Helped by hot new golf stars like Tiger Woods, the sport has exploded in popularity this year, putting PGA Tour event attendance 20% to 30% ahead of last year's numbers.
In addition, golf is suddenly drawing a much broader audience, with women, families and ethnic groups flocking to tournaments in addition to the traditionally upscale male audience.
"We've always had plenty of on-site corporate marketing and hospitality events, but what we're starting to see is major interest in consumer marketing at golf events," said Tom Wade, senior VP-business development and marketing for the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based PGA Tour, which also oversees Senior PGA Tour and Nike Tour golf tournaments.
A LEISURELY SETTING
General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac and Buick divisions, IBM Corp., and a host of other marketers are using PGA Tour events to demonstrate and sample products directly to consumers for the first time in the leisurely, sociable setting of a golf tournament.
First USA launched its PGA Tour MasterCard and Senior PGA Tour MasterCard affinity credit cards in January, when it debuted as a PGA Tour sponsor.
At golf tournaments across the country, it's now giving away three free Top Flite golf balls, marketed by Spalding Sports Worldwide, that feature PGA Tour and MasterCard logos to consumers who fill out a credit card application.
"Response has been extremely enthusiastic . . . people are in the mood for something to do when they're not watching golf," said Tony Plohoros, VP-corporate affairs for First USA.
On Sept. 1, First USA launched a sweepstakes promotion targeting its cardholders, in which 20 grand prize winners will get to play a day of golf with pro Tom Watson. The promotion is a hit at the PGA Tour booth, Mr. Plohoros said.
At Senior PGA Tour events, Cadillac offers the "Cadillac Measure-Up Challenge," in which consumers play a search-and-find trivia game based on questions and facts about Cadillac in order to win a free gift. To participate, consumers have to explore an actual Cadillac from one end to the other.
Schwab launched its Schwab Site booth in March after becoming the "Official Investment Firm of the PGA Tour" last January. The site offers everything from real-time stock quotes to hands-on access to Schwab's Internet site (www.schwab.com) with instruction and help for first-time users and sophisticated Internet investors.
Recently, Schwab redesigned its site and it can now accommodate hundreds of visitors including when crowds surround the booth during stock market fluctuations.
Schwab is now generating "hundreds" of potential new customer leads at each PGA Tour event, creating new interest at the company in event marketing.
CAUTIOUS ABOUT CLUTTER
The PGA Tour wants to cultivate more on-site marketers, but it's being cautious to avoid cluttering events with too many sponsors.
"We don't want to destroy the beauty of the sport by overcommercializing it," the PGA Tour's Mr. Wade said. "Our goal is to provide only the kind of non-intrusive on-site marketing opportunities that spectators find relevant and entertaining."