Canadian Tour Needs $upport

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The players putting on the practice green last Wednesday at historic Lakeview Golf Course in Mississauga, Ont., just west of Toronto, seemed oblivious to the gathering near the clubhouse, but the guests of honour didn't seem to mind.
 
When Bob Beauchemin and his wife Margaret were playing key roles in the Canadian Tour's launch in 1986, the idea was to offer another step in players' development, so the Beauchemins would likely encourage preparation for the Jane Rogers Championship of Mississauga, which concluded yesterday.
 
The latest beneficiaries of that vision continued practicing as Bob was named a life member of the tour. Maggie, a longtime administrator, was named an honorary member, along with Dick Grimm, appropriately known as 'King Richard' and 'Mr. Canadian Open,' because of his overall contributions to the game.
 
Also included as honorary members were John L. Saksun, Sr., and John B. Saksun, Jr., who made their names with Accuform golf equipment, but were supporters of the tour and Canadian touring pros in general.
 
The Canadian Tour will always need strong support, be it financial or moral support. There is plenty of the latter at this level where the term love of the game isn't just a cliche, but true passion for watching players such as tour grad Steve Stricker move on to win The Barclays on the weekend.
 
It's at this level that a well-known name in Canadian sports such as Elliott Kerr of the Landmark Sports Group becomes a driving force in a new tournament named after his remarkable late wife, who loved walking Canadian Tour events and hanging with players her husband represented.
 
Another new event near Seaforth, Ont., has popped up on the 2008 schedule, a tournament being driven, in part, by the Doig family, who have all been a part of Canadian golf for decades.
 
This week's Tour Championship at Barrie's National Pines is also a relative newcomer to the schedule after first being played last year. It's baffling why the once-proud Canadian PGA Championship, now dormant for two years, doesn't return, but either way, the tour's fortunes are on the upswing after some dark days.
 
Beauchemin, a former PGA TOUR player who served as commissioner until 1993, recalls when the tour schedule was a rag-tag collection. 'A lot of (tournaments) had pro-am formats, were three days, two days -- some were four days with two-round tournaments, so it was all over the map.
 
'That was probably the toughest thing, standardizing the formats and that's what a lot of guys around the world were looking for, so they could get used to playing a two-day cut, then the weekend, because this is a building block to get on to the PGA TOUR.'
 
While money is not the main motivation, it is necessary for survival. If the Royal Canadian Golf Association is truly serious about developing golfers, this tour offers a critical missing link in the chain.
 
Corporate support is critical, as well, as we've all discovered with the current plight of the Canadian Open. 'Sponsorship is not easy for a developmental event and that's what we have here,' said Grimm, who took over from Beauchemin in 1993 and served until 1997.
 
'I think things look great for next year and I applaud them for what they've done,' he added.
 
What the tour has done is grow the number of Canadian events from five in 2005 to at least 10 in 2008. The 2008 schedule could go over 20 tournaments, including those outside of Canada.
 
'I'm reasonably pleased with the progress. At least, we can see the end of the tunnel,' said current commissioner Rick Janes.
 
For now, the patient is in stable condition, but like other Canadian development organizations, the next crisis could be just around the corner. Financial support that is miniscule compared to the Canadian Open and a greater fan base are essential in taking a worthy cause that has been driven by spirit to the next level.
 
If Canadians really mean it when they say they'd like to see more Canadians on the PGA Tour, they should ask themselves if they ever cheered Mike Weir in person when he was playing on the Canadian Tour.
 
'Our job is to help prepare young people, Canadian or otherwise, to get to the PGA TOUR,' said Janes. 'I think a healthy and successful Canadian Tour is very, very important to the health of the game.'
 
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    Toronto Sun Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun and senior writer for Pro Shop Magazine, a Canadian golf trade publication, and Canadian Golfer Magazine. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.