The word came down more than two years ago. At this time next summer, Canada's sports landscape will be virtually smoke free.

Starting in 2001, the federal government's legislation banning tobacco-company sponsorship of sporting and cultural events kicks in with full force.

The fallout is already being felt, as the future of many high-profile events have been thrown into doubt and have sent organizers scrambling to replace valuable sponsors.

Story continues below advertisement

While not an outright ban -- that's still a few years away -- the restrictions are prohibitive enough that it's hard for many companies to justify the expense of sponsorship.

This week's du Maurier Classic, the only LPGA event in Canada and one of the Tour's four major championships, is in difficult straits.

Jean-Paul Blais, the former president of du Maurier, has been working since February to find a replacement sponsor for the 27-year-old tournament. He will be schmoozing and brainstorming with extra vigour at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Aylmer, Que., this week.

If he's unsuccessful in finding a company to foot the estimated $7-million bill that LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw feels is required to properly host a major, this year's tournament will likely be the last. The deadline to find a new sponsor is mid-September.

"I feel like I'm on the 18th green and I have to sink a 30-foot putt for birdie," Blais said of his task.

The du Maurier is not the only event that has to find a replacement for money from tobacco companies. The Export A Skins Game, the popular golf exhibition which wraps up today in Vernon, B.C., will have a different look next year.

That event's title sponsor, JTI-Macdonald Corp., announced it will no longer be involved due to the federal government's legislation, giving the International Management Group, the sports and entertainment company that runs the event, a year to find a replacement.

Story continues below advertisement

But there is some good news, too. Both of Canada's premier professional tennis events -- the Tennis Masters Series Canada, which ended Sunday in Toronto, and the du Maurier Open women's championship, which begins in Montreal on Aug. 12 -- are in excellent positions.

Two years ago, Tennis Canada, the sport's governing body, was faced with having to find title sponsors for both the men's and women's tournaments, both of which were sponsored by Imperial Tobacco.

"It was stressful, there were a few scary days," said Stacey Allaster, Tennis Canada's vice-president of sales and marketing.

Allaster, along with Tennis Canada president Bob Moffat, was in charge of replacing about $8-million in sponsorship money for the events, which serve as the tennis organization's main source of revenue each year.

"We were confident because we thought we had two great properties, but the question was finding a partner that would commit to the world-class level that du Maurier had set," Allaster said.

"You're looking for companies that have global brands that can take advantage of the international and national profile, but that have domestic platforms to impact business on a local level," Allaster said.

Fortunately, Tennis Canada had some time -- they began working to find new sponsors in 1997 -- and a bit of luck.

When Allaster first contacted AT & T Canada, who along with Rogers AT & T Wireless will take over at title sponsors of the women's event next year, he inquired about sponsoring both the men's and women's events, which alternate between Toronto and Montreal each year.

"They were interested, but said from the beginning that they wouldn't be able to sponsor both events on their own," Allaster said.

Tennis Canada's big break was the decision of Swiss-based ISL Worldwide, who own the marketing and media rights to the nine-event Tennis Masters Series on the ATP Tour, to include the Canadian men's tournament as part of the Series.

"There was a lot of lobbying done to make sure that happened," Allaster said.

It was worth it. With ISL taking over from du Maurier on the men's side, the task of finding money to support the women's event became easier.

No longer having to decide whether they could afford to sponsor both events, AT & T became more enthusiastic about putting their name beside the women's event. When Rogers AT & T Wireless agreed to come on board to share the costs, the deal was done and will take effect next year.

Blais said his greatest enemy in the search for replacement sponsorship has been a tight time frame. It was only in January that Imperial Tobacco determined it was going to drop the event it had built lovingly from scratch since the early 1970s.

He said finding a company to step in under such short notice has been difficult, but said last week that he has managed to pull together a consortium of about 40 companies that were willing to guarantee the event's $1.5-million (U.S.) purse for the next five years.

But LPGA commissioner Votaw said last week that the only acceptable option was to have a single title sponsor guarantee all the costs surrounding the event on a long-term basis, a condition that Blais's proposal did not meet.

Observers, like IMG executive Michael Merrall, who will try to find a replacement sponsor for the Skins Game next year and who run women's golf events like the Chrysler Nations Cup, think Blais's biggest problem is the nature of the event.

"When companies are deciding to sponsor something, some things are quantifiable -- attendance, television and press coverage," Merrall said. "If that's all that companies ever looked at, no one would sponsor anything. What it comes down to often is how much excitement does an event generate?

"Women's golf isn't that hot a property right now. I know what [Blais]is dealing with and he's facing an uphill battle."

Blais said he still has hope that something can be done to save the du Maurier and its proud tradition. He'll be working feverishly this week to make sure the event doesn't disappear from the Canadian sports landscape.

"I believe in women's golf and the du Maurier is one of the best tournaments in the world," Blais said. "You can't look at an event like that dying and not care."