When it comes to golf, women are learning the score.
Oldsmobile is paying attention as it makes history by sponsoring the Women's Classic Scramble, the first national amateur golf tournament for women with a current United States Golf Association handicap index. The General Motors division has sponsored the Oldsmobile Scramble, a major amateur golf competition, for 16 years, but saw only 5.2 percent participation from women in 1998.
The women's amateur tournament kicked off June 24, and Oldsmobile is banking on at least 4,000 participants.
'The timing felt right to involve more women in a format that will encourage participation,' says Bob Clark, Oldsmobile Alero brand manager. 'I think it's an aggressive effort on our part to not only expand our proven grass-roots effort in golf, but it also leverages all the things we have going such as Concept: Cure,' a GM initiative to raise money to help eradicate breast cancer.
5 test regions
At a cost of about $1.5 million, Oldsmobile is testing the program in five sections of the Professional Golfers' Association of America: Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Southern California and Western New York with about 20 to 25 events per section. National finals take place Oct. 6-10 at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., concurrent with the men's playoffs.
Insiders say Karen Francis, Oldsmobile's general marketing manager and a serious golfer, became a catalyst for the women's scramble simply by asking what Oldsmobile was doing with women's golf.
And it's hands-off for other GM divisions.
'The scramble is the property of the Olds Division,' Clark says. 'We have several car lines popular with women. Well over 60 percent of Alero purchases are influenced by women.'
National in 2000?
The automaker plans a national rollout in 2000, if the numbers are there. And the stats indicate Oldsmobile may be on to something.
Beginning women golfers increased 5.8 percent in 1998, compared to flat rates for men - slightly less than 1 percent, according to the National Golf Foundation. The 6 million women golfers now make up about 22 percent of all golfers in this country.
The National Golf Foundation also reports that both men and women golfers fit the same demographics - average age of about 40 and nearly half are college graduates and employed in professional and/or management careers.
It makes Clark feel good about Olds' involvement with women golfers.
'It's a major undertaking,' Clark says, 'but we're pretty confident the idea is sound.'