Bravo! Welcome back Canadian Open!

 

It’s a pretty good time to be a sports fan in Toronto.

Despite the Raptors’ one-point loss in Monday’s fifth game, the sunniest story of the month – certainly for golf fans, locally and nationally – has to be the resurgence of the Canadian Open.  Now placed in a far more appealing spot in the PGA Tour schedule, for the first time in decades, our Open benefitted from a renewed level of interest and commitment from big name players.  And it wasn’t just the guys with RBC logos on their sleeves, who, for all intents and purposes, are “expected” to show up as part of their endorsement deal with the bank.

The field this year had most of the Tour’s biggest names, including probably the prize catch of them all, Rory McIlroy.  It would’ve been absolutely perfect if Tiger had decided to come, but with crowd-pleasing names like Koepka, DJ, JT, Bubba and Sergio on the list, that was enough to give the event the prestige it’s been missing for a long time.

The Open also had great weather going for it, and what I would argue is Canada’s finest golf course, Hamilton G&CC.  Personally, I hate it when PGA Tour players come up here and make mincemeat of our best courses – like Hamilton, and St. George’s – as Brandt Snedeker did on Friday with an other-worldly score of 60, and McIlroy and Canadian Ben Silverman did with 61’s.

I was at the Open on Friday, and walked through much of the rough that the players had to hit out of if they missed the fairway or the green, and I asked myself how can they make this course any tougher?  Yes, it’s relatively short by today’s championship standards, but these guys are SO good now that, on a course and conditions that would make a 5-handicapper struggle to break 90, you simply can’t put together a layout that can defeat the best in the game.  Until tournament organizers find a way to harness the weather and turn up the wind and the rain at will, par will continue to devolve into a laughing matter.

By my count, 10 players shot all four rounds in the 60s.  The last of them, Rod Pampling, tied for 35th place.  For all those fans who say, well, wait till next year at St. George’s… there’s no way you’ll see such low scores there… I’ll remind you that Carl Pettersson shot a smooth 60 THERE when he won the tournament in 2010.  Anyway, for most golf fans, watching players bring courses to their knees, begging for mercy, is a pleasure not an affront, so I’ll park my dinosaur opinions forthwith.

One of the delights of visiting the Open on Friday was watching the threesome of Rory, Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson all make splendid birdies on the beautiful 9th hole… Rory with a 37-foot uphill bomb of a putt.  I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be just fabulous for the tournament if Rory went on to win, and yes, by golly, he did, and it was.

My visit to the Open on Friday was a personal pleasure in other ways, too.  To see the development of the tournament into a genuine spectator festival was just great.  So many fan-friendly features, sponsors, viewing stands, and post-play music concerts designed to draw new spectators onto the grounds… I was really impressed with the whole operation.  Also, with the good manners of the galleries… I didn’t hear one moron shout “Babba Booey” or “In the HOLE!!”, just appreciative applause and cheers when warranted.

I had the honour to be Tournament Director of the Open back in the early 80s.  My last one was the 1982 version held at Glen Abbey.  That year’s tournament may have been the one that started the Open’s decline from its previously lofty position as the unofficial “fifth major” of the Tour at that time.  Through no fault of anyone (including me), that event suffered from bad weather, a grass disease which made the greens almost unputtable (causing many players to give the event a pass), the early departure of headline players Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, and media coverage which then dubbed the tournament “the No-Name Open”.  This encouraged the public and their wallets to stay home. Because the tournament failed to make its expected quota of revenue, the RCGA (now Golf Canada) was forced to lay off some people, and I was one of the victims, to be replaced by the venerable Richard Grimm.

If it hadn’t been for generosity of tournament sponsor Imperial Tobacco at the time, and subsequently Bell Canada and RBC, our tournament might have disappeared altogether by the 90s and 2000s.

But with this new date slot, and almost universal accolades for the organization of the course and the operation from the top players, I’m delighted to think that the Canadian Open has finally found its happy place for the next few years, and so have I.

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