Organizers of the RBC Canadian Open have strengthened the tournament’s image and field strength in recent years by moving the venerable championship around to some of the country’s most cherished classic courses. Players have raved about Shaughnessy in Vancouver, St. George’s in Toronto and Hamilton in Ancaster, Ont. but there’s something to be said for staying at “home,” too.
The 104th edition of the national championship will be held at Glen Abbey Golf Club, the Oakville Ont., course that has served as the host venue 25 times since opening in 1976.
The familiar course, designed by Jack Nicklaus to be the home base of the Canadian Open and located in the backyard of Golf Canada’s national headquarters, has produced some of the most dramatic moments in the event’s storied history. No event is likely more associated with Glen Abbey than Tiger Woods' 6-iron shot out of the fairway bunker on No. 18 during the 2000 tournament - one of the most daring and iconic shots of his career. Sitting some 218 yards away from the hole, Woods was forced to carry a large pond that guards the green and managed to put the ball about 18 feet from the hole. He went on to defeat playing partner Grant Waite to win the tournament in his only appearance at Glen Abbey.
Mike Weir had his best career Canadian Open finish in 2004 but it was still a crushing disappointment both for him and Canadian golf fans. Weir, looking to become the first homegrown winner since 1954, lost to Vijay Singh in a playoff on the third extra hole.
In 2009, Mark Calcavecchia made rain-softened Glen Abbey look like a pitch and putt when he reeled off nine consecutive birdies, setting a PGA Tour record. Playing the back nine first during the second round, Calcavecchia began his historic run at the 12th hole and never had a birdie putt longer than 15 feet.
Little-known Lief Olson made one of golf’s most incredible aces when his shot on the 132-yard, par-three 15th in 2009 deflected off the ball of playing partner Kris Blanks, took a 90-degree turn and rolled into the hole. He won a BMW roadster for the feat.
In 1994, John Daly showed off his grip it and rip it style when he attempted to drive the green on the par-four 11th, the signature hole that plays 459 yards from the elevated back tee and is protected by Sixteen Mile Creek in front of the green. A plaque on the tee box commemorates his eff ort, which came up just short when his ball dunked into the water.
John Daly at the 2009 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey
More moments could be created beginning July 25 as some of the best players in the world, including popular PGA Tour stars Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker, take a crack at the legendary layout which is noted for its picturesque stretch of five valley holes that wind their way around and over Sixteen Mile Creek.
“I think it’s a good golf course,” says Weir, the Canadian who has come closest to lifting the championship trophy in recent decades. “It has some unique holes out there;obviously some of the valley holes have unique greens. You see a number of different types of winners there, some longer players, some medium-length players.”
While Weir’s form has been off during the past two seasons because of an elbow injury and surgery, the 43-year-old is nevertheless looking forward to the national championship and another chance to get the home fires burning.
“I’m excited actually that it (RBC Canadian Open) is going back there,” says Weir, who has a pair of top-five finishes in his past three Canadian Open starts at Glen Abbey. “I’ve played pretty well there of late,” he continues.
Mike Weir tees off at No. 3 in 2008 Canadian Open
Fans should be equally excited. Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey with the spectator in mind, leaving wide and even bowl-shaped spaces around many greens to off er excellent sight lines. Even folks watching on TV get the stadium feel. Golf Canada executive director Scott Simmons calls the Abbey the most “fan-friendly spectator course I’ve ever seen,” and it certainly was one of the prototypes of the stadium-style courses in the modern era.
As exciting as the return to Glen Abbey is, the 2013 RBC Canadian Open will be about the players. Snedeker, the blond mop-topped 2012 FedEx Cup champion, and 2010 U.S. Open winner McDowell came aboard Team RBC this year, joining world top-10 stars such as Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar and respected veterans Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, who are all sponsored by the bank.
The Canadian contingent on RBC’s sponsorship roster includes Weir, fellow stalwart Stephen Ames, David Hearn and Graham DeLaet, the country’s top-ranked male pro.
But there will be more to the field of 156 than just the players with the bank’s golden lion logo on their sleeves. American Scott Piercy is expected to return to Canada to defend the 2012 title he won at nearby Hamilton.
Long-time tournament director Bill Paul also has his sights set on attracting some of the game’s most exciting young talent, too. Albin Choi of Toronto has been extended an invitation. The 21-year-old, who captured low-amateur honours at the championship last year, turned pro in June and the RBC Canadian Open would be an appropriate stage for a coming-out party.
Home fans can also expect to see Brad Fritsch, a 35-year-old from Ottawa who’s not exactly a youngster but is in his first season as a PGA Tour member. He’s had a strong start to his rookie campaign in the major league, making the cut in 15 of his first 20 starts this season, and will head to Glen Abbey with not only confidence but with enthusiasm for the championship venue.
“I’m looking forward to Glen Abbey because it suits my game the most ... out of all the other (Canadian Open) courses we play,” says Fritsch, who has a half-dozen starts in the national championship over his career. “It’s important to hit the fairway out there. Some of the par-fives are gettable and I enjoy the stadium aspect of that golf course.”
Fritsch says he remains in favour of rotating the championship around the country – he also loves Shaughnessy, too – but this year he’ll savour his week on an iconic course in his home province.
“I just look forward to getting back to Canada,” Fritsch says. “It’s nice to be home.” Home to Canada, and the “home” of the RBC Canadian Open.
This article first appeared in the June 2013 edition of Golf Canada Magazine