St. Charles to host LPGA

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

World-class golf is coming back to Winnipeg next year.

The St. Charles Golf Club will host the 2010 Canadian Women's Open, Aug. 23-29, bringing the best golfers on the women's professional tour to Manitoba.

It's the first major golf event to hit Winnipeg since Jack Nicklaus and the Canadian Senior Open attracted some 60,000 fans to St. Charles in 2000, and officials expect the same buzz this time around.

"The profile Jack brought to that event was absolutely outstanding," St. Charles general manager Cameron Gray said yesterday.

"And with the profile many of the LPGA players enjoy today, I anticipate next year will be met with the same excitement."

With a $2.75-million US purse, one of the richest on the LPGA Tour, the Canadian Women's Open has become one of the Tour's top events, attracting most of the best golfers.

Gray says last year's tournament in Ottawa attracted 48 of the top 50 players. This year's event, in Calgary, is expected to draw a similar field.

"We're very excited to see the top players and a premier field," Gray said, rattling off marquee names like Michelle Wie, Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis. "Players that are seen on TV highlights, week after week -- I'm confident the vast majority of them will be here."

'Wonderful venue'

Gray is also confident they'll will draw between 60,000 and 70,000 spectators, right up there with the 68,000-plus who took in the Ottawa event.

"There's no reason why Winnipeg can't outdo Ottawa."

Landing the event was a few years in the making.

A group led by Destination Winnipeg put in bids for the 2007 and '09 events, but came up empty.

"Destination Winnipeg and our partners targeted this event in 2006 and proposed it twice, and stayed patient, persistent and determined," Stu Duncan of Destination Winnipeg said. "Third time's a charm."

Duncan says the city and province put up "significant" contributions for an event he says will generate economic spinoffs of more than $10 million.

The bid, presented to the Royal Canadian Golf Association, was simply to land the event for Winnipeg. When that was successful, the RCGA chose the host club.

St. Charles was chosen for its old-style layout and a history of hosting major events, including the LPGA's Canadian stop in 1992.

"St. Charles is an absolutely wonderful venue that has challenged many of the game's greatest players before," RCGA executive director Scott Simmons said in a conference call. "It's an ideal venue to challenge the stars of the LPGA."

The LPGA Tour has been hit hard by a drop in sponsorships in the U.S, while the Canadian stop has, so far, been recession-proof.

But that may change.

Next year marks the end of the event's five-year sponsorship deal with CN Rail, and without the company's involvement the future of the tournament is up in the air.

"You can appreciate these are difficult times," CN spokesman Stan Jablonski said. "We have a lot of decisions to make."


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