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Few would doubt the popularity of golf in the United States and its success has prompted many to take up the game. But the boom in equipment and clothing sales has attracted the attention of thieves and what many see as a gentile sport is undergoing a crimewave.

The authorities estimate that over $100m worth of clubs have been stolen in the past twelve months with titanium-head clubs, which can cost several hundred dollars each, being singled out for attention. The problem is so serious that manufacturers have begun to issue warnings to retailers and customers.

Callaway Golf, the manufacturers of the Big Bertha range, have seen their equipment targeted. "Callaway's clubs have become a premium product, they've almost become like jewellery," said Steve McCracken, the company's legal officer. "They have a premium image and they sell for a lot of money. There is a huge demand for the Big Bertha line of woods and irons and they're easily sold on a black market today. We've got people who are willing to go into an illegal business of trafficking and stolen property."

In response to the crisis Callaway have introduced measures to try and thwart the thieves, designing a bag that locks clubs securely in the golfer's bag. "The bag pulls the club in, no one can remove them," said McCracken. "You've also got a cable so you can lock it to your cart if you want to."

As most American trends eventually find their way across the Atlantic it is likely that European golfers may take more care of their equipment in the future.

TW - 29/12/98