Should Canadian Open become a WGC event?

Mike Weir hits into the 7th hole at Glen Abbey during the Canadian Open.

Mike Weir hits into the 7th hole at Glen Abbey during the Canadian Open.

Should we sacrifice the RBC Canadian Open?

That seems to be what Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons was raising while talking to the Globe’s Lorne Rubenstein at the Canadian Open. Simmons was apparently discussing the possibility of turning the RBC Canadian Open into a World Golf Championship event, like the one in Ohio on the weekend.

Of course it isn’t that simple – there are a lot of moving parts and RBC would have to be willing to spend upwards of $10-million on the event. But it is an interesting question. Lost would be the Canadian element – if it were a WGC event this year, for instance, none of the Canadians would have been in the field. No David Hearn. No Graham DeLaet. Surely no Mike Weir.

Rubenstein wrote:

Simmons told me at Glen Abbey that he would be all for seeing the RBC Canadian Open become a World Golf Championships event or become part of the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoff series. Most all the top players enter these tournaments. The field of 72 players at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio includes Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Need more be said? At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that 19-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth has decided not to play so that he can prepare more effectively for next week’s PGA Championship.

A spot as a WGC event or, even better, in the FedEx Cup playoff series with its payoff of $10,000,000 to the winner, would ensure a super-elite field for the RBC Canadian Open. RBC also assumed title sponsorship of the (now) RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Gord Nixon, its President and CEO, is a keen golfer who belongs to the Rosedale Golf Club in Toronto, for one. It’s not a stretch to believe he could make things happen with Finchem should a spot open in the FedEx Cup playoff series. Nixon and RBC are players in the PGA Tour world.

“A WGC or playoff event ‘could’ yield much higher revenues and profits,” Simmons wrote in an e-mail after the Canadian Open concluded. “The costs are a lot higher too, so we’d have to work that all out with RBC. But I’m almost positive that with ALL (his caps) the top players in the world there, we could increase our ticket sales as described.”

By “as described,” Simmons meant the figures he had cited to me. He said that he could see 10,000 more spectators for each of the four days of the tournament. At $100 a ticket, the price he mentioned, that would mean $4,000,000 more in revenue.

“But purse and other costs go up too,” Simmons emphasized. “So we’d have to look at it very carefully before I could give you a definitive assessment of impact to our bottom line. But my hypothesis is that we’d make a lot more.”

There’s been plenty of discussion about the future of the RBC Canadian Open. I’ve heard plenty of ideas floated. Make it a WGC event. Or a FedEx Cup event. Or run it without a PGA Tour affiliation.

The WGC event is a tradeoff. The concept is this – with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the likes in the field, Golf Canada could make millions more running the tournament. Though there wouldn’t be any Canadians in the field unless they were in the top group of players in the world, the extra money generated could be pumped back into development, hopefully giving Canada a better chance of having representation at the tournament.

And let’s be honest – there were 18 Canadians in the field last month at the RBC Canadian Open, but four made the cut – and all four already play on the PGA Tour. Should we be offering spots to young Canadians just so they get the opportunity to “experience” a PGA Tour event? Is that developing talent?

There are issues facing the Canadian Open, though I think people are being pretty myopic about many of them. The date isn’t that big an issue any longer, unless you think having Tiger Woods in the field should be the ultimate goal of Golf Canada. Right now the tournament has a better than average field for a PGA Tour event, and had a very competitive leaderboard with numerous big names in contention.  And RBC still doesn’t pay the same rate as the typical PGA Tour event. Can you say win-win?

There are issues with the current setup for the Canadian Open. Interest seems to have stalled – witness the fact the tournament struggled to get 20,000 people in the gates on the weekend this year. That, by the way, should eliminate the debate over which courses have the space needed to hold the tournament – apparently a lot of space isn’t needed any longer. What was the last time the tournament drew 25,000 people? Exactly – I can’t recall either. The last time a date was sold out was 2004, according to Scott Simmons.

I personally like the notion of turning the Canadian Open into a WGC event – though I think it is a pipe dream. I don’t think it’ll be offered and if it is I don’t think it is coming to Canada. On top of that there’s no guarantee RBC would pony up the cash.  I think the tradeoff of the money for a handful of exemptions would be a worthwhile bet.

However, I think Golf Canada’s directors would shoot the idea down preferring to maintain the status quo than taking the risk that would be required to turn it into something greater.

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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.

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Yes, Gord Nixon & Scott Simmons should leverage Finchem hard to move the RBC Canadian Open into a WGC or a Play-Off event ASAP.

    The most important aspect of any front line business today, including our national championship, is stabilization and sustainability.

