Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadian tour only going up

Affiliation with PGA Tour means better players, Finchem says

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Rebranding the former Canadian Professional Tour will be more than a new name and new people holding the clipboards and walkie-talkies this July at The Players Cup at Pine Ridge.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem told a small group of Canadian reporters by phone on Friday that the new look of PGA Tour Canada will quickly become centred on an even better level of competition than a pretty good one that has been crossing the country in organized form since the 1980s.

In taking over the Canadian circuit, the PGA Tour has put in place a defined structure whereby top players from PGA Tour Canada advance to the Web.com Tour, which is now the only main qualifying avenue for the PGA Tour itself.

"Our assumptions are that given the specific road... that in and of itself is going to create more interest and a real focus for potential (PGA Tour) players on playing in these tournaments," Finchem said as PGA Tour Canada gets ready for its first official event of the season next week in Victoria. "Given the new focus of the tour as part of the roadway, we anticipate that what has been traditionally strong competition will be even more enhanced and as these players going forward make their way onto the PGA Tour and some of them become successful, that will create more interest and more support in the Canadian markets as well."

Already the PGA Tour is having impact with PGA Tour Canada.

It has forged a partnership with the NHL's Winnipeg Jets charity arm to be a partner and beneficiary at The Players Cup for the next three years; it has convinced a previously standoffish Golf Canada to step in and actually run the season-ending PGA Tour Canada tour championship; and it received more than 340 entries for the spring Q-school when 100 used to be a decent showing.

New PGA Tour Canada president Jeff Monday reiterated on Friday that heightened standards of presentation and player involvement in the communities of this year's nine tournaments will be priorities.

"The staging, infrastructure and look and feel of the tournament is another area we're providing a lot of focus and attention to," Monday said.

Finchem said that fostering the creation of more top-level players has to be a priority, including for Canada.

"That creates more balanced competition, which translates into more interest," he said. "The biggest single factor in the last five years on the PGA Tour has been the tremendous upsurge in the ability of young players to come on and win and challenge the veterans. It's created another level of excitement for the fans and for our television audiences."

Finchem confirmed on Friday that PGA Tour Canada has some conversations going about gaining a national sponsor north of the border.

For decades, the Canadian Tour searched for its own national sponsor but never found one. With the PGA Tour's resources now behind it, PGA Tour Canada likely doesn't need an umbrella or national sponsor to survive.

"You want a sponsor that has the ability, the inclination, the market focus to be engaged across the spectrum of the tour in the various markets," he said. "Not every company fits that bill. So we're taking our time. It's not a prerequisite for this tour being successful but we think that it would bring more energy, more support and more focus to the growth of (what we're doing)."

Looking beyond its first season in 2013, PGA Tour Canada is not backing away from the bar at 12-13 events across the country, up from this year's nine.

Finchem, however, waffled on the need to be in some major markets that don't currently have events, like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, though the province of Quebec is certainly one priority destination.

"Just like the Web.com Tour, it will take its course," Finchem said. "We're going to put resources and energy behind it but over time it will evolve.

"You can't build stature and fan support and media attention overnight. You have to have history, and I keep coming back to this, as players come off this tour -- as that develops, when they come onto the PGA Tour, then, as has happened on the Web.com Tour, where there are such a high percentage of players on the PGA Tour who have played there, that gradually works its way into player attitudes, what they say about the tour and it all feeds on itself. That's where we start to get the momentum.

"There are a lot of pieces and I think we're off to a good start."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2013 C6

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