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Rubenstein: Goodbye Canadian Tour, hello PGA Tour Canada

The Canadian Tour hasn't had an easy time of it since 1978, when its umbrella sponsor Peter Jackson dropped out to focus, primarily, on the Canadian Open. The Tour, a fairly well coordinated series of tournaments that moved in a logical pattern across Canada, pretty much fell apart then. It's had a variety of revivals, resuscitations, and reorganizations since then, but it's never been what one would call healthy and assured of a solid future.

Finally, it appears that this will change now that the PGA Tour has taken it over. Welcome to PGA Tour Canada. The fact that the world's most successful professional tour has assumed control is obviously a good thing. The Canadian Tour was in terminal decline and no title sponsor, or group of sponsors, were about to step in and rescue it from the grave. My three thick files marked "Canadian Tour" take in the last 35 years or so of efforts to find a title sponsor. No luck.

Now the PGA Tour has moved in. I've started a new file marked "PGA Tour Canada." Its maiden contents consist primarily of the transcript from Thursday's conference call, in which PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said all the right things. He said, among much else, that "PGA Tour Canada will play an important role in professional golf, and it will be a valuable system for developing players."

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Let's hope that's true. It should be, given that the new 2013 schedule will consist of at least eight tournaments, each of which will offer a minimum $150,000 purse. The new format will send the money list leader directly to the 2014 Tour, and provide the next four players on the list with conditional status. PGA Tour Canada should attract more than decent fields to its tournaments. It will offer a home to players who will have confidence that they have places to play and a way forward to the Tour and, ultimately, if they succeed there, to the PGA Tour itself.

All good, certainly. I'm wondering why, then, I feel more than a tinge of sadness at the positive development. How can that be?

I think I'm feeling this way because of a sense of loss. There was a time when the Canadian Tour, was, well, truly Canadian. Canadians conducted the tournaments, whether it was an organization called the Tournament Players Division of the Canadian PGA (now the PGA of Canada, of course, as the Royal Canadian Golf Association is now Golf Canada); or the CPGA itself ran the Canadian Tour. Or an entity actually called the Canadian Tour was the umbrella organization.

It's not as if players played for nothing. The 1987 George Williams B.C. Open was worth $125,000, more than some of the 2012 Canadian Tour events. A brochure for the 1989 Canadian Tournament Players Championship at the Brampton (Ont.) Golf Club features defending Dave Barr on the cover, and says, "Be Part of It."

The purse was $200,000, more than any tournament on the 2012 schedule, and, likely, more than any tournament on the 2013 PGA Tour Canada schedule. A&P/Dominion grocery chains along with American Express were the presenting sponsors.

That was then, though, and this is now, or, at least, this is the future, as PGA Tour Canada. It's going to take a while for me to say this or write this "PGA Tour Canada" rather than the Canadian Tour. Then again, it's not natural to say or write "Golf Canada" as opposed to the Royal Canadian Golf Association. Golf Canada is a brand, I suppose. Everything is a brand today. Even human beings are brands.

Then again, PGA Tour players never ask one another, "Are you playing the RBC Canadian Open?" or, "Are you playing RBC?" They ask, "Are you playing Canada?" Ever has it been so. Sponsors come and go, after all. And they've been going, and not returning or being replaced, when it comes to the Canadian Tour.

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And so the powerful PGA Tour has jumped in, carefully, and with a comprehensive plan of making its north of the U.S. border tour successful. Meanwhile, Jeff Monday, the PGA Tour's senior vice-president for tournament development said during the conference call that the qualifying school tournament for PGA Tour Canada "most likely will be held in the spring in the United States."

That's understandable, given that PGA Tour Canada's tournaments will be in the summer and that the spring weather wouldn't be suitable for the qualifying school. But it's just another thing that gives me pause and makes me feel a bit sad; the qualifying tournament for a series of tournaments across Canada will be held in the U.S. So it goes.

"The Canadian Tour is definitely heading in the right direction." Martin Gates, an Englishman who was the Canadian Tour's rookie of the year in 1989, said that in April 1990. Here we are, 22 years later, after many stops and starts for the Canadian Tour.

Now it's PGA Tour Canada. Welcome north, PGA Tour, to the land where it's been impossible for anybody or any group to find what Finchem referred to as "overall sponsorship, umbrella sponsorship, subsidiary sponsorship."  He's looking for "companies that really want to engage and become involved and help us maximize the potential that's there."

I've heard similar words before, over many years. But now they're coming from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, about a new entity called PGA Tour Canada. It all sounds so corporate.

But I'm pleased that we now have this PGA Tour Canada. And I'm also sad about this, simply because Canada has not proven able to support a professional golf tour on its own — notwithstanding the deep interest in the game here, and the depth of Canadian talent who could have used that support. The end has come, and, simultaneously, a new, and promising, beginning.

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RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein


Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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