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Golf has put Cadillac on the green, to the tune of a quarter-billion dollars in auto sales, asserts the luxury unit of General Motors Corp.

Golf is a popular venue for auto marketers because of the affluent, highly educated demographics and the belief that golfers care passionately about the game, leading them to form emotional attachments to brands that associate with the sport.

But Cadillac has advanced its sponsorship of the Senior PGA Tour into a successful exercise in integrated, grass-roots marketing.

Cadillac attributes $250 million in vehicle sales directly to its involvement with the tour since becoming the umbrella sponsor in 1990, said Peter Gerosa, general sales and service manager for the carmaker. The dollar figure comes from tracking sales to prospects who respond to Cadillac's direct marketing programs built around the tournaments.

"The key for us is the involvement of the dealer," Mr. Gerosa said. "The other important thing is that we give buyers a chance to experience Cadillac away from the dealership, at a no-pressure site."

In one such recent example, the Senior PGA Tour's Bob Murphy-one of 13 golfers on the tour who make up Team Cadillac-conducted a clinic for about 500 Cadillac owners and prospects before a tournament in Florida. The event ended with refreshments in a hospitality tent that featured Cadillac models.

Cadillac recently extended its Senior PGA deal, retaining title sponsorship of an annual series of tournaments televised by ESPN. The number of tournaments began with 14 in 1990, will include 21 stops this year and will grow to 23 or 24 by the year 2000. It's estimated that Cadillac spends about $10 million a year on the sponsorship and related marketing.

The Senior PGA tour sponsorship fits neatly with Cadillac's attempt to target age 40-plus professionals with incomes exceeding $60,000, said Alex Morton, exec VP on the Cadillac account at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., developer of the program.

Jay Houghton, senior analyst with Automotive Marketing Consultants, said Cadillac was following the right strategy in turning its sponsorship into a relationship marketing opportunity.

"The higher up in cost [of a vehicle], the more a consumer expects a relationship with the dealer and the manufacturer," Mr. Houghton said. "Cadillac has been associated with golf for many years, and it makes sense to strengthen the connection."

One question for Cadillac is whether to integrate its upcoming small sedan, the Catera, into the Senior PGA program. Debuting this fall, the Catera is aimed at winning over import-loving baby boomers, especially women.

Mr. Gerosa said no decision has been made, but he noted that baby boomers and women have had a big role in fueling the growth of golf. Also, the top Senior PGA players have good name recognition with baby boomers, he said.

Regardless of whether Cadillac brings the Catera up to the tee, the Senior PGA program is a model on how to integrate a title sponsorship with on-site promotional activity, advertising and public relations.

On-site signage and vehicle displays are part of the sponsorship deal. Cadillac also gets to invite a designated number of guests to play in the pro-am that precedes the regular tourney.

The 13 Team Cadillac golfers, including notables such as Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Jim Colbert, wear the automaker's logo during tournaments and also help in PR through media interviews and represent Cadillac at tie-in events.

In the weeks before an event, dealers send out as many as 20,000 direct mail pieces to owners and prospects, inviting them to visit a dealership for a test drive and to pick up tournament tickets and hospitality passes. In 1995, the response rate was 16%, Mr. Gerosa said.

Cadillac also has title sponsorship of one of the tour stops, the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic scheduled for May 13 to 19 at the Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, N.J.

Each tournament is telecast Friday, Saturday and Sunday on ESPN, with Cadillac identified as the presenter in opening and closing billboards. Cadillac gets automotive exclusivity on the telecasts and often airs commercials featuring Team Cadillac members.

At the end of the season, Cadillac awards vehicles to the top three golfers who accumulate the most points during the series.

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