It became official on Wednesday that Canadian Pacific was coming on board as title sponsor of what was the Canadian Women’s Open, but the announcement was anti-climactic as rumours had been circulating for months.
It was known that Hunter Harrison, now CEO of Canadian Pacific, had a soft spot for the event, but also saw the business side of it as well from a branding point of view.
It also offered it the opportunity to give back to the host community through a charitable component, the specifics of which will be announced in the future.
Eight years ago, Harrison was at the helm of CN when that company took sponsorship of the event, which was struggling at the time, but strengthened into one of the renowned events on tour for players who provided strong fields year after year under the CN banner.
The first event under CN’s sponsorship was played at London Hunt and Country Club in London, Ont., and fans responded in a big way. Little wonder then that London Hunt will become the first site under CP’s sponsorship.
Cristie Kerr would like to continue the retro theme provided by Harrison and London Hunt at what is now being called the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.
In 2006, Kerr shot a 65 to come from eight shots off the lead in the final round to win. Once again, she’d like to be champion under a new sponsor at what she calls her favourite course in Canada.
“First of all, in the final round, I got to play with Lorie Kane, so that was even more special,” said Kerr.
“There were huge crowds, I mean thousands and thousands of people and just the atmosphere out there around the golf course and how the fans can gather around the holes, it was pretty cool,” she said.
“Being able to win and have an exciting final round and get to play with Lorie, it was about as good as it gets for me. From any Canadian Open that we’ve played in the past, the one at Hunt Club had the biggest crowds, so it’s going to be a very exciting week,” she added.
Obviously, there are some warm memories heating up that fondness of London Hunt, but Kerr says it goes beyond that, adding that the course is tough, but fair.
“There are a lot of pin placements they can tuck and you have, like, four to five yards over a bunker and not much behind it. You really have to be in charge of your game playing that golf course,” said Kerr.
“I just remember the greens being so pure and just being able to make a lot of birdies on the golf course when I played there, even though it was quite tough, so it’s going to be a very good challenge,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful golf course, tree lined. There are a lot of doglegs, heavy rough, fast greens, so it definitely does feel like a major course to me,” said Kerr.
Now, with less than 10 months until the tournament is played Aug. 21-24, the focus turns to London Hunt, which will also be drawing on the past to pull off another premier event.
“We have a base of 1,200 volunteers from 2006 that were already in the system,” said Wayne Dunn, president of London Hunt.
“Given that the tournament is eight to 10 months away, we really are in good shape and we’ve been working diligently the last three to four weeks on this, so we’re ready to go after (Wednesday’s) announcement,” he said.
Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons said London Hunt’s previous experience was a big reason it was chosen and the volunteers and golf club staff will work well with his association’s personnel.
“These are true professionals that know how to put on a world-class event and, combined with our friends at London Hunt and Country Club, who have been through this before, I have no question we’ve got a lot of time to pull off a great event,” said Simmons.
There had been concerns about the new event being played about an hour away from where the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic is held in Kitchener-Waterloo, but LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan said that’s not unusual.
“It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve played events an hour away. We play the Kia Classic in Carlsbad (California) and the Kraft Nabisco in (Rancho Mirage), 60-70 miles away. Both are great fan bases,” said Whan, adding that you see familiar faces at both events.
Simmons suggested that there may even be synergies, perhaps combined sales efforts, between the London event and the Manulife, adding that he’s spoken with tournament director Rich Kuypers, who once worked at Golf Canada.
“Out of respect for Rich, I gave him a heads-up on this a while ago, so he’s known this is coming and he and I actually chatted about possible synergies. We don’t have any definite news on that yet, but there are a lot of things you can think of,” said Simmons.
With this being a three-year deal, Simmons says there have also been discussions about future venues for the Canadian Pacific event. One that has been mentioned is a return to Edmonton’s Royal Mayfair, which hosted it last year, and Simmons hinted the Ottawa market is a possibility.
“I don’t think we’re at the point where we can make any announcement beyond ’04 at London Hunt and Country Club,” he said.
“We’re so lucky and so blessed in Canada that we have so many tremendous golf courses that are capable of hosting an event like this and I think it’s safe to say that we may be going back to some of the sites that have hosted the event over the last eight years,” he said.
Simmons also said that the deal announced Wednesday did not include the development Canadian Women’s Tour, but he did suggest that the announcement of an expanded CP involvement could be coming soon.