resident of Waterdown, west of Toronto, Spyrou drove between five and six hours to the Canadian Golf and Country Club on Highway 7 to play in a one-day, 18-hole Golf Channel Amateur Tour event.
“In the winter time, I played (events) in Florida and California,” he said, “but I wanted my home team to be Canadian instead of joining in Orlando or Buffalo.”
There are 70 North American cities with leagues operating under the banner of Orlando-based Golf Channel, but the only Canadian options are Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax, with the one in the national capital region by far the closest of the three for Spyrou.
Like all Golf Channel Amateur Tour members, he can enter tournaments in any of the 70 cities, but merit points based on results count only on a golfer’s “home” tour.
The bid to collect points would help explain why three New York-based players were in the relatively small field of 24 at Canadian Golf and Country Club and why Spyrou can use points gained in Florida and California to help him fight for the right to represent Ottawa in the national championships at Orlando in October.
Even though he only tied for third at Canadian, he leads the point standings in the Hogan flight — one of six based on handicap factors, in his case 8.0-11.9 — of the 50-plus senior division.
“Ten games here, and I’m going to try to play at least half of them,” said Spyrou, who also has his eye on three Buffalo GCAT stops on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. “I wanted to improve my game, and playing competitive golf does make you think and improve your game.”
Spyrou is one of 29 members of Ottawa’s Golf Channel Amateur Tour. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s nearly triple the total from 2007, its initial season, and tour director Farzin Hanifi would like to drive that number to 40 by season’s end and to 60 for next year.
“Last year, we had 10 members, and four of them were from Toronto,” he said. “They played in Buffalo, rather than coming here. This year, we are 29 members, and only two of them are from Toronto. The rest are from the Ottawa area.”
The annual membership fee is $199, and entry fees for the remaining 10 tournaments on this year’s Ottawa schedule range from $80 to $120.
The overall winner of each event receives a medallion, and handicap flight champions receive merchandise certificates for The Golf Warehouse, an online outlet and one of the tour’s national sponsors.
The top dozen at season’s end, based on accumulated merit points, will represent Ottawa in the Golf Channel Amateur Tour championship in Orlando. Costs will be covered, at least in part, by the one-half of entry fees that don’t go toward tournament prizes.
Just as the golfers from New York would play at Canadian in a bid to collect points, the improved odds of qualifying for nationals in the smaller Ottawa-area league likely explains why Toronto players would sign up here instead of registering for the more adjacent, but larger Buffalo GCAT.
One advantage the Golf Channel tour enjoys over other leagues operating outside club-based official amateur competition is visibility. The Orlando-based network can use its own airtime to promote the tour, which in theory pays off in brand awareness and viewer loyalty for Golf Channel.
Hanifi, a 49-year-old computer programmer and wholesale car dealer, says most Ottawa Golf Channel Amateur Tour members learned about it on television, with others finding it via the network’s website.
Word or mouth helps, too, which was probably why Hanifi took the time during a short walk to the parking lot to spread the message to a non-member and why he squeezed in an interview between helping set up a tournament tent, chatting with Canadian pro Dale Trafford about this, that and the other thing, letting volunteer rules official Don McGee know which tees were in play for various flights, telling assistant director Lance Peckham where to find a folder with prize certificates for the previous event and, finally, getting ready to play.