PRIDDIS — In just four years, CN has taken the Canadian Women’s Open from the edge of extinction to the top echelon of the LPGA Tour.
There was nothing but positive vibes emanating from last week’s event at Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club. The tournament featured the top-75 players on the LPGA’s money list, received tremendous fan support, helped raise an amazing $1.6 million for the Alberta Children’s Hospital and was surrounded by the kind of buzz that accompanies only a select few events each season.
None of it would be possible without the stewardship of CN, a company that has made a significant investment in the LPGA since becoming a title sponsor late in 2005.
The biggest question now is what can the tour offer it back in return?
CN’s sponsorship agreement runs out after next year’s event at Winnipeg’s St. Charles Country Club and the announcement of an extension was basically the only thing missing from a tremendous week in suburban Calgary. The company has made it clear that it wants the tournament to regain the major championship status it once held.
“All we can do is put on the best show we can,” said Mark Wallace, CN’s vice-president of public affairs. “We can put up the prize money, we can stage the event, we can do all the right things. Those are the things that are in our control — the decisions from the LPGA are out of our control.
“The chips will fall where they may.”
The tour is currently in a state of flux because it doesn’t have enough companies that are as committed as CN. Acting commissioner Marty Evans is plenty busy trying to secure a full schedule of events for next season and beyond — no easy task in a struggling economy.
Even though the commissioner was thrilled with everything she saw at Priddis Greens, she didn’t leave the impression that CN’s wish to become a major was very close to becoming a reality.
“(The players) have spoken pretty strongly about four majors,” said Evans. “That’s a very, very strong sense. But I think there are other opportunities beyond that. I think the Canadian tournament is part of the top tournaments around the world. . .
“I think you have to look ahead and you put the majors over there and then you think what are the possibilities with these other great globally-based tournaments?”
One idea that has been floated is establishing another tier of tournaments below the majors, similar to the PGA Tour’s world golf championship events. That kind of structure would provide a natural fit for the CN Canadian Women’s Open.
While there is nothing to suggest that CN might walk away from its title sponsorship after next year, firming up an extension soon is clearly a priority for the company, the tour and the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
After all, no one from any those three organizations is eager to mess with the success of the event.
The tour is so happy with the reception its received in Canada recently that Evans raised the possibility of bringing a second event here — a notion that would have sounded crazy five years ago.
“If we could find a sponsor who would sponsor a tournament in Canada … I would love to talk with them,” said Evans, who took over from Carolyn Bivens on July 13. “We have a full-court press on right now to not only sign the tournaments that are up for renewal — and even some that everybody thought were not going to be renewed — but we’re very, very interested in new opportunities.
“I think a second opportunity in Canada would be fabulous”.