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Trying a NEW GRIP

Canadian Tour to be run by PGA Tour next year

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The end of a golf era is upon us next week at the Canadian Tour's Players Cup at Pine Ridge.

It's unlikely you'll notice.

The old Donald Ross design will again be cut just so and its masterful greens, as good a defence as you'll find for a course anywhere, figure to be at the maximum speed permissible for sloped surfaces.

The volunteer army that contributes so much to putting on a professional event year after year will be at it again. Year after year -- the Canadian Tour event has been at the Ridge continuously since 2000 -- the championship is as close to an elite machine as the tour has.

And once again, the Canadian Tour brings an elite field to Winnipeg. It has generally been good over all of the tour's years here but since the championship was rebranded in 2008 complete with Canadian Open perks (more on that in a bit) the small list of good players who have skipped over Manitoba has dwindled considerably.

So why is this an end, you might ask?

The 2012 Players Cup is almost certainly going to be the last championship conducted here under the current form of the Canadian Tour.

Before the end of the month, it's widely expected that the PGA Tour is going to exercise its option to take control of Canada's professional circuit. The story is a bit convoluted, but here's the Readers Digest version.

Over a very long period of time, the Canadian Tour's schedule has ebbed and flowed, at one time reaching nearly 20 events. In 2012, it is but nine tournaments.

Over that same time, the tour has never, ever been able to land a title or brand sponsor. It was always a difficult sell, a development tour in a country with a largely restricted golf season.

Recent years have proven even more difficult for the tour, as hard economic times have seen sponsors and tournaments fall away. Consider this -- that as of today, none of Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal have regular Canadian Tour tournaments.

The tour, which is principally its member players, has not gone without effort to make things better or enhance its brand. Other than being a little twitchy on the trigger with commissioners, it has tried numerous formats and business approaches.

The seeds of what's about to happen with the tour and the Players Cup began early in 2011, when a shrinking schedule was kept from players until the early year qualifying school was over. Purses were also shrinking and the business of the tour was facing a cash crisis, to the point where many courses and tournament operators were not paid on time for their products or services.

The Players Cup and Pine Ridge were included on that list, and with a deficit that's been reported as high as $800,000 for the season, the Canadian Tour and current commissioner Rick Janes decided to cash in a chip they had been cultivating and enhancing for years.

That is, their relationship with the PGA Tour.

With a financial rescue called simply an extension of a line of credit to pay bills, the PGA Tour bought itself a year's option to bring the Canadian body into the fold.

It was not slam-dunk decision, however. Plenty of study and a wealth of research and information has been compiled -- due diligence, they call it -- including PGA Tour officials in and around Winnipeg in the coming days to observe and assess.

All signs point to going forward, and for the future, the PGA Tour of Canada (or whatever it will be called) will be brought in to join the PGA Tour Latinoamerica (started this year) as another official level of development tour to feed the Web.com Tour.

The Web.com, which was known as the Nationwide Tour until just a few weeks ago, is the main feeder for the PGA Tour and you can expect to see formulas and exemptions for graduating up the ladder, including to the annual qualifying school.

What other forms and arrangements will debut in Canada in 2013 are unknown, things like where headquarters will be, who will be in charge and what changes operationally will take place at tournaments. One even supposes that future markets are not guaranteed, so Winnipeg, with a potential world-weed-welcome, might not be considered a perfect golf stop.

On the other hand, it will likely work in the region's favour that it has hosted a Canadian Tour event in consecutive years longer than any other community in the country, all the way back to and even before the Canadian Tour's re-organization in the 1980s. The Manitoba Open back through those ground-floor years and beyond was always a jewel in the coast-to-coast domestic schedule.

The one safe bet is that into the indefinite future, the purse strings are likely to be controlled by HQ at Ponte Vedra, Fla. The change in direction, if not "ownership," probably comes at a good time.

The Players Cup, for example, has seen its purse shaved in half in the last two years, from $300,000 to this year's $150,000.

The tournament, and generally the tour itself, has also had to deal with an attack from Golf Canada in 2012. The former Royal Canadian Golf Association has chopped the Canadian Tour's number of exemptions to the RBC Canadian Open from six to two this year, meaning for the first time in five years, the Players Cup winner will not receive an automatic invite to our national championship.

