Volunteers Brandon Runnings and Patrick Fontaine work in the gift shop at the The Royal Montreal Golf Club on Île-Bizard on Sunday, July 20, 2014. The Canadian Open golf tournament is being held at The Royal Montreal Golf Club this week.
Photograph by: John Kenney, The Gazette
MONTREAL — In 20 years as head of the Canadian Open golf championship, and in more than three decades working in the sport, tournament director Bill Paul has enough special moments to fill a few trophy cases.
So it’s interesting, as the 105th edition of this country’s national championship comes to Royal Montreal this week, that Paul says his greatest memory in golf is something that happened not inside the ropes on the fairways, greens or bunkers, but in the boardroom.
It came in 1997, when following 16 straight years at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont., the Open returned to Royal Montreal.
“People at our end never thought you could move the Open away from Glen Abbey,” Paul said during a chat in the final hours before organized chaos sets in this week at the historic layout on Île-Bizard.
“It was done for, let’s say, political reasons. We wanted to come to Quebec, which was two years removed from a (referendum) vote, and we had a Quebec president who challenged us to return to the province.
“We went from the feeling that we couldn’t have a big tournament away from Glen Abbey to having the biggest Open we’d ever had,” Paul said. “The people here at (Royal Montreal) and the enthusiasm of the Montreal fans just blew me away. It was the highlight of my career in golf.”
Steve Jones would win the 1997 Open, an event noteworthy for being the first missed cut — by a single stroke — for Tiger Woods in the 26 professional tournaments he’d played to that point.
The Open returned to Royal Montreal in 2001, grander still, and this week, branded the RBC Canadian Open, it is back for the 10th time, North America’s first course having played host to the inaugural 1904 event at its Dixie layout in the parish of Dorval.
The $60 winner’s purse claimed in 1904 by J.H. Oke would convert to roughly $1,500 today, which still pales just a little to the $1,026,000 U.S. that will go to the champion crowned next Sunday.
A field of 156 professional and amateur golfers will play at least 36 holes on Royal’s famed Blue course Thursday and Friday, the top 70 and ties after two rounds playing for pay on the weekend. Eleven former Canadian Open winners are in the field, including defending champion Brandt Snedeker, winner of the 2012 FedEx Cup.
For spectators on site, this will be anything but “just” 72 holes of golf played by many of the finest pros in the world. Organizers have put together a wide variety of interactive events for all ages, with children 17 and under admitted to the course all week for no charge with a ticketed adult.
Next Saturday is designated Family Day, with specially priced grounds passes offering access to fan zones and golf activities for youngsters.
A Golf Canada Foundation pro-am on Monday, with a shotgun start at 12:30 p.m., kicks off the week. Canadian pros, playing alongside many alumni of the Canadiens as well as current players David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau, will raise funds for young Tour-bound men and women from this country.
“In my mind, we needed — and pardon the expression — a Ferris wheel in the parking lot,” Paul said of making the Open a fan-friendly experience. “We want to give fans an opportunity to do more than follow the golfers around the course, find a place to eat, then go home.
“We want to take advantage of the game, introduce it to young kids. Our (corporate) partners — whether RBC or BMW or our minor sponsors — are helping us out with a lot of great ‘activation’ for spectators on site. We’re looking to grow the game and we can use the Open as a tool to do that.”
Not in the field is Woods, the 2000 Canadian Open champion who is feeling his way back into the spotlight after time away from the game with a bad back.
But Woods’s absence in no way diminishes an excellent field that includes 15 Canadians, including Graham DeLaet, currently Canada’s top-ranked player and No. 32 in the world; David Hearn, who finished tied for 32nd in the British Open on Sunday; and Mike Weir, the eight-time PGA Tour winner and 2003 Masters champion who will play in his 24th Canadian Open.
Other than the undulation and size of some greens, and no doubt a few sadistic pin placements, the layout of the 7,153-yard, par-70 Blue course won’t be much different than it was in 2007, when major renovations reshaped it for the Presidents Cup.
Golfers won’t battle the nearly six-inch, dew-wet September rough that lined fairways in 1997, when organizers feared the field would embarrass Royal, turning it into mini-putt without the windmill.
“That was more our not respecting the course, thinking its only defence was the rough. It was more penal than it was worth and that upset a lot of guys,” Paul said, saying that three- to three-and-a-half inch rough will line fairways this week.
“I just think that today’s players are so good that hitting it in the zone and down the middle is going to score regardless. It’s still a wonderful property. The guys are going to like it. It’s in great shape because (Royal superintendent) Greg Greer and his staff have done a wonderful job.”
For Paul, the past week has been tending to the final details, various committees and an army of nearly 1,500 volunteers having helped to prepare the event and put out the welcome mat for the galleries.
More than 30 players, their caddies and families were to be aboard a Golf Canada-sponsored charter Sunday in Manchester, bound for Montreal from the British Open. It’s a vital part of doing business for this tournament.
“Each place you go is unique,” Paul said of this country’s only stop on the PGA Tour. “As long as you’re doing your homework ahead of time and working with the proper people — with cities, the club, sponsors, the Tour and getting the course ready — everything sort of flows.
“When you get down to this time, the biggest unknown is probably players in terms of getting a commitment, confirming a commitment or dealing with commitments that change with withdrawals. You just try to manage everything and you can only do so much.
“What I pray for mostly,” Paul said with a laugh, “is sunshine. That will bring people out for the golf and the activities on site. A great leaderboard will develop, much like we had in the last two Opens here, and we’ll have a great champion.”
More information, including a list of fan-friendly activities this week: rbccanadianopen.ca
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette