BY MIKE PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
That golf bug is picking up momentum and heading in your direction. From here, it looks like it's going to hit you right in the wallet. But it doesn't have to be so bad.
For men and women experiencing the fever for the first time, manufacturers are making beginner-quality clubs and retailers are adding basic bags, club covers and balls.
Brian Overbeck, manager of Strictly Golf in Kenwood, can put together a set of 11 zinc alloy clubs, bag, glove, 18 balls and 40 tees for $225.
At Sam's Clubs, which has five area locations, you can get a similar assortment of clubs for $199.
Clubs. At least six: Two woods, three irons, a putter.
Balls and tees.
Bag. For carrying clubs.
Shoes. Comfortable. No metal spikes, unless you enjoy being turned away from many courses. Gym shoes are fine, but slipping can be a problem. Golf shops sell "spikeless" golf shoes that grip better than sneakers.
Glove. If you don't sweat, don't sweat it. If you do, a glove can save your game. Pay attention to finger fit.
Umbrella. The larger the better.
Travel bag. This is beyond basic, but in case the game becomes a habit, you'll want something to put your bag and clubs in when you take that dream golf vacation.
Elsewhere in the Tristate, basic sets cost $100-$250. If you're willing to make do with fewer clubs -- six or eight -- you can work the price down another $30-$50.
Shop garage sales and discount houses, and there's no telling how much you can save.
"I'm sure there's somebody out there who will sell you a set of clubs for $40," Mr. Overbeck says. The question, of course, is, will they be right for you?
"When you look down at the ground and your club-head (the part that strikes the ball), you have to like what you see," he says. Nevertheless, a $3,000 set of titanium clubs is probably not a beginner's wisest investment.
"You have to ask yourself, are you going to go out and actively take this sport up and get into the game," he says.
Jim Slominski, pro at Fairfield Golf Course, encourages beginners to take their time acquiring valuable golf equipment. For the first outings, he says, they should be renting clubs, taking lessons and driving balls.
After that, "you'll have a better idea of what types of clubs make you feel comfortable and what shafts (the part between the club-head and the grip) and heads you're looking for.
For your early rounds, you'll probably want to stick to public courses, where you'll pay only for the time you use the course. No memberships. No annual fees.
In a recent rundown of Tristate public courses, the Enquirer found a fairly wide range of greens fees, from $6 at Delhi Hills Par 3 to $55 at Waldon Ponds in Butler County.
Some rates were for nine holes; most for 18. Average rate: about $21.50 per round.
A special golf guide is on the Enquirer's Web site at cincinnati.com
Other considerations: your age, size, strength, posture and swing.
The most important measurement when buying golf clubs, experts say, is wrist to floor.
"Some very tall men have very long arms," Mr. Overbeck notes, so they don't really need an extra-long club.
When you're ready to buy golf equipment, You don't have to invest that much money if you're only going to play five or six times a year.
But if you're sure you're going to play a lot, you might want to choose something a little more lasting, Mr. Overbeck says.
Zinc alloy clubs -- "the cheapest way to go" -- are not as strong and can crack and break in time, he says.
"They won't take the pressure, especially if you're driving off a mat (as opposed to grass), but they will work well for a couple of years."
Other options for irons: stainless steel and titanium, from more than 100 manufacturers.
Terry Jolly, pro at A.J. Jolly Golf Course in Alexandria, suggests two woods, five irons and a putter for starters. He recommends a set that allows you to add
matching clubs later. Most clubs available at discount prices won't allow you to do that, he says.
Mind your manners:
Money isn't all it takes to play the game of golf. There's the etiquette thing.
"The general rule is to always try to leave the course in as good of a condition as you found it," Strictly Golf's Brian Overbeck says. Specifically, that means you should:
Be courteous, and let faster groups "play through," or go ahead of you.
Repair all the damage you, your balls and your clubs make to the turf and putting greens.
Keep your trash in your golf bag.
Pick up trash you see in your line of play.
Collect any stray clubs or other equipment left behind by other players and turn it in at the clubhouse.
Experts agree that you'll need only six to eight clubs to get you through those first few games: two woods, three to five irons and a putter.
Nevertheless, many adults, Mr. Overbeck says, feel embarrassed without a complete set of clubs.
"The older customers generally will spend the extra money," he says.
Lessons can do wonders for beginning players, Mr. Jolly says. "Some of these people are so raw to the game, they can't enjoy themselves."
Most women prefer group lessons, he says, while men generally prefer one-on-one instruction.
For an idea of lesson prices, Boone Links in Florence charges $30 per private adult lesson, or $120 for a package of five private lessons. Reeves Golf Course at Lunken Airport in the East End charges $60 for a package of four one-hour adult group lessons.
Tempo welcomes your Smart Shopping suggestions. Send to: Bill Cieslewicz, Tempo, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.