A game of their own

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Women represent the fastest-growing group of golfers, says Oldsmobile, so the General Motors Corp. division is rolling out the red carpet to females on the fairway this summer.

For the first time, Olds will offer a women-only version of its long-running Oldsmobile Scramble, billed as the world's largest amateur golf tournament. The carmaker also will include a cause marketing element in the Oldsmobile Women's Scramble while bumping up dealership incentives.

More than 100,000 amateur golfers, including women, annually participate in the Scramble, which was created in 1984. But with the addition of a separate tournament option for women only, Olds expects a total of 12,000 women to participate in 420 events taking place nationwide between June and September.

40% OF NEW GOLFERS

"More than 40% of new golfers are women, and they're critically important in buying and influencing the majority of car sales, so we wanted to make the tournament more inviting for them," said Bill Cutler, event marketing manager at Oldsmobile.

Women still will be eligible to enter the general Scramble, but Olds expects to see most female participants gravitate to their own version of the tournament, which upholds the event's mission to allow "average" golfers of all levels to compete in a large-scale, national competition.

"Our radar told us we weren't reaching as many women in this tournament as we could, and intermediate-level women might have been less inclined to get involved because it wasn't perceived as a great opportunity for them," Mr. Cutler said.

Now, parallel tournaments will take place through the summer. In each Scramble, teams of four tee off in local competitions. Winning teams of all local competitions advance to regional matches, with each team accompanied by its local course's PGA Professional, bringing the team's total number of players to five.

Eventually, two teams each from 40 regional competitions will advance to the finals Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 in Orlando; each winning team member can snare up to $500,000 in merchandise, while winning teams' local golf course PGA Professionals will compete for a total prize purse of $32,000.

Working closely with PGA Professionals at the nation's private and public golf courses, Oldsmobile is stepping up publicity and promotion efforts for women's golfing this year.

DONATIONS TO CONCEPT: CURE

Olds also will donate $10 for each participant in the women's event to Concept: Cure, to raise money for breast cancer research. In addition, the carmaker will donate $44,000 to the cause on behalf of the winning team.

Continuing the tradition of the general tournament, the women's version of the Scramble has a specially designed handicap structure to ensure balanced teams, allowing players with diverse skills to compete.

"The idea is that average people can play and have a good shot at winning a national golfing competition, and they'll get treated like winners of pro tournaments except, of course, only the pros can win cash," Mr. Cutler said.

Other incentives include gift certificates of up to $50 offered to each tournament participant in exchange for test-driving an Oldsmobile; the certificates can be redeemed at participants' local golf course pro shops. Participants also get an automatic $500 purchase incentive discount on Oldsmobile cars.

Dealers are being provided with special signage and promotional materials to back the effort, and are encouraged to provide Oldsmobiles for display at local and regional tournaments.

"We have a partnership with PGA Professionals at neighborhood golf courses across the U.S., and those people in turn are working with dealers in order to create a very integrated, grassroots event," Mr. Cutler said.

Dealers who have participated in past years are enthusiastic about the new emphasis on women, Oldsmobile said.

POPULAR IN IOWA

Community Motors in Iowa City, Iowa, first got involved in 1995, when the local Scramble drew 60 participants; last year, the event attracted 160 golfers and included a dinner-dance, two hole-in-one competitions to win Oldsmobiles, and other prizes for all participants and their families.

"We've turned this event into a major relationship-building opportunity over the last few years and like seeing more women get involved, because winning them over is the real key to selling cars these days," said George Trovas, Community Motors' president.

The dealership will promote this year's tournament with local print and radio ads created in-house, plus invitations mailed to current and prospective customers.

Local dealerships can customize promotions surrounding the events; participants in both versions of the tournament are expected to pay their own entry fees of $50 per person for the local event and $100 per person for each regional and finals team entry, but dealers may also sponsor winning teams within PGA of America amateur tournament guidelines.

Overall sponsors of the Scramble competitions include Walt Disney World, Etonic, PGA of America, Pepsi-Cola Co., Spaulding Sports Worldwide, and Golf Digest for the general event and Golf Digest Woman for the women's competition.

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