RBC Canadian Open makes long-awaited return

By: PGA Staff

The population of Toronto is higher than that of Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. In fact, Toronto is the fourth-most populous city in the whole of North America.

And its mayor, John Tory, is a big fan of golf.

Count Tory as just one person who is thrilled to see the RBC Canadian Open return to the PGA TOUR schedule after a two-season hiatus due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big event,” Tory, who has been Toronto’s mayor since 2014, told PGATOUR.com. “It creates a lot of activity in the city for people to come and visit… and it’s just one more sign of a return to more normal life after a dismal period during the pandemic.”

The RBC Canadian Open is the only North American event on the TOUR’s schedule not to have been contested in both 2020 and 2021. The membership of St. George’s Golf and Country Club voted in favor of keeping the event at its course after the cancellation of 2020 and again in 2021, and the championship will return to the club – 11 miles from the CN Tower – for the sixth time.

In his Canadian Open debut, Rory McIlroy shot a 9-under 61 to win the 2019 Canadian Open by seven shots. The crowd was abuzz. McIlroy was the most notable entrant in that year’s field, and the Toronto Raptors were in the midst of their NBA Championship run.

So how do tournament organizers top that effort?

By going as big as possible.

“You take the bad and make the best out of it,” said Tournament Director Bryan Crawford. “When it was time to come back, we were going to come back in a big way, and that’s what is about to happen.”

John Sibley, Golf Canada’s Chief Commercial Officer, called this year’s Canadian Open the “largest operational undertaking” in the organization’s history. There will be approximately 210,000 square feet of hospitality – 92,000 more than at Hamilton Golf and Country Club three years ago.

The Rink will also make its return. It’s a somewhat Canadian cliché, but the par-3 16th hole will have hockey boards set up around it along with hospitality suites dubbed “penalty boxes.” But even Corey Conners, Canada’s top-ranked male golfer, enjoys The Rink’s buzz. He says he plans on giving away “a jersey or two” during tournament week.

“The atmosphere is really cool,” said Conners. “It’s something new and a little extra special about the event and hopefully we can hit some good shots.”

RBC Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Mary DePaoli has had a hard time containing her excitement with the return of the bank’s home-country event. RBC and AT&T are the only title sponsors on the TOUR schedule that operate two separate tournaments.

DePaoli said her team has learned a lot from operating the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head the last two years and is keen to put some of those lessons into practice at St. George’s. She said she’s excited for the support from the hometown fans, as well as PGA TOUR commissioner Jay Monahan and PGA TOUR Chief Tournaments & Competitions Officer Andy Pazder.

“They cannot wait to see this tournament come back online and mark the return of it back to Canada,” DePaoli said. “They know from their players there is a lot of enthusiasm for this tournament. They’re very proud of this tournament.”

Golf in Canada, despite its shortened season, has experienced a boom similar to most cities in North America. Between the pent-up excitement for the event and golf’s never-before-seen popularity, it should be a thrilling week for Canadian fans.

 It’s also shaping up to be an excellent field.

McIlroy returns to defend his title from 2019. FedExCup leader Scottie Scheffler also will be there, as will PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, and PLAYERS champion Cam Smith.

There’s also a plethora of Canadians looking to win their national championship; there hasn’t been a homegrown winner since Pat Fletcher in 1954. Led by Conners and buoyed by fellow Presidents Cup hopefuls Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Hadwin, the Canadian contingent is strong. In fact, this could be the best year in recent memory for Canadian hopefuls.

Hadwin was low Canadian in 2019, finishing sixth at Hamilton. Mackenzie Hughes finished T14. Four Canadians made the cut.

“It’s a really special week for me… it’s right up there with the majors on my schedule,” said Conners. “I’m looking forward to trying to get myself in contention and I know it’ll be a great event. I’ve been telling lots of people: The Canadian fans are sure going to be excited that the PGA TOUR is coming back north of the border.”

Even the mayor thinks someone from the Canadian contingent has a good shot this year at St. George’s. Tory, 67, remembers George Knudson and Moe Norman and Mike Weir, but their successes came as singular stars. Now, he said, Canada has strength in numbers.

“I’m very proud of that as a golfer and as a Canadian,” he said. “We still have that one elusive victory – to have a Canadian win the Canadian Open. But given the performance of some of our players on the TOUR, this may well be the time that happens and that would be a wonderful thing.”

The mere return of the RBC Canadian Open itself is already a wonderful thing.