Womens Open on course for success: Classic, massive greens of Hunt Club ready to test the best

Last week’s National Post golf column….

Women’s Open on course for success: Classic, massive greens of London’s Hunt Club ready to test world’s best
Byline: Robert Thompson
Column: On Golf

A classic golf course and a surprisingly strong field have turned what could have been a disappointing Canadian Women’s Open into a tournament that deserves some attention and respect. The event, being held in the second week of August, appeared to be dead last year when no sponsor could be found to replace Bank of Montreal. But in September, Canadian National Railway agreed to pony up the cash needed to keep the tournament afloat.London’s Hunt Golf and Country Club, which was left wondering whether it would host a tournament at all, could end up hosting one of the more successful women’s events to be held in Canada in some time.

For the last few years the tournament has struggled with a difficult date that ran opposite Annika Sorenstam’s tournament in Sweden. It will still occur at the same time as Sorenstam’s event next month — though next year there will be a new date when the event moves to Edmonton — but with Se Ri Pak, Juli Inkster, Natalie Gulbis and Morgan Pressel all expected to be in the field, the situation this year is greatly improved over the past few tournaments.

And though the RCGA could not invite teen star Michelle Wie — who is not an LPGA Tour member and is out of exemptions — they are expecting Brittany Lincicome, who averages 280 yards off the tee and won the World Match Play earlier this month.

One of the great appeals of the Canadian women’s event is the ability to take it to classic golf courses across the country. While the men’s event needs a course with sufficient length and difficulty, as well as massive infrastructure, the women only need a golf course that is 6,500-yards long and can accommodate the thousands of spectators that show up each morning. That means some of Canada’s best courses — places like St. George’s in Toronto, Calgary Golf and Country Club and Ottawa Hunt — could be set up to hold the tournament. As witnessed by the success of the men’s event at Hamilton Golf and Country Club in 2003, great golf often starts with great courses.

London’s Hunt Club is a classic Robert Trent Jones layout that was tweaked by several architects, but has been reworked in recent years by Jones’ son, Rees, and his associate, Keith Evans.

When Jones began restoring his father’s work, the goal was to get it back to appearing like it did when it was first built in 1960. The course, with its unusually large greens, is set on a rolling, tumbling piece of property near the Thames River. But after years of tinkering, the bunkers needed to be restored and sometimes relocated, and tee boxes needed to be returned to their original state.

What is left is a parkland golf course that should test the best women’s golf has to offer. Players praised the course’s layout during an event for sponsor Canadian National Railway earlier this summer.

Evans believes the course could hold any tournament, including a PGA Tour event like the Canadian Open. “I just love the place,” he said. “It is a Robert Trent Jones course through and through.”

The real test at London Hunt will be the massive greens. Evans notes most play like “greens within greens,” meaning players will have to hit precise approach shots in order to have a chance at birdie.

Bill Paul, the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s tournament director, says the Hunt Club caught the eye of the organization a few years ago when it was scouting a potential Canadian Open site.

“It really places a lot of emphasis on forcing players to hit lots of different shots,” he said.

So if the Women’s Open is a success, does that mean a Canadian Open in London could follow? Paul was noncommittal, but didn’t dismiss the possibility.

“I’d never say never,” he said. “But it would certainly depend on a lot of factors coming together.”

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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.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Hunt Club will probably satisfies the golf insiders and purists, perhaps even some of the press. However, it will never enjoy success and it has nothing to do with the course, the plays, nor the running of the course. The reason is that London simply does not have the population (330,000) to make this event a success. In this regards, it will never hold a Canadian Open unless RCGA’s goal is to market to golf purists rather than the general public.

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