News & Opinion

Canadian Open oozes history but seeks future

Quick! Name the third-oldest continually running event on the PGA Tour, after the British Open and the U.S. Open.

Hint: The course where it’s being contested this week has played host to more national Opens than any other site worldwide outside of the Old Course at St. Andrews. This year’s event will mark 29, to be precise.

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NICKLAUS DESIGN
Glen Abbey’s 17th green

NICKLAUS DESIGN
Glen Abbey’s 17th green

The very fact that “RBC Canadian Open” has become a bit of a trivia answer is telling. 

First played in 1904, the tournament boasts a pantheon of champions from all eras: Hagen, Nelson and Snead through Palmer, Casper and Trevino to Norman, Woods and Day.

There is no “Nicklaus” on that list, and that’s no oversight. In fact, it is in many ways as puzzling as the original question.

The answer to the “hint” mentioned earlier is Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario, a few miles west of Toronto. Opened in 1976, it was Jack Nicklaus’ first solo design. It was, and remains, a tremendous venue for spectators, with its mounding and spoke-like routing originating at the clubhouse (Where To Golf Next: http://bit.ly/2v0JeIi).

But despite Nicklaus’ domination of the game, he never could conquer Glen Abbey or, for that matter, any other Canadian Open site. In all, he had seven runner-up finishes in Canada, three of which were at the course he designed.

Many years ago, there were some references to the Canadian Open being regarded, at least in some players’ opinions, as the “fifth major.” So, what happened?

For starters, it’s in Canada. But more importantly, its place on the schedule has been treated by the PGA Tour as negligently as some pros mark their balls on the green.

From June to September, the Canadian Open has been allotted inconvenient dates. Most recently, the Tour slotted it the week after the British Open. In order to attempt to lure top players, tournament organizer Golf Canada charters a plane to fly players from Britain to Canada.

Despite scheduling challenges, this year’s field looks promising (tee times: http://bit.ly/1yZ3gvW). Entrants include world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and other major champions, notably Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson. Based on recent success by Canadians, organizers think this might be the year when one of the 17 Canadian competitors could win his national Open for the first time since Pat Fletcher did so in 1954. (To be historically correct, Fletcher was born in England but came to Canada as an infant. The most recent native Canadian winner was Karl Keffer, who won his second title in 1914.)

The Canadian contingent on Tour is the strongest in memory. Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Taylor have won tournaments recently. David Hearn went into the 2015 final round with the lead, and Graham DeLaet and newly minted pro Jared Du Toit, who tied for ninth in 2016 as an amateur, could be factors.

Tournament director Brent McLaughlin is doing his best to make the 2017 Canadian Open, in Canada’s 150th year as a nation, “the deepest reality of Canadiana, a gathering place of all things Canada.” 

For example, the par-3 seventh hole will become “The Rink,” with ice hockey-themed accoutrements such as rink boards, bleachers, volunteers dressed as referees and even a Zamboni. To be clear, the pond in front of the green will not be frozen, and the Zamboni will be parked. Even in Canada, summer is summer.

But as sunny as tournament week may be, there are clouds on the horizon.

Course owner ClubLink has filed a proposal to develop the property into housing and commercial real estate, a process that would take several years. Although the 2018 Canadian Open is scheduled to return to Glen Abbey and RBC is committed through 2023, the tournament’s future venue is uncertain. The early leading contender is in the city of Vaughan, just north of Toronto.

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email:  gordongolf@outlook.com;  Twitter: @gordongolf