There is no doubt that Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club is a prime piece of real estate on which to hold the 2011 RBC Canadian Open, but Shaughnessy, like any Open venue, presents a unique set of challenges for the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
The difference between 2005, the last year the Open was held at Shaughnessy, and 2011 is that lamentable date right behind the British Open. It was tough enough drawing players from the United Kingdom when the Open was played in Eastern Canada and that will be magnified with it going to the west coast.
The RCGA and RBC, to their credit, have chosen to not whine about the tough spot on the PGA Tour schedule. They will attempt to change that in the future, but for now, they concentrate on dealing with the challenges.
Tournament director Bill Paul says travel time from the U.K. is now shorter with flights now going over the top of the world, but the flight is grueling and so is the eight-hour time difference that the players will have to contend with should they decide to come to Vancouver.
For one thing, Air RCGA/RBC will be waiting on the tarmac to charter players to the west coast, but there are other challenges facing the tournament in Vancouver.
While corporate sales at Shaughnessy were good in 2005, according to Paul, ticket sales and walk-up were disappointing and there were issues with moving people into and around the course. Paul says having the ’05 experience under their belts is an advantage this time around and those concerns will be addressed.
The issues that were discussed during yesterday’s expected announcement should not be interpreted as a slam against Shaughnessy or Vancouver. Of the very few courses in this country that are capable of hosting the Open, all face unique challenges.
Many of those challenges are behind-the-scenes stuff that fans, media and players don’t see and really have no interest in seeing – things such as parking, airports, shuttles, proximity to large population bases, accommodations, restaurants, etc.
Then, there’s the golf course itself and whether people can move freely outside the ropes and whether it can hold up to the calibre of play on the PGA Tour. There are very few of those in Canada and the ones that are available can’t be found between the Ontario border and Shaughnessy or east of Montreal.
In some quarters, that’s seen as an insult, but RCGA executive director Scott Simmons insists that it’s no such thing.
“We would love to be in other western provinces, but we really just think, with all due respect, there just isn’t the combination of city and golf course and infrastructure that meets the need for our national Open,” said Simmons.
“There are a number of outstanding golf courses in Western Canada, let me make that clear, but with the way the players are hitting the ball these days, you need a combination of length and/or other elements of the golf course that will make it competitive for these world-class players,” he added.
“It certainly is not a reflection on the golf course that we don’t think it can handle the Open,” said Simmons, using the RCGA’s event on the LPGA Tour as an example.
“If you look at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, there are a number of courses that are of a length that they can play. These are world-class players, but they don’t hit the ball quite as far.
“When you look at some of the courses we’ve gone to there, some of the finest in the country, they just can’t accommodate the men’s tour,” said Simmons.
The other factor that enters into the decision on where to hold the Open is whether, particularly in the case of a private club such as Shaughnessy or the Hamilton Golf and Country Club, members want their home courses disrupted during preparations for the tournament.
For all of those reasons, the Open will not be played in all provinces, nor will it go in a regular rotation, which was the expectation of many when the RCGA began moving the tournament around following the RCGA’s sale of Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont., to ClubLink Corporation 10 years ago.
The RCGA has a list of regular courses it will turn to as future sites, but it’s unlikely that the Open will be played at a particular course every five years, six years or whatever.
Simmons expected to have named all Open sites right up to 2014 by the end of last year and with the naming of Shaughnessy for 2011, he still has three left to meet his original goal. Actually, he said yesterday that he has expanded his list.
“We’re talking to a lot of clubs that we’ve had great success with in the past,” said Simmons. “We do have a draft schedule in place through 2016 and look forward to making announcements from ’12 and beyond as quickly as we can.”
Simmons says the RCGA is monitoring the situation of the often-delayed Terrebonne project near Montreal, which has been deemed capable of hosting an Open. Should it be completed in reasonable time, Terrebonne is likely to be the site of the 2012 playing.
Shaughnessy getting the 2011 Open, followed by Terrebonne the next year, barring any more delays, was my prediction of yesterday. I also believe the Hamilton Golf and Country Club will get it in 2013 followed by Royal Montreal in 2014.