Freedom 55 Financial Championship Invaluable Asset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

With the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada bringing a new tournament to Windsor July 2 to 8, and the City of Windsor sponsoring the event to the tune of $120,000 over three years, questions have risen in regards to what returns the city of London sees with its own Mackenzie Tour event.

The Freedom 55 Financial Championship, the Mackenzie Tour’s season-ending tournament, is scheduled for Highland Country Club September 10-16. This year marks the sixth year for the event in London, and fourth for Highland following two years at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club. Highland has committed through 2019, while title sponsor Freedom 55 Financial is on board through 2020.

Windsor city council recently voted 7-4 to give the new Mackenzie Tour event – tentatively called The Windsor Championship – $50,000 this year, $40,000 in 2019 and $30,000 in 2020. Ambassador Golf Club will host the new tour stop, which Windsor’s sports tourism officer, Samantha Magalas, believes could produce an economic spinoff of $2.5 million.

John Winston

But Tourism London general manager John Winston isn’t buying it. According to Winston, Tourism London has given the F55F Championship “between $40,000 and $50,000” since the tournament came to London, and will provide the host club with an “inconsequential” $5,000 this year.

“Frankly, a $2.5-million estimate is a pretty blown-up figure,” Winston said.

Winston’s concern with handing over taxpayers’ money stems from what he sees as very little returns in the form of money pumped back into the local coffers. In fact, at least once Windsor councillor, John Elliot, said the Windsor event should lean on sponsors rather than taxpayers.

Winston said he agrees that the F55F Championship potentially pays off in many forms, including the boosting of civic pride, growing the game through inspiring junior golfers, and charity dollars. The 2017 tournament raised almost $52,000 for Thames Valley Children’s Centre, bringing a three-year Highland total to more than $164,000.

But the Tourism London boss said committing substantial dollars to the tournament would be a losing cause.

“The (golfers) are billeted, so we don’t get visitations. Attendance has not been great (Sunday gallery estimated at 1,000 in 2017). I think everyone has to look at this thing with a reality check to see if we want to continue running it in London,” Winston said.

“All I know is, (Tourism London) invests money in events we know we’re going to see a major return from, like the JUNO Awards in 2019 which will bring an economic impact of $10 million to $12 million to London,” Winston said. “(Mackenzie Tour) golfers are no names. They don’t create any buzz.”

But Mackenzie Tour vice-president Scott Pritchard doesn’t see it that way. He said the F55F Championship “is spoken about all year long. In most of our communications, we’re really highlighting London.

Scott Pritchard. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

“The numbers aren’t as significant in London (as they will be with a full field in Windsor) because the field in London includes our Top 60,” Pritchard said. “(But) there are economic spinoffs for companies, for example people we buy signage from, or rent a stage or a tent from, or where we order food. And we are accommodating the people on site, including participants, players, VIPs.”

In addition, Pritchard points to charitable dollars, and getting that message out via traditional and new media which raises the profile of the community and, in London’s case, Thames Valley Children’s Centre.

“And, with our clinics for junior golfers, it’s hard to put a value on that,” Pritchard added. “It will be interesting to see if there’s a London kid who watched the tournament, or caddied for one of the players, and is playing on our Tour in 2025. You never know. But those are the kinds of experiences that community members would not have if the event wasn’t in London.”

Tourism London is certainly entitled to investing in sports and special events of its choice. But it’s also important that the F55F Championship is properly defined and understood. Consider it a microcosm of a PGA Tour event. Mackenzie Tour golfers, as a whole, have the skills to compete with the big boys, but they’re fine tuning their physical and mental games in golf’s minor leagues. There’s a fine line between that tour’s best, and golfers on the PGA Tour. Anyone who has watched them compete at Highland can appreciate they are amongst the world’s best.

For one week each year, London is on the international golf map. The Forest City grabs global attention. We host world-wide visitors in the form of a field of 60 golfers, a handful of caddies, plus family and friends. Golf associations, equipment manufacturers and media members also descend upon London for seven days in September.

Think of it this way: when the 1990 London Tigers were champions of the Class AA Eastern League, do you think that championship moved the needle even just a little outside of Southwestern Ontario and amongst diehard Canadian baseball fans? Not a chance. But Londoners appreciated that victory for what it was: a minor league championship involving talented ballplayers, some of whom would graduate to Major League Baseball. The AA Tigers during their run 1989-93 built civic pride, helped grow the game and boosted local coffers and charities. Obviously, none of that would have happened if the team had not existed.

Following the leader at F55F Championship. Photo: Claus Andersen/PGA TOUR.

Five golfers will grab Web.com Tour cards following the F55F Championship. The golf world will stand up and take notice of London for a week. And we many not know for many years how many seeds this tournament is planting in terms of potential investments – economic investments, community investments and personal growth as a golfer or someone who learned life’s lessons through golf. You never know who will attend the tournament, or who will be in the championship field.

Highland has hosted highly-successful F55F Championship tournaments and will do so again in 2018. The template for success is in place. It’s not easy securing corporate sponsors, and it’s nearly impossible to grow the gallery. But it’s important to see a glass half full, and build on it, because you never know how important something is to you until it’s gone. You can’t compare this event to, for example, a Memorial Cup or World Figure Skating Championship. But it is important to properly define the tourney.

The golf world knows that London is the home of this championship tournament. The hard part, ironically, is convincing people in our own backyard just how important this tournament is to our city.

Mackenzie Tour president Jeff Monday best summed up the success of last year’s F55F Championship.

Jeff Monday. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com

“We couldn’t ask for a better week,” Monday said. “When you put our best players here, on a golf course that is in perfect condition and fast, you have exactly what you are hoping for. You put on top of that perfect weather. Then you have the effort and organization the club has done in their role now as the tournament organization, is just phenomenal. We had built a pretty good foundation and they’ve taken it to a whole new level.”

Expect that level to rise again this September.

London and Highland are the perfect partners for the F55F Championship. The tournament may not fill hotel rooms, but it does play a big part in making London a big-league city when it comes to successfully hosting professional sports.

Forget the relatively small crowds when measuring the success of this tourney. London is a tough market to crack, and golf a hard game to sell at this level, let alone then Web.com Tour level. But but never stop trying to grow the week-long gallery. Because the more local golf fans attend this event, the more Londoners will appreciate what this tournament means to London.

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Jeffrey Reed is a long-time member of the London sports media and long-time nationally-published golf journalist, and author of the soon-to-be-released book chronicling 100 years of the Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.

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