Golf Canada/the RCGA has no shortage of excuses for the reduction. Over the years, at least from the outside looking in, it has never treated the Canadian Tour with much regard or respect. Once the Canadian Open and Canadian Tour belong to the same PGA Tour family, hopefully that will change.

Ahead, the lifeline for the Canadian Tour, to become an official development level of the PGA Tour is a valuable chance to become associated with one of the biggest, most influential brands in the sporting world.

And the good news is, as the Players Cup will again demonstrate next week, you don't have to start from scratch.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Kings of Pine Ridge

A quick recap of Canadian Tour champions in Manitoba since the Canadian Tour reorganized its event here in 1998.

1998 MTS Classic: Perry Parker. The Californian won a total of five CanTour events and participated in three U.S. Opens and 14 PGA Tour Q-schools in his career. Parker continues to play professionally and also works as teaching pro and motivational speaker from his California base. He surged past Brian Mogg and Don Fardon with a 69 Sunday at Elmhurst to win the title.

1999 MTS Classic: Neale Smith. The Aussie scored his only CanTour win by three shots over Arden Knoll at Elmhurst. Smith, who played the PGA Tour in 1993, hasn't played the CanTour since 2005. He's currently a performance enhancement consultant in California.

2000 MTS Classic: Ben Ferguson. In the tour's return to Pine Ridge, Ferguson, another Aussie, shot 17-under and won by three over 1996 champ Rob McMillan and Mark Brown of New Zealand. Ferguson is now based out of Ancaster, Ont., and is still playing competitively.

2001 MTS Classic: Ken Staton. A pair of weekend 64s gave Staton a one-shot win over Mark Slawter, who shot 62 on Sunday. The Daytona Beach. Fla., native won five times on the CanTour, played two seasons on the PGA Tour and is now the head men's golf coach at Embry-Riddle University in his hometown.

2002 MTS Classic: Alex Quiroz. The native of Monterrey, Mexico came from five behind with a Sunday 66 for his only CanTour win. Three-time Mexican Amateur champ has also played four times for Mexico professionally at the World Cup.

2003 MTS Classic: Jon Mills. The Oshawa, Ont. native scored his only CanTour victory in a windy finish on Sunday, winning by three while playing in the final pairing with McMillan. Mills has won twice on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour and is a member of that circuit again in 2012.

2004 MTS Classic: Erik Compton. The Floridian shot 69 on Sunday to edge Brantford, Ont.'s David Hearn by a shot. Most known for heart transplants in 1992 and 2008, Compton is a member of the PGA Tour this season.

2005 MTS Classic: Lee Williamson. The native of Winter Garden, Fla., bested Jaime Gomez by a single shot to win with an eight-under total. The former Purdue standout won three times on the CanTour, played the Nationwide Tour and was recently named head golf instructor at Legends Golf and Country Club in Clermont, Fla.

2006 MTS Classic: Josh Habig. The San Diego native shot 63 on the final day wearing his now-famous mustard pants to win by two over Darren Griff. Didn't miss a single CanTour cut in 2011 and finished third at Pine Ridge. Is in the field next week.

2007 Free Press Manitoba Classic: Mike Mezei. With a final-day 68, the Lethbridge, Alta., native edged Derek Gillespie by a single shot. It's the only CanTour victory to date for the former Canadian Junior champ, who will be in the field next week.

2008 Players Cup: Wes Heffernan. The Calgary native edged Dustin Risdon and John Ellis by a single shot with a 66 on the final day. A three-time CanTour winner, Heffernan has played twice in the World Cup. He made the cut at last year's U.S. Open and is in the field next week at Pine Ridge.

2009 Players Cup: Graham DeLaet. A weekend of 66-69 did the trick for the native of Weyburn, Sask., edging Dauphin's Ryan Horn, Byron Smith and Lucas Lee by a single shot. DeLaet won twice that year and went on to qualify for the 2010 PGA Tour, where he's still playing.

2010 Players Cup: Aaron Goldberg. Goldberg shot a Sunday 66, holding off Canadian veteran Jim Rutledge, who also shot 66, by one stroke. The Carlsbad, Calif., native is currently a member of the Web.com Tour.

2011 Players Cup: Tom Hoge. The Fargo native earned his invite to the tournament through the Monday qualifier, then he proceeded to shoot 66-67-69-66 to win by two over Benjamin Alvarado. Is a member of the Web.com Tour this year, so won't be defending next week at Pine Ridge.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 $sourceSection0

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