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Remembering 9/11

The Battlefield Course at Niagara Legends. Incidents on 9/11 impacted the golf course and its operations.

Ten years ago Tiger Woods was just coming off defending his title at Royal Montreal, back in the day when the Canadian Open was held at the start of September. As such the Niagara Parks Commission decided to host a bunch of Canadian and American golf writers in a Ryder Cup style event to present their two new courses, one designed by Doug Carrick and the other by Thomas McBroom. It was a massive undertaking and one that has been ripe with controversy ever since.

The event got start on Sept. 10. All the golfers were outfitted with team uniforms, presents with “Writers Cup” crystal clocks, and other goodies. The tourism people went all out. We started the first day at Whirlpool before heading downtown to stay at one of the hotels overlooking the falls. It was all done first class.

The next morning was an early start — I recall having to be at the course by 9. We drove into the makeshift parking lot — the Legends courses were only recently grown in and the parking lot and clubhouse were not complete — and I grabbed my clubs to walk to where the writers were meeting.

As I approached the clubhouse a bunch of the workmen who were finishing the building were chattering away, listening to the radio. One turned to the other and said something about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I didn’t really think much of it to be frank; I figured it had to be a small plane and the construction worker probably got it wrong. I didn’t walk too much farther before another exclaimed that a second plane had also crashed into the Trade Center. At this point I figured they were confused, that they were talking about the same incident and how serious could it be anyway.

It didn’t take long to recognize the reports were correct, but the tournament started without anyone grasping the magnitude of the situation. After all, there was no TV hooked up — at least none that we could find — and this was before the advent of smart phones.  However it wasn’t until a few holes in that cell calls started streaming into all the writers detailing what had happened, that there was a chance the borders would be closed and that no one was certain the extent of the destruction in the U.S. The American writers were particularly shaken and immediately started making plans to leave and try to cross the border before they were closed.

Strangely I continued playing golf alongside my partner Thomas McBroom, even after the two American writers in our group had departed. It might sound callous, but neither of us figured we should call it a day and all we did was delay seeing the horrific images coming out of NY. We finished and went to the clubhouse — which had found a way to connect a TV — and watched the incredible scenes in the city. It was staggering. Driving home, I knew the world would be altered — though I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how much.

The world changed after that as everyone recognizes, but it was also particularly foreboding for the Legends golf facility, as was the case with many tourism-related industries. Once considered a big lure for Americans, it faced the border and security issues following 9/11, then SARS a year later and then the rise of the Canadian dollar. The facility — big and ambitious but with only slightly above average golf — failed to attract the tourists for which it was built. To this day I’m sure Niagara Parks wish they hadn’t built it — as do a lot of private course owners nearby. It has been apparently quietly for sale — with no takers — for a few years.

In the meantime issues concerning the project continue to be discussed (source):

The Legends Golf Course, sprawled over a thousand acres, was originally estimated to cost $27 million, but wound up costing more than $40 million. Katzman, chairman of the golf committee of the NPC, uses Niagara Parks courses for fund raising, and former NPC chairman Brian Merrett, who owned land adjacent to the course and built a house there, spearheaded the drive to get the Legends course built.

Katzman’s longtime business friend, Donald Ward of Charter Builders, got the lucrative contract to build the lavish clubhouse.

Meanwhile, as Katzman and Williams fight to keep Glynn’s lease lower than what others would pay the park, Legends — which loses millions annually — is not expected to break even for operational expenditures any time in the foreseeable future, not to mention pay back any of the $40 million used to build it.

Everyone will remember where they were when they were told planes hit the towers in NY. Mine just comes with a bit of a strange location and the ramifications and foreshadowing that the event would have for a specific golf facility.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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