Open case of success

DAVE FULLER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Golf Canada would never tell the PGA Tour folks to buzz off, but maybe they should.

We Canadians though, we’re just too damn polite …

For four years now, the PGA has scheduled the world’s third oldest national golf championship a week after the British Open — which might as well be the first week of February.

But somehow the Open gets by. Actually, better than that. The $5.1-million RBC Canadian Open draws big crowds, features an always stellar field and, lately has been treating golf fans and, more importantly the players, to some extraordinary golfing fare.

It’s why Colombian heart-throb Camilo Villegas keeps returning to Canada.

“I played six holes here and (St. George’s) is beautiful,” said Villegas on Monday — about 24 hours after completing his final round at St. Andrews in Scotland. “We keep playing good golf courses in Canada. I like it. That’s why I keep coming back. They treat me good here, the fans are unbelievable. Look at the support for a Monday Pro-Am for the Mike Weir Foundation. It’s awesome here.”

It took Villegas, along with 27 other pros — John Daly, Trevor Immelman and Paul Casey among them — just nine hours to get from St. Andrews to their Toronto hotels Sunday night. It happened, because Golf Canada arranged for a private jet to fly them here. They’ve been running the shuttle every year since the PGA gave Canada’s Open the finger.

“The charter makes such a difference,” said Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons, who accompanied the 28 pros, their caddies and families from St. Andrews.

“We’re happy to do it. It’s just the nature of the beast with the slot we’re in right now.”

Simmons doesn’t see that deplorable slot changing anytime soon. And he’s tired of waiting on the Tour poobahs to start showing Canada some respect. He doesn’t say so. He wouldn’t say so. But, we sometimes wonder if Golf Canada and its sponsors really need the PGA Tour. What they need are the world’s top players — and from what we can tell — few tournaments treat them as well as they get here.

Why else would Casey, the second-last man off St. Andrews on Sunday, come? And not only come here, but play in Weir’s charity classic at St. George’s Golf and Country Club so soon after his disappointing finish at the British Open.

“What we’re trying to do is make it easy for the players to say: ‘Yes,’ ” Simmons said. “No. 1 is the golf course, and No. 1A would be how you treat them. The amenities, the charter, what you do for their families when they’re here, that’s what’s important.

“I think we’ve proven over three years, that our date isn’t the big issue everyone thought it was. I would think our field is going to be one of the strongest , if not the strongest on the PGA Tour this year this side of the majors.”

The players think it’s really fine, too, that the Open no longer is locked into Oakville’s Glen Abbey. For too long it was thought that you needed a “stadium-style” layout to support the Open but St. George’s, and the Hamilton Golf and Country Club before it, are proving the theory cockeyed.

“The No. 1 priority for this event is to play at the best golf courses in this country,” Simmons said. “Forget the logistics. We’ll deal with it.”

So far, Simmons says, the St. George’s experiment is running “as smooth as silk.” Although St. George’s is a tight squeeze, located just minutes away from downtown Toronto — even moving the Open practice range to near-by Islington Golf Club, turned into a positive.

“The guys were hitting balls over there this morning and it was so relaxing and serene,” Simmons said. “A few guys looked around and said: ‘Wow, why aren’t we playing here?’ Of course, they hadn’t stepped foot at St. George’s yet.”

Golf Canada has also discussed increasing its purse, which is in the low-to-middle range for PGA Tour events. But for now, it’s just talk.

“For the amount of money these guys are playing for these days I don’t think we’d get one more player by increasing our purse,” Simmons said.

With attendance capped at 22,000 per day — St. George’s couldn’t possibly hold any more — Simmons expects a sellout all four rounds.


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