July 31, 2018

RBC Canadian Open in a good place; it just might not be Glen Abbey

We're in one of the sweet spots of the golf season right now with courses in prime shape after recent rain (though I prefer golf turf firm and running even if that means it being brown) and members gearing up for their club championships.

There's a couple of majors coming up with the Brooke Henderson and the rest of the LPGA at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's for the Women's British Open this week and the men playing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this week before they are at the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive in St. Louis next week.

We're coming off one of our big weeks in golf with the RBC Canadian Open last week and here's a couple of thoughts on that:

1. If that was the last RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey, it was a decent one.

The future of Glen Abbey and the Canadian Open in the GTA remains uncertain with owner ClubLink proposing more than 3,000 homes for the site along with nine, 10-12 storey apartment buildings. It is being opposed by citizen groups and the City of Oakville, which has rejected the development plan and wants to designate it a heritage site.

I don't begrudge ClubLink owner Rai Sahi for wanting to convert Glen Abbey into a very lucrative real estate development. That's business. He's going to have to go through all the proper rezoning hoops and they don't say you can't fight City Hall for nothing, so the talk of the demise of Glen Abbey could very well be quite premature.

The development of Glen Abbey could be at least six years down the road and that's if Sahi gets the proper approvals. He's been through this before: in 2014 he got permission to develop Highgate Golf Course in Aurora, Ont., after going through hearings with the Ontario Municipal Board.

In the meantime, RBC and Golf Canada, who want a permanent home for the Canadian Open in the GTA, don't like the uncertainty over Glen Abbey's future and are understandably looking for other options (Glen Abbey is also home to Golf Canada and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame).

Building their own course down Upper Middle Road on land that's part of Bronte Creek Provincial Park was discussed by Golf Canada, but didn't get anywhere with the province.

The Canadian Open will be at Hamilton Golf and Country Club next year and in 2023 and the site of the 2020 event will be announced in the next couple of months.

Glen Abbey, maybe in part because of all the publicity lately and a certain amount of nostalgia, jumped to 67th place from 85th in ScoreGolf's ranking of the top 100 courses in Canada.

Apart from the valley holes (11-15) and the 17th with its desert of sand off the tee and it's interesting fish hook-shaped green, Glen Abbey, quite frankly, is a pretty ordinary golf course. What it does have going for it is the history that has taken place there.

It's Jack Nicklaus' first solo design and it hosted its 30th Canadian Open last week. While it's had its share of journeyman winners (Nathan Green, Chez Reavie, Dudley Hart, David Frost, etc.,) it's also been the site of wins by Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, Jason Day, Tiger Woods and, on Sunday, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods' 6-iron from 218 yards from a bunker on the 72nd hole in 2000 that clinched his victory remains one of the best shots of his career and certainly in Canadian golf history.

People still drop golf balls in that bunker when they play Glen Abbey (that's also one of the Abbey's charms, you can play it if you have the $236 prime time green fee) to try that shot.

Some people might look at Johnson's winning score of 23-under par and say the Abbey is too easy, but the finish with three par-5s in the final six holes affords the opportunity for some volatile finishes (another overlooked feat by Woods in 2000: hovering around the cut line that year, he finished the second round 2-3-3-3, 5-under).

So, Glen Abbey does have history on its side. Is that enough to save it?

2. This was the last time the RBC Canadian Open will be held the week after The Open Championship. It will move to the week before the U.S. Open in the PGA Tour schedule overhaul which kicks in next year (that's June 3-9 next year).

There's good and bad to the schedule change, but my takeaway is it's mostly good. There were always going to be players who would take the week after The Open off, especially with such a busy stretch coming up, so the date change could help the strength of field. You might lose some players who don't like to play the week before a major, but you'll gain some who do.

This year's Canadian Open was interrupted by thunderstorms which will be less likely in early June than in late July, so there's that.

But here's something that might not help the new date: the U.S. Open is going to be in California in three of the next five years, so if the Canadian Open is in the Eastern time zone, some players might not want to go cross-country Sunday night to get to Pebble Beach (2019), Torrey Pines (2021) or Los Angeles Country Club (2023).

As I mentioned, the Canadian Open is committed to Hamilton next year and in 2023. Perhaps RBC will take the Canadian Open west in 2021 to make the travel more appealing.

Golf Canada and RBC should be applauded for making the Canadian Open more of an event. RBC has committed through 2023, raised the purse and introducing something like The Rink around the par-3 seventh hole, with boards, a net, and goalie masks for tee markers, has been a hit (it will travel to Hamilton next year).

RBC investing in top players like Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker as part of their Team RBC (as well as the top Canadian men), thus guaranteeing their participation (most of the time) in our national championship also helps upgrade the event.

Despite the uncertainty of the future of Glen Abbey, the RBC Canadian has to be judged a success and the takeaway from this year's tournament is even better days could be ahead.

FROM THE FRINGE: After taking last week off, Henderson remained 16th in the world rankings heading into the Women's British Open this week. She hasn't had her best results at the British, though she's slowly trending in the right direction: T61, T50, T49. She's second on the Tour in greens in regulation at 75.29 percent, but 76th in putting average (29.86). That is a little bit of a function of her hitting so many greens because she's not going to have as many short putts as somebody missing greens and chipping or pitching up. She's 18th in putts per GIR which is more respectable, but there's still lots of room for improvement there. ... Woods has won the WGC event at Firestone C.C. eight times. This will be his last shot at winning there as the tournament will move to Memphis (home of FedEx) next year. ... Brittany Marchand of Orangeville, Ont., got into the Women's British Open by winning the last exemption in a 12-for-seven playoff in the qualifier. Marchand beat out Paula Creamer for the last spot.

Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson has quickly become a passionate golfer.





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