Red Bull North America, Inc. is making a new push to become the energy boost of choice among golfers. The unit of Austria’s Red Bull GmbH rolled out a new golf sponsorship program in May and is seeking additional ties for next year.

Red Bull’s move comes as it faces increased competition from both new and existing players in the energy drink category (see sidebar).

While the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company posted a 40 percent U.S. sales increase last year, its market share dipped to 43 percent, according to researcher Beverage Marketing Corp. As recently as ’02, Red Bull owned two-thirds of the U.S. energy drink market.

The U.S. market stands at $1.5 billion-plus and is projected to double in size over the next five years, according to BMC.

The new program also highlights the “mainstreaming” of the growing energy drink category, which once focused almost exclusively on being irreverent and cool in order to attract teen and 20-something males.

Golf sponsorship is not entirely new for Red Bull. The new program’s Red Bull Final 5 tournament-within-a-tournament concept has been part of the PGA European Tour’s developmental Challenge Tour since ’03 and was brought to the U.S. last year as part of a sponsorship of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Assn.’s National Collegiate Golf Championship.

This year, the company is bringing the Final 5–which rewards those with the best score over the final five holes–to pro-am competitions at five PGA Tour stops.

Red Bull plans to introduce several other golf tie-ins starting in the first quarter of ’07, including doubling the Final 5 program’s number of PGA Tour pro-ams, said Ed Kiernan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer with Peter Jacobsen Productions.

PJP has been hired by Red Bull to develop and execute its golf marketing initiatives, including vetting sponsorship opportunities.

The brand is seeking golf opportunities that are both traditional and nontraditional, with a focus on the latter, Kiernan said. “The goal is to bring golf and the brand to nontraditional spaces.”

Like its other partnerships, Red Bull is using golf to build visibility, gain new sales channels and play up its product’s ability to improve performance. Final 5 concentrates on the last five holes because that is where golfers tend to make the most mistakes due to physical and mental fatigue.

Red Bull tied the program to pro-ams in part because they provide access to influential amateur golfers who, the company hopes, will talk about their participation and ask their home clubs to stock the energy drink, Kiernan said.

Red Bull also hopes to gain pouring rights at PGA Tour events, Kiernan added. “We are talking to tournament directors about how we can carve out the energy drink category.”

On the endorsement front, PGA Tour pros Peter Jacobsen and Chris DiMarco are among the myriad athletes who have contracts with Red Bull.

The brand does have competition for the golf market: Swing Juice Brands, LLC’s eponymous energy drink was developed for golfers and has sponsored one event each on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour and LPGA circuits this year. The company recently signed a three-year deal with the Int’l Junior Golf Tour and is seeking additional ties, said president Jon Mason.