Reed on Sports: Highland, Mackenzie Tour, Canada Life look beyond 2020

The seventh edition of the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada’s season-ending championship — now known as the Canada Life Championship — tees off today at London’s Highland Country Club.

Paul Barjon, who won the 2016 championship at Highland, returns to the tournament in London for a third time this weekend. Heading into the event, Barjon leads the tour’s Order of Merit based on money earned. (JEFFREY REED photo)

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The seventh edition of the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada’s season-ending championship — now known as the Canada Life Championship — tees off today at London’s Highland Country Club.

As is the nature of sports, many are already wondering what the future holds for the Mackenzie Tour’s flagship event. Even before a new champion is crowned on Sunday and the top five finishers on the tour’s Order of Merit are awarded full status on the Korn Ferry Tour, local golf fans wondered aloud if the tournament would call Highland home after its hosting duties expire in 2020.

Think that’s unfair? Consider that just minutes after Mississauga’s Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a tennis grand slam title at last weekend’s U.S. Open, former champion turned TV analyst Chis Evert quipped that the 19-year-old would win more titles in the near future.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a teenager, but that’s professional sports. And considering attendance at the Canada Life Championship has been dismal during its six-year stay in London — the last four years at Highland — those wondering about the tournament’s future in London have a right to do so.

But anyone who truly understands professional golf knows that you can’t judge the success of a golf tournament by the size of its gallery. If that were the case, even some events on the LPGA Tour would be considered flops.

The 2006 CN Canadian Women’s Open at London Hunt and Country Club attracted 65,000 fans, but just eight years later at London Hunt the 2014 CP Women’s Open saw only 16,500 fans watch the best women golfers in the world. Yet the 2014 tournament was still a huge success in the eyes of those who attended, plus it raised money for Children’s Hospital and raised awareness of the Golf in Schools program.

Since 2013, the Canada Life Championship has raised more than $172,000 for various charities in the London area with Childcan becoming the official charity in 2018. It returns as official charity this year after receiving $40,000 from Highland last September. Childcan raises funds to provide responsive and compassionate support services to families facing childhood cancer — from diagnosis, through treatment, to recovery or bereavement.

“Highland has done an amazing job with engaging with other private – and public – facilities in the region, not only helping grow awareness of the event, but also awareness of Childcan. So from my perspective, it has been a great partnership (with Highland),” said Mackenzie Tour vice president Scott Pritchard.

“But we’d love to have a lot of people there, and we’re doing our best. As it is with the Korn Ferry Tour and other tours that struggle with attendance, we keep trying to grow through word of mouth. And we like to think that with this being our flagship event, we’re doing a good job.”

Contracts binding the Mackenzie Tour, title sponsor Mackenzie Investments, host club Highland and tournament title sponsor Canada Life all expire after the 2020 event. Pritchard said contract talk would not resume until after this year’s tournament.

But with corporate hospitality sold out, pro-am numbers up, a Million Dollar Shootout on Saturday giving local golfers a chance to win a European cruise and a million bucks, and with Childcan again the official charity — not to mention world-class golf on the tee — this tournament is nothing but a success.

All parties — the host club, the tour and Canada Life — say they are invested in keeping the tournament at Highland.

It says here that despite low attendance, that would be the smart move.


IF YOU GO

What: 2019 Canada Life Championship

When: Sept. 12-15

Where: Highland Country Club

Cost: Free

More info:canadalifechampionship.com

Jeffrey Reed is a freelance writer and publisher/editor of LondonOntarioSports.com and LondonOntarioGolf.com.

jeff@londonontariosports.com

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