Emap's golf titles in the bunker

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A SERIES of top-level defections from a flagship golf magazine have landed leading publishing group Emap in the rough.

Golf World, Emap's best-selling golf title, has been rocked by the defection of top stars Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Curtis Strange, who are ending their association with the magazine at the end of this month. Also leaving is David Leadbetter, widely regarded to be the best golf teacher in the world.

"They are no longer exclusively contracted to Golf World," confirmed Tom Mol- oney, chief executive of Emap's consumer magazines division.

The departures follow the recent resignation of the magazine's editor, Robert Green, amid disagreement about its future direction and are an embarrassment to Emap, which has splashed out heavily to establish a leading presence in this lucrative consumer magazine niche.

Emap paid the New York Times pounds 11.25m for three of Britain's best-known golf titles, including Golf World, in August 1994. This was almost four times the sum offered by IPC, the larger Reed-owned rival, which owns Golf Monthly, the number two title in the market.

Insiders fear the loss of such major names as Faldo and Langer could have a big impact on sales. Golf World sells more than 80,000 copies a month but is read by an estimated half a million club golfers, mainly for its first-person instruction articles from leading players and coaches.

There are also concerns about the future of Fore!, the Emap title aimed at the municipal golfer, which was the subject of a big launch campaign three years ago. According to latest ABC figures, its sales fell by almost a fifth to fewer than 58,000 in the second half of 1995.

Mr Moloney said the market for golf magazines was tough, blaming new entrants and a "lack of excitement" in the sport currently. But he reaffirmed Emap's commitment to golf titles, adding that recent sales were looking better. Emap has 81 titles in its consumer magazine stable.