Golf, Sport

Canadian Pro Golf Searches For Stars

In professional golf’s galaxy of stars, the name of Pat McGowan does not burn brightly. The 35-year-old Californian, whose home club is in Southern Pines, N.C., has been philosophically plodding around the PGA Tour for 13 years, playing up to 30 tournaments annually.

The most he has ever won in a single year was $156,000, which placed him 65th among the PGA Tour’s 75 top money winners in 1986.

Next week, McGowan will be in the field of 156 players who tee off in the 1990 Canadian Open golf championship amid the fading glory of Oakville’s Glen Abbey course, 30 km west of Toronto, and he needs a healthy payday. The reason: although he has competed in more than 20 tournaments so far this year, McGowan has own only about $74,000 and must win more than $40,000 in the seven championships he has left to avoid having to requalify in 1991. However, he said, the greatest thing about being on the tour is not the money but the freedom. Added McGowan: “Your office is outdoors, and it’s great to be able to play for a living.”

McGowan belongs to professional golf’s largely anonymous supporting cast of players, whose loyalty, driven by the endless quest for a big reward, is one of the few predictable bright spots in the future of the world’s third-oldest national golf championship (behind the British and U.S. opens). That is because the Canadian Open, which lists such golfing greats as Greg Norman, Curtis Strange and Lee Trevino among its past winners, is losing its appeal for the game’s international stars. The principal reason, says Canadian golf writer Lorne Rubenstein, is that the Open has been held at Glen Abbey for 12 of the past 13 years and many of the most successful competitors, including Tom Watson, six times the PGA’s player of the year, dislike returning to the same course every year. But there are other factors: the Open has several times experienced bad weather, and some of its greens have been hurt by a parasite that prevents the grass from flourishing. Said Rubenstein: “The Canadian Open is just not what it once was to some people.”

Still, a few of the better-known players are scheduled to pursue $1.2 million in prize money over Glen Abbey’s 7,102-yard, par-72 layout in four championship rounds running from Sept. 13 to 16. They include 1990 PGA champion Wayne Grady; defending Canadian Open titleholder Steve Jones, who placed eighth among the 75 top money winners on the 1989 PGA Tour; Fred Couples, 11th on the 1989 list; and Mark Calcavecchia, who won the 1989 British Open.

The Canadian Open remains the only event of the 51 annual tournaments on the PGA Tour to be played outside the United States. But many sportswriters and golf insiders say that the national championship needs to be revitalized by making it attractive to more American, Australian and European pros. One way to accomplish that, they say, would be to persuade the PGA Tour to assign the Canadian Open dates in summer rather than late spring or early fall, when players are less willing to travel because they have children in school and because Canadian weather is relatively uncertain.

But the PGA Tour is not likely to oblige, golf insiders say unless it can make money by selling the television rights to the Canadian Open to one of the major U.S. networks. But the networks would probably be interested in buying only if the host Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) can find a multinational sponsor prepared to pay their high rates for the commercial time.

As the first step towards cracking the U.S. TV market, the RCGA has already begun searching for a multinational co-sponsor ready to spend that much money. At present, the RCGA has a sponsorship contract, expiring in two years, with du Maurier Ltd., a subsidiary of Montreal-based Imperial Tobacco Ltd. But the American market has no appeal for Imperial for two reasons: it does not sell its products in the United States, and Washington severely restricted tobacco commercials on television in 1971. Tobacco companies voluntarily followed suit in Canada in 1972. Said Richard Grimm, the RCGA’s director of professional tournaments: “The search for a new or additional sponsor is actively underway.”

For now, the RCGA is preparing to greet, feed, chauffeur, shelter and entertain the players and their families, which will cost it and du Maurier nearly $1 million. Said Grimm: “They’re professional athletes and they’re only what we’ve made them. We fall all over ourselves doing things to the point where it’s stupid.” He added: “But they’re spoiled because we spoil them. We pick them up at the airport, we feed them, take them to the hotel, get them transportation, take them to the ball game, take them fishing. We look after their kids. We do everything in God’s earth to make them comfortable on the basis that a lot of them travel with their wives, and if their wives say at the beginning of the year, `Canada? I wouldn’t go back there if you paid me,’ then they don’t play the Canadian Open.” But, for Grimm and the RCGA, the objective in the cause of popularity is to entice more and more pros to take part. And as a result, the pressure is on to be hospitable, even lavishly. What the visitors want, the visitors get.

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