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HAMILTON – The mammoth war-era Lancaster flying overhead at the RBC Canadian Open won’t be the only bomber at Hamilton Golf and Country Club next month.
Not even close.
Golf Canada announced Monday that reigning U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson will be coming to Canada as well. The pair join an already impressive field of big hitters that include world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, and the star of the show, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.
This year’s Canadian Open is something of a fresh start for the 115-year-old tournament. The move away from Glen Abbey – the Open’s de facto home for the past four decades – is significant, but the move away from the albatross (not the good kind of albatross) date directly following the British Open to directly preceding the U.S. Open, has already paid dividends.
“I’ve heard really great things about the course and with the change in date on our schedule, it’s a perfect opportunity to play well and build momentum leading into the U.S. Open,” Koepka said as part of the announcement.
This will be the sixth time the Canadian Open is played at Hamilton G&CC, the first being 100 years ago. just three years after the Harry Colt designed course was formally opened in Ancaster in 1916. The club’s original course opened in 1894 in Hamilton’s industrial northeast.
In this age of brawny golf courses and brawnier tour pros, it is unusual for the PGA Tour to stop at a century-old traditional parkland-style golf course. Fans have become used to watching pros play a power game they are completely unfamiliar with on golf courses looking nothing like the ones they grew up playing. Not that many Canadian golfers grew up playing a course the quality of Hamilton, but beautifully framed tree-lined fairways and doglegs that demand strategy off the tee is a style of golf most golfers are more familiar with than what they see most weeks on the PGA Tour.
“If it was up to me we’d go to a lot more venues that have more traditional parkland style,” McIlroy said Monday by phone. “I like tree-lined golf courses. I’m not really a big fan of this new trend of sort of taking trees out of golf courses. So I’m looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to getting there and playing a layout where you have to think a little bit, you have to shape shots, you know, display some versatility in your game.”
For the folks at Golf Canada it is important to get this one right. You only get one chance at a second impression or something like that. In many ways, Glen Abbey was a tournament organizer’s dream with its proximity to Toronto, stadium-style accessibility for plenty of fans, and overall familiarity for players and partners.
But what Glen Abbey was missing was character and charm, which is something Hamilton has in spades.
The date has moved up nearly two months and the tournament is just four weeks away, which for all involved seems hard to believe, but early indications are good. The course is in unbelievable condition, considering the seemingly endless winter much of the country endured. While there hasn’t been a full re-branding of the Open, it’s clear that organizers are looking at the new early date and move away from Glen Abbey as a fresh start.
The slogan on a new marketing campaign is “Summer’s Open,” an apparent nod to everything Canadians hold dear about our always fleeting summer. Many grandstands have been replaced by giant decks with tables and chairs, a hat tip to the other thing Canadians do quite well, enjoy a beverage outdoors on a sunny afternoon.
“To move to kind of the beginning of the summer where the trees have come alive and flowers are out, and the second it warms up out there we’re on the patio,” said tournament director Bryan Crawford. “We thought how do we apply that to the RBC Canadian Open.”
There is a sold-out Friday concert featuring Florida Georgia Line, as well as local restaurants on the course to add more interesting culinary options. All of this is part of a more modern experience. Of course, there will still be plenty of Canadiana – the Rink will be back and the winner will undoubtedly be wearing a mountie hat at some point. But the moose and hockey stick schtick seems to be done more tongue-in-cheek, which is a welcome change.
During Thursday’s opening round there will be a military flyover featuring a Lancaster bomber to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Canadian Forces members and veterans will receive free admission on June 6.
“I think golf is so much about tradition and you know all of these national opens that you can play in are old,” McIlroy said. “I think the older a tournament is the more prestigious it is, so to be here at one of the oldest events, not just on tour but in the world I think that does make it pretty prestigious.”
The 2019 RBC Canadian Open has plenty old, and plenty new. One thing that never changes? Cross your fingers for the weather.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019