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Ford Gretzky Nationwide Event Next Week — Does Anyone Care?

Don't ask me about Phoenix....Gretzky's Nationwide event is struggling

Don't ask me about Phoenix....Gretzky's Nationwide event is struggling

It wasn’t that long ago that the CPGA Championship disappeared after merging with the Nationwide Tour and holding the event in Cambridge, Ont. at Whistlebear Golf Club. The reason? Hardly anyone paid any attention. So the event simply folded and the CPGA Championship has still not returned — despite a lot of talk about bringing it back.

All of which brings me to the Wayne Gretzky event in Collingwood next week that is again running under the Nationwide Tour banner. Had a professional golf event in Canada ever received less attention? And why is that? Certainly the star power of Gretzky, along with the pro-am component of the event (hello NHL players, Charles Barkley), should be an attraction. Last year the field was strong — largely because the purse is high — and included most of the top Nationwide Tour stars, including the likes of Ricky Barnes. But from what I could tell from the telecast, hardly anyone showed up to watch and it received very little media coverage.  I couldn’t entice the Post to send me up, and Lorne Rubenstein at the Globe didn’t make a trip up either.

Why has this happened? For starters the tournament, which is being organized by Gretzky’s brother Glen, didn’t target the Canadian media when it launched, instead doing an interview with Gretzky and the Golf Channel. It wasn’t until the weeks leading up to the tournament that Gretzky finally started promoting it. It also doesn’t help that sponsor Ford seems half-hearted about its participation, and the event is three hours from Toronto. Top it all off with the fact that most of the celebs are either b-list or NHL players (and every NHL players seems to have his own golf tournament every year with his NHL buddies) and you have a marginal attraction at best.

Interestingly, the event had a spat with the Canadian Tour right out of the gate and doesn’t seem very responsive to Canadian tour pros; last year a couple of worthy players came right down to the wire to receive an invite, which was very odd.

At least I thought the pros would enjoy the courses. The Georgian Bay Club is a good Jason Straka design, and the Raven at Lora Bay is a favorite of mine. But a lot of the pros I spoke with thought the Georgian Bay Club, with their wide fairways, was simply a bomber’s delight and enjoyed Lora Bay more. Of course you didn’t see Lora Bay on TV at all, which was strange in its own right.

I’m not expecting much of a change this year. Gretzky hasn’t done much to flog the event — perhaps worried that he’ll be asked questions about the Jim Balsillie/Phoenix NHL debacle. And the promo for the event seems relatively nonexistent, especially in comparison with the attention RBC is bringing to the Canadian Open this year. Could it be that Ford didn’t want to be there in the first place and now has no idea what to do with the event?

In the end, I might get up for a day next week. Chris Baryla, who has made a nice comeback this year, told me he’d be playing a practice round with Graham DeLaet and David Hearn there on Wednesday. But let’s be clear — this is an event that is struggling and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see it disappear.

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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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