With another top-notch field ready to swing into action at the CN Canadian Women’s Open in Edmonton, Golf Canada head honcho Scott Simmons is confident this will not be the final national women’s open.
After a lengthy search, Simmons revealed that he’s close to a deal that will secure a new title sponsor for the popular LPGA event and he hopes an announcement will be made within the next month.
"It’s an event that is very marketable. I’ve talked to 48 companies in the last nine to 12 months. We had some serious interest from quite a few parties, but we’re down now to probably two and I’m confident we’re going to get it done," said Golf Canada’s CEO and executive director, who added that he’s quietly talking to a few courses about hosting next year’s event.
Back in 2005, this event appeared dead, but CN rescued the tournament and re-established it as a premier LPGA event.
With CN as the title sponsor, the Canadian Women’s Open has produced a strong list champions from outstanding fields. It has been contested on some of the best courses in the country and the hospitality makes it a popular stop among the LPGA's players.
However, CN announced in early February that it would end its role as title sponsor, but would continue to support the CN Future Links series, which has played a role in developing this country’s young talent.
"We’re very positive that we are going to carry on with the event next year," Simmons added. "The foundation that CN has put in place with this event over the last eight years has been strong. I was chatting with [CN president and CEO] Claude Mongeau last night about how fast this eight years has come and gone and the great champions they’ve had, starting with Cristie Kerr, then Lorena Ochoa, Katharine Hull, Suzann Petttersen, Michelle Wie to Brittany Lincicome and then to have Lydia Ko win last year.
"We’re already late. But we should dot the i’s and cross the t’s in the next month. I’m confident we’re in good shape."
Strong field in Edmonton
This year’s event at Royal Mayfair will have 96 of the top 100 women's golfers competing, including all 12 members of Europe’s victorious Solheim Cup team from last week.
2013 CN Canadian Women’s Open facts
Course: Royal Mayfair in Edmonton (par-70, 6,443 yards).
Purse: $2-million US ($300,000 to winner).
Defending champion: Lydia Ko, New Zealand.
Field: 156 professionals and amateurs, including all 12 members of last week’s victorious European team at the Solheim Cup.
Canadians in the field (20): Lorie Kane (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Alena Sharp (Hamilton, Ont.), Rebecca Lee-Bentham (Richmond Hill, Ont.), Maude-Aimee LeBlanc (Sherbrooke, Que.), Sara-Maude Juneau (Fossambault, Que.), Stephanie Sherlock (Barrie, Ont.), Samantha Richdale (Kelowna, B.C.), Jennifer Kirby (Paris, Ont.), Nicole Vandermade (Brantford, Ont.), Isabelle Beisiegel (Saint-Hilaire, Que.), Jessica Shepley (Oakville, Ont.), Sue Kim (Langley, B.C.), Natalie Gleadall (Stratford, Ont.), Nicole Forshner (Banff, Alta.), Jessica Wallace (Langley, B.C.) and amateurs Anne-Catharine Tanguay (Quebec City), Brooke Henderson (Smiths Falls, Ont.), Augusta James (Bath, Ont.), Brittany Marchand (Orangeville, Ont.), Jennifer Ha (Calgary).
TV times (all ET): Thursday and Friday, 3-6 p.m. (TSN), Saturday and Sunday, 2-6 p.m. (CBC).
Celebrity Royal Mayfair members: Oilers president Kevin Lowe, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish.
"First off, this is a great golf course, this is a great venue," American star Paula Creamer said. "CN does a wonderful job of hosting us every time we come to Canada. Just as a player, we look forward to coming to these events. Nothing is taken for granted.
"There is always a little special something that happens during the week, and the hospitality, I think that's one of the reasons why you see so many top players here, because of the elite status that CN has in our eyes."
There has been concern that the LPGA tour has been a difficult sell in North America because of the recent domination by Asian players. World No. 1 Inbee Park of South Korea and her fellow Asians have won nine of the 18 LPGA events this season. Europeans have won three more and that doesn’t include last week’s Solheim Cup.
But there appears to a bright future for Canadians on the LPGA Tour with budding pros Rebecca Lee-Bentham of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Jennifer Kirby of Paris, Ont.
Of course, all eyes are on 15-year-old whiz kid Brookie Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont. She won the Canadian Women’s Amateur earlier this summer and has made the cut in both her LPGA starts this year in the other Canadian event — the Manulife Financial Classic in Waterloo, Ont., — and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Younger players have made an impact on women’s golf recently. New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko won this event in Vancouver last summer to become the youngest LPGA winner at 15 years, four months. U.S. teenager Lexi Thompson and 17-year-old Charley Hull of England already have been a success on the LPGA Tour.
Golf Canada chief sport officer Jeff Thompson has calculated that the average LPGA player turns pro at age 19 and wins her first major at age 26.
Henderson still has a few summers left in her amateur career, but she has attracted plenty of interest across the country. LPGA veteran Lorie Kane, the last Canadian to win an LPGA event back in 2001, sees a bright future in Henderson’s game.
"I had the pleasure of playing Sunday's round at [the Manulife] with Brooke and, [with her being] 15 years old, I kept thinking to myself, ‘OK, anything I can do she can do better.’ I'd hit it [within] six feet, she'd hit it [within] five feet.
"Danny [Sharp, Kane's caddie] reminded me that she may have beaten me by a couple of shots. He said, ‘You got dusted by a 15 year old,’ and I said, ‘Thank you for that.’"
Golf Canada and its women’s national team coaches Tristan Mullally and Ann Carroll have made an impact. There are 20 Canadians in the 156-player field this week. Kane remembers a time when there were only six or seven. Kane, however, would like to see Golf Canada stay involved and help continue develop the country’s top young pros.
"I have to give hats off to Golf Canada and what they're trying to do," Kane said. "I had the opportunity to be involved with the pro-am the Monday of the RBC men's Canadian Open with the Canadian Golf Foundation. We're trying to really come up with a plan to help young kids get involved in the game, keep them into the game, keep them part of Team Canada as an amateur and then encourage them and support them through the first stages of being a young professional. It's not an easy transition.
"Some might say, well, why is it our job to help support a young professional in their endeavour, because once you turn pro you turn pro. But my feeling is it just continues the circle, and the younger player will want to stay involved in the game."