With all the economic forecasts and dire predictions for 2009 that we’ve had to endure recently, it’s refreshing to hear a good news story such as the one provided by the humble Canadian Tour, which will never be mistaken for the PGA Tour.
Yet, several of those players who currently display their talents from Kapalua to Turnberry, the site of this year’s British Open, came to the PGA Tour by way of the Canadian Tour – Mike Weir, Chris DiMarco and Steve Sticker to name a few.
If player development is the only true measure of success, then kudos to the Canadian Tour, which has faced some dark days in recent memory such as 2005 when its schedule featured just four Canadian events.
Four years later, things have changed dramatically with 10 full-field Canadian events, more events in Mexico and a swing through Latin America that ended last month. Although a final draft of the schedule hasn’t been released, there is also hope for another Canadian event in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
Purses are also rising modestly. The Times Colonist Open in Victoria, for example, jumped from $150,000 to $200,000, while the Greater Vancouver Charity Classic has gone up from $100,000 to $150,000 this year.
The tour is now apparently sound heading into the tough year ahead, but don’t dare even use the term recession-proof in front of commissioner Rick Janes, the latest high profile leader of a Canadian golf organization to chat with GNN about the year ahead.
“I wouldn’t want to create a picture that doesn’t have potential cracks,” said a cautious Janes. “It’s moving in the right direction.”
In other words, anything can happen in difficult times and the tour has seen enough rough patches, even when times were better, to know never to take anything for granted, yet it always managed to survive.
“First of all, we have a zero risk policy. We’re very cautious about the way we have developed our business. We’ve been developing it for sustainability. We’re seeing the fruits of that right now.
“We have a pretty good business model, but I’m not in denial, nor should anybody be in denial about the economy, so were being cautious right now and will be for the foreseeable future,” said Janes, adding that the tour is all about engaging sponsors, volunteers and fans in local markets.
“It doesn’t really matter where you go on our tour across Canada,” he said. “Victoria is really a model event for us. It’s been around for 35 years. There are 300 volunteers servicing that event and there’s a waiting list every year to get involved with the event. It’s consistently generating money for charity.”
Janes adds the same story goes for events in Vancouver and Edmonton and he recently returned from a meeting in Winnipeg, where the Players Cup will be held in mid-July.
“There’s nothing but enthusiasm for the growth of that tournament. It will probably in short order be one of our most significant tournaments,” he said. “There’s every indication that the prize purse will go up, not this year, but certainly next year. There’s a really solid sponsorship base there.”
While there has been speculation that the PGA Tour could begin to feel the pinch from current sponsors, most notably car companies and financial institutions, dropping off the schedule, Janes says the Canadian Tour offers an affordable investment to potential local sponsors.
“It’s a very cost-efficient sponsorship,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of waste. This isn’t serious, seven-figure sponsorship.
“This is a very responsible sponsorship that allows you to connect with local market audiences, connect with the sport at a very reasonable price point.
“By analogy, it’s like Junior A hockey. It’s very local market, very cost-efficient and it’s a good product,” said Janes, adding the same holds true for companies looking to be involved in different ways.
“Our pro-ams typically do very well,” he said. “Every one of our pro-ams is, to the best of my knowledge, generating money for charity. I would say that the average price for a pro-am is about $500 per player on our tour and that’s really quite modest by today’s standards.”
In the end, according to Janes, the ultimate sign of success is building a strong development circuit for players and that comes with a busy schedule and rising purses. As Janes points out, young PGA Tour players such as Spencer Levin and Troy Kelly were playing on the Canadian Tour not long ago.
Meanwhile, a Canadian such as Graham DeLaet has been showing well in Africa recently to follow up a successful conclusion to his 2008 Canadian Tour season.
“I think what we look for is some of the players that are coming here to play, some of the players that we have,” said Janes.
“That’s the really exciting thing from a fan’s perspective about the Canadian Tour is who you’re going to see. Nobody knew who Mike Weir was in 1995 to any great degree and they certainly didn’t know who Chris DiMarco was to any great degree.”