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Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter


Now that the dust has settled, the grandstands and rink boards are starting to be dismantled and the divots are being filled, Golf Canada and RBC can let out a collective sigh of satisfaction.

With a new date, a field juiced full of big names, a couple of huge concerts and near perfect weather, the RBC Canadian Open 2.0 was nothing short of a major success.

Attendance was up 65 per cent over a year ago with approximately 120,000 fans streaming through the gates. General admission sales were up 300 per cent and hospitality sales like corporate tents and premium seating saw a jump of 200 per cent.

And let’s not forget beer sales. They were up 200 per cent, too.

“We set out three years ago with an ambition to make this one of, if not the best stop on the PGA Tour's calendar,” said Mary DePaoli, the executive vice-president and chief marketing officer for RBC. “I think the combination of our field, the weather, and everything that went into creating a festival atmosphere has got us to that point.”

“I think maybe the proudest moment for us as an organization is to hear the best players in the world raving about the entire experience that they've had here at the RBC Canadian Open,” added Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum.

There were lots of big hits over the course of the week, including the Florida Georgia Line concert that brought in 15,000 fans on Friday evening. But the cherry on top of this success sundae was having one of the most personable and talented players in golf win the tournament in record-setting fashion.

With apologies to Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson who are ranked higher in the world, Rory McIlroy’s name was at the top of the marquee this week.

His appearance at the Hamilton G&CC was a long time in the making. Organizers began courting him more than a year ago knowing that the new date at least made the discussion possible. After lots of back and forth, and with the proper appearance incentives in place, McIlroy was in.

Obviously, it was worth it. The Northern Irishman had the biggest crowds, the most boisterous cheers and saved his best for last with a ripping apart of the course on Sunday.

So dominant was his final round that he stopped worrying about winning the tournament and focused on trying to shoot a sub-60 score.

“Yeah, 61,” said McIlroy shaking his head in frustration. “Had a chance to shoot 59. Sorry for being disappointed up here, but I had a chance.”

Even when he wasn’t hitting great golf shots, the 30-year-old was doing all the right things. He refused to acknowledge the tournament was a mere warm-up for that other national championship south of the border a week later. He said the Canadian Open was a prestigious tournament all on its own.

He played the Raptors card to perfection, slipping on a Kyle Lowry jersey at the closing ceremonies and predicted a win in Game 5.

He honestly gushed over the names on the trophy, sitting in front of the assembled media and looking over the long list of golf legends engraved on the trophy.

He interacted with fans at The Rink, the hockey-themed hole that was the rowdiest place on the course. And after his round on Saturday, he stood in front of the clubhouse and signed autographs and posed for selfies for an hour.

He even used a Loonie to mark his ball all week.

“It might have to cross the border with me next week,” McIlroy said.

If McIlroy was the biggest story then next on the priority list was the performance of the Canadians. Three of them, Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Taylor, all had opportunities to win the Canadian crown and end that nagging 65-year drought.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but the collective performance shows that the day is about as close as it’s ever been.

“Very soon there will be one of us hoisting this trophy,” predicted Hughes. “Canadian golf is the strongest it's ever been, and that's the female and male side.”

With such a grand performance over so many levels, the next question is how to keep the momentum flowing into 2020, when the tournament lands at St. George’s G&CC in suburban Toronto.

“I think we've been collecting in our minds along with our partners all the little things that we know can go incrementally better,” said DePaoli. “The beauty comes when all these teams sit down and say, ‘Now let's think big. Now that we know where we've come from, where do we want to go?’ That may be next year, the year after.”

If there is a flashing light on the emergency panel it is right over the button marked Future Sites. At present, there’s no host for 2021 and ’22. The PGA Tour has made several ventures to Canada to scout out possible sites but hasn’t found the perfect one yet.

Some have a great course but not enough room for the accompanying infrastructure. Others have lots of room but a middling layout. Among some of the notables, Mississaugua G&CC was ruled out while Lambton G&CC was put on a possible list.

Applebaum stated he wants the future locations locked in by the end of the calendar year, which won’t be easy but will be necessary. A year of planning is about the bare minimum for an event that has grown into a massive undertaking.

Right now, there should be some deserving back-patting among organizers. This RBC Canadian Open was among the very best in the last 30 years in so many ways.

But then it’s time to get back to work and build for 2020. The first tee shot is a mere 365 days away.