Pandemic's worth of positive Canadian golf momentum coalesces at CP Women's Open

The CP Women's Open returns for the first time since 2019 at Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club on Thursday. It’s a spot where three years of patience, coupled with a renewed interest in golf, will all be released.

Renewed interest in sport coupled with star Brooke Henderson meet in Ottawa

Canada's Brooke Henderson, seen above at the Women's British Open, will be the fan favourite at the CP Women's Open in Ottawa. (Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

For the most part, everything feels normal at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club — this year's host of the CP Women's Open.

But then you walk by a volunteer dressed as a referee, and then you walk by two more, and eventually there's the 17th tee box, surrounded by hockey boards.

"The Rink" is a new addition to the tournament, an idea taken from the men's Canadian Open to bring that Canadian edge to a sport sometimes lacking in that department.

Fans surrounding the hole are meant to be boisterous and players are meant to have fun. Canadian superstar Brooke Henderson said she plans on wearing an Ottawa Senators jersey on 17.

It's a spot where three years of patience, coupled with a renewed interest in golf, will all be released.

Canada's yearly LPGA tournament returns for the first time since 2019 on Thursday.

But while the pandemic forced the event to temporarily disappear, it also breathed new life into the sport. At the same time, Henderson continued her march to the top of the Canadian golf ranks.

The 24-year-old headlines a strong field, which includes 18 of the LPGA's top 20 players, all five of the year's major winners and defending champion Jin-young Ko, the world's current No. 1.

The crowd, though, will be firmly with the Canadian who took the trophy in 2018 in Regina.

"It's a lot of adrenaline and a lot of energy. And I feel like when you're playing well, you can really ride that. So that's kind of the goal this week is to try to make some birdies, be aggressive and ride the energy of the crowd," Henderson said Tuesday.

Besides Henderson, 17 other Canadians set to compete span generations, from four-time Tour winner Lorie Kane in her 30th and final CP Women's Open to U.S. Women's Amateur Open finalist and tournament rookie Monet Chun.

WATCH | Henderson ready for CP Women's Open:

Rejuvenated Brooke Henderson returns home for CP Women's Open

3 months ago
Duration 2:17
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls Ont., fresh off her 2nd major victory, looks to win the national championship for a 2nd time.

'Bigger and bolder'

Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum said it all adds up to a historically large undertaking, from partners to grandstands to hospitality.

He said there was about a 50 per cent increase in ticket sales from 2019, when Henderson played in Sunday's final pairing.

"It'll feel bigger and bolder. And it will just have that excitement," he said.

The pandemic opened the door for the socially distanced sport of golf. If you play, you felt it — the struggle to book a tee time and slow pace were consequences of increased participation while tightly clustered indoor sports like hockey remained untenable.

Applebaum said about half a million Canadians returned to golf during the pandemic, in addition to 170,000 new golfers. Of the returnees, he said about two-thirds were women.

Golf Canada chief marketing officer Lisa Ferkul said that growth was a main reason she joined the organization around five months ago.

"We're so focused on high performance and [the] growing participation and excellence in the sport that Canada is feeling and women are a big part of that," Ferkul said.

Henderson the fan favourite

The Henderson hype might be at a crescendo, too.

In June, the 24-year-old won her 11th LPGA title, making her the winningest Canadian golfer ever. In July, she triumphed at the Evian Championship to become the first Canadian with multiple majors — she won her first at 18 years old at the Women's PGA Championship in 2016.

Now, the CP Women's Open is set to take place about an hour north of her hometown of Smiths Falls, Ont.

Ferkul called it "a marketer's dream."

"If you can see it, you can be it. And Brooke is that for young female golfers," she said. "With her two majors now, she's coined, you know, the best Canadian golfer of all time. And I think Canada is really, really on the map now."

WATCH | Henderson claims Evian Championship for 2nd career major:

Henderson wins Evian Championship to collect her 2nd-career major

4 months ago
Duration 3:24
Smiths Falls, Ontario native Brooke Henderson battled back from a rough start on Sunday to win in France by one stroke.

Before Henderson there was Kane, the 57-year-old trailblazer. Kane debuted at this tournament in 1991 and has played in every edition since.

The Charlottetown native finally broke through with an electric six-month run across 2000 and 2001, which included all four of her wins.

"Lorie is a household name for Canadian sports fans and for Canadian golf fans. They feel like they've got a personal relationship with Lorie," Applebaum said. "She's left a legacy, which is something that we're very, very lucky to have seen and she should be very proud."

Next generation on the rise

That legacy has been on full display since Henderson won the Evian. A week later, Quebec's Maude-Aimée LeBlanc contended through four days of the Scottish Open, eventually finishing in a tie for eighth. Then, Henderson secured a personal-best tie for seventh at the final major of the year, the Women's British Open. Not long after, the 21-year-old Chun made her run to the final at the U.S. Women's Amateur — a marquee event in its own right.

Last weekend, a 14-year-old Albertan girl posted a remarkable two holes-in-one at her club championship in Canmore. And on Monday, 12-year-old Lucy Lin of Vancouver won her way into the CP Women's Open through the final qualifier. She'll become the youngest player ever to tee it up at this tournament.

"It's just a really special and unique time to be part of golf in this country right now," Ferkul said.

Even mother nature couldn't stand in the way again. The Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club was initially slated to host in 2021 (Shaugnessy, B.C., was the scheduled host in 2020 but was moved to 2023) when the pandemic forced postponement.

Then, in May, a storm hit the course which knocked down over 1,000 trees. Initially, it looked like yet another fatal blow. Instead, many club members immediately stepped up to help clean the debris, and 16 days later, golf returned.

The course isn't expected to play too differently from when it last hosted in 2017, when Henderson needed a birdie on Friday just to make the cut before setting the course record on Saturday.

"It's tricky and you can run into trouble. But at the same time, if you're hitting fairways and hitting up to the right portions of the greens, you can make a lot of birdies," she said.

A purse of $2.35 million US is up for grabs at the 156-player tournament, with the winner taking home $352,500.