Canadian Brittany Marchand is among the LPGA Tour players who are excited that the CP Women’s Open has returned to the Greater Toronto Area for the first time since 2001. “I actually get to stay in my bed, which is nice,” she says.
The LPGA Tour sophomore is from Orangeville, Ont., which by her calculations is 56 minutes away from her parking spot this week at Magna Golf Club in Aurora, a suburban community north of Toronto.
“It’s always nice coming to this tournament,” she said. "It’s kind of cool to have it in the Toronto area this year.”
Marchand is one of 15 Canadians in the field who will be enjoying home-field advantage in the tour’s only stop in the country. But the other competitors from around the world are in for a treat, too. They’ve not only landed in Canada’s biggest city and golf market but also at a club known for its ultra-exclusivity, unparalleled turf conditions and luxurious clubhouse.
“It’s unbelievable,” Marchand said. “It’s so beautiful and the grass is amazing. It’s really perfect.”
American Emma Talley called the course “pure” and in the best shape of any layout on tour, equalled only at some of the major tournaments. “Fantastic surroundings,” said Suzann Pettersen, a past CP Women’s Open champion from Norway who’s easing her way back onto the LPGA Tour after a maternity leave.
“From what I’ve heard, this is a golfing mecca with golf courses and a lot of golf interests,” Pettersen said of the GTA. “... I don’t think I’ve been to any tournaments in Canada where the crowd hasn’t been absolutely fantastic. I have no doubt it’s going to be exactly the same this week.”
Auto parts magnate Frank Stronach and his business empire, Magna International Inc., opened the golf course in 2001 on rolling hills in the Oak Ridges Moraine in Aurora. Designed by renowned Canadian architect Doug Carrick, it immediately earned honours from ScoreGolf magazine as the best new course in the country.
The club is in the backyard of Magna International’s world headquarters, making it a playground for the company’s top executives and other wealthy types, some of whom snapped up the multimillion-dollar mansions that were built in a gated community around the course.
Its clubhouse gets as much attention as the 18 holes around it. It’s a grand, 43,000-square-foot facility resembling a European chateau, with staff that pledges to “pamper without pretense,” according to Magna’s website.
“This place is special looking,” said LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan, who visited Magna for a couple of days this week and played Wednesday in the tournament’s pro-am alongside Canadian rookie pro Maddie Szeryk and U.S. rising star Jennifer Kupcho. “This is elite.”
Its role as CP Women’s Open host came about quickly. Laurence Applebaum, chief executive officer of Golf Canada, which organizes the championship, lived in Aurora for a long time and knows Magna’s current and past general managers. They had long kicked around the idea of bringing a big Golf Canada event to Magna.
A mutual business associate revived the discussions about 18 months ago, a deal was reached right away and now the gates are open. “And what’s exciting for the people from the area [is] just to get a chance to walk the golf course and to see how beautiful this Doug Carrick golf course is," Applebaum said.
While the environment is indeed posh, almost Augusta National-like, the gushing will subside Thursday as the opening round of the CP Women’s Open begins and the players get down to business.
They’ll have not only immaculate turf from which to hit their shots but also wide fairways that invite aggressive drives off the tee. Canada’s top female player, Brooke Henderson, expects there will be a premium on accurate approach shots to the enormous, sloping greens.
Players in control of their approaches should have lots of birdie chances, she added. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for us girls to go out there and probably try to make a lot of birdies and shoot low scores.”
Every other player interviewed this week expects the same red numbers on the scorecard, meaning the 72-hole championship record of 23-under-par 265 (set in 2014 and equalled in 2015) could be in jeopardy.
Henderson, herself, adds to the lustre this week. The 21-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., is not only Canada’s highest-ranked woman, at world No. 8, and always popular on home soil, followed around by “Brooke’s Brigade,” but she’s also the defending champion.
Last year at Wascana Country Club in Regina, Henderson became just the second Canadian to win the national championship in its 48-year history. (Jocelyne Bourassa was the other, in 1973). On Wednesday, Henderson called the victory “probably the highlight of my career so far.”
On Thursday, she’ll face a tee sheet that has nine of the top 10 players in the world ranking (including No. 1 Ko Jin-young of South Korea) and 95 of the top 100 money winners on the LPGA Tour this year. With the purse of US$2.25-million the highest of any LPGA event other than the majors and the season finale, the stars have come out.
But defending a title is not out of the question. Henderson did it twice before at other tournaments en route to her nine career victories, which makes her the Canadian player, female or male, with the most trophies at the LPGA Tour or PGA Tour level.
Whan called on golf fans in Toronto’s metropolitan area of six million people to recognize the perfect storm ahead – the combination of a popular defending champion who wears the red and white, a star-studded field around her and an exclusive venue.
“If you sit home and miss this because you went to every playoff game of the Raptors or because hockey season is right around the corner, huge mistake,” Whan said. “I mean, you’re talking about the best female athletes in the world playing right here in your backyard, and honestly one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been around the golf business a long time. And obviously you’ve got the ... winningest professional Canadian player of all time in the prime of her career here. ... So it’s going to be a good week.”