LPGA event to ride rails

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

Hunter Harrison didn't turn the Canadian National Railway into a profit machine by splitting hairs.

So yesterday, as Royal Canadian Golf Association championships director Rick Desrochers was dancing around a question relating to the size of CN's financial commitment for the Canadian Women's Open Golf Championship in a new five-year deal, Harrison, CN's CEO, seized the microphone and the moment.

"Our commitment will certainly be more than Bank of Montreal (the retiring sponsor)," Harrison said. "I promise you that. If this organization commits to something, it commits all the way.

"The purse will be more than $1.3 million US and we will increase that amount aggressively over the period of our commitment."

Since the deal between the RCGA and CN came together in a whirlwind courtship that lasted less than a month, many details weren't finalized prior to yesterday's announcement in Montreal. Apparently, the dollar numbers were one of those details.

CN's commitment saved the Canadian Women's Open from at least downsizing, and at worst, extinction. When B of M did not renew its agreement following this year's final year of a five-year deal, no one had stepped up until the possibility came onto CN's radar screen on September.

According to Desrochers, without CN's late entry into the ball game, the tournament would have been lost, at least in its present incarnation.

"We were needed and it's nice to be needed," Harrison said.

The Open now will continue as an LPGA event and perhaps regain some of the lustre it lost when it was stripped of its status as a women's major championship five years ago.

Next year's event is tentatively scheduled for the London Hunt Club from Aug. 7-13. The 2007 renewal is expected to be held at Edmonton's Mayfair Club. Beyond that, RCGA executive director Stephen Ross said the slate is blank.

In the 10 years since CN was privatized by the federal government, it has become a true bottom line success story. Since the 1999 acquisition of Illinois Central, the company's stock has soared from $6.67 a share to a record high of nearly $86 two weeks ago. The company had a net income of $1.22 billion last year, making it the most profitable and efficient major railway enterprise in North America.

Just Tuesday, it announced third quarter profits of $411 million, putting it on pace to surpass last year's record numbers.

"We have had some financial success," Harrison said. "It provides us with an opportunity to give back to the community and to help grow the game of golf in Canada and North America."

Harrison started his career as an 18-year-old labourer in 1963 with the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad Company while in high school. He was with Illinois Central when it was acquired by CN in 1999 and became CEO of the merged company in 2003.


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