The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Women's Open looking for new title sponsor after CN modifies sponsorship plans

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CN's departure as title sponsor of the Canadian Women's Open does not put the future of the tournament in jeopardy, says Golf Canada's CEO.

"Obviously, that is a promise that I can't guarantee," Scott Simmons, also the organization's executive-director, told The Canadian Press in an interview Monday.

"But with the success of the event over the last eight years (under CN's sponsorship) and the way it's grown, I think it is probably one of the most desirable properties with a lot of companies in Canada where golf is a good fit with their corporate objectives.

"We think we know who those companies are, and we are going to start talking to them immediately."

Golf Canada and CN announced the railway is modifying its sponsorship this year and will give up its position as title sponsor after the 2013 season. Simmons said Golf Canada has known of CN's pending move for several months.

CN and the LPGA Tour will assist Golf Canada in the search for a replacement title sponsor for the Women's Open as well as the Canadian Women's Tour.

"I think you've got an asset and a brand and a goodwill that a lot of Canadian companies will covet," said Simmons. "Now, we don't have a replacement for CN as of this moment, but now that the news is public, we'll aggressively begin to search for a replacement."

Golf Canada will look to the LPGA for help in lining up large U.S. companies that operate in Canada.

CN plans to continue its title sponsorship of CN Future Links — Canada's national junior golf program — and expand it as part of the railway's transitioned support of Canadian youth and grassroots golf. Simmons said the search for another title sponsor had to wait to until CN's new three-year sponsorship agreement, which will run until 2016, was finalized.

"We've had some very quiet conversations prior to the announcement," said Simmons. "But now that (the need for a new title sponsor) is public, we can be much more aggressive in our search."

Simmons said he's confident Golf Canada will unveil a new title sponsor before this year's national women's championship. The 2013 CN Canadian Women's Open will take place Aug. 22-25 at The Royal Mayfair Golf Club in Edmonton. Simmons said the tournament's $2-million purse will remain the same.

"The event this August in Edmonton will be as big and bold as the previous seven events have been that CN has been title (sponsor) of," he said. "If you're wondering if they're going to dial it down and decrease their investment this year because it's their last, no, that's definitely not the case."

This will be CN's eighth year as title sponsor of the Canadian Women's Open. Simmons said the 2012 tournament in suburban Vancouver drew 65,000-70,000 people, but declined to disclose revenues or sponsorship amounts. Simmons said he expects similar numbers this year after Edmonton's Royal Mayfair club drew strong support in 2007.

The Canadian Women's Open does not qualify as an LPGA major, but Simmons said the non-major status has not hurt sponsorship in the past, and he does not expect that it will in the future.

The tournament attracts the top 50 women's golfers in the world annually. Simmons believes the strong support from golfers will continue.

"I can guarantee that the field at this year's event will be as strong as past events, as will the corporate support and spectator support," he said.

The Golf Canada CEO said CN has greatly expanded its financial support for youth golf programs.

"Getting children into golf is my personal No. 1 mandate in my role, and CN's support has certainly made that job a lot easier," said Simmons.

CN president and CEO Claude Mongeau told reporters on a conference call he had mixed emotions about the company's revised sponsorship arrangement.

"We are passing the torch in terms of the main sponsorship, but we're staying associated with Golf Canada. ... We see a tremendous opportunity to help Golf Canada in its broader mandate to raise awareness and make this great sport an asset for youth and for Canada," said Mongeau.

The tournament's lack of major status had no bearing on the firm's decision, he added.

"(The end of title sponsorship) is more in the context that eight years is a long journey," said Mongeau.

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