Golfers react to Canadian Open cancellation: ‘Sad for golf in Canada’

At 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, around 30 golfers and other stakeholders were on a Zoom call to hear the news from tournament organizers that the 2020 RBC Canadian Open had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The official announcement from the PGA Tour came 21 hours later: the lone event on the tour’s schedule to take place in Canada would not be played for the first time since a wartime cancellation in 1944.

Representatives from RBC and Golf Canada shared with those on the call, which lasted exactly 30 minutes, the rationale for why the event, set for June 11-14, was being removed from the revised PGA Tour schedule.

The two conflicting emotions as relayed by participants were of disappointment and acceptance.

While the Canadian Open is a jewel of the sporting events in this country – this was the 116th year it was to be contested – everyone knew there’s something more important to deal with than the scheduling of a golf tournament.

“It’s disappointing but there are a lot bigger things in the world that people need to be worried about. I know that they have made the right decision,” said David Hearn. “It’s just absolutely the wrong time to prepare for an event like that in Canada.”

It was becoming glaringly obvious the Canadian Open would not be going ahead as planned for 2020 when Toronto Mayor John Tory recently announced the city would be cancelling permits for all public gatherings up until June 30. This year’s Canadian Open was to be hosted at St. George’s Golf and Country Club (with Islington Golf Club providing the practice facility) in Etobicoke. A permit was needed to close down part of Islington Avenue and also to re-route the Toronto Transit Commission around the closure.

Hearn is part of the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council, and he said although there was a small part of him that wanted to lobby for the Canadian Open to be on the revised schedule, he knew that the issues facing the tournament – including travel bans and isolation periods for border-crossers – were bigger than golf.

“No matter what your opinion might be – whether you want the event to happen or not – there are decisions way out of our control, and for obvious reasons,” he said.

“As much as you want the Canadian Open to happen and as much you want to lobby for it there’s nothing you can do.”

Mary DePaoli, the chief marketing officer and executive vice president at RBC, told Sportsnet on Thursday that it was a “bittersweet day.” The bank is also the title sponsor of the RBC Heritage – an event that was originally postponed (it was to take place this week, April 16-19) but was added back to the new PGA Tour schedule, now on for June 18-21.

“In a perfect world both tournaments would be proceeding,” DePaoli said. “It’s really a balance between, ‘We all want the world to return to a state of normalcy in our lives and community’ but also ‘We need to also proceed with logic and caution.’ We would not feel good about the execution of the tournament that put anyone at risk.

“The RBC Heritage… it won’t be the same as it has been in other years, but it’s the second-best thing as we look at an alternative format.”

DePaoli said there were discussions “several weeks ago” with the PGA Tour about the opportunity to move the Heritage to a new point on the schedule.

As far as the 2021 Canadian Open is concerned, there wasn’t yet been a host course announced but discussions are ongoing to host the event at St. George’s and Islington again.

Jason Clarke, the chief operating officer at the storied club – set to also host the Canadian Open in 2024 – provided a statement to Sportsnet that said the club is continuing to consult with its membership for a possible return in 2021.

Of course, the return will be dependent on the state of the world a year from now.

“We are going to remain flexible and follow the guidance of the experts,” DePaoli said.

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Meanwhile, Hearn’s fellow pros have expressed various feelings with Thursday’s announcement.

Corey Conners is the country’s second-highest ranked golfer in the world. He said with the way things had been going, tournament organizers really had no choice but to cancel the event.

“You could work really hard at scheduling it at a different time but with so many unknowns it’s tough to be certain that anything can happen,” he said.

Conners’ university teammate, Mackenzie Hughes, said he was thinking about the fans who were missing out on seeing some of the best players in the world take on St. George’s – long ranked as one of the top-five courses in the country – and the staff at Golf Canada who put in so much time to put on a national championship.

Still, Hughes said he had accepted the tournament was going to be cancelled a few weeks ago when it was announced the U.S. Open – originally scheduled for the week after the Canadian Open – was going to be delayed until the fall.

There wasn’t much hope, Hughes said, that another PGA Tour event could take place in another country the week prior. Hughes, who had finished as low Canadian two of the last three years, said he’d miss the atmosphere of the tournament the most.

“It’s our fifth major,” he said. “It’s a really fun week for us because for a week we have that feeling like we’re the top players in the world and the eyes are on us.”

Roger Sloan, who was 183rd on the FedEx Cup standings prior to the PGA Tour’s break and would have loved a solid result to keep his card for next season, classified the loss of the Canadian Open as “devastating.”

He said it wasn’t shocking, though, as the writing was on the wall with the cancellation of the Rogers Cup and the Canadian Grand Prix.

“It’s one of the longest-run opens in the history of the game and to not have it is sad for golf and it’s sad for golf in Canada,” said Sloan.

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Michael Gligic is in his rookie year on the PGA Tour, and this year’s Canadian Open was also a sort-of hometown event. Gligic grew up in Burlington, about 35 minutes away from St. George’s.

As a first-year member of the tour, the Canadian Open would have been a solid addition to his schedule. Now he’s not sure how many events he’ll be able to get into once things are currently scheduled to ramp up again in June.

“We don’t even know what the field sizes are going to be and when we’re going to start – are guys going to try to get back and play everything? There’s a lot on the table still,” he said.

But he’s trying to stay hopeful for Canadian Opens to come.

“Golf’s on the backburner right now. All sports are. Everyone’s health and safety has got to be the No.1 priority. At the end of the day it’s disappointing, but hopefully I’ll have many more Canadian Opens in my future,” he said.

And on the opposite end of the career spectrum you have Mike Weir, who was set to make his 29th appearance at the Canadian Open this June.

Weir, whose eldest daughter is graduating university this year (it’s since been postponed and he, like countless other families, is navigating how to help with homeschooling for his two kids), turns 50 in May. He said he’s still preparing as best he can for the summer on PGA Tour Champions, but said he was saddened to not play in an event that’s been part of his life for more than three decades.

“For us guys, and for me in particular playing the event almost 30 years… we’re all living in different times, everyone has to adjust, and this was one adjustment we saw coming,” said Weir. “But when it came down, you’re still disappointed by it.”

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