The announcement was as short as it was stark.
During a quick conference call on Monday morning, Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons and CN President and CEO Claude Mongeau announced that the rail company will end its title sponsorship
of the Canadian Women's Open at the conclusion of this year's tournament in Edmonton.
Mongeau said the decision was made because it was time to "pass the torch." He dismissed a suggestion that CN made the move because the tournament had not been given a major designation, a status that it previously enjoyed before CN's involvement until federal legislation outlawing tobacco sponsorship ended the successful run of the old du Maurier Championship.
"We always felt the CN Canadian Women's Open was a major," said Mongeau. "[The cancellation] is more in the context that eight years is a long journey."
Indeed. The event slated for this summer at Royal Mayfair in the Alberta capital will end an involvement that extends back to 2006 and eight tournaments. The relationship, which will continue with CN remaining as the title sponsor of the Future Links program aimed at young golfers, has been as successful as it was surprising.
CN became involved when the tournament was on the verge of being cancelled after four years of sponsorship by BMO that came in the immediate aftermath of it losing its major status.
Soon after CN came on board, the tournament became a breath of fresh air both on the LPGA schedule and the Canadian golf scene. The women's event quickly established itself as the best non-major on the LPGA
schedule and thrived at a time when that circuit was labouring under a tough economy and the reign of its former commissioner, Carolyn Bivens.
The successful run continued under new LPGA head Mike Whan and at a time when its men's counterpart hasn't been able to gain any significant traction up the PGA Tour pecking order, despite solid backing from title sponsor RBC and a similarly good job running it by Golf Canada. Lost battle for major status
While it's too early to predict doom-and-gloom scenarios, the possible demise of what has been an on-going feel-good story in the women's open and the continual rut that the men's tournament finds itself in, is not a pleasant scenario to digest if you're a Canadian golf fan.
There were subtle signs that CN was about to take its leave when it reduced the tournament's purse last year. Also, when the LPGA designated the Evian Masters in France as its fifth major event, many felt it was only a matter of time before CN would back out.
It's true that the LPGA did the Canadian event no favours when it looked to the European event as its fifth major but the reality is that the North American market is not where women's golf needs to expand. For more than a decade, the women's game has been dominated by Asian countries, particularly South Korea, but a more international business profile is what the LPGA needs to establish if it is to survive as a viable world sports property.
Through no fault of its own, the CN-Golf Canada partnership was always going to lose the battle to gain major status because of that wider reality.
Simmons said all the right things on the Monday conference call, and if his words are to be taken at face value, he seems optimistic that a new backer will emerge.
"We've had some exciting discussions," said Simmons, in reference to finding another corporation to back the event.
In a sense, the women's game in this country will soon have a back-to-the-future feel to it. A title sponsor will need to be found some time in the next 10 or 12 months -- Simmons says ideally he would like to have one in place in time for the Edmonton event in August.
If not, the women's national open will be in precisely the same position it was in late 2005: on death's door.Canadian Women's Tour in peril?
There is another significant worry if you're a supporter of women's golf in Canada, and that is the future of the Canadian Women's Tour. A backer for that circuit will also need to be found or young Canadian women will not have a vital competitive outlet that has helped develop players in the past.
At the moment, Canada's top players are Charlottetown's Lorie Kane, 48, and Hamilton's Alena Sharp, 31, who finished 89th and 103 rd, respectively, on the LPGA money list last season.
On the bright side, and with a new season about to tee off in Australia in two weeks, there is optimism surrounding youngsters Stephanie Sherlock of Barrie, Ont., Toronto's Rebecca Lee-Bentham and Maude-Aimee Leblanc, of Sherbrooke, Que.
The Manulife Financial Classic, Canada's other LPGA stop, remains unaffected by Monday's announcement and is slated to begin July 11 in Waterloo, Ont.
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