Golf, Sport

Openly Canadian

The third-oldest national title is now a big-time draw

When the first Canadian Open was played at Royal Montreal in 1904, it was only the third national golf championship in the world–played at the first established club in North America. The spectators, as L. V. Kavanagh wrote in the 1973 History of Golf in Canada, arrived by horse and buggy, and crowd control was not an issue because “golf in those days was a sport for gentlemen.”

No longer. When this year’s 80th Open begins on June 19, more than 1,000 volunteers will be on hand to marshal, feed and treat more than 100,000 spectators who are expected to attend the four-day event. The field is scheduled to include a strong contingent of PGA touring pros. And if the past is any guide, when it is all over the Royal Canadian Golf Association will have netted about $500,000.

The RCGA’s national championship is so profitable because someone else pays the bills: as part of its annual $18-million sponsorship of special events, Montreal-based Imperial Tobacco Ltd. puts up the $1.2 million in tournament prize money including $216,000 for the winner and spends another $1.5 million on promotion and hospitality. This year, because of new federal restrictions on cigarette companies, Imperial has established du Maurier Ltd. as the sponsor of the Open so that the brand name can be used in promotions.

Company officials said that they value the golf connection including sponsorship of the $600,000 du Maurier Classic on the pro women’s circuit because that helps to instill confidence in a brand and spurs positive associations in smoker’s minds with a so-called upscale event. Said Imperial president Wilmat Tennyson: “If you stay with it long enough, the benefits are enormous because you are conveying a message to people that are much more memorable.” Donald Brown, Imperial’s vice-president of marketing, said that even less affluent smokers may favor the brand because of its link with a comfortable lifestyle and because that “says something about you.”

The players say that the Canadian Open, with a $250,000 budget for a player’s hospitality lounge and daycare for their children, is a first-class event. This year, the scheduled field includes three-time winner Lee Trevino, two-time champion Curtis Strange, 1984 victor Greg Norman and defending titleholder Ken Green. Two other players are listed only as possibilities: Jack Nicklaus, the designer of Glen Abbey, because of his struggle with back problems; and David Frost, because Ottawa bans South African passport-holders from competing professionally in Canada. Richard Grimm, the RCGA’s director of professional tournaments, said that he hopes Ottawa will recognize that Frost now lives in Dallas and applied for U.S. citizenship three years ago. Said Grimm: “I don’t see how we can sit here in judgment on the whole world.” Were it not for the fact that last year’s Open profit was $573,000–and that tournament golf has enabled the RCGA to pay off its mortgage on Glen Abbey the problems of a modern age would be enough to make the governors of the Royal long for a return to the horse-and-buggy era.

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