Two years ago the Canadian Tour was about to go the way of The Pony Express, Lehman Brothers, the Pullman Company, the Studebaker and the Marlboro Man.
Then the PGA Tour came to the rescue and salvaged what was left of a once-proud tour and relaunching it as PGA Tour Canada with nine tournaments. How is PGA Tour Canada doing now? My son, Mike Van Sickle, filed an entry to compete in PGA Tour Canada’s qualifying tournament. There are three sites -- Florida and California in April, Vancouver in May -- and there were still three weeks to go before the entry deadline. Imagine Mike’s surprise when he was informed that he is the 85th alternate.
PGA Tour Canada is apparently busier than Justin Bieber’s bail bondsman. Who saw that coming? Well, PGA Tour Canada president Jeff Monday, for one.
“A week before we announced when the entry application would go up online, my assistant was getting three or four calls a day wanting to know the exact time it would become available,” Monday said. “I’ve never experienced that. We were like, OK, this could be big.”
It was big. The first day saw 187 entries for the tour’s qualifying tournament. Despite having three qualifying locations with 18 fully exempt spots awarded at each, PGA Tour Canada’s qualifying hosts were quickly over-subscribed. Officials kept fielding applications like my son’s up through the entry deadline, just to get a better gauge on how much interest there is.
A fourth qualifying site will not be added, Monday said, because the tour had already committed to the previously announced format and numbers of qualifiers. When you multiply the number of alternates (nearly 100) by the price of the entry fee, $2,750, you realize the tour is passing up some serious money. “Once you say, ‘This is what it is,’ you can’t take that away,” Monday said.
Three things have sparked the Canadian interest:
One, the top five money-winners on the Canadian Tour earn exemptions onto the Web.com Tour, with the next five getting conditional cards. That’s an attractive perk, since getting through the Web.com Tour qualifying school is just as hard as PGA Tour Q School used to be.
Two, the Canadian Tour is on the upswing. Three more tournaments were added to this year’s schedule, bringing the total to 12. Each will have a purse of $150,000. That beats the heck out of the mini-tours. Plus there were 54 spots available at the qualifier this year, up from 20 the previous year.
Three, the interest is a direct response to the changes and improvements that the PGA Tour Canada made last year in its initial run. “We wanted to make sure the player experience is like the Web.com or PGA Tour on a different scale, to the fullest extent we could,” Monday said.
Each tournament’s infrastructure was upgraded.
“We had signage programs to make it feel like a major event for the players, sponsors and fans,” Monday said. “We don’t have electronic leaderboards, but we brought in some nice manual boards, new tee backdrops on holes, hole signs and a new entry-way into every event.”
Another change was getting rid of golf carts, which the pros rode during pro-ams. Not anymore.
“It was convenient for the players, but that’s not what the pro-am experience is like on the Web.com or PGA Tour,” Monday said. “We’re trying to prepare the guys for those tours, which includes being able to interface with the media and sponsors and fans.”
Tournament organizers and promoters have come up with some creative ploys were tried to attract fans. At the Great Waterway Classic last year in Morrisberg, Ontario, a handful of tour players went to the airport and had a long drive contest using a runway for additional distance. Matt Hoffman got attention, not to mention YouTube.com views, with his 577-yard winning drive.
At the Players Cup in Winnipeg, a group of NHL players led by Winnipeg resident Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks took on a group of PGA Tour Canada golfers in a street hockey game played on grass. The golfers upset the hockey players in overtime. Want to get Canadians to watch golf? Just include hockey players.
The three new tournaments this year are in Vancouver, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. Every event has a Monday qualifier for 10 spots. The weekly pro-ams are played on Tuesdays, not Wednesdays like on the PGA Tour.
Monday has learned a couple of things about Canadians after one year on the job.
