Hamilton a two-foot putt from 2006 Canadian Open

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

With each passing day, it seems more and more certain the Canadian Open will be back at Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster in 2006.

That's good news for just about everyone involved.

While neither the Royal Canadian Golf Association, which administers the Open, nor the golf club itself would confirm that a deal is in place, sources in the golf industry are suggesting the only remaining hurdle is a vote of the Hamilton club's membership.

"We are not in a position to comment on that," RCGA spokesman Victor Cui said.

"I can't confirm that," said George Pinches, COO of the Hamilton Golf and Country Club. "We are not at that point. Nothing has been sent to the membership, but if there is a decision to be made, the protocol is that the members vote."

That vote is believed to be coming soon, perhaps even before the end of the month.

With only about 21 months remaining until the opening tee shot, time is becoming a factor and that gives Hamilton some leverage. It's believed the deal reached with the RCGA is worth more than $1 million for the club.

Having produced a first-class show in 2003, the blueprint for success in Ancaster is still fresh. More than that, because the golf course held up so well (Bob Tway won in a playoff after completing 72 holes with a score of nine-under) against the players of the PGA Tour, few changes will need to be made for 2006.

What makes a positive membership vote seem likely is the widespread prestige created by the 2003 event. Almost every PGA Tour pro left Hamilton singing its praises, even though, at 6,980 yards it's one of a handful of tour courses under 7,000 yards. It's an absolute slam-dunk that news of a return to Hamilton in 2006 will be met with great approval by the touring pros.

The buzz has been so strong there might even be a Tiger sighting on the classic Harry Colt layout that sits atop the Niagara Escarpment.

As an obvious postscript to the 2003 Open, Score Magazine named the Ancaster layout the No. 1 course in Canada, adding to the club's reputation.

Beyond that, the RCGA has estimated that the economic impact of the 2003 Open amounted to a $23.8-million infusion into the region's economy, an economy that can use every bit of help it can get.

More than 125,000 people attended the tournament and practice rounds over seven days. This time around, it's expected that the daily attendance will be capped at about 24,000, 2,000 more than in 2003.

The reason this deal is so late coming together is because the Montreal-area course being built by Markham developer Art Stollery that originally had been awarded the 2006 Open will not be completed in time. The RCGA's contractual obligation to the Montreal venue ended in October and only then was it able to legally seek a replacement.

In truth, it doesn't have many choices, especially since there is such a short timeframe for preparation. It's expected that in the unlikely event the Hamilton membership turns thumbs down on the proposal, ClubLink and Glen Abbey Golf Club will step into the vacuum.

Part of the incentive for accepting the 2003 Open at Hamilton was an infusion of $200,000 made by the municipal government of the Hamilton Wentworth Region. It's unlikely that money will be available this time around but it's believed the extra cash the club will get from the RCGA will be enticement enough, especially since no large capital expenses will be necessary.

As good as this is for the golf club, it's an even better deal for the RCGA. The past two Opens have been great successes. Next year's event at Shaughnessy in Vancouver, another fine old venue, most certainly will keep the momentum going forward. A return to Hamilton in 2006 will give it the very best chance to keep that string of successes alive.

It took 73 years to get the Canadian Open back to Hamilton in 2003 after Tommy Armour won it there in 1930. It says a lot about the wisdom of everybody involved that it is going to take only three years this time.


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