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Persistent rains plague first round of ATB Classic

PGA TOUR CANADA

David Byrne drove past a Calgary golf course that was completely covered in rushing water.

He knew it was a golf course because he could see the flags fluttering atop the flagsticks, just above the water line.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Byrne, a professional golfer from Ontario who was on his way to a tournament, the PGA Tour Canada's ATB Financial Classic, in northwest Calgary. "The water was moving so fast. Just unbelievable."

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As he continued his drive Friday, the enormity of the flooding hit him. "The city has been taken over by the water."

Byrne eventually arrived safely at the Country Hills Golf Club, where he was to play the ATB, the second stop of the year on the Canadian developmental circuit that's owned and run by the PGA Tour. The course wasn't under water, because it's on higher ground, but it was saturated enough to delay play for the second day in a row.

As he and the rest of the field awaited their start, the water kept rising throughout Calgary and area, the news on TV grew ever grim, and talk among players turned to lending a hand.

"If we're not going to play today, we should get out there," said Byrne, 25, summing the thoughts of his peers. They proposed putting boxes on the first and 10th tees at the tournament to take spectator donations. Fellow pro Adam Cornelson of Langley, B.C., tweeted that he'd donate $20 for every birdie he made at the tournament – "not a ton but I'm broke."

Byrne suggested the players could help off-course by serving food at shelters or even bagging sand for makeshift levees.

"I'm not even from Calgary," Byrne said by telephone. "I don't know whether it's just because I'm here, and I'm seeing it in person and on TV, or what, but it really hits home."

Pro golfer Scott Stiles, a lifelong Calgarian who had to evacuate his Mission neighbourhood home that is three blocks from the swelling Elbow River, said he was comforted to see the golf community come together with good intentions.

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"It's neat to see how the guys are so willing to help," said Stiles, who didn't qualify for the tournament but was going to caddy for fellow Calgarian James Love.

By the end of Friday, the tour decided to cancel the event. Not because Country Hills was unplayable, but because of the inappropriateness of playing golf during a disaster. "Given the increasing severity of the emergency situation the greater Calgary community is being forced to deal with, we have made the decision to cancel the tournament at this time," tour president Jeff Monday said in a release.

Pro David Markle of Shelburne, Ont., said the tour made the right decision. "I wouldn't have been able to stand being on the golf course [knowing what was going on around it]," he said by phone.

The event might be rescheduled but a date hasn't been proposed yet. One player, Wilson Bateman of Spruce Grove, Alta., suggested donating the $150,000 purse to the relief efforts, but the sponsors who put up the money would have to make that call.

Instead, it's possible the tour might use the rescheduled tournament down the road to "make a charitable impact in the Calgary area," tour media official Brian Decker said.

And despite their good intentions, the players' volunteer initiatives are on hold. The Red Cross and other relief operations have told them they won't be needed until the water subsides and the damage is better understood.

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Markle, who had stopped earlier Friday at a couple of community centres to see if evacuees needed help, said the offer will still stand as long as he and other players remain in Calgary. (Their next event isn't for another two weeks, in Saskatoon.)

He reasons that pro golf relies heavily on volunteers to run the tournaments and helping out would just be a fair turnabout. Plus, he added, "It's our basic duty as humans to help others in need. It's not a big deal for any of us to help out."

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