Joe Murphy, general manager of the prestigious St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto, successfully avoided any lightning strikes on Friday at Glen Abbey, where storms once again made their presence known at the site of RBC Canadian Open.
Murphy is hoping the weatherman is a little kinder when his club hosts the 2010 Open for the first time since 1968. St. George’s will have enough challenges of its own without the weather, despite it being one of the premier clubs in the land.
“I’m just taking it all in, seeing how the whole hospitality, crowd movement, tent setups, all the infrastructure, seeing how it’s all going to work,” said Murphy before the rain set in and cancelled play just after 4 p.m. EST.
“We know our space is more limited that what you see at Glen Abbey, but we’re confident, with the closure of Islington Ave., a lot of this stuff can be worked out,” he added.
Glen Abbey and St. George’s offer striking contrasts as Open sites.
The Abbey, the longtime home of the Open, is hosting its 25th national championship. A ClubLink facilility, it’s considered the ultimate spectator venue for golf with good views of the action, plenty of room for crowd movement and solid infrastructure for hosting a PGA Tour event.
While the Abbey will likely never sell out for a golf tournament, the capacity at St. George’s will likely fall between 20,000 and 22,000 per day next year at a club with a magnificent clubhouse and a history that dates back 100 years.
The Stanley Thompson gem is expected to become an instant hit among tour players, the way the Hamilton Golf and Country Club did in 2003 when the Open returned there for the first time in a generation.
“We’re very proud of the golf course,” said Murphy. “It’s a championship golf course that’s stood the test of time. Everybody’s really excited about (the Open) returning after what would be a 42-year drought from having the Open.”
Canadian Open tournament director Bill Paul agrees, while admitting the 2010 Open might very well be the most challenging ever.
“You just have to walk around (Glen Abbey) today to see how big this place is and how infrastructure is on this property that has to get shrunk for St. George’s,” said Paul.
The Open will have Islington Ave., which runs alongside St. George’s, closed to traffic between Eglinton Ave., and the Kingsway in order provide positioning of television and communications equipment and provide facilities for players, fans, media and sponsors.
St. George’s doesn’t have a proper range for a PGA Tour event, so one will be built at nearby Eglinton Flats and players will need to be shuttled to and from the new facility.
For better flow of players, a unique set-up that would see the front of the golf course finish on the eighth hole with a 10-hole back half is also being considered. Call it an 8-10 split if you will.
“We’ve looked at it,” said Paul. “The course layout, the way it is now, to do a one and 10 start, you’d have to take players down one and down 10 to get there, so obviously, you’d have congestion with the first green and the 10th green coming back and to get them down there, would take some time,” said Paul.
“We’re looking at another option for starting on one and 10 that would involved going through someone’s backyard, but that’s premature right now,” he added.
“It’s going to be the biggest challenge, I think, to pull this one off that we’ve ever had,” said Paul.
In the end, however, it may be worth it as tour players and golf fans get a rare look at one of the crown jewels of Canadian golf in 2010.
“You look at it as a challenge. We’re up to it,” said Paul.
Murphy echoes that opinion.
“There are some nice spots that you can build out there. Some of the tenting will be along 18 coming up, like you see (at Glen Abbey), in skyboxes,” he said.
“We know we’ve got the golf course. We’re confident that the players will be challenged and they’ll just love that old, traditional course.”