Greens and greenbacks

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

The day before it begins, before the first fan follows the first group down the fairway, the 2007 CN Canadian Women's Open has been decared an official record-breaking financial success.

"That was our goal," said local organizing chairman Don Sprague of the announcement yesterday.

"We wanted this thing to achieve that status before selling our first walk-up ticket to the tournament. That said, I hope we sell 80,000 of them. I'd like to beat the record of 61,000 with a number like that."

Don Sprague gets it.

Look back at some of the major success stories in Edmonton's big event history and Sprague's fingerprints are all over them.

What we're about to witness today with the Pro-Am and the following four days with tournament play in the CN Canadian Women's Open is textbook.

Ten years ago Sprague retired as the go-to-guy to head up local organizing committees for major events.

Under his chairmanship, Edmonton broke the all-time event records for attendance with sellout crowds for the 1994 Canadian Figure Skating Championships and 1996 World Figure Skating Championships and he followed those biggest, best-ever success stories with another as chairman of the 1997 Grey Cup.

This event has already been taken to a new level thanks to Sprague and his committee which have sold $1.4 million of corporate boxes, seats and tables alone.

"Our budgeted number was $1 million," he said.

It all started when the chain of people who were involved in winning the bid to hold the tournament decided it had to be held at the Royal Mayfair.

"They came to me to convince the executive and the executive turned it around and convinced me," Sprague laughed yesterday as the fantastic field gathered for the official day of practice at the course.

"I had one condition. Complete control to handpick every chairman. I selected one-third from the Mayfair, one-third from the other clubs and one third of the people who work with the Telus Edmonton Open. And I had one other catch. Marg Corby had to be head of the volunteers. She worked with me at the figure skating and the Grey Cup. She had to be in."

Sprague understands you can't just hold a press conference, send out a few e-mails and letters and make it work.

You have to have the right people in place to have the tentacles to go through town.

"It's phoning corporate people saying 'You need a table,' " he said. "To be honest, we ran out of product. We squeezed every available area on the golf course. We only had 20 tables for four people at $9,500 a table for four days to sell in the clubhouse. I know I could have sold a lot more of those. We'll make additional money from the clubhouse with functions and food, etc. So we'll make a buck there. And then there's souvenirs and the like."

Tickets in golf are more of a walk-up deal. And that's the only area where Sprague has no clue, really, how they're going to do.

"We've got the field. It looks like we're going to get the weather. We have a golf course in the middle of the city with parking five minutes away. You really couldn't get a much better situation than we have here."


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