    Prior to RBC introducing the Team RBC initiative the event was really a tier five PGA Tour event and was in jeopardy of going the way of the dodo bird. The Team RBC initiative shored-up the poor field apect of the event for the moment. If that initiative goes away, and nothing changes, the tournament will likely slip back to a tier five event and the threats of being a lower rung Tour event will arise again.

    Major Championship Tier One
    FedEx Play-Off &WGC Tier Two
    Top PGA Tour Tier Three
    Average PGA Tour Tier Four
    Lower PGA Tour Tier Five

    Under the agreement between the Golf Canada and RBC, Golf Canada doesn’t receive the funding from the proceeds of the tournament they need to be fiscally healthy. To the benefit of the tournament, proceeds of the tournament go back into the tournament. At the momnet RBC and the tournament get the win-win, but it’s not a full win for Golf Canada.

    If the RBC Canadian Open becomes a WGC or a FedEx Play-Off event, the tournament would instantly move into a market space where sustainability of success is attainable for the tournament, RBC and Golf Canada.

    Growth of the tournament should be the prime objective. Giving 18 spots to Canadian’s isn’t serving the tournament too well, besides, giving spots to Canadians who are not yet at the Web.Com Tour level just to experience one or two PGA Tour events may not be proving to serve the best interest of player development either.

  • The invite-only, no-cut, half-sized field WGCs are in complete opposition to what a national Open should be.

    Besides, there’s no room on the calendar for it. Firestone is locked in. I think Doral is too, and in any case March is too early to hold an event in Canada. There’s no way they’re giving up the China event for one in Canada (and its too late in the year anyway).

    I think the best option is to hold it the week before the US Open (similar to the Scottish/Open Championship double) and to follow the USGA’s lead on scheduling. When the US Open is on the west coast, hold it in Vancouver or Calgary or Edmonton; and when its in the east, hold it in the GTA or Montreal.

    Tiger is an exception, but most players like to play the week before a major so holding it close to the US Open would ensure a strong field.

  • I always find it interesting that people want to equate strength of field with attendance. The facts show otherwise since the field for this year was as good as any over the past several years and yet the attendance was lower and/or disappointing.

    The PGA Tour has many problems that they don’t seem to be addressing. Examples include all the emphasis on majors (and by association Tiger) and no firm policy on participation in all events at least once every 3 years. Coupled with the general public consensus that golf is not a “happening” sport right now, the PGA Tour generally has to find ways to make their product more interesting.

    Address some of these topics or it won’t matter a bit what the Canadian Open is deemed to be.

  • Make no mistake this is a cash flow problem caused by the following(but not limited to): Golf Canada claims over 2 million golfers but collects dues from only 300,000; Golf Canada could not come up with another sponsor and RBC put the screws to Golf Canada i.e. In 2012 approx. $400,000 was diverted to the Mike Weir Wellness Foundation rather than Golf Canada; poor mgmt. and direction for years by the RCGA; golf clubs and pro shops were mindless by not being friendly to junior golfers; Golf Canada bureaucracy; the PGA Tour saddling a terrible date for decades; and the ballooning costs to play golf.

    By definition a national open should be open to those from the country, any change is extremely short sighted by Golf Canada and Simmons. They are looking for an easy solution for their cash flow problem. They are thinking by bringing more higher ranked golfers with a better TV deal will solve their cash problems. It will in the short term but at what long term cost.

    Look at the Phoenix Open or the Byron Nelson, some of the poorest fields in the year and yet they make millions each year. It comes down to leadership finding the market.

    • Although RBC may have given Golf Canada the screws on the title sponsor deal they are not to blame. They came in to save the open when there was no suitors and leveraged the situation to make the best business decision.

      As for the $400,000 that was donated, that money was not diverted from Golf Canada or the RBC Canadian Open as it was apart of RBC’s 5 year commitment t0 raise charitable funds. This money came from RBC pocket.

  • @Bob – The Phoenix Open has a weak field? Phil Mickelson often plays – when you have Phil or Tiger you don’t have a weak field.

    The answer to the question is yes, the Can Open should become a more significant event, but I think it should be a FedEx Cup playoff event. That is not all that unrealistic as I doubt that European banks are going to be able to justify sponsoring these events given the issues they have and how they are retrenching their businesses.

    The obvious event that the Can Open can replace is the Deutsche Bank Championship when the sponsorship deal runs out in a 2016. The date is good on Labour Day weekend and Boston doesn’t really have a strong tradition of hosting the Tour despite the success of this event over the last decade. The only complication is that it makes it difficult to have the event on the West Coast and then move back to the east coast in a week. The CEO of Deutsche Bank US was Seth Waugh and he was a golf nut and the driving force behind the event but he has now retired.

