The Experiment is Over

At a media day on Monday for the RBC Canadian Open, Golf Canada announced that Glen Abbey would be the host course for the 2016 Open and might in fact once again become the semi-permanent home for the event for many years to come.

That means the experiment of moving the Canadian Open around the country is over. In fact it was pretty clear to all concerned that the experiment was a failure on many levels, culminating in last year’s disastrous event in Montreal where sparse crowds resulted in the event losing over a million dollars.

It was a noble idea to take our national championship to other courses around the country after more than 25 years at the Abbey and let golf fans in Montreal, Vancouver and perhaps Calgary see the best golfers on the planet. But, as Golf Canada discovered, the event was never intended to be a travelling circus and even though there are many great courses in Canada, few of them are logistically capable of hosting the massive infrastructure involved in a PGA Tour event.

Witness St. George’s, one of the best courses in Canada, where parts of Islington Avenue had to be closed just to park the TV trucks and where players had to be shuttled to nearby Islington Golf Club in order to have a range.

Or Shaughnessy GC in Vancouver, another gorgeous course with a first class pedigree, but its location on the other side of the continent was a serious deterrent to players already crossing five time zones from the Open Championship in England or Scotland. And then heading east again for the WGC Bridgestone the following week.

No, it’s not so easy to find a course capable of holding the Canadian Open and making money at it. Glen Abbey was designed by Jack Nicklaus to host a PGA Tour event and even after forty years is still one of the best courses on Tour for spectator viewing. Its proximity to corporate sponsors in Toronto; dozens of first class hotels and restaurants; plus millions of golf fans in the GTA and Southern Ontario make it an ideal spot for the Canadian Open.

One could argue that other courses in the GTA enjoy the same proximity to sponsors, golf fans and the like but not many have room on the property to house a TV compound plus dozens of support vehicles; media and volunteer tents; massive viewing stands and skyboxes; and row upon row of corporate tents, souvenir stands and entertainment options. The Abbey has all that plus it’s right in Golf Canada’s backyard.

That sounds like a pretty good argument for making Glen Abbey a permanent site for the Open. And when it comes to making money, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to re-invent the wheel every year.

Early on, the course got a bad rap as not being a player favourite but as Lee Trevino said many years ago, “you can stick 18 flags in a Wal-Mart parking lot and if there’s a million dollars up for grabs, we’ll be there.”

This year, Golf Canada is going all in to make the Open experience one of the best on Tour. They’re talking about beer gardens, food trucks and maybe even bringing back the nightly concerts they tried a few years ago. They’re aiming for a “festival” atmosphere not unlike what fans enjoy at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix. It’s all about attracting more than hard core golf fans.

The pros arrive in mid July but until they get here, Glen Abbey is open to the public. Playing a course where the PGA Tour plays is always a special experience. See if you can hit a 216-yard 6-iron out of the bunker on Hole No. 18 like Tiger Woods did.

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