Irwin’s contributions to bringing Champions Tour to Calgary can’t be understated


Tour president Mike Stevens brought the World Golf Hall of Fame member along with him when he first sold Canyon Meadows members on the concept

Hale Irwin was a driving force behind Calgary landing a Champions Tour event.

Hale Irwin was a driving force behind Calgary landing a Champions Tour event.

Photograph by: Hannah Johnston, Getty Images

Not that Hale Irwin considers this Shaw Charity Classic his “baby,” exactly.

But he was certainly in on the delivery.

Yes, it’s finally arrived. Now we at long last have lift off of dimpled white balls into the stratosphere with money and prestige on the line.

“Things are looking great,” responds the three-time U.S. open winner, strolling across the bridge from the 9th free to the 10th tee at Canyon Meadows on pro-am Thursday, on the eve of festitives/hostilities. “Can’t wait.”

Not that Irwin had any doubts.

“It’s indicative of this community, how quickly it came together. From my perspective, Clay (Riddell) and all the guys, Keith (McPhail) — who I’m playing with today — Stephen Ames, they were all so instrumental of getting the idea of the tournament germinated in the community. And it’s grown so well. But maybe what really typifies this tournament is what happened here with the heavy rains you all experienced this past summer.

“The way everybody came together and worked to clean that up and take care of those that were put out. And you can see that same kind of effort, of commitment, being applied here.

“So it’s truly a community event.”

According to Champions Tour president Mike Stevens, Irwin played “a big role” in the landing of the inaugural Classic.

“Well, I thank Mike for the compliment,” responds Irwin. “But if I brought anything, it was maybe some credibility; looking at it from the eyes of a player, what we enjoy seeing.

“The effort that we knew would come from the Calgary community, and the financial commitment from the organizing committee . . . from what I saw as a player — and I’m speaking as a player here — looked terrific. Absolutely terrific. Like it couldn’t miss.

“So if that’s what you call instrumental, telling the truth, then sure, I’m instrumental.”

Nobody, but nobody, has won more tournaments on this tour than Hal Irwin’s 45. His word carries weight. A lot of it. So when Stevens and Irwin made the trek north a few days before last U.S. Thanksgiving last year, when Stevens brought Irwin north inspect Canyon and its possibilities, sell the club and its membership on the benefits of a tournament, and in turn selling his peers on the idea of coming up here, he knew he had the right man.

“I like to take players to presentations where we have private clubs when we’re trying to secure the facility,” explains Stevens. “It’s nice for the members to meet a player. A player can give them an idea what it’s going to be like tournament week.

“And when you’ve got a Hale Irwin, a member of the (World Golf) Hall of Fame, who has won as many events as he has, very distinguished, very articulate, it just . . . helps.

“I gave them kind of the overall scenario and then Hale gave them the players’ perspective. But then also explained to them — we have a little saying: We leave golf courses better than we got them. The reason we say that is that we have expert agronomists that work with superintendents. We pinpoint things, as experts in this field, that a golf club may not notice. We also provide financial subsidies sometimes to help get the work done, and it improves the golf course for us for a week but it improves the course for the members for the rest of the year.

“When you bring a Hall of Famer, it brings celebrity, it brings credibility, to the meeting. Now I’m sure they’d probably love to come and listen to the president of the Champions Tour, but I’d rather listen to Hale Irwin myself.”

So today, after months of planning and preparation and four days of publicity foreplay, they tee it up for real. The first of what’s hoped will be many Shaw Charity Classics.

After more than a few of the pros posted low scores in Thursday’s dry run — Tom Lehman unofficially clocked in at minus-10 — there’s a growing feeling that the ol’ Canyon layout might take a bit of a beating over the next 72 hours.

“It could,” acknowledges Irwin. “It’s not playing terribly long. The fairways are running quite firmly. The greens are very true. But you don’t know what the weather’s going to be, where the hole locations are going to be. So you don’t want to cry wolf at the moment.

“You can’t look at this course and say it’s going to play . . . difficult. If you’re hitting the ball relatively straight, you’re going to play it well.

“If you’re not hitting the ball relatively straight, it’ll eat you alive.”

Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH

Hale Irwin was a driving force behind Calgary landing a Champions Tour event.

Hale Irwin was a driving force behind Calgary landing a Champions Tour event.

Photograph by: Hannah Johnston, Getty Images

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