  • Sorry boys, I couldn’t care less about Woods or Mickleson. I want a national open and I would like to see it run exclusively by Golf Canada with no PGA affiliation. I think the Canadian Open has a couple or three problems that haven’t been cited above. Firstly, if memory serves me, when Glen Abbey first opened, the winning score was about minus eight but now we’re looking at a winning score in the mid to high minus teens. This is supposed to be a national open, a true test of golf and the excessively low winning score cheapens the tournament. Secondly, there are a lot of good golf courses all across the country, not just Hamilton, Shaunnessy, Glen Abbey, and Royal Montreal. I don’t know if the courses in Kananaskis could handle the pros but the courses are very long though at elevation (and in an awful state due to the recent flooding). We always get this baloney about parking, blah, blah, blah, but just using Kananaskis as an example, the 1988 Winter Olympics downhill ski events were held in the Kananaskis valley very near to the golf courses and there were no parking problems and spectators were bussed from the Trans-Canada to the venue. Calgary is a great sports town and would definitely support this kind of event. A national championship should be moved around the country. Thirdly, I am sick of the PGA giving the tournament a rotten spot on the calendar, a week after the British Open, a week before the Bridgestone, and two weeks before the PGA. The tournament should be scheduled when Golf Canada wants it scheduled, not the PGA. Some players take the week off after the British Open and some do not play in the run-up to a major. So, the current date is brutal. I am reticent to disagree with Dick who knows a lot more about this than any of the rest of us but when he was playing, I would have been just as happy to watch him play as any of the US or European players. I want to see all the great players including the great Canadian ones. It seems that Golf Canada is just giving up and as a Canadian that is embarrassing to me.

    • Why do National championships have to be about protecting par and being a “true test of golf”? That is the case for the US Open which is one event out of how many national championships? Does every national chapionship have to be like the US Open? I don’t thins so.

      Even the Open Championship has very low scores – winning scores of lower than -15 have been seen five times at “dog tracks” like the Old Course, Turnberry and Hoylake. Protecting par is a stupid idea since par is an arbitrary concept but it is easy to do if you want – just call Glen Abbey a par 70 course – that’s what they generally do at the US Open by turning two par 5s into long par 4s.

      Your concept has some merit but it would not be a significant event at all – essentially the same as existing Canadian Tour events and those get very little galleries – I know as I went to one last year. That is fine but the event will attract very little attention and will cost Golf Canada money .

      We could have the best of both worlds having the RBC Championship which is a FedEx Cup event and have a lower profile Canadian Open event. The Western Open had a glorious history but it has now become the BMW Championship.

  • Wow! You seemed to have hit a nerve here RT.
    First, I would caution anyone who speaks ill of RBC and their support of the Canadian Open. Without RBC, Golf Canada would be in a deeper hole than they are now. Second, I would argue those questioning Golf Canada’s fiscal management, marketing savvy, the support for junior golf and respect for their members at large are justified. The organization seems ‘fat’ with bureaucracy, without any plan and in need of a change. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity correct? Time for some radical thoughts/decisions: What if we merged with the USGA??? Canada would get 1-2 seats on the Board. We would have a voice at THEE table, have more of a chance to affect the dates of our Open and I am sure young Canadians would benefit from getting access to the USGA’s junior clinics, tournament sand events. It’s food for thought.
    As for trading our Open to a WGC event….get stuffed! Our national Open should have Canadians in the event and it’s up to those we employ at Golf Canada to figure out to get the PGA ‘A’ list to attend. RBC’s sponsorship group delivers a great group.
    Keep the Canadian Open the Canadian Open but try different tactics and find destinations the pros want to play. Build-in events for the families at the Open. Have Justin Bieber do a concert for the pros kids. That should get them all here. Let’s think outside the box and let’s not take any idea off the table.

    • @J

      How does merging the RCGA/Golf Canada into the USGA give us more of a chance to get a better date for the Canadian Open? What does the USGA have to do with the PGATour?

  • Some follow up. When RBC came on board they decided it was in their best interest to divert funds to the Mike Wier Wellness Foundation. The funds good have gone to Golf Canada but RBC chose the Wellness Foundation and Golf Canada didn’t have anyone else.
    The RBC Heritage had approx. the same attendance as the Cdn Open with lower ticket fees but the Heritage had a bigger purse. Many factors go into determining the purse and the donation amount including the TV revenue but something doesn’t add up.
    Comments about Phoenix drawing more because they have Phil misses the bigger draw, hole #16. 16 has more spectators than the entire Cdn Open. What they need is to think outside the box. Also, the Byron tournament doesn’t have a Phil or Tiger but dwarfs the Cdn Open in fund raising and attendance. Comes down to the organizing committee.
    No problem having a Canadian event as a WGC or FedEx event but not as the Canadian Open. Anyone that suggests otherwise is taking the easy way.

