Callaway Golf (ELY), known for its Big Bertha-brand drivers, is facing a stiff wind, along with the entire industry. Americans are playing less...

Share story

Callaway Golf (ELY), known for its Big Bertha-brand drivers, is facing a stiff wind, along with the entire industry.

Americans are playing less golf, as surging gasoline prices make it more expensive to drive to the links.

At U.S. courses open more than a year, golfers have played 2.3 percent fewer rounds so far this year, compared with the year-ago period, according to the National Golf Foundation. In 2007, rounds played fell 0.5 percent.

A weak economy also is hurting demand for new gear. Fortune Brands (FO), which makes Titleist golf balls and Cobra clubs, cut its forecast for second-quarter profit, partly because golfers were deferring “big ticket purchases of golf clubs.”

Even President Bush is pulling back: He said in May he doesn’t “want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf.”

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Thomas Shaw says he’s looking for sluggish demand through 2008.

But Callaway, whose brands include Top-Flite and Ben Hogan, appears to be gaining market share this year, according to Shaw.

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst William Chappell says Callaway’s growing international business may offset weak U.S. demand. He rates the stock “buy” due to its strong balance sheet with minimal debt.