Abbey could use a party hole

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

It was the day before Canada Day, a time in which the Royal Canadian Golf Association would prefer to have Mike Weir, Stephen Ames and Ian Leggatt, among others, playing for keeps instead of just talking up the RBC Canadian Open during golf and lunch with media hacks and invited guests.

Instead, the Open goes this week at Glen Abbey and the issue of those brutal dates right behind the British Open has been done to death, even though nothing will change immediately.

That is not to say the RCGA and RBC are accepting status quo for a tournament that just last year had no title sponsor and apparently no future. How times have changed.

RBC has the resources and clout to get the PGA Tour to at least listen to complaints about those disastrous dates. Don't count on the Open falling around Canada Day, but at least more separation from a major is possible.

For now, the focus is on what can be done immediately to draw more players and fans to the Open and, ultimately, elevate its status before the tour rethinks its schedule.

The hospitality shown to players and their families is being elevated in order to get a better field and fans haven't been forgotten, either. Tournament organizers now grasp the concept that professional sports are as much about entertainment as they are about competition.

This year, the Open will feature evening concerts behind the third green by Blue Rodeo, 54-40 and Tom Cochrane, a plan that surely would have been nixed by the RCGA in the past and will seem strange, assuming it continues, on the stately grounds of St. George's in two years.

Such tactics are not exclusive to Canada. Justin Timberlake has his name on the Las Vegas tour stop, which is mired in a graveyard called the Fall Series. The four-time Grammy winner will play in a pro-am and headline a concert during the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

There also is the party of all golf parties that takes place in Arizona in early February each year.

The FBR Open has carved its own special niche with boisterous crowds and special features such as the Birds Nest, an off-site festival with bands and bars that welcome revelers when the last putt drops each day at TPC Scottsdale. Take it from someone who has been there, golf fans should experience it.

The RCGA seems to be backing off any comparison to the FBR Open. That could be because it wants to cook up its own unique Canadian flavour, or because the Phoenix-area event is sometimes over the top.

However, there is no denying the success of the FBR Open, which has set unofficial tour records for attendance and raised millions for charities. It's at least a good blueprint to follow in Canada.

"I have fun. Some people think the (FBR Open) is too loud, it's too big, but at the same time, boy does it draw the crowds and that was something I did mention to the RCGA," said Ames, who has been a regular at the FBR Open over the years. "I think we need to go in that direction."

Leggatt, the winner of the 2002 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open and now playing on the Nationwide Tour, agrees.

"I think they promote it as the greatest party on grass. That's what they do. It's the place to go. It's the place to be seen," said Leggatt, who received an exemption into the Canadian Open.

AVENUE TO EXPLORE

"(The FBR Open) is about bringing in as many people as they can, raising as much money as they can for charity because people come through the gates and they drink and they eat and have a great time," he added. "I think that's an avenue they should explore for this event."

Both Leggatt and Ames agree that the RCGA should look at another aspect of the FBR Open, where the par-3 16th hole is known as the rowdiest in golf. Fans will sing a player's college fight song as he approaches the tee, cheer him heartily if he hits the green, but boo him loudly if he misses.

"There are a lot of people there and they are right on top of you," Leggatt said. "Once you have done it a couple of times and you come to expect what's about to happen, you're used to it. There are players who don't like it, but for the most part, a good percentage of players think it's good fun."

Both golfers feel Canada's version of the 16th could come at a par-3 at the end of the Abbey's valley holes.

"I think 15 would be a perfect opportunity to just surround that entire hole with grandstands and try to mimic that whole thing," Leggatt said.

It may not be an original idea, but just the fact that players and organizers are using F-words -- as in fun, fans and FBR Open -- is a refreshing sign as the Canadian Open enters a future it didn't seem to have a year ago..


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