While the rest of the world was tuned into Tiger and Amen Corner on the weekend, the Canadian Tour was kicking off its 2008 season in relative anonymity, as it usually does, at the Spring International Presented by Foster Farms Dairy, a charming name that evokes images of simpler times.
Weve got a very, very strong field. Weve got a number of Nationwide (Tour) players here. The Nationwide Tour last week was just down the road in Livermore, said tour commissioner Rick Janes, explaining that the run-in with the Masters is the result of tight schedule this year.
The fact of the matter is that we have an agreement for next week in Stockton and thats a permanent, fixed date, so we always want to have at least two events in a row (in the same area) and, as a result, we dont really have any choice, he added.
We go up against the British Open when were in Winnipeg. Obviously, wed rather not, but its just a matter of efficiency for the players, said Janes.
In that respect, the Canadian Tours mandate is as simple as the name of the tournament at Modestos Del Rio Country Club on the weekend. It is a players tour and not because of the courtesy cars and other perks normally enjoyed by the guys at Augusta on the weekend.
Instead, this tour is designed to provide a competitive environment and as many tournaments as possible for players to develop the way Mike Weir, Chris DiMarco and Steve Stricker, among other tour graduates, did in the past.
For that reason, there was no apology when the tour began playing events in warm weather American locations a few years back to the chagrin of some who took the Canadian in the tours name too seriously, even if homebrew players were getting more opportunities to play.
In 2005, the tour had 11 tournaments on the schedule. This year, there are 16, with 11 of them in Canada, including the International Team Matches, which will be played in late July at Torontos Scarborough Golf and Country Club.
The schedule could soar as high as 20 events as 2008 progresses, with the tour looking at possible tournaments in Western Canada, Thunder Bay, Ottawa and Atlantic Canada. Any concern in the past appears to be unfounded the way Canadian content is being emphasized these days.
Thats not to say that there wont be more events outside of our borders. The tour is also looking at a fall series with possible stops in Florida, Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala to prepare its players for PGA TOUR qualifying school and Janes says he would like to see bigger galleries.
The real thrust of our efforts now is increasing the profile of the tour to the average golfer, helping them to understand what its about, why it exists, said Janes, was overwhelmed with the response of people in Southwestern Ontario to a new tournament that will be played in Seaforth, Ont., in late August.
Janes says he was shocked when he was told 30,000 tickets had been printed. When I heard them say that, I thought, I hope I havent misled you. We dont typically get 30,000 people at our events, but the fact of the matter is people are buying the tickets because theyre going to support the local hospitals.
It really is a great case study. Its like the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, where the community has rallied behind this, said Janes, hoping the thrills of no-frills catches on in other locations and fans see the benefits of catching a player, Canadian or otherwise, on his way up the chain to the PGA TOUR.
Certainly, there are additional efforts being made to lure players at that level to the Canadian Tour. Prize money now is our next priority, he said. Theres a lot to be said for the size of prize purses and people start to take it seriously when they see the purses at the higher levels.
We will see some of that this year. Well see the Canadian Tour Championship increase. We havent announced it yet, but it will certainly be over $200,000 and theres another (existing) event in Canada that will be announced shortly that its going over $200,000, he said.
Janes adds that there are also negotiations going on that could see Canadian Tour players get increased World Golf Ranking points, so while the gap between Modesto and Augusta seemed so expansive on the weekend, players may look back from the Masters one day and realize the jump is entirely possible.
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Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.