Canadian Open course setups suck: PGA Tour pros

The 16th hole at St. George's -- was the setup off-putting?

Interesting to see the latest issue of Golf World, which includes Geoff Shackelford’s survey of PGA Tour pros commenting on what their favourite courses are. Two of the three regular courses for the Canadian Open do well: Vancouver’s Shaughnessy is at #7 and St. George’s, which held the tournament in 2010, is #22. Glen Abbey, which some at Golf Canada have insisted has had its reputation rehabilitated, sits well back at #40 of 52 courses.

The players have plenty of good things to say about Shaughnessy and St. George’s. A “good tough course,” is how Shaughnessy is characterized, while one pro said of St. George’s: “Love it as much as anything we play.” High praise indeed.

However, all three Canadian Open courses get shots for poor tournament setups. “I want to love it, but absurdly thick rough mowed toward the tees,” hurt St. George’s, says one pro, while another put down Shaughnessy saying, “Neat look to the place but way too much rough for such a potentially great design.”

I hadn’t heard such remarks about St. George’s, but several pros made comments about Shaughnessy.

Glen Abbey comes off worse: “Another place hemmed in and ruined by the setup,” adding “too much rough discouraging recoveries,” which is exactly how I felt about the Open at Shaughnessy last year.

So let’s get this straight — the rota of older courses is definitely a good thing for the Canadian Open. The players clearly respond to it — and I’m sure Hamilton will benefit from it again this year. However, we have to face up to the fact the Canadian Open isn’t the U.S. Open and the setup of the course not only turns some players off — not a good thing for a tournament that has always struggled to attract the best — but also makes the event less interesting. I found Shaughnessy dull to watch. As Geoff Ogilvy explained to me, in places where he could have taken a risky recovery shot, he was limited to pitching out sideways with a 60 degree wedge. Not exactly a lot of excitement in that.

What do I take away from Golf World’s article? That Golf Canada and sponsor RBC have to be careful not to allow the setups of the courses to be pushed too far. Bring recovery shots back to the fold. Make the tournament more exciting.

The Canadian Open isn’t the U.S. Open nor should it be.


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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.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert,

    It’s really interesting to get your perspective on the claim that the set up at Shaughnessy sucks which in effect contradicts Shaughnessy ranking # 7 by those players who voted out of the total of 52 golf courses they play on the PGA Tour in 2011.

    Shaughnessy ranking in the Tour’s top 10 has places it in the company with Augusta, Riviera, Pebble Beach, etc. It must have impresses some players! Sure there will always be players who don’t like the set up. Typically they are those who don’t play well. And it might be just a ritual for some players who have to find something to gripe about.

    It is critical that that the tail doesn’t start to wag the dog, again. The real mistake is to listen to everything that every PGA Tour players says… as there are about 300 very strong opinions on the PGA Tour and they have never been united. Tour players are notorious for making decisions that strictly serve their specific personal interest of their golf game and not about the best interests of the event or even the game of golf.

    The rota of using Canada’s best course to host our national championship (St. Georges, Hamilton and Shaughnessy, etc.) is the best move Golf Canada has ever made and Golf Canada and RBC needs to do everything to deepen this brand and not move away from it… as has happened in the past.

    The next critical decision that Golf Canada needs to keep in the forefront of their minds with the RBC Canadian Open is to keep the principles of a difficulty course set up and move away from being a typical PGA Tour events. Yes, the Canadian Open is not the US Open, but more significantly it doesn’t want to be likened to other PGA Tour events. Our national championship needs to distinguish itself more like a US Open than a typical PGA Tour event. You can’t do both.

    Keep in mind 98% of PGA Tour players despise the set up of the US Open and they all want to win that event. The most challenging courses on Tour offer the better players a competitive advantage. That’s what the best players like and that is a key factor why Shaughnessy was voted in the top 10 favorite course. The best players want to play difficult golf courses that allow them to take advantage of their better developed physical and psychological skills.

    Quite frankly, excitement is a matter of perspective and I love the fact that if a player cannot drive his ball in the fairway (a lost skill with the out of control equipment technology) they get seriously punished and we get to watch how they deal with adversity, even if its advancing the ball 90 degrees back to the fairway, a punishement for the poor shot. I personally don’t like to see “grip it and rip it” off the tee that has taken over the Tour. The player who deals with this challenge and that pressure off the tee is important and the player best suited for this challenge is the champion of this event. That is excitement from many peoples perspective.

    The RBC Canadian Open needs to stay the course and deepen this brand.

  • Richard:

    Thank you for this perspective from a professional golfers’ point of view.

