London calling

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

If you host it, they don't always come.

Especially to Canada.

As several cities have discovered since Canada's LPGA Tour stop lost its major championship status in 2001, many of the biggest names in women's golf would rather take a pass on the Great White North.

The excuses have been many, and in many cases justifiable: It was out of the way, it was too soon after the Women's British Open and the money wasn't great. As a result, the Canadian Women's Open suffered a serious lack of star power.

While last weekend in London, Ont., was better than most of the watered-down events since the demise of the du Maurier Classic (eight of the LPGA's top 15 money winners teed it up) they were still without heavy hitters and head turners Michelle Wie, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Juli Inkster, Paula Creamer and Grace Park.

LOOKING GOOD FOR MAYFAIR

So what should Edmonton expect when the ladies roll into town next summer (Aug. 16-19)? Well, the Royal Mayfair might just boast a guest list bigger than anything the country has seen in years.

Thanks to a flood of sponsorship money from CN and a couple of scheduling breaks, Canada, and, thus, Edmonton, could be on a lot more agendas in 2007.

"We're going to be two weeks after the (Aug. 2-5) British Open instead of one, which makes a big difference," said Royal Mayfair general manager Andrew Gilchrist, knowing full well most top players take the week after a major off.

"And we're also the first stop before they continue on to Portland. So I'm told the proximity of the two events will benefit us significantly in getting players up."

New sponsor CN is also making a big difference. The Canadian event, with a $1.7 million purse, just became one of the more lucrative stops on the LPGA circuit.

"The fact CN has done such a wonderful job is attracting the attention of the American and International players," said Gilchrist, who attended last weekend's stop in London, Ont., to get a first-hand look.

"They pulled out all the stops to make it a first-class event and they achieved that.

"In talking with some of the players, like Cristie Kerr and Natalie Gulbis, they said it felt like a major."

Word of that will spread fast. Gulbis, in Edmonton Monday for the Blackhawk Tour Challenge, loved Canada's revamped tournament and says she'll try her hardest to put Edmonton on her 2007 schedule.

"CN really stepped up and we got a really great response from the Canadian fans in general," she said. "It's an event I'd really like to come back to."

And she'll be telling her friends, which is what Gilchrist and the rest of Edmonton's golf fans are counting on.

"When the Bank of Montreal elected not to continue with sponsorship of the event, and we'd seen the fairly poor showing of players to the (2005) event in Halifax, the challenges they had with the British Open schedule, we were hesitant about holding the event," said Gilchrist, adding those concerns are long gone.

"Edmonton has a reputation of excellence in putting on sporting events and I think that will be the case again this time.

"Things are lining up really nicely for an outstanding opportunity at a full field."

LPGA CHARACTERS GROWING

But with the LPGA's ever-growing cast of charismatic young stars, Gilchrist says an event's success is no longer dependent on the presence of one or two marquee players.

"It'll be delightful if Annika can come and it would be delightful if Michelle Wie could come. But they're not the only big names in LPGA golf anymore."


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