Local success story

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

It's the sort of thing that happens every day at a place like the Royal Mayfair.

Harry talks to Terry who knows Ed who ...

It's the story of the CN Canadian Women's Open and the sensational scene we're about to experience here this week. It began two years ago with a couple of members at the Mayfair- it wasn't Royal yet - chewing the fat while hanging around the course maintenance centre.

Harry Zuzak, past president of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, was talking about the mess the RCGA had found itself in with the loss of BMO as the title sponsor for annual stop on the LPGA Tour and how the tournament was likely about to become extinct.

LIGHTBULB CAME ON

Terry Kilburn, a club member who was on the board of directors of the Edmonton Eskimos from 1999 to 2005, said, 'Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't I give Ed Harris over at CN a call and see if he'd be interested in talking to you.'

The result is the tournament here this year featuring a first-rate field and more prize money than the $2 million US women's British Open played two weeks ago on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

"Not many people know about it," said Kilburn of the part he played in what is really one of the great stories in Canadian golf. "I didn't tell many people about it. I kind of kept it to myself.

"Ed and I are buddies. I phoned him and said 'Here's an opportunity for you guys.' I sent Harry over to see Ed."

When this happened Harris, who has since retired, was the CN vice president of operations based in Edmonton.

"Terry suggested to Harry to give me a call, and Harry and I had lunch at the Mayfair. I liked everything Harry had to show me, not just with the LPGA tournament but with the kids program and the Canadian ladies' tour," said Harris.

CN marketing man Jim Feeney and Harris met RCGA Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director Rick Desrochers at the Canadian Open in Vancouver.

"We liked what they showed us," said Harris. "I told them I could only bless it so far and the next step was to go to the president of the railroad.

"I mentioned it to Hunter Harrison at Spruce Meadows in Calgary. He met with Desrochers and the RCGA in Montreal. The rest is history."

The event almost immediately went from deathbed to being one of the top events on the tour.

Not only does the $2,250,000 US prize money beat the $2 million from the British Open, only four events on the tour pay more money.

The U.S. Open pays $3.1 million and the Evian Masters in France puts up a purse of $3 million. An April tour event in Florida and a May event in South Carolina pay $2.6.

When the LPGA Tour was here in 1996, the total purse was $1 million and champion Laura Davies cashed a first-place cheque for $150,000. Two years ago Meena Lee won the Canadian event and $195,000. Last year Cristie Kerr took home $255,000. This year the winner will take away $337,500.

Throwing money at something doesn't work with everything. But it usually does with golf.

But it's not just money. It's CN philosophy.

Getting a sponsor was one thing. Getting a great sponsor, one which understood you don't just spend the money you put up for a purse but as much again on promotion and all the little things, including the best treatment on the tour for the caddies, is another thing.

How many events out there are in search of such a sponsor? And this came together almost overnight.

"It happened pretty fast," said Zuzak who has been named a starter and the honorary host chairman of the event and takes a great deal of pride in the part he played.

"How can you not?" he said. "I'm so happy I was at the right place at the right time. Let's put it that way. Ed Harris should take a great deal of pride as well. He's done something and left his mark."

Desrochers says it's truly been a marvel the way it's worked from a tournament with a lousy field losing its sponsor in 2005 to what we'll be experiencing here this year. And it's perfect this tournament should take the large leap to a different level with this event in Edmonton where it all began.

"This tournament has gone from the lower 50% to the top of the heap. Starting this year, the entire event has been elevated thanks to the sponsorship of CN," said Desrochers.

"We have the best field we've ever had in Canada, a terrific purse, a great date on the LPGA schedule, an excellent golf course to play the tournament, outstanding marketing, and a sponsor who not only signed on but two weeks ago extended the agreement through to 2010.

GREAT SCENE

"The scene around the event here will be outstanding. It will be like we've never had before. This is the best this tournament has ever had in corporate sales," he said.

"Don Sprague and the people at the Royal Mayfair have done an outstanding job. They've had an extremely driven sales committee. We have 1,400 volunteers and can't take anymore. So far the experience has been really outstanding."

Now all they require is some of that famed Edmonton big-event weather and walk-up ticket sales to top off the solid pre-sale to break the attendance record 61,000.

That and a few guys sitting around the Royal Mayfair this week talking about the men's Canadian Open losing its title sponsor and being on the tournament endangered species list and making it happen all over again.


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