TORONTO - One can only imagine the consequences if what is now the RBC Canadian Open had received title sponsorship from Research In Motion as was the rumour back in the tournament’s dark days in mid-2007, when it got as much respect on the PGA Tour as a Vancouver rioter.
With layoffs, rumoured takeovers and falling stock values, the Open could still be a disaster had the media heard what it expected in a swarming of RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie as he came off the course from a pro-am at Angus Glen.
Eventually, the Open got the long-term fix it needed when RBC came on board a few months after that and began to use golf as a marketing tool. The line between sports and business is often blurred and money does buy happiness on tour.
From a sporting perspective, the upshot is that Luke Donald, No 1 in the world golf rankings, Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen will be in the field at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club next month.
This is happening despite the Open’s unenviable date behind the British Open that was such an issue, but is hardly mentioned anymore.
“It’s not even being discussed actively,” said Jim Little, RBC’s chief brand and communications officer.
“We have done a ton of things to make it simpler for the players to get there, including the charter and some of the local hospitality that (tournament director Bill Paul) and his team has put together,” he said.
“I think we are resigned slightly to the fact that the date is when it is and we don’t really think about it. It is not an obstacle and if, one day, they came up with, quote-unquote, a perfect date, we’d consider it perhaps,” added Little.
The good news for this and future Opens such as next year’s at Hamilton Golf and Country Club is that, despite that little puddle jump across the ocean that players have to make, this year’s field included, as of last week, 13 PGA Tour winners this year, three of the top 10 and 19 of the top 50 from the world rankings.
With 17 of the top 30 on the tour money list playing, the field’s calibre is improving over previous years, barring anyone withdrawing, but you can bet it won’t be Donald, Ernie Els, Matt Kuchar, Anthony Kim or two-time Open champ Jim Furyk because of their ties with RBC.
Partnering with such high-profile players is among several moves the bank has made that has endeared it to the tour, the latest of which was putting its name on the Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C.
“I was with (tour commissioner) Tim Finchem last week and he is very clearly saying that (the Open) is the most improved event on tour,” said Little.
“We decided to use it as a significant platform to build our brand both in Canada and internationally and we’re really making strides to do that. It’s really working for us,” he added.
The value it sees will be clear when it’s soon announced that RBC has extended its deal.
The short game
A news conference has been called for tomorrow in Waterloo to apparently announce a second LPGA Tour event for Canada. The tournament is expected to be played at Grey Silo on an annual basis …Canadians teeing it up at the Open this year include Mike Weir, Stephen Ames, Graham DeLaet, Chris Baryla, Matt McQuillan and David Hearn. Defending Canadian amateur champ Albin Choi of Toronto, mid-amateur champ Dave Bunker, Vancouver’s Eugene Wong and Canadian PGA Club Professional champion Brian Hutton of Burlington will also play on exemptions … Danny King of Milton leads the updated Canadian PGA player rankings, replacing Bryn Parry of North Vancouver. King teaches out of the Magna Golf Club in Aurora. If King remains there for the rest of the year, he will play in next year’s Open on a new exemption announced recently.