    I know you stated that you do not believe in the “bomb and gouge” game, but what is your opinion on the method and length that the PGA is using on growing our bluegrass (or mixture of bluegrass and bent in some cases)

    As you know, bluegrass becomes very “juicy” when grown this way (heavy fertilization) and 4 to 5 inch length. It is not bad until the weather gets rainy and then it is uncontrollable. IMO

    That is just not on Canadian courses, but northern US courses also.

  • Thank you Mr Zokol for your telling it like it is!

    Appreciate these comments from our great professional!

    Yes with gripping and ripping, what happened to shot making [a lost art] and to the power of the mind when trouble arises out there another lost art.


  • Well said Mr. Z.

    It is a national open. The whiny Robert Allenby’s of the world can stick to boring Florida courses as far as I am concerned.

  • It may be a National Open…but more players will stop showing up if the setup is not re-thought. I believe the fact that the Canadian Open is a National Open is irrelevant to how we setup our golf course and ignoring what is necessary simply because “it is a National Open” is both detrimental to the event and verging on an ignorance towards reality.

    With all due respect Zokol, you fail to address or possibly even choose to ignore two important issues.

    1 . The U.S. Open cannot be compared to the Canadian Open in any way. The U.S. Open is a MAJOR…the players want to win the U.S. Open because of this and will continue to show up regardless of mediocre or bad setups. By saying the Canadian Open needs to “distinguish” itself more towards a U.S. Open, you are in fact negating the idea of actually creating any sort of difference between it and other events. Becoming more like a U.S. Open means the Canadian Open would in fact become more like another PGA Tour event. Furthermore, you say 98% of players do not like the setup of the U.S. Open…why, then, would players care to play in another championship with the same sort of setup?

    2. The Canadian Open falls between the British Open, a World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship..two majors and a world golf championship in a 4 week span. All 3 events are considered by most players to be priority events which take precedence over the Canadian Open. If you think the best golfers in the world want another event to challenge their physical and mental capacities during this important stretch of golf, I think you are making some pretty wild assumptions. Generally, players do want to be challenged, but that doesn’t mean they want U.S. Open difficult courses week in and week out. You are applying a general sentiment to a very specific situation (a very tough 4 week stretch of golf).

    There is no doubt moving to a rota with some of Canada’s best golf courses was and is a great move. This, as well as RBC’s marketing strategies, have served the event well over the last few years. The winning score for the last Canadian Opens was 4 under and, in my opinion, that is simply too high. A winning score anywhere between 8 to 14 under is sufficient for our National Open. It would present a playable course that requires skill and imagination and such score would still be equal to or higher than at least 2 of 4 majors held each year.

    The type of setup you refer to is very one dimensional and lacks imagination. We need courses that test every part of the game, not just driving it in the fairway. Deep rough, penal bunkers and bowling alley fairways are not representative of the true spirit of golf and how it was meant to be played…something I am sure you are very well aware of.

    I personally hope Golf Canada rethinks its position on course setup (as did the U.S. Open) and realizes continuing on the same track will do nothing to improve the events stature on the PGA Tour.

  • When is Sagebrush going to hold a Canadian Open? That would be a unique experience for both the players and spectators. Better rake the bunkers though…don’t want too many F bombs on national tv!

  • While I see both sides to this arguement I think Golf Canada & RBC are on the right track.Just look at the success in attracting better field’s the last few years.My point is.Is this just a case of minor tweeking?Perhap’s a graduated rough which penalizes the wayward shot with deep rough, but those that just run out of fairway or slightly over draw/cut don’t pay the steep price.I agree with the concept of “not just another tournament on tour” but we need to find a way to establish our open and keep it fair at the same time. As someone else said be able to use all the club’s in the bag & play shot’s from anywhere on the course,not just an automatic pitch-out.I don’t think they are too far away from that goal.

  • This is absolutely ridiculous. The US Open was target practice for Rory, and clearly the course did not play like your normal US Open course. Golf is suppose to test you and challenging you to come out on top and beat the course. Shaughnessy was a great course for the Canadian Open this year, and the staff did an amazing job. Yes, the rough was long, but golf isn’t meant to be easy. Shaughnessy offered a challenging setup, but as a player you need to play to that setup and may have to adjust your game to keep it in the fairway and out of the long stuff. After being ranked #7, Shaughnessy has proven that this course means business and the players need to be ready to play this challenging setup. Keep it in the fairway, hit your greens and you will have success at this course.
    The Canadian Open should return to Shaughnessy every couple of years due to the success they had in 2011.

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