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PGA Tour takeover of Canadian Tour?

That’s not quite what was announced — but that’s how it will be interpreted after the ailing Canadian Tour, which was struggling under a mountain of debt, sought financial assistance from the PGA Tour and the deal was approved tonight by the tour’s members. I first reported the story on Nov. 3, the same time my story in Golf World appeared (still no online link), that the Canadian Tour was in dire financial shape and had reached out to the PGA Tour to keep itself afloat.

The press release on the news is big on platitudes and short on details, but does indicate a deal was struck to bail out the Canadian Tour, including an “operating loan.”

The wording of the statement is decidedly vague, but says a full PGA Tour deal is still a year away:

The Canadian Tour has entered into an agreement with the PGA TOUR that will see the preeminent brand in golf lend support to the 40 year-old Canadian Professional Golf Tour. Building on a relationship that has been developing for a number of years, in addition to an operating loan, the PGA TOUR will be assisting the Canadian Tour in 2012 in the areas of tournament development and sponsorship. More direct involvement by the PGA TOUR beyond 2012 will depend on a joint evaluation by the PGA TOUR and Canadian Tour over the coming year.

“As a result of discussions with the Canadian Tour and understanding its current financial issues, the PGA TOUR has agreed to lend support to the Canadian Tour in 2012. Our goal is to help lend stability to the Canadian Tour, which we believe plays an important role in professional golf and has proven to be a valuable system for developing players over the years,” stated Ed Moorhouse, Co-Chief Operating Officer of the PGA TOUR. “We will assess the situation with the Canadian Tour during the course of the coming year to determine what level of PGA TOUR support should be provided moving forward,” added Moorhouse.

What Moorhouse means by “level of PGA Tour support” is the question. Interestingly, there’s no discussion of PGA Tour personnel being parachuted in to helping run the Canadian Tour, but sources say that’s already happened. Though the press release doesn’t make reference to it, the Canadian Tour lost significant money on three tournaments this past summer and was so cash strapped that it was unclear whether it could proceed with the 2012 season. Particularly the Winnipeg event lost more than $200,000. Canadian Tour commissioner Rick Janes told G4G in October that as the top dog at the tour he responsible for those losses, even though they were incurred by an outside contractor who overspent and didn’t deliver on local sponsorship. Faced with mounting debts and faltering attendance at Q School, the Canadian Tour sought help all over — including hitting Mike Weir up for assistance.

Brad Fritsch, a longtime CanTour player who will be back on the Nationwide Tour next  year, said there were few options for the tour: “It was basically vote ‘yes,’ or find somewhere else to play

As it stands now, the deal should be a good one for the CanTour, which was formed by a group of players in the mid-1980s and is run as a not-for-profit organization. That would certainly have to change if the PGA Tour takes over, but given the struggles the Canadian Tour has faced — financial losses and diminishing tournaments of late — it is likely the only alternative. There had been discussion of another organization trying to acquire the Canadian Tour, but any chance of that disappeared with the tour’s financial losses.

This deal is likely the start of a minor leagues of golf, especially as PGA Tour Qualifying School is reformed to place more emphasis on the Nationwide Tour. The Canadian Tour and the newly-formed Latinoamerica Tour should become a feeder system for the Nationwide Tour, perhaps with a group of players getting access to the final stage of qualifying, which wouldn’t get them to the PGA Tour, but would get them to the Nationwide.

Regardless, this is a step forward for the Canadian Tour. Now we’ll see whether the tour’s staff can deliver on the connection to its much bigger brother.

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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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