It used to be that a half-decent player could win the Edmonton Amateur Golf Championship by default.
Apathy and disorganization at the executive level translated into small, soft fields that offered little in the way of competition or prestige.
It was the city amateur championship in name only.
Now, if you win this thing you've won a major in the province of Alberta.
"For so many years there were such weak fields in this," said Brian Laubman, who tees off in the 84th annual tournament this afternoon at the Broadmoor. "Five or six year ago before the new executive took over, there would be about 35 guys entered in this. It was just awful. A lot of the good players didn't play.'
This year the field is 132, not counting the waiting list. And it's not just the quantity that makes this year's event so highly anticipated; the quality is a giant step up as well. Sixty per cent of the field plays to a 3 handicap or less and the list of champions in the mix is also longer than ever before: There's 2001 champion Mark Bucci, 2003 champ Tom Skinner, 2003 Canadian junior champion Ryan Lecuyer, who was in fourth place after two rounds of the Telus Open, 2004 Alberta Open champ Brandon Markiw and defending city amateur champion Jason Mehalko, who lives in California but enjoyed last year's event so much he's flying back to try and repeat.
"This is great," said Laubman, who won the 2004 Alberta amateur and 2005 Alberta mid-amateur championships. "For your city championship you want to have your best players out."
Edmonton Golf Association president Pat Wren says the 84th annual event, sponsored by the Investors Group, has become a magnet for golf talent in Edmonton.
"Word is getting out about this tournament, that it's a prestigious tournament to win," he said.
"The field this year is as good as I can remember in a long time. Word is also getting out that it's a very professionally run tournament, players know that EGA events are first class and they want to be a part of them."
Markiw, whose double eagle in the 2004 Alberta Open at RedTail helped him win that event, hadn't played in the Edmonton Amateur before but didn't want to miss out on the excitement.
"I was talking to a few of the guys a couple of weeks ago and it seemed like everybody was in," said Markiw, who's heading off to Ohio State this fall on a golf scholarship. "Ryan has been playing really solid. The tournament is conducted so well, there are tons of people out here volunteering and it's run so professionally. It's a tournament that everybody wants to play in now. It's a big one to win."
Next year's 85th anniversary tournament will take place at Riverside.
YOU DA LAUBMAN: On the heels of his first Alberta amateur championship, Laubman won his first-ever provincial mid-amateur (players 40 and up) championship last week in Calgary. It was overshadowed a bit by the Telus Open, but still a huge accomplishment for one of Edmonton's best players.
"I gave up coaching baseball and have actually started practising this year, which makes a big difference," said Laubman, who shot back-to-back 64s at Highlands last week. "Now I go to the range three or four times a week. This is probably the hardest I've ever worked at it."