Canadian Open regains status as premier event on PGA Tour


Rory McIlroy laughs as he puts on a Toronto Raptors jersey during the trophy presentation at the Canadian Open golf championship. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

ANCASTER, Ont. – In a grey suit and a white shirt, unbuttoned on top, Laurence Applebaum told assembled media at the RBC Canadian Open that the 2019 edition of the tournament had broken a handful of records this week, including one of the most important.

“The always-important number of beer sales is up about 200 percent over last year,” said Applebaum with a smile.

It’s just the kind of week it’s been at the 2019 Canadian Open. The hype machine surrounding the event leading into the week was in overdrive, but it delivered.

The new date paid off in terms of strength-of-field – it was the best, in terms of an actual measured statistic, in 15 years – and Rory McIlroy captured his 16th PGA Tour title Sunday in dominating fashion. He won by seven shots and had a chance to shoot 59 to do it in style.

“I don’t know what kind of golf Rory is playing today,” said Shane Lowry, who finished tied for second – seven shots back, “but it was just incredible.”

McIlroy was part of the big pre-tournament wave of announcements for this year’s Canadian Open that included a new date for the event, an increased purse, and two concerts as part of the week-long experience. Everything delivered.

“The date for the last few years just killed this event,” said McIlroy. “Crossing five time zones after a major championship… it’s just tough to get guys to come and play. I know I like to take the week off after a major championship.

“This date change is going to work wonders for this event. I would tell anyone that I met that I had a wonderful time and a great experience here.”

Bryan Crawford, who previously played in the CFL and most recently was an executive with Basketball Canada, was in his first year as the tournament director. He lives just a few minutes from the golf course and said it better have been a good start to his tenure.

“It had to be great or they would run me out of town,” he said, only half-joking.

Crawford, it seems, has nothing to worry about.

McIlroy won – and said after his win he’d be back in 2020 to defend – and the purse and the date change brought four of the top six golfers in the world (Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Justin Thomas were the others besides McIlroy). The concerts pushed ticket sales to more than 25,000 on both days.

“We started out by looking at the best events across our country, and not just sports events, but music events and odds festivals. What do they have in common that make them spectacular? That’s the type of ballpark that we’re not aiming to play in, we will play in and be a leader in as we move forward,” Crawford said.

Applebaum said he was most surprised at the buzz the tournament had generated on the property. There was just so much happening. The chats of ‘Lets Go Raptors’ could be heard across the golf course for four-straight days – and perhaps that had something to do with the energy. A video of the chant on Saturday afternoon posted by the PGA Tour went viral, and now has more than 820,000 views on Twitter – and even McIlroy got in on the action, saying he feels the Raptors will win their first NBA Championship in five games Monday night.

But while “buzz” is a nice catchall term, hard numbers paint a picture of legitimacy.

While they were still going through the final details from Sunday, Applebaum said Golf Canada’s chief financial officer provided him with the following: Attendance was up 65 percent over 2018, regular ticket sales were up 300 percent over 2018, they had 1,800 volunteers (300 more than the previous high) and sales of hospitality was up nearly 200 percent over 2018 – not to mention the beer.

“I can categorically say that (this) RBC Canadian Open will be a record year,” Applebaum said.

While McIlroy is already looking ahead to defending his title in 2020, planning has been underway for approximately six months for what next year’s event will look like at St. George’s.

The City of Toronto will be a major player since school will still be in session and tournament organizers have had to close a major Toronto road – and adjust public transit schedules – but so far, so good, said Applebaum.

The venues for 2021 and 2022, however, remain question marks.

The Canadian Open will return to Hamilton in 2023 and St. George’s in 2024. It’s been made clear that the tournament will not be leaving the Greater Toronto Area moving forward and there are options – TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley was just brought under the TPC umbrella, a chain of public and private golf courses operated by the PGA Tour and has 54 holes just north of the city, for example – and the announcements will be coming soon.

“Our goal is to have these sites done by the end of the year certainly for ’21 first and ’22 shortly thereafter,” said Applebaum. “We know every month that goes by will be better for the event.

“So we just know that is a focus. That’s probably the next big thing for us to really nail.“

But, enough about the future: in the midst of a historic Toronto sports run and the Stanley Cup final, the Canadian Open was the biggest sporting event in the Greater Toronto Area this weekend.

The strongest field in recent memory was topped by the biggest name – a Canadian winner could have only beat McIlroy in terms of story-of-the-week.

The sold-out concerts on Friday and Saturday night brought tens of thousands of people – to a golf course.

Mother Nature cooperated fully, completely.

There was a fresh energy to Canada’s lone PGA Tour stop, and the numbers don’t lie – it was the most successful event in years, maybe ever.

The Canadian Open regained its status as a premier event on the PGA Tour this week, for all the right reasons.

“Now that we’ve seen the success of this tournament be exactly what we hoped it would be,” said Mary DePaoli, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at RBC, “how do we make this bigger?”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.