On Tour: Buick rides the Tiger

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General Motors Corp.'s buick wants to bring its advertising pitchman Tiger Woods down to the grass-roots level this year, designating him the first-ever honorary chairman of the Buick Scramble, the world's largest amateur golf tournament.

Taking over as title sponsor of the 18-year-old event (from GM's phasing-out Oldsmobile brand), Buick aims to expand the event's reach and increase marketing activity at 2,700 local dealerships new to the tournament.

Adding the Buick Scramble to its array of golf event sponsorship was "the missing piece of our marketing puzzle," said Larry Peck, Buick's golf marketing manager, referring to Buick's 1999 decision to exit auto racing and other sports sponsorships to concentrate on golf.

"We're a longtime sponsor of the PGA Tour and also of the PGA of America ... but the Scramble finally brings us to the average consumer's level, where an ordinary duffer might win the championship and meet Tiger Woods," he said.

More than 100,000 amateur golfers are expected to participate in approximately 2,000 local tournaments sponsored by nearby Buick dealerships. Teams of four players of various skill levels, joined by a local PGA-sanctioned golf professional, have the chance to advance to the finals Oct. 2-6 in Orlando, Fla., where Mr. Woods will award the first-ever Tiger Cup to two winning teams.

For the first time, the Scramble will be promoted at dealerships and at golf course pro shops. Mr. Woods, whose golf bag sports a Buick logo, appears in various marketing materials for the Scramble.

"This is the first time we've been able to penetrate golf course pro shops throughout the nation, which is a big deal for our brand," said Mr. Peck. Buick continues Oldsmobile's tradition of offering a $50 gift certificate good at pro shops to participants who test-drive a Buick, plus $500 off on a new car. The tournament entry fee is $50 per person.

Buick has also boosted direct mailings to golf courses, and added the capability of getting real-time updates on the dealerships and participating golf course pros via the Internet at buickscramble.com, said Steve Norbut, the new president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Kaleidoscope Events Services, Coldwater, Mich., which oversees the event. Print ads in golf magazines, via Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, back the effort.

Apparently Buick has no concerns about golf overkill: "Buick has been a major PGA Tour sponsor since 1984, but recent research showed that consumers feel more positively about Buick since we sponsored Tiger Woods, so we want to play that up through even more channels," said Mr. Peck.

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