Ross' exit won't help Open woes

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

Lending credence to the theory that where there's smoke, there's a firing, a couple of weary golf writers stuck in Fort Worth, Tex., after an ice storm hit back home just over a week ago, addressed a growing rumour that Stephen Ross was about to step down as top dog in Canadian golf.

Actually, the wheels were likely already in motion for the ouster of Ross after 30 years with the Royal Canadian Golf Association, the last 18 as executive director. That took place officially on Friday, exactly a week after the bull session in the Texas honky-tonk.

Although the RCGA tried to sweeten the story, Ross was definitely punted even if it was with a velvet boot and a golden handshake as concern for the sponsorless Canadian Open continues to grow among the restless board of governors. Consider the panic button officially pushed with the exit of Ross.

Whether a change in leadership will make that much difference remains to be seen, for it was the PGA Tour that put the RCGA into its difficult position after handing the Open the worst dates possible this side of that laughable fall series it tries to pass off as a legitimate portion of the schedule.

The tour, with all of its public relations savvy, tried to convince Canadians that it was doing the Open a favour during a teleconference last year, but commissioner Tim Finchem made a quick exit and left a flu-ridden Ross to be chewed on by the media sharks, who weren't buying the good news story.

Those dates left the RCGA with the unenviable task of convincing a title sponsor to fork over close to $6-million annually despite it being pretty much guaranteed that Tiger Woods as well as most top stars will take the week off after the British Open.

Rick Desrochers, the chief operating officer who was offered Ross' job but declined, will take over the leadership for now and continue working with other RCGA staff in securing a sponsorship. Desrochers will also assist in the search for Ross' replacement, which is being handled by the firm, Korn\ Ferry International.

Ask Ross what his noteworthy accomplishments were and he will list the establishment of the CN Future Links junior program, the association's player development program, a glowing 2006 participation study or the RCGA's amalgamation with the Canadian Ladies Golf Association a couple of years ago.

It could be argued, however, that the sale of Glen Abbey to ClubLink Corporation for $40-million was a big highlight in his RCGA career, a transaction that made Ross a target for criticism from those who objected to a not-for-profit association having that kind of loot.

That $40 million is a nest egg that, if invested properly, could fund the above-mentioned programs, ones to come, and RCGA operations for years and it's ironic that, despite the criticism Ross and the RCGA have taken over that healthy bank account, it's the golden egg for funding the Open.

Just imagine the predicament the Open, which contributes about $2-million annually to amateur programs, would be in if that $40-million wasn't in the bank. It could be the lifeline for the national championship, but don't expect the RCGA to go overboard trying to save it.

The sale of the Abbey also cemented the RCGA's position as the most influential golf association in Canada, which didn't sit well with many people, who feel that arrogance is that association's trademark.

Ross was often the face that went with those complaints from former employees, other associations and tournament sponsors, to name just a few. "I hope I didn't make any enemies," Ross said on Friday.

He did, but to his credit, Ross did what he felt he needed to do and was available to take on his detractors in public or in private. Golf is a business today and Ross, undoubtedly passionate about the game, devoted much of his time to that aspect.

To deny his accomplishments would be wrong, an opinion based solely on personality. Not so long ago, he admitted to his lack of people skills, which is the opposite of what the RCGA is looking for in its new executive director.

That would give the appearance of a kinder, gentler RCGA, but if the new executive director is facing the same challenges as Ross when he/she starts, a forced smile will hardly be an effective tool in changing the Canadian Open's current situation.


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