* Cadillac to sponsor Doral event through at least 2016
* Cadillac Championship at Doral March 7-13, 2011
* Luxury brand Cadillac seeks affluent golf audience
* PGA announces 2011 tourney schedule on Thursday (Adds comments from news conference, adds confirmation of sponsorship move by PGA Tour and GM officials)
General Motors Co will return to sponsoring professional golf after severing its ties with the sport during its 2009 financial crisis, the PGA Tour and GM officials said on Monday.
GM's luxury brand Cadillac will sponsor the World Golf Championship-Cadillac Championship at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa near Miami in March 2011.
It is the first in what is expected to be several professional golf tournaments that Cadillac will sponsor, said Cadillac marketing chief Don Butler and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem at a news conference at Doral.
Finchem said the auto brand and the golf event are tied contractually until at least 2016, and that he expects the relationship to last beyond that.
A gradually recovering U.S. economy had led to the PGA 2011 tour being "virtually 100 percent sponsored," said Finchem. "We don't anticipate any issues this year" regarding lack of tour event sponsors.
Cadillac will be the flag bearer for GM when it comes to golf, overtaking Buick's primary spot for golf at the No. 1 U.S. automaker. A Buick spokeswoman said there were currently no plans for Buick to return to golf sponsorship. Buick will focus more on culinary and travel events, she said.
"The reason we (sponsor golf) ultimately is to sell cars," said Cadillac's Butler. "We reach the right audience. We reach it in the right way. It's all about the presence of ... the right kind of customer for us -- the affluent customer," said Butler.
Finchem, who said that the PGA will announce its 2011 tour schedule on Thursday, said the tour is now in "preliminary" talks with Cadillac about returning to Michigan, at an event near or in Detroit. He said it was too early to say if such an event could happen as soon as the 2012 tour.
The Florida event announced on Monday will be played on the TPC Blue Monster course, once the site of the Doral Open, a longtime annual PGA golf tournament location until 2006.
Each year, the World Golf Championship holds four elite tournaments which are just one rung down from the four majors that include the U.S. Masters and the British Open. WGC tourneys bring together the top 50 players in the world.
Three of the WGC events are staged in the United States, where they are fully fledged PGA Tour events, and the fourth is held in China, where it is officially sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Butler mentioned the importance of reaching China's auto market, the world's largest, in connecting Cadillac with WGC.
Cadillac is also becoming a sponsor of the full four-event series of the WGC.
In August 2009, GM ended its sponsorship of two major Professional Golf Association tournaments, the Buick Invitational in California and the Buick Open in Michigan.
GM and Buick also dropped Tiger Woods as a pitchman in a cost-cutting move in November 2008.
GM marketing chief Joel Ewanick, hired from Hyundai Motor Co early this year, has said he wants to bring the automaker back as a sponsor for some of the high-profile events that it dropped during its financial crisis, including golf and football's Super Bowl.
GM returned as a listed company earlier this month with a $23 billion initial public offering of stock that paid back some of the U.S. government's investment in the company. [ID:nN26132869]