TORONTO — The history books might be the best place to look for a hint of what’s to come during this week’s RBC Canadian Open.
With the tournament returning to St. George’s Golf and Country Club for the first time since 1968, there’s a little bit of mystery heading into the 101st playing of Canada’s national championship.
Bob Charles was the last man to lift the trophy on the Stanley Thompson layout in west Toronto. He waged a head-to-head battle with Jack Nicklaus during the final round, pulling out a two-stroke victory over the Golden Bear despite routinely being outdriven by 30 yards or more.
Putting ended up being the difference in the tournament.
“He just flat beat me,” Nicklaus said after one of his seven runner-up finishes in Canada.
“Every putt he makes looks like it’s going to go in. He putts considerably better than anyone else on the tour.”
A look back at that event offers two good omens for Canada’s Mike Weir. He’s a lefty like Charles, and he’s currently ranked second on the PGA Tour in putts per round.
Weir has also had the chance to play St. George’s over the years —an experience many in the field won’t have.
The players started arriving to the course Monday and will familiarize themselves with its layout as much as possible before Thursday’s opening round. Having some of the world’s best golfers back on the property was a welcome sight for those associated with the club.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Joe Murphy, the GM and CEO at St. George’s.
“We’re just elated with what’s happening. We haven’t had it here since 1968 — it’s a generation or so. It’s a much different tournament than it was back then.”
Forty-two years ago, Charles received a winner’s cheque of $25,000 from the purse of $125,000. This year’s champion will claim $918,000 of the $5.1 million on offer.
And there were certainly no fitness trailers, corporate hospitality areas or skyboxes to be found in 1968.
One of the main reasons the Canadian Open has been away so long is because of the logistics involved with staging it on a small parcel of land in the country’s largest city. When the decision was made to stop holding the event at Glen Abbey each year, Golf Canada started working on plans to bring it back to St. George’s.
It’s been a long time coming.
“We knew going into it that there were going to be challenges,” said tournament director Bill Paul. “As I’ve said many times, with challenges come opportunities. I think the way it’s all shaping up, it’ll be pretty neat just to have a final putt there on Sunday.
“I never thought, just like a lot of people, that it would happen.”
One thing that hasn’t changed too much since the Open was last played at St. George’s is the course itself.
The par-70 layout will play at 7,046 yards this week — just 74 more yards than 1968 — and looks similar to what golfers would have faced back then. Mature trees line the sloping fairways while undulating greens demand precise iron shots.
Calgary’s Stephen Ames has long considered it one of the best courses in the country and is looking forward to seeing how it holds up this week.
“I’ve played a lot there,” said Ames.
“It’s an old-style, tree-lined course. If they get it firm and fast, it could be really nice and tricky.
“If those greens get any kind of speed, I think it will be a nice test. A really good test.”
The positive buzz about the course helped Paul attract a stronger field than in years past. Eleven of the top-30 in the tour’s FedExCup Standings have entered, including Paul Casey, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark, Camilo Villegas, Hunter Mahan and Luke Donald. Only eight of the top-30 participated last year.
Ames is confident the players will have a better experience at this Canadian Open than others in recent years.
“I think they’ll really enjoy it,” he said. “It’ll be a change from Glen Abbey, let’s put it that way.”