Columnist image
Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter


Imagine trying to plan for a party that has no date and might not even happen.

That’s what organizers for the RBC Canadian Open are dealing with for the national championship scheduled for June 11-14 at St. George’s G&CC in Toronto. After speaking with many people associated with the tournament, both on the record and off, it’s clear there are lots of questions but few answers.

At the moment, the tournament is scheduled to proceed, but as each week passes with more stringent regulations in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, holding the event becomes more difficult.

"This is beyond marketing and golf," said Mary DePaoli, the executive vice-president and chief marketing officer for RBC, the tournament’s title sponsor. "This is about the health and safety of the fans, the athletes and everyone connected with the tournament."

As with many sports, the PGA Tour is currently on pause. Nine events are either cancelled or postponed. The Masters and the PGA Championship are looking for new dates.

Currently, the next event on the PGA Tour’s schedule is the Charles Schwab Challenge, to be played May 21-24. According to Golfweek, preparations for that tournament are in a holding pattern, with grandstand assembly on pause.

The building of the infrastructure for the U.S. Open, slated for the week following its Canadian counterpart in Mamaroneck, N.Y., has stopped due to the statewide closure of all non-essential businesses. The United States Golf Association is reportedly looking at all possibilities including holding the event without any tented areas.

Where does that leave the RBC Canadian Open?

DePaoli said the decision to cancel rests with the PGA Tour and she has already been through the experience once before. The bank also sponsors the RBC Heritage, which fell off the tour’s schedule earlier this month. She praised the efforts of commissioner Jay Monahan and his team during this difficult time.

"They have been in constant contact with daily calls, sometimes several times a day," she stated. "They have an excellent process in place on how to make these decisions that takes into consideration all the necessary information from the right people."

DePaoli emphasized that no decision has been made on the Canadian championship. It’s currently planned to go ahead.

Bryan Crawford, the tournament director, has been on the front lines, trying to prepare for something he doesn’t even know will be held.

"People don’t realize how long it takes to get things ready for an event of this magnitude," he stated. "It’s not like an arena where you have a fixed structure."

Even without the unknown caused by the pandemic, this year’s RBC Canadian Open was a logistical labyrinth, taking place at a golf course in Toronto surrounded by urban sprawl. Fitting everything into the tight space means a television compound and catering area that stretch out over 400 yards using three lanes of a major roadway. Players will be shuttled to the driving range at Islington G&CC three kilometres away.

Neighbouring schools, possibly back in session, will be used for parking and the football field at a nearby high school is slated to host two concerts, first by Keith Urban and then by the Chainsmokers.

It’s a daunting task under normal circumstances, but with all that is happening at the moment that increases tenfold.

Crawford and his team are up against the clock if all this is expected to come off as planned. The construction of grandstands, platforms, corporate boxes and player walkways for the tournament is scheduled to start next week although there is some flexibility around that date.

Other structures such as the concert stage would come later. But with all non-essential businesses in Ontario ordered closed, it can’t move forward until that order is dropped.

"We done a lot of contingency planning and we have prioritized things," he said. "It’s gone from a week-to-week scenario to day-by-day. We have to be nimble and dynamic."

There are many other questions to consider as well, ranging from the extreme (If a travel ban is still in place, how would the golfers and necessary officials from outside the country even get to Toronto?) to the unusual (Could portable toilets spread the coronavirus?).

There has been some thought that as a national championship, the Open might be postponed rather than cancelled. There’s even been discussion, somewhat far-fetched at this point, of hosting the tournament with no fans, making it a television-only event.

"I think all possible scenarios are on the table," said Crawford. "Right now we’re just going to be ready to go and understand if we get cancelled it will be for the right reasons."

Since its inaugural run in 1904, the RBC Canadian Open has been cancelled six times. No tournament was held from 1915-1918 due to the First World War and the Second World War led to its cancellation in 1943 and ’45.