St. Andrews airlift

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:04 PM ET

When you turn off your TV on Sunday, the last image you see may be the victor hoisting the Claret Jug, basking in his moment after winning the Open Championship.

Then, as you head to the dinner table or to the fridge to open a cold one, you likely won't even think about golf again until next Thursday, when you will turn on the tube to find many of the same players contesting our national open.

What happens in those four days is what has been consuming Golf Canada's David Lafleur for months.

For most of the year, Lafleur is a self-admitted paper-pusher, looking after Golf Canada's books as its chief financial officer.

But each July, he becomes a glorified travel agent to the stars of the PGA Tour.

While tournament director Bill Paul has been putting in time all year talking to players and putting together the best field possible for the Canadian Open, July 22-25 at St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto, Lafleur is the man in charge of making sure the players actually get there.

He has been in St. Andrew's, Scotland, this week, going over the logistical nightmare that will culminate in a flight out of Edinburgh on Sunday night with a who's who of PGA pros on board.

It's something not a lot of PGA Tour events have to worry about because, typically, the tour moves from one city to another in the same region, not on another continent.

Golf Canada will have an Airbus 310, retrofitted with 82 first-class seats, awaiting players Sunday night. It will take off around 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. and land in Toronto at 10:30 p.m. EST, when cars will be waiting to shuttle players to hotels.

At a meagre cost of $1,250 U.S. -- a pretty good rate for a one-way, first-class transatlantic flight, as Lafleur points out -- it's a bonus that is integral to attracting players to the unfortunately scheduled Canadian Open.

"They're appreciative," Lafleur says. "A lot of them say they wouldn't play our event if we didn't have the charter."

Golf Canada saves some money on the plane by partnering with the John Deere corporation, which sends players directly from the John Deere Classic (which finished Sunday) to the British Open.

Already scheduled to be on the plane are players such as Mike Weir, Sean O'Hair, Camilo Villegas, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Tim Clark, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and John Daly.

PGA rules state that players have until 5 p.m. Friday (in the time zone of the host event) to commit to playing, but Lafleur says it's rare that players choose to come to the Canadian Open at the last minute.

"(The British Open) is a pretty gruelling event, so sometimes we have people who say they're not going to come.

"It's not very often that someone decides to come."

Lafleur likes to touch base with the players who are coming to the Canadian Open early in the week at the British Open, because sometimes it can be tough to talk to them once the event gets started.

And, once Friday comes around, he has to start watching the leaderboard because he needs to know who is going to make the cut and who isn't going to make it.

If a player doesn't make the cut, Lafleur has to check where the they are going to be spending the weekend and figure out how he's going to get them on the Sunday night charter.

"It can be a tough conversation to have if someone has just missed the cut," he says.

It can be difficult if a player does well, too.

Last year, for instance, Mathew Goggin was in the final pairing on Sunday at Turnberry. Not finishing until early evening, Lafleur says he sent the last three shuttle buses and then ferried Goggin to the airport himself in a rental car.

As soon as they got to the airport, and through private security, the plane took off.

Lafleur says the atmosphere on the plane is jovial, with drinks and hors d'oeuvres served before takeoff for players and their guests (usually caddies and/or wives and families), and then dinner is served once the plane is in the air.

Then, players can relax, and Lafleur can exhale.

TIM.MCKAY@SUNMEDIA.CA


Photos