2019 Canadian Open Deemed Roaring Success
RBC Canadian OpenGreg Bowman
The 2019 RBC Canadian Open has seen its fair share of new innovations that have resulted in the tournament being a roaring success before the final day of competition. To start, the tournament is being played on a new date, which already upped the stakes for competitors. The Canadian Open has been played after the British Open in late July for the past few decades, making it a less desirable tournament to play in for golfers in what is the busiest section of the tour. The PGA Championship, the US Open and the Open Championship are all played within a three-month span, with many of the top players electing to forgo the Canadian Open to finally get some well-needed time off.
This year, it was moved to June, one week prior to the US Open, which also makes it a stop where players have the chance to secure a spot in the Open Championship in July. As a result, big golf names like Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, and most notably, Rory McIlroy, have all added the Canadian Open to their list. Some, like Koepka, viewed it as a final tune-up for the more prestigious US Open the following week. Others, like McIlroy, who have won almost every tournament possible, are using the Canadian stop as a chance to expand their trophy case.
“Someone like Rory, who I think has become an honourary Canadian given how much he has enjoyed his entire experience here,” said RBC Vice-President Mary De Paoli.
Along with the new date, this year’s tournament was also played at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club for the first time since 2012. Glen Abbey Golf and Country Club in Oakville has been home to the Canadian Open for five of the past six tournaments.
To galvanize the hype around the tournament’s new date and location, organizers for this year’s Canadian Open have added all sorts of new festivities, events and amenities never before seen at a Canadian golf tournament, or any golf tournament for that matter. On the Friday and Saturday of the tournament, once play was done, fans were invited to attend a musical concert. Friday’s performance saw country band Florida Georgia Line take the stage for RBCxMusic. Saturday saw Kingston rock band The Glorious Sons perform for over 15,000 people in attendance.
For what is normally a refined, quiet event, tournament organizers took a risk at this year’s edition in order to make it better for the fans. A risk which has paid dividends: “I think what you saw at Florida Georgia Line on Friday night was just outstanding, it could not have gone better,” said De Paoli. “To put on an event like that inside another event was extremely complex with a lot of dimensions to it. And then to follow it up on Saturday with yet another event that was just as successful…We tried something that had not been done to that extent before and not only did it work but it exceeded our expectations.”
“To fit the number of people as we did into this venue and [for] all of them to have this great experience was tremendous,” said tournament director Ryan Crawford, “I think it exceeded what some of the other major tournaments have done as far as music.” Crawford, a Hamilton native, was a former player with the Toronto Argonauts has made it his goal to make his hometown tournament a success: “All of the key strategies we had put in place have come to bear fruit in achieving what we were trying to achieve…the introduction of the food initiative has been overwhelmingly successful. The change in branding of this event in how we were going to deliver our brand promise and really be this kickoff to summer – I mean, Mother Nature really helped with that one and made sure we had summer actually start.” The weather for the tournament has been mostly sunny, with some wind gusts on Saturday proving to be the testiest conditions. In fact, Rory McIlroy commented after the second round that it was the nicest conditions he had played in all season.
“The surprise for me was the energy buzz,” added Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum, “there was a buzz on the first tee, there was a buzz at the concert like I haven’t experienced. There was a buzz in so many of the fan areas that just made people [feel] like something was happening.” He continued: “Today, my dream is to see that not one blade of grass can be seen between fans as they round 18 as we’re coming home because that scene looking into the clubhouse with all the pageantry we have displayed will be one of the great visuals that we will have this week.”
The tournament has seen increases in almost every aspect. Attendance was up 60%, with a 300% increase in ticket sales, according to Applebaum. Probably most importantly, there is an estimated 200% increase in beer sales thanks in large part to a partnership with Steam Whistle brewery.
Aiding the already lively course is the fact that the top of the leaderboard is riddled with stars and Canadians alike, with three Canadians being featured in the top 10 heading into Championship Sunday, including Adam Hadwin who was just one shot back of the lead.
While the tournament may not be played in Hamilton again until 2023, this year’s Canadian Open has laid the groundwork for a successful event that has cemented Canada as a golf-crazy nation. The only thing that could make it sweeter is if a Canadian could break the 65-year drought and win the tournament on home soil.