“Canadians are nuts about golf,” he said. It’s a short season, just like in northern states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, and people play like crazy when summer finally sets in. Also, Monday said, “I was watching the pro-ams and I couldn’t believe the number of people playing lefthanded.” That’s the hockey effect. Everyone grew up playing hockey and those who fired slapshots from the left side naturally picked up lefthanded golf clubs.
“The response last year to the tour was tremendous,” Monday said. “The media gave us more credibility, the caliber of play is very good and the word is spreading.”
The Canadian Tour will kick off its season the last week of May with back-to-back events in the greater Vancouver (British Columbia) area: the PC Financial Open and the Bayview Place Island Savings Open.
Not so super: You’d better plan ahead if you’re thinking about attending next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, which will be held the same week that the Super Bowl is held in the Phoenix area.
I thought I was being smart when I left this year’s Phoenix Open and booked a room for next year’s tournament, which wasn’t easy since almost everything was blocked out or doubled in price. I scored a room in a Doubletree Suites near the Phoenix airport, but I just received an email from “Todd” at that Hilton property informing me that due to a glitch in their reservation system, I made a reservation that shouldn’t have been allowed. They will honor the reservation, he said, as long as I pre-pay the entire week’s cost in advance.
What? I’ve got to pay now for a hotel room that I’m not going to use for nine months? I told my new pal Todd to cancel my reservation. Meanwhile, I add Doubletree to my list of hotels (joining Sheraton) I’ll never stay in again.
That should teach them a valuable lesson. Noogies for you, Todd.
Let’s go to the Van Cynical Mailbag:
Van Cynical, After a weekend largely without Tiger, Phil or Rory, when do ad-men start pushing Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson into the limelight? -- Kokomice via Twitter
DJ has been starring in TaylorMade commercials for a couple of years, K-mice, and now he’s got one with his fiancée, the lovely Paulina Gretzky. Bubba has appeared in numerous Ping commercials and now brings laughs eating a doughnut in a PGA Tour ad for its website. They’ll get even more pub when they start racking up more wins.
Vans, Have you ever seen a player pack it in and give up more than Tiger Woods does when out of contention on Sunday? No heart. -- Douglas Schwimer via Twitter
Yeah, I know one or two amateurs who are notorious give-uppers at the first sign of trouble. You seriously don’t think Tiger was hurt? I do, because I’m pretty sure his acting skills aren’t that good.
Van Sickle, Do you think Tiger finishing at Doral had anything to do with him explaining to his daughter, Sam, why he WD’d at Honda? -- Hal Seward via Twitter
That’s no folly, Seward. You nailed it. Yes.
Gary, A lot of talk in Tour Confidential about Donald Trump wanting U.S. Open style conditions. Why is the tour letting a course owner dictate setup? -- Tej Sahota via Twitter
While Trump was allowed to have input in the course setup, I guarantee he didn’t “dictate” it. And after Saturday’s debacle, I think you’ll see some course changes and setup changes at Doral for next year. A shot hit 15 feet from a pin shouldn’t end up in a lake.
Vans, Just read your “End of Tiger and Phil” article. It depressed me. Let’s wait until the end of October before you talk like that. -- Joan via Twitter
Don’t be mad at me, Joan, but I also gave your phone number to Debbie Downer.
Mr. Van Cynical, I believe that the PGA Tour should show their top players around the world. We also deserve to see them play live. -- Titu NaBUru via Twitter
Most of the top players already make paid appearances around the world. Pro golf is a business, not an institution about who deserves what or where. Wherever you find a sponsor willing to put up $10 million for a tournament, the PGA Tour will follow.
Van Cynical, Is Paul Azinger correct when he insinuates the benefits of training for golfers is over-rated? -- Chieftainboss via Twitter
By training do you mean working out and building muscle? One of the big benefits of that, besides improved strength and speed, is supposed to be to deter injuries. Nobody on tour is fitter than Tiger. How’s that injury-deterrent thing working for him? I’m not sure how you define overrated, but being fitter and stronger is going to help any golfer or any athlete.