shoes in a family shoe store? Bathum explained that a lot of family retailers like the cross functionality of Bite shoes. They also perform as add-on sales. This unique approach has also attracted outdoor specialty buyers. “We are working with REI on design ideas,” he said. “We also exhibited at Outdoor Retailer for the first time. A week before the show, we were booked solid with appointments.” Bathum added, “A golf hiker makes sense. Golf is like hiking, you walk six miles through mud, tall grass and over hills.”

To build credibility as a performance product, Bite sponsors past PGA winner Paul Stankowski. “He’s 29, sports a goatee and has a young, marketable image,” Bunham described. “He’s not the same old stodgy athlete.”

Adidas Golf, Carlsbad, Calif., has also set its sites on the younger customer. Last year, Adidas offered some of the most innovative golf footwear available, including a sandal and the Mud Skipper, a spiked snow boarding-inspired boot.

Mike Terreri, vice president of sales, explained Adidas’s approach to the nonmetal spike movement. “We developed the Tour Tech, which combines the leather upper of our best selling shoe with a high-abrasion, spikeless outsole. The molded sole has a wear of about two years, depending on the wearer’s individual use.”

Spokesperson Sally Murdoch explained that Adidas would focus on green grass shops, with bold POP displays, taking advantage of Adidas’s strong brand image.

Nike is taking its athletic-performance heritage to a slightly older customer who is an avid golfer. “Sixty percent of the sales are made to 25 percent of the customers,” said Killeen. “The 35- to 50-year-old player who is competitive and at the peak of his or her earning power is our focus.”

Nike will take advantage of resources at Cole-Haan to produce styles that are contemporary classics, according to Killeen, who added that Nike will also share some basic research with the athletic side of the company. Scott Reames, communication manager, Nike Golf, offered, “Now that spikeless shoes for ladies with bunions are virtually a given, we believe the major point of differentiation between various golf footwear brands will be the basics of comfort on the course.”

Killeen said she is spending a lot of time with Tiger Woods on the development of his next shoe. “He’s a golfer first, and more of a clean, traditionalist.”

Reames added, “Although Tiger’s accomplishments on the 1998 PGA Tour were not as eye-popping as the year prior, 1999 is a new year for Tiger, and a new opportunity for Nike Golf to bring to market a line of products that reflect Tiger’s attitude and style.” With the first Tiger Woods model, it was a concept car, according to Killeen. “It was a little too much for golfing America.”

What high arch tennis shoes do Bill Gates, Bruce Willis, Janet Jackson and Celine Dion wear on the links? The answer is high-end, fashionable shoes by Walter Genuin. A successful brand in Europe, the distinctive shoes caught on in the States through pro shops at exclusive country clubs. The German-based company now has a distribution agreement with Tear Drop Sports, owners of the Tommy Armour and Ram hard goods brands. “It’s a brand driven market,” said Richardson. “We have to create awareness. With Tear Drop, we will have an advertising budget and a full sales force.”

Genuin offers soft spikes and a variety of styles, including dressy chukkas and lush wovens. The women’s collection includes hair-on calf in animal prints and apres golf mocs. Wholesale prices range from $185 to $990. Other vendors are attempting to enhance wearability. “Golfers want to put their golf shoes on at their house and not take them off until they return home,” said Jimmy Jones, founder and president, Lady Fairway, Tampa, Fla.. “However, they still want `renewable traction’ — a buzzword in the industry.”

Beyond waterproofing, spikes and cleats are also adding excitement and versatility to golf footwear. Foot-Joy added ComforTemp temperature regulation to a few styles last season and has since extended the cooling technology to many new styles this year. This phase-change agent, from Frisby Technologies, Bay Shore, N.Y., is being widely used in pack and hiking boots, and tests have resulted in a 7 degree to 8 degree temperature difference in the micro-climate of shoes.

New outdoor technology has also influenced Lady Fairway. This season, the company will also introduce its first golf shoes to feature temperature-regulating Outlast, reported Jones.

Regarding the mature market, Golf magazine reported that 90 percent of seniors wear magnets in their golf shoes. Magnets are now standard tools in alternative medicine and physical therapy. Last August, Florsheim, Chicago, launched its MagneForce shoes, which boast biomagnetic technology in the form of small magnets built into the insoles.

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