Tour-ists eye stop in Ottawa

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Ottawa is a golf hotspot this summer and if the Canadian Tour has its way, it will be back in the development tour's plans -- maybe as early as next year.

Dan Halldorson, one of Canada's most accomplished players and now deputy director of the Canadian Tour, is in town this week to play in the BreconRidge Canadian PGA Seniors Championship at The Marshes.

The CPGA Seniors follows on the heels of the Quebec Amateur last weekend and a stop by the CN Canadian Women's Tour. Like the rest of the country, golf is popular here and plenty of courses are up to the task of hosting first-class events.

Halldorson, as well as fellow Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Dave Barr, was at The Marshes yesterday to get ready for the CPGA Seniors, which gets underway tomorrow.

REVAMPED TOUR

Halldorson said the ground is being prepared for a revamped Canadian Tour next year, which could include a return here.

"This area is definitely on our list," said Halldorson. "We could move (a tournament) in here. We're just waiting to see what happens the rest of this year. We want to get back in this market.

"(Next year) is definitely a possibility. That's up in the air right now. We'll make a decision in September probably. We'll have spaces to move things in."

The Canadian Tour came through Ottawa for a few years in the 1990s at the outstanding Eagle Creek Golf Club -- which drew rave reviews from the players -- but the lack of a title sponsor scuttled the event.

Too bad it was lost because it gave local golf fans a chance to see players such as Arron Olberholser -- who won the Eagle Creek Classic in 1999 and the AT&T Pro-Am on the PGA Tour this year.

It seems kind of odd that the "Canadian" Tour has had stops in Texas, California and Mexico in the last few years, but not the capital of its home country.

It all comes down to money, of course.

Tournaments need sponsors.

Why is the Canadian Tour important? If we want to have more players such as Mike Weir to cheer for, it's important that our young pros have a place to play at home.

Halldorson said things are on the upswing with the Tour.

"The sponsors the Canadian Tour has are very good. Yes, we are actively looking for more. What our Tour needs is more media awareness, more public awareness that we have a national tour ... once we leave that area, I don't think the fans appreciate there's a tournament somewhere else. They don't get to follow the Tour as much.

"If you get more exposure as a brand, then the corporate dollars will follow. I think they go hand-in-hand together. That's our goal, to get our brand out there so people know what we're about, who is playing and who is graduating.

"We're getting better at it."

The Canadian Tour has a weekly show now on The Golf Channel which highlights the previous week's tournament and, like the PGA Tour's weekly show, uses players as hosts.

Halldorson said potential sponsors are getting in contact with the Tour and a fit could be found for the Ottawa market.

Regardless of what happens here, changes are on the way next year for the Tour. It has branched out over the last few years to stops in Texas, California and Mexico during the late winter months.

But with the Canadian Open being moved from September to a July slot on the PGA Tour schedule next year, Halldorson said the Canadian Tour will change its schedule.

That means a later start -- in April rather than February -- with a move towards eliminating a lot of the open weeks that had broken up the schedule before. That meant a lot of trips home and back for the players.

"We want to make sure they're going from one place to the next without having to take a week off or backtrack," said Halldorson.

RUN OF TOURNEYS

Next year's schedule will hopefully see a run of six or seven tournaments up to the week before the Canadian Open, starting in Mexico and working its way north.

There could a new tournament in Seattle next year to kick off the West Coast schedule and complement the tournament in Victoria.

There will be an open week before the Canadian Open to allow the Canadian Tour players who qualify to have a week to get ready. The Tour schedule would resume in the east after the Open.

"There's still a lot of work to do, but we're moving forward," said Halldorson. "The players are happy with what we're doing and usually it's the other way around."

HEAR AND THERE: Halldorson doesn't have very high expectations at this week's Seniors. "I've got two days to warm up. I think I've played three times in four months. I did practice a couple hours last week. It's going to be just having fun. As long as I have enough golf balls to last the day ..." Barr, the first and only Canadian to have won on the Champions Tour and the favourite at The Marshes this week, has been frustrated by the difficulty of getting into Champions Tour events. It's pretty much a closed shop. It's great for the guys on the inside, but a tough go for players without status. Barr said he'll give it one more year and is hopeful a change in Monday qualifying will give him more opportunities to play. Under the new rules, about 50 players will try for nine spots each week next year, compared to just two spots up for grabs now.


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