A year after it almost collapsed, the Canadian Tour could be on the verge of ensuring its survival into next year and beyond.
The circuit, long the prime conduit to get young Canadians started in the rough-and-tumble world of professional touring golf, could be on the verge of formally aligning itself with the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour has been sniffing around the Canadian circuit for close to a year, a process that included a PGA Tour staffer monitoring it firsthand as it wound its way across the country this summer.
That journey started in June, in Victoria, and ends this week in Gananoque, Ont., with the Great Waterway Classic, the eighth and final stop on the official 2012 schedule. The Canadian and PGA tours journey together may just be beginning.
The reason is the need by the PGA Tour to gain another developmental loop ahead of dramatic changes to its qualification procedures. Starting next year, players will no longer able earn a direct pass to the major leagues. Instead, they will enter qualifying to earn Web.com Tour status and, once there, the Top 25 will earn automatic status and at least that many cards will be contested in an end-of-season playoff between the next wave of Web.com players on its money list and PGA Tour golfers that failed to re-earn status.
These changes have created a need to develop a feeder system beyond the conventional Q-school model for players to get to the Web.com Tour. To that end, the PGA Tour created the Latinoamerica circuit that tees off this week for the first time with an event in Mexico. The PGA Tour has acknowledged that it is thinking of doing the same thing with the Canadian Tour.
"The PGA Tour sees the Canadian Tour as an opportunity to gain another foothold in the Americas," Canadian Tour commissioner Rick Janes said.
The convergence of events -- the PGA Tour also is trying to solidify the Americas as its "home territory" in much the same way as the European Tour in locales such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia -- could be the magic elixir to save the Canadian Tour long-term. Last fall, the PGA Tour essentially bailed out the Canadian circuit with an operating loan as debts approached $1 million, according to various published reports.
Janes and his threadbare operation raised eyebrows at the time by attempting to portray the news as part of a bigger plan to grow the tour. That may be true now, but it didn't mask the reality that the circuit was also on death's door. This year, bad news continued as purses were reduced and two unofficial events were taken off the schedule -- a development that Janes said was due to local promoters failing to produce the necessary funds.
"A non-issue, those were unofficial [events]," he said when asked how the PGA Tour might view the demise of the International Team Matches and an event in the U.S. that was meant as a competitive tuneup for players embarking on Q-school.
'Quite bullish on the opportunity'
There have been positive developments beyond the looming PGA Tour relationship. Four Canadian youngsters have won events this season, highlighted by Eugene Wong of Vancouver jarring a 130-yard shot to win in dramatic fashion at the Tour Championship in Scarborough, Ont., two weeks ago. Wong's victory provided the Canadian Tour much-needed positive publicity as the video clip was played endlessly on sports highlight reels on both sides of the border. The Canadian Tour has never lost its reputation of being a legitimate breeding ground for up-and-coming players and for its ability to conduct events in a more professional atmosphere compared to U.S. mini-tours.
Those positives aside, to cement a deal, the Canadian Tour will have to confirm at least an eight-event schedule for 2013 through 2015. Effectively, what that means is that its current schedule will need to be solidified, but with three-year guarantees rather than the year-to-year basis that the Canadian Tour often operated on in the past.
Janes sounded cautiously optimistic, but acknowledged that much work remains to be done.
"I'm quite bullish on the opportunity," he said. "The question is whether we can get the support from across the country."
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