Canadian Open back on course

IAN HUTCHINSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Like an eagle that follows a bogey, how quickly fortunes can change on the PGA Tour.

Less than two years ago, the Canadian Open was a rudderless ship with no title sponsor, few big names, dates that were arguably the worst on the schedule -- coming after the British Open -- and apparently little respect from the tour.

The Canadian Open hasn't reached the promised land yet, but at least nobody is talking about its demise anymore.

The instalment of RBC as title sponsor has set the tournament back on course.

The date still is brutal and attendance by top stars could be a lot better, but what tournament outside the premier events isn't in that boat? The Canadian Open has not been anointed as a marquee event, but it's considerably closer to that exalted status than it was in the summer of 2007.

"Obviously, things can change in a year," tournament director Bill Paul said. "You go back to the summer of '07, we didn't know where we were going to be.

"(The Open) didn't have a title (sponsor) and it seems like we turned a lot of rocks to try to find somebody and it's a well-recognized company with tentacles throughout the world and into the U.S. in particular -- that's RBC -- and you're in a little bit of a position of strength."

RBC, with its interests in the United States and around the world, was in a unique position to take advantage of the tour's television agreement with CBS and the Golf Channel. The Open offered RBC benefits beyond Canadian borders.

"They see the value in Canada and the national championship and, like any other tournament, it's put on us to work with them to make this event grow for them and their customers and their potential customers, so that return on investment still is very important to them," Paul said.

The 2008 Open at Glen Abbey became more fan-friendly, using methods that would have been considered taboo in the not-too-distant past, such as a concert series and the promotion of a party atmosphere around the par-3 15th hole, but there still is the issue of the nasty tournament dates.

Of course, better dates could very well lead to more top players participating and that issue was dealt with in May during a meeting with tour commissioner Tim Finchem that Paul attended along with Royal Canadian Golf Association executive director Scott Simmons and Jim Little of RBC.

"I think a lot of changes that we -- RBC and the RCGA -- made to the tournament were positive to Tim. There's obviously the size of RBC and how RBC has weathered the (economic) storm south of the border. It puts them in a great light," Paul said.

Solid sponsorship and a willingness to try new things will go a long way on the tour, with so many financial and automobile companies having been battered by the economy. There is understandable concern that tournaments will start falling off the schedule, which could possibly open new dates for the Canadian Open.

That's all speculation, according to Paul, who says RBC's long-term commitment to strengthening the event is for the good of the tournament.

"We realized we didn't have a lot of control over the date. We realized we needed to build the house at home first. The date we had after the British Open was contractually there (until 2012), so let's not worry about it," Paul said. "If a date (change) comes from now until the end of this contract, then that's a bonus for us and we need to be ready for it.

"The tour certainly knows our desire to get a new date. Obviously, the landscape may change because of the economic climate south of the border, but we're not going to worry about it. We need to have the best tournament that we can," Paul said.

CHALLENGES

There are challenges in the immediate future.

The economy has changed the spending plans of many companies so the number of corporate tents may be down, requiring a need for more innovative and affordable ways for businesses still to buy into the tournament.

RBC is committed as title sponsor until 2012 and other tournament sponsors are signed through this year. But the RCGA would obviously like to have them on board for longer and attract even more -- not an easy task in today's climate.

But the Open looks strong compared to many other 2009 tour events and who would have thought that would be the case just two years ago?


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