  • It’s called The Canadian OPEN. Yes, OPEN. Does the RCGA think they have the clout to change the definition of the word OPEN in the golf world? Do they even know what it means? If RBC and the RCGA want to create a new event for the WGC or Fed-Up Cup, go for it. However, it won’t be an ‘Open’.

    The RCGA doesn’t seem to know what it wants, apart from more revenue. They claim to want to help struggling young pros get their start, which The Canadian Open can provide with entries for many of our aspiring players. Unless, of course, they can get more revenue from something else. And then they go in this direction.

    What the RCGA needs is people who can think outside of the box and come up with creative ways of growing the game, and a better date for The Canadian Open. That isn’t happening with the current regime.

    Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to replace the RCGA or do away with them altogether, rather than spend countless RBC money and our tax dollars on a pipe dream that has no logic whatsoever?

  • I think a World Gold Champ tourney would be great. No need to replace one, just dump the Greenbriar and add another World Event, but make some exceptions to accommodate the Canadian Open uniqueness. Take the set field, but anyone who doesn’t accept could be replaced by a Canuck. Money talks and RBC has plenty, and they’ve been throwing a lot of it around of late.

  • Well, I happen to agree about the preoccupation with par but a lot of Canadian golfers and fans have a preoccupation with US golf and seemingly can’t think for themselves without everything being in the context of the Americans. Golf is a microcosm of everything about Canada. We are the most self loathing country on the planet. That’s what this story is about, giving up, making the Canadian Open something other than our national championship. So, there is no point in lecturing me on true tests of golf and winning scores relative to par. Save the lecture for the US media and the fellows at the USGA who want their national open to have the highest winning score based on some New American Century idea that this somehow makes the US Open the world’s greatest championship. I personally like the British Open far better because the Royal and Ancient is of a mind that if the wind is up, the players get beaten up by the course and if it is calm, the players beat up the course. It is what it is, not some concocted nonsense with overstated difficulty based on hole conversion and 5 yard wide fairways with ironman pin placements. It’s just Americans being Americans. As for the Old Course and Turnberry and so on being “dog tracks”, I am embarrassed to even acknowledge such a ridiculous and completely disrespectful comment. If Glen Abbey had been set up this year for all four rounds the way it was for rounds one, two, and four, and par had been 70 (I don’t remember, maybe it rained during the third round), the winning score would have been around par and the winning score at the US Open was plus one so I guess Glen Abbey and the Merion goat track are about equivalent. Most Canadian golfers and fans wouldn’t accept this thinking however, Merion is amazing because it’s a US Open venue and Glen Abbey is second rate. As for the money Golf Canada takes in and the development of touring pros, how has that been working out? When I was a kid, we had one bonafide guy, George Knudson. Then Zokol and Barr, maybe Halldorson, then Mike Weir, now DeLaet, maybe Hearn. I’m leaving out the odd guy like Al Balding, Nelford, a few others I’m sure but the point is that even with whatever money is spent by Golf Canada, over a 50 year period we now have two players at best really doing anything at all as regulars on tour rather than one in Knudson’s day. It’s as if no-one here has noticed that we have a six month golf season and that hockey is our national sport. As for the proposed lunacy of merging the RCGA or Golf Canada with the USGA, give me a break. I am a Canadian, not an American. I don’t want to be an American under any circumstances. A country is made up of it’s institutions and culture and golf is part of our culture and Golf Canada is one our institutions. The folly here is that touring golf pros in Canada number is the hundreds, the low hundreds, while we have at least three or four million recreational golfers. Funny that anyone would want to sell their soul to the USGA as a way of improving the Canadian Open, admitting that we’re too dumb to fix it ourselves if it needs fixing. Not sure I like the idea of making our open into a gong show with the involvement of someone like Justin Bieber. Maybe we could get some magicians and invite the Sesame Street characters too.

  • Some excellent comments! I feel we (Golf Canada/RCGA) should run our Open as the Canadian Open (once it was #5 on PGA Tour) and never get involved as a WGC (right now 20-25 Canadians can qualify, if WGC maybe 2). Perhaps a new WGC event, but right now the RBC Canadian Open appears to me to be moving up (thanks to RBC $). Our season is too short to get two good dates in moneyed areas during the summer as it is so I can’t see any good changes.
    As to new players, there sure seems to be a lot of great teenagers coming up through the ranks of professional junior golf.

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