Canadian Open's twilight?: The venerable tournament is at a crossroads as it struggles to keep up player interest

Off to Ron Joyce’s Fox Harb’r Golf Club for a couple of days, so in the meantime enjoy the Canadian Open at Shaughnessy. Here’s a story I wrote that appeared in yesterday’s Post:

Tuesday, September 6, 2005 Page: SR14 Section: Special Report: Post Golf Byline: Robert Thompson Source: National Post
The Bell Canadian Open finds itself in a precarious position even as it heads to one of the most interesting courses to hold the tournament in the past 30 years.
Taking the tournament to Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver was a bold move for Royal Canadian Golf Association executive director Stephen Ross and tournament director Bill Paul. The course is on the wrong coast for most PGA Tour pros, meaning the resulting field would likely be less than stellar. That has turned out to be exactly the case.
While Shaughnessy will prove to be a worthy test of the field, it would seem the experiment of taking the tournament to British Columbia has been a failure — at least, when it comes to cajoling the likes of Tiger Woods from Florida, or even managing to get Phil Mickelson to come up from San Diego.
On the other hand, the Canadian Open will surely see strong ticket sales, given the interest in golf in Vancouver. Corporate sales have been exceptionally strong, giving the tournament a solid financial footing.
Despite the positives, the Canadian Open is at a crossroads.
The tournament has great difficultly elevating itself from the perception that it is now firmly a tier-two tournament lost among the likes of tournaments named after farm machinery and car makers. While it may once have been regarded as resting among the best tournaments, right with the likes of the Colonial and the Bob Hope Invitational, its time has long since past.
So, what is to become of the Canadian Open?
Part of the problem with the event is that it is still trying to regain some of the prestige it lost when it became almost permanently based at Oakville, Ont.’s Glen Abbey Golf Club in 1977. No longer a national event, the tournament started having difficulties drawing top players in the late 1990s.
The event’s date fell after the PGA Championship, a period in which many stars simply shut down their year after having made enough cash to pay for their jetshare. And sponsor Bell Canada didn’t want the tournament moved out of the range of a majority of its Ontario and Quebec customers.
Now, there are concerns that the Canadian Open may become extinct.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is trying to pitch the television networks on a new deal that will at least match the US$1-billion arrangement he made in 2001.
Finchem has admitted part of a new TV deal will likely include scheduling changes, some of which are to address concerns voiced by Mickelson and Woods. Both players have said the current PGA Tour schedule is simply too long. Quietly, sources inside the PGA Tour have said a new schedule will offer some sort of “playoff race” that would include a handful of tournaments that follow the year’s final major and that lead to the Tour Championship.
Where does that leave the Canadian Open?
The powers that be at the RCGA insist the tournament isn’t in danger of disappearing. Bell Canada is still on board, though placing a company’s name on a national golf tournament does diminish its power. Can anyone imagine the Cialis British Open, for example?
The Canadian Open would benefit greatly if it became part of Finchem’s playoff race but it could also see its date moved, something the RCGA has been attempting to accomplish for some time. The only concern with a switch to an earlier summer date is that the event could once more get lost among the tournaments that follow the U.S. Open and the British Open. However, it is hard to imagine how a move earlier in the calendar could actually draw a weaker field than the lacklustre crew that currently comes to the tournament.
The biggest benefit the tournament would see from a July or August date is that the Canadian Open could be moved more easily to locations such as Calgary and the East Coast. Right now, with the exception of the jaunt to Vancouver once a decade, the Canadian Open is really set to move between Ontario and Quebec, especially as the RCGA prepares to move the tournament to a course being built by Tom Fazio in Terrebonne, Que., a suburb of Montreal, for the 2008 event.
Of course, all of this talk about a new date could amount to nothing. That would leave the Canadian Open in its current position — a well-attended tournament without anything to draw the top players to our country. That would surely be fine for some.
But if status quo is the answer, how long can it be before spectators tire of watching a bunch of journeymen and the occasional star? How long before they stop attending the tournament and corporate dollars go elsewhere?
If that happens, watch out — because the Canadian Open, an event that has been part of Canadian culture for a century, could just as easily disappear.

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Jeff Lancaster

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  • One problem with moving the date is the sponsor – to have a prime summer date the sponsor has to buy commercial time on the US network broadcasting the event. Why would Bell Canada buy time on CBS? Therefore we need a company to sponsor the tournament that has a business presence in the US. Anyone up for the RIM Blackberry Canadian Open?

    And as you mentioned most of the summer dates aren’t great since they are often a week before or after the US or British Open. The John Deere and US Bank Championship (Milwaukee) had fields that were arguably weaker than the BCO.

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