Pictured above: Hamilton G&CC #18
It sounds strange to say at this time of year but the RBC Canadian Open is just two weeks away.
Thanks to a “major” shuffle in the PGA Tour schedule that moved the Players Championship to March, the PGA Championship to May, and mandated a finish to the season before Labour Day, a hole opened the week before the U.S. Open in June and the RBC Canadian Open jumped in.
The folks at RBC, Golf Canada and host course Hamilton Golf & Country Club have been busier than usual this spring getting ready for the new date that seems to be approaching much faster than anyone expected. In years past, we’ve had almost half a season to get our heads into golf and anticipate the RBC Canadian Open at the end of July. This year, most golfers are barely into their season and having a hard time maintaining any momentum about golf.
That’s due in part to the cold, wet weather we’ve been experiencing here in Southern Ontario all spring, which has delayed course openings and limited play to occasional days when the temperature gets into double digits and maybe the sun makes a brief appearance. It’s been a miserable spring and golf courses have been plagued with squishy fairways and temporary greens. The wet conditions make it difficult for the grounds crew to do their job, while golfers are often faced with three words they detest most: Cart Path Only!
May 6th was RBC Canadian Open Media Day. Courses north of Toronto had barely opened and conditions were spotty at best. How good could they be at Hamilton?
Better than good as it turned out. More like mid-season perfection. The fairways were firm and dry, greens hard and fast, and the rough so gnarly you almost had to step on your ball to find it. Carts were allowed to roam the fairways and there wasn’t a squishy spot in sight. The sign on the front gate sure said Hamilton, but conditions were more like Orlando than Ontario.
Maybe Hamilton exists in a micro-climate that has permitted it to miss the worst of Ontario’s poor weather this spring but plenty of credit must go to Superintendent Rhod Trainor and his staff for an exemplary job of preparing the course for the world’s best players. Unlike previous years, they’ve been operating in a very tight time frame.
It’s not Trainor’s first rodeo though. He was at Hamilton for the first modern RBC Canadian Open in 2003 and the subsequent ones in 2006 and 2012 too. For that first one, he says he obsessed over the rough, growing it up and cutting it back until it stood up straight 6” tall. He was devastated when the PGA Tour told him to cut it back to 3”.
Hamilton is not long by PGA Tour standards at just under 7,000 yards but the course isn’t totally defenseless to today’s long bombers. The classic Harry Colt design, which is perennially ranked among the Top 3 courses in Canada, has small slick greens with plenty of movement and narrow tree-lined fairways. Miss the short grass and you’ll find yourself in rough that will give you nightmares. Trainor may not get his 6” deep rough but the 2019 version will be plenty tough.
If course conditions were the first surprise of the day, Golf Canada had a couple more in store. During lunch it was announced that Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson would compete in the tournament this year. Koepka was listed in the press release as World #3, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year and winner of three major championships, including back-to-back U.S. Opens. Now, he’s World #1, thanks to his latest back-to-back victory in the PGA Championship, and he likes to play the week before a major.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Canada to compete in the RBC Canadian Open,” said Koepka, who has played the tournament in 2015 and 2018. “I’ve heard really great things about the course [Hamilton Golf and Country Club] and with the change in date on our schedule, it’s a perfect opportunity to play well and build momentum leading into the US Open.”
Watson, a two-time Masters champion, has his own reason for wanting to win at Hamilton. “Winning the RBC Canadian Open would be a big deal to me,” Watson explained. “My wife is Canadian, so winning the national open would be a huge honour.”
The pair of big hitters will join World #2 Dustin Johnson, who will be looking to defend his Canadian Open title, and World #4 Rory McIlroy, who is making his first appearance at our national championship. That’s a powerful foursome, both in distance off the tee and world rankings.
The field will also include Team RBC members Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Ryan Palmer, past champions Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, Adam Hadwin and recent first-time PGA TOUR winner, Canadian Corey Conners.
Player announcements build on another exciting aspect of this year’s Open; the RBCx Music Concert Series that will see the Grammy nominated and internationally acclaimed duo Florida Georgia Line perform on Friday June 7th; and Juno award-winning homegrown rock band The Glorious Sons on Saturday June 8th. Most kids think their parents are out of touch and I’m probably no exception. Not being familiar with either group, I had to ask. Both groups, I’m told, are a big deal.
Not to be forgotten in what promises to be a very exciting schedule of events is the US Open sectional qualifier at Rattlesnake Point that will kick off Canadian Open week on Monday June 3rd. It’s a 36-hole qualifier on Rattlesnake’s two course for the right to play Pebble Beach the following week.
That’s a lot of excitement for one week on our golf calendar. And it’s less than two weeks away.