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Golf sponsorship a challenge for Ford

Even for a marketing-savvy conglomerate such as Ford, its sponsorship of the PGA Tour's Doral stop has come with an education.

''We knew we were going to go through a period of learning,'' said Marty Collins, Ford Division general marketing manager.

``This is a little different than NASCAR.''

In NASCAR's Nextel Cup series, race sponsors know such marquee names as Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett are going to show up each weekend as they pursue the points crown.

Not so in golf, where the world's best typically play little more than 25 of the PGA Tour's 48 events. Tiger Woods limits himself to 20 to 22 worldwide.

''In NASCAR, the field is set,'' Collins said. ``But PGA players today, the most notable ones really have some tremendous choices to make as to where they play. It's difficult to get a strong field year after year after year.''

Even though Ford also is longtime sponsor of the Senior Players Championship, officials might not fully have been aware of the challenge because that event is a Champions Tour major.

Moreover, PGA Tour pros are allowed to change their minds until the Friday preceding a tournament.

''Buy a ticket to a movie, and you know Tom Cruise or Nicole Kidman or whoever is going to be in it,'' Collins said.

``When you get involved in a golf tournament, there's a huge number of unknowns. Players don't have to commit to play [until the last minute]. That's something that, personally, I find very difficult.''

Ford has worked to raise its profile by awarding a high-performance Ford GT to the winner and inviting pros to Homestead-Miami Speedway for an afternoon behind the wheel of a race car. The tournament also helps arrange such perks as dinner outings at Joe's Stone Crab.

''Those little amenities end up paying big dividends,'' Collins said. ``We're learning how to do those things better as well.''


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