Golf Gods Will Write Script To Canada Life Championship

Reed On The Greens July 11, 2019
Golf Gods Will Write Script To Canada Life Championship

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you judge the success of the Canada Life Championship on attendance numbers at Highland Country Club, then you define the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada’s season-ending championship as a complete failure.

But those familiar with professional golf recognize that measuring this tournament by the size of its gallery is a fool’s game.

There are exceptions to low attendance figures on the Mackenzie Tour. Most notably, the second-year, weather-hindered Windsor Championship July 4-7 attracted about 4,000 fans, while 6,000 attended during its charter year.

In contrast, the Highland-hosted tournament, formerly known as the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, has, for the most part, been blessed with ideal weather. But under sunny skies last September, the Sunday gallery numbered only about 500 fans.

Canada Life Championship tournament chair Justin Wismer said with Highland having hosted the tournament during the past four years, it’s time for a new focus this September 9-15: pushing a bigger, better corporate hospitality experience, rather than numbers at the gate. Wismer said improved attendance, with help from free admission courtesy ticket sponsor Classic Rock 98.1 FM radio, would be a bonus. But he has all but given up on hoping for larger galleries.

“Our numbers are good, but obviously we’re not going to get 10,000 people here,” Wismer said. “Instead, we’re going to be more focused on the VIP experience around the 18th green, with full food and beverage service. And overall, we’re improving the quality of the experience of attending this event at Highland, rather than focusing solely on expanding attendance.”

That improved fan experience includes free clubhouse access (minus access to the second-floor members’ lounge) to every ticket holder, a Monday night kickoff party and a second year of the Million-Dollar Shootout. Preliminaries are being held this summer at more than 20 local golf clubs and practice facilities. Those who qualify will hit from 150 yards onto No. 9 green following play on Saturday, September 14. The participant closest to the pin will win a European cruise, while the top three will attempt to ace the par-3 10th hole for a chance at a million bucks.

Justin Wismer. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Wismer said not only does the contest provide a fun, hands-on fan experience, but also it raises the profile of the tourney, and raises money for official charity Childcan through $10 entry fees. In 2018, the Canada Life Championship raised $40,000 for Childcan, which raises funds to provide responsive and compassionate support services to families facing the journey through childhood cancer – from diagnosis, through treatment, to recovery or bereavement.

This year’s Tuesday championship pro-am returns to a shotgun start after one year of assigning tee times. Said Wismer, “This way, we can have dinner for everyone after the tournament, which is better for bringing all of the participants together. There’s a better wrap-up, where we can focus on the charity, have a little more formal sit-down dinner and allow everyone to hobnob with the 28 participating Mackenzie Tour players.”

With apologies to the Highland grounds crew, it’s the Mackenzie Tour field who will steal the spotlight in September. The top 60 players on the loop’s Order of Merit will compete for a total purse of $225,000, including a winner’s share of $40,500.

The top five finishers on the Order of Merit will earn full status on the Korn Ferry Tour (formerly Web.com Tour) in 2020. Last year, Danny Walker of Bradenton, Fla. shot a final-round 6-under 64 for a score of 19-under-par, and a two-stroke victory over fellow Americans George Cunningham and Jonathan Garrick. Walker posted rounds of 63-68-66-64—261.

Wismer said the Canada Life Championship is a breeding ground for future PGA Tour stars like American Aaron Wise, voted the PGA Tour’s 2018 Rookie of the Year. He finished third at Highland in 2016, and was No. 4 on the season-ending Order of Merit.

“The field at Highland will be incredible,” Wismer said. “Look at C.T. Pan (winner of April’s RBC Heritage tournament on the PGA Tour, and second-place finisher on the Mackenzie Tour’s Order of Merit in 2015). The Mackenzie Tour really is a step to graduating to the PGA Tour.”

It’s too early to tell how many will attend this year’s tournament, but there’s a noticeable difference in the way the host committee is going about its business. Highland assumed many of the hosting duties from Golf Canada in 2017, so there has been a learning curve. But with a solid game plan in place, there’s increased optimism for a fan-friendly event this year.

That said, Wismer said there has been “a lot of work involved with the rebranding – everything from new signage to helping fans recognize the Canada Life Championship name. It has been a big deal preparing for this year’s tournament.”

Following the announcement that Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life would come together under one brand in the Canadian market as Canada Life, the tournament name change was a no-brainer.

Michael Gligic with Dan Halldorson Trophy. Photo: Claus Andersen/MacKenzie Tour.

Falling in line, new names are now in place for the Mackenzie Tour’s Canada Life Canadian Player of the Week awards, and Canada Life Canadian Player of the Year Award. Last September at Highland, Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont. won the Canadian Player of the Year award – the Dan Halldorson Trophy – and the $25,000 bonus that goes along with it. In February, he won the Korn Ferry Tour’s Panama Championship.

With all the positive energy surrounding the Canada Life Championship, rumblings of the Mackenzie Tour moving this event to another venue continue to surface. The Windsor Championship boasts a strong committee, deep pockets, solid municipal government support and a favourable date. It has generated $212,000 in charity dollars and is a big draw, thanks to events like this year’s Canada Day pro-am and skins game including the PGA Tour’s Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners. Windsor’s Ambassador Golf Club has been bantered about as the future home of the Canada Life Championship.

So, too, has TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley’s North course, home of this week’s Mackenzie Tour’s Osprey Valley Open. But while Mackenzie Tour Vice President Scott Pritchard said many clubs, including Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, have enquired about taking over the Canada Life Championship, he has said that the tournament will, for the time being, remain at Highland.

Both Canada Life and Highland are on board through 2020.

The 2017 Canada Life Championship drew a Sunday gallery of 1,000, while 1,400 attended in 2016. With the golf world focusing – at least in part – on Highland for four days, the club’s profile has been handed a big boost. Wismer said one windfall has been the acceptance of new Highland members.

There’s only thing for certain in regards to the Canada Life Championship, and that is there will be a winner come September 15. Only the golf gods can write the rest of that script.

2019 Canada Life Championship
September 9-15
Course: Highland Country Club
Format: 72 holes stroke play
Field: Top 60 players on Order of Merit
Purse: $225,000, winner’s share $40,500
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Pro-Am, BDO Million Dollar Shootout, Volunteer, Sponsorship and Ticket Information at https://canadalifechampionship.com.

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Reed On The Greens is a three-time writing award winner presented by the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Jeffrey Reed has been covering the Canadian golf scene since 1980. His third book, The Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association, Celebrating 100 Years of Seniors Golf 1918-2018, was published in 2018. He’s currently writing a biography of Sandy Somerville. Reach him at jeff@londonontariogolf.com.

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