Since the first Canadian Open golf championship was held in 1904 at the Royal Montreal Golf Club, Canadian golf fans have rarely had more to
celebrate. The $1.2-million Canadian Open, starting on Sept. 5, claims one of the most powerful fields of competitors ever assembled in Canada. The contestants expected at the Glen Abbey course, 30 km west of Toronto,
include the 1991 U.S. Open champion, Payne Stewart of Orlando, Fla., and this year’s British Open winner, Ian Baker-Finch of Sanctuary Cove,
Australia. Among the supporting cast are top money winners Australian Greg Norman of Lost Tree Village,
Fla., Bruce Lietzke of Dallas,
Fred Couples of Palm Beach,
Fla., Jack Nicklaus of North Palm Beach, Fla., and one of the leading Canadian money winners, Dave Barr of Richmond, B.C. Said Richard Grimm, the chief organizer for the event: “We are very fortunate to have a field that has been enormously successful.” Added 1990 Canadian Open champion Wayne Levi, of New Hartford, N.Y.:
“It’s going to be tough.”
Close to 100,000 fans will follow the event around Glen Abbey’s manicured fairways, and another 500,000 are expected to watch the final round on the CTV network.
Still, critics of the event insist that the championship is losing international prestige and will have to be restructured if it is to stay competitive. Ac-
cording to the influential London-based British monthly Golf World, the Canadian Open—the fourth-oldest national golf championship in the world—no longer ranks among the top 26 tournaments in the world, in part because it does not attract such major European players as Severiano Ballesteros of Pedrena, Spain, Nick Faldo of Welwyn Garden City, England, and Ian Woosnam of Owestry, Wales. While many golfers enjoy playing Glen Abbey’s sprawling layout, others say that they would like to see the tournament relocate to a different course. Added Lome Rubenstein, a veteran Canadian golf writer based in Toronto: “I
was talking to Nick Faldo at the Irish Open, and he said that the Canadian Open has lost prestige because it has remained at the same location for years.”
Even though the top Europeans are staying away, many of the golfers who will battle Glen Abbey’s tough 7,102-yard, par-72 layout say that the championship is stUl highly competitive. Levi, whose 1990 victory at Glen Abbey
capped a sparkling season in which he won four tournaments and was named the tour’s player of the year, said that Glen Abbey, which Nicklaus redesigned in 1974, is a challenging course. “There is usually a little bit of wind and the greens are fast,” he said. “There is a lot of rough.” Levi also said that most golfers like to return to Glen Abbey year after year because they are familiar with the course’s characteristics. “It gives them an advantage,” he said, “especially the older guys.”
The Royal Canadian Golf Association, which operates the Canadian Open, has tried to make the tournament more attractive for fans and
players by linking it to the coveted Ryder Cup. That event, which every second year places Europe’s top professional golfers in competition with their U.S. rivals, takes place at Kiawah Island Resort, off the coast of South Carolina, from Sept. 26 to 29. The Europeans have won the past two Ryder Cups, and Grimm said that many members of the U.S. team entered the Canadian Open to maintain their competitive edge. Before the start of the Canadian Open, U.S. team members, including Payne Stewart, Couples, Levi and Corey Pavin of Kauai, Hawaii, will sharpen their Ryder Cup skills in what was being billed as a nine-hole “shootout,” with the winner collecting $12,500.
Despite the impressive field of participants, the Canadian event is still something of an orphan on the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) circuit. Until 1988, the Open was held earlier in the summer, usually between the more popular U.S. and British opens. But the PGA Tour dropped the Open into the lower-profile September date in 1989 because it was unable to find a sponsor willing to buy 40 per cent of all network TV advertising during tournament broadcasts. The tournament’s sponsor since 1971, du Maurier Ltd., a subsidiary of Montreal-based Imperial Tobacco Ltd., puts up $1.2 million in prize money, including $216,000 for the winner, and spends an additional $1.5 million on promotion and hospitality. But under a 1988 federal law, which is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, the cigarette manufacturer cannot advertise its products on television.
Tournament organizers say that they are rethinking the date of the Canadian Open. But some of them, including Grimm, contend that the Open’s current date may not be unfavorable after all. Said Grimm: “There are very few dates in the summer schedule that are as attractive as many people think they are.” He added: “You run the risk of losing golfers to other events.”
Some critics recommend moving the Open to a new course after 11 consecutive years at Glen Abbey. But most of them acknowledge that the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s finances are so closely linked to the course that moving the tournament would be difficult. Rubenstein said that because the association owns the course outright, it is free to spend the $500,000 that it raises by staging the Open to pay for the extensive amateur golf program that it operates across Canada. Said Rubenstein: “It basically comes down to money. The golf association needs the money.”
Grimm also pointed out that Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey especially for the Open and its fans. Not only are its fairways and putting greens a tough challenge for golfers but, unlike most courses, the greens are surrounded by high, rolling banks that give spectators a clear view of the action. And with so many champions attending this year’s Open, golf fans will have plenty of action to cheer on.
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