Choosing a prize for your golf tournament is like picking out a present for a friend. The best gift reflects the recipient's lifestyle and tastes and echoes the theme of your event. For choices that are sure to please, make a list of possible gifts and assess them with these questions in mind:

* Who's playing?--Are your participants male or female, young or old, or is it a mixed group? Are they avid golfers, or workaholics who play a few times a year? The goal here is to eliminate what's unsuitable (for example, an item that's too masculine for a mixed-gender group).

* Why did you invite them?--Are they your clients, dealers, or employees? Are you out solely to entertain them, or do you have another goal, such as impressing or rewarding them? Choose the gifts that best deliver your message.

* How important is winning?--Most corporate events aren't held to reward the best golfers. Allocate enough of your budget to recognize the winners, but save the bulk for "tee prizes"--gifts that are distributed to the entire group.

* When and where is your outing?--This is particularly important when choosing apparel. A lightweight shirt or a straw hat over a sweater is just right for a May event in Scottsdale. If the players are flying in, avoid bulky or heavy items, unless they're worth shipping home.

* Is the golf course famous, or is the resort renowned?--If the course is an attraction, or if you have a celebrity guest, your guests may appreciate related memorabilia.

The Short List Once you have narrowed your choices, base your final selections on these hints:

* Choose the highest quality gift your budget will allow--A successful gift is one your participants will enjoy using or wearing. Recognizable brands, superior materials, and fine craftsmanship are always appreciated.

* Buy for the people, not the ceremony--Trite, symbolic prizes like gold-plated putters will never be used. Save your budget for something that the winner will put into play (like a golf bag), or give a gift certificate from the pro shop and let the winner decide.

* Don't repeat yourself--Keep track of what you give at each event and who you gave it to. Note, too, how well items were received, so you can follow up a popular gift with a related item.

If a shirt made a hit at your last outing, give away a coordinating vest or windshirt this time. Or follow a golf bag travel cover with a matching duffel or shoe bag.

* Watch the logo--For an employee event, your logo is a source of pride and team spirit that can feature prominently. If your guests are clients, less is more. A sleeve placement, or a color-on-color embroidery, is more appropriate.

Here are some trends in golf gifts from the 2000 PGA Merchandise Show, held in February in Orlando, where manufacturers introduced the latest products and fashions and golf pros scouted new stock.

Hot * Fleece Holy Old Navy! Shown by all the top makers, jackets and vests of polar fleece will be this year's favorite outerwear.

* Matching men's and women's shirts, vests, and windshirts Ashworth, Cutter & Buck and others expanded their women's lines in colors and styles to match the popular men's styles. They're perfect for mixed tournaments.

* Callaway's new ball Three years in development, the "Rule 35" was the talk of the show. One unique twist: The ball comes in sleeves of five, not three.

* Prestige brands Is this a sign of the strong economy? Traffic was brisk to overwhelming for big-name brands and high-end niche players.

* Windshirts Still very popular, these have evolved from the next new thing to a wardrobe staple.

Not * Stiff-crown caps Bad news for buckram makers: Those baseball-style reinforced fronts are out. Today's caps have soft, unconstructed crowns.

* Blatant brand logos Manufacturers have replaced bright chest logos with small, inconspicuous icons on the backs of neckbands and sleeve bands, or inside plackets.

* Trophies Who's got space to display or time to dust them? Instead, try framed golf art, with a tasteful winner's plaque.