WINNIPEG -- With no upper-deck distance or the barrier of arena glass to deal with, fans had an up-close experience with local hockey stars at Pine Ridge Golf Club this morning.
The autograph ink was flowing and the shutters were clicking as the Free Press Rumble at the Ridge, the Canadian Tour's celebrity pro-am that's part of Players Cup week in Winnipeg, took to the Donald Ross design this morning in perfect windless conditions.
The two teams of nine foursomes are under the leadership of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and former Boston Bruins defenceman Shane Hnidy.
Among the members of Team Hnidy are Winnipeg Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian, who received a strong ovation at the first tee.
After a first season in Winnipeg, the Massena, N.Y., native said the impressions are lasting.
"A lot of family and friends at home ask me what it was like," the defenceman said. "It's kind of hard to explain without actually experiencing it. It was one hell of a year for the city and being part of that first year back. It means a lot to me and the guys on the team."
Toews and Hnidy, meanwhile, were well-engaged with the ribbing.
Do they have a side bet on today's result?
"Have you seen his salary?" Hnidy deadpanned. "He makes more in a shift than I did in a year."
The hockey stars playing also include New York Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic, Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues, former Manitoba Moose captain Nolan Baumgartner.
They're teamed with Canadian Tour professionals, including three tournament winners this year Matt Hill, Cory Renfrew and Mike Gligic.
"Perfect day but I just kind of feel bad for the pro guys," Toews said. "They have to wear pants all day. I don't know how they do it."
The teams will play a shamble format today, taking best drives on each hole and playing from there. Each team then counts its two best balls and the total scores of the nine groups on each side will be tallied to determine the winner of 2012 bragging rights.
The serious business of the Players Cup gets underway Thursday and runs until Sunday.