However little money there’s been in it over time, the Canadian Tour’s Winnipeg event has been a relatively stable entity, staged every year since the professional circuit’s reorganization in 1985.
The annual summer visit by Canada’s best golf professionals goes back even farther than that, through the times Dan Halldorson was winning his four Manitoba Opens.
But now the Tour and it’s local tournament, The Players Cup, are caught in the same tempest and while it forges ahead for 2012, the future is murky.
The Canadian Tour is on financial life-support from the PGA Tour, allowing it continue for the 2012 season. Many in the golf business believe the extension of a line of credit of $500,000 or more to pay last year’s bills is just the first step in the PGA Tour taking full control of the Canadian Tour and incorporating it into a feeder system that will be required for the Nationwide and PGA Tours.
The Canadian Tour season will be just nine tournaments in 2012. The fifth stop will be The Players Cup, July 12-15 at Pine Ridge Golf Club, with the usual carrots on the stick — the winner and the tour’s top money-winners to that point will receive exemptions to the RBC Canadian Open in Hamilton.
Tour business is being done differently this year.
Apart from its own Tour Championship tournament in late August, the Tour has stopped operating various events across the country, including the elimination of various levels of cash support to purses.
That includes in Winnipeg, where the sizeable purses of the prior two years of $300,000 and $200,000 came from the Canadian Tour bank.
“Each event is going to be self-sustaining, copying the PGA Tour model,” said Canadian Tour director of business development and communications Scott Pritchard. “We have become risk-averse. We just can’t afford to get into situations of the past. We can’t run that event from this distance and expect it to be successful. At the end of the day, it needs to be a local initiative.”
The full operation of The Players Cup is being taken on by local advertising and branding firm mf.1. Its president, Ryan Hart, had an agreement with the Canadian Tour in 2011 to market and promote the tournament.
Where there is currently turmoil — Hart’s firm and Pine Ridge went unpaid for 2011 for several months and eventually accepted less than full amounts — Hart sees a significant amount of hope for the future.
“The opportunity to work with the PGA Tour brand, and what it can bring to this city, is a huge opportunity for us and for Winnipeg,” Hart said.
The PGA Tour will begin its closer relationship with the Canadian Tour with months of due diligence and observation of tournaments. Even through the lens of the mess left by 2011, Hart sees that brand and expertise as a lifeline for more than just Winnipeg.
It’s certainly what brought him and his company back to the table, willing to take on all responsibility for the operation that will require a budget of at least $350,000.
“I would say that we were extremely challenged towards the back end of last year and the early part of this year as to whether we would be willing to do it again,” Hart said. “A couple of big factors were in play for us.
“No 1, we received a call from the PGA Tour. We had a good, hour-long conversation with them about some of the strategic alliances, as they put it, that would be put in place in this year of due diligence.
“And the opportunity to work with them in the future is one of the things that probably kept us in.
“And second, a groundswell of support and interest from the community. I think word got out that we were questioning our participation and the phone started to ring.
“Some prominent folks in town said, ‘This thing’s been here for 30-plus years and it would be tragic to see it go and where you guys took it last year was a great building block.’ And we’re still looking to reach out to more sponsors in that light.”