Friday, November 13th, 2009
Buy a BlackBerry, send a Canadian amateur golfer to the Masters.
OK, it’s not that simple, but there may eventually be a connection.
Using funding from the Kavelman-Fonn Foundation started by Dennis Kavelman, chief operating officer of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion and his wife, Karen, the Royal Canadian Golf Association wants to enhance the experience of players in its national amateur championships.
Something like improved signage probably won’t mean much to the golfers, but they will care about buffet breakfasts and lunches and players’ lounges, plus there will be live online updates from 80 BlackBerries used by scorers with all groups in the college/university, men’s, women’s, junior, senior and mid-amateur tournaments.
Another significant change takes effect next year, when the RCGA will expand its men’s junior, mid-amateur and amateur championships to 240 players from 156. To do that, it will add a second course for the first two rounds, with the designated host club also holding the final two rounds after the field is cut.
Brent McLaughlin, the RCGA’s director of amateur competitions, says the association will also use Kavelman-Fonn funding to recruit Top 100 players from other countries for the Canadian Amateur, taking advantage of amateur-status rule changes that now allow tournament committees to cover travel expenses.
The thinking is that, with more such players participating, the Amateur’s strength-of-field rating will be higher, making more world ranking points available, which will in turn induce more of the world’s best to include Canada on their competition schedules.
That, it follows, might bolster Canada’s argument that its national amateur champion deserves an invitation to the Masters or the British and U.S. Amateurs, which was once the case. The winner of next week’s Canadian Amateur at Blainville, Que., can already count on being in the 2010 Canadian Open at St. George’s in Toronto.
“This should be a must stop for top amateurs,” McLaughlin says.
According to McLaughlin and RCGA executive director Scott Simmons, the ball started rolling after Dennis Kavelman, an avid low-handicapper who has played in several elite competitions, asked officials with the association what it would take to make the Canadian Amateur to make it feel more like the Canadian Open.
That discussion led, eventually, to the infrastructure changes made to all of the 2009 championships and to the two-course strategy for the Amateur, mid-amateur and junior boys competitions starting in 2010.
Why those three? Numbers, McLaughlin says. The college/university, women’s, junior girls and senior championships don’t yet have enough demand to justify expanding the fields, but the Amateur, mid-amateur and juniors do.
A quota system grants entries to each provincial golf association based on a five-year sliding scale of performance: Your players do well, your province gets more spots in future championships.
However, provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta often must relinquish spots their golfers would otherwise have because there just isn’t room.
For the Amateur, 125-135 spots are reserved for provincial delegations under the current quotas. Five spots are held for the best players in a one-day qualifying round, plus 15-20 for individuals who receive exemptions from qualifying, such as the U.S. amateur champion and the top 15 from the previous year’s Canadian Amateur.
That’s it, basically. Getting 14 golfers from Australia, New Zealand and Japan — in Laval-sur-le-Lac, Que., for this week’s Four Nations Cup — into the Canadian Amateur just down the road in Blainville took some doing.
McLaughlin says the 156-man field “handicaps us because, in any given year, we only have about 10 spots that we can offer to international players.”
Next year’s Canadian Amateur will have 240 players at the host London Hunt and Country Club, with Redtail Golf Course in Port Stanley, Ont., acting as the second site for the opening rounds.
The 2011 Amateur is slated for the Niakwa club in Winnipeg, with two of the next five in the National Capital Region: Camelot in 2012 and Royal Ottawa in 2016. In none of those cases has a second course for the early rounds been selected.
McLaughlin plans to meet with representatives of future host clubs, and he’ll consult with the United States Golf Association on its two-course tournament operations.
“I don’t think any clubs are going to want out,” he says via telephone from Carmel, Indiana, where he was on the rules committee for the U.S. Senior Open. “We just need to make sure they are OK with the process. Next year (in London) will be a great trial for us.
“Again, there will be logistical challenges, but we think those are all good problems to have if we get the players.”