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18th hole at National Golf Club of Canada
18th hole at National Golf Club of Canada

Short Game: National comes out on top, again Add to ...

It doesn't seem to matter who does the ranking, the National Golf Club of Canada always seem to come out on the top.

In its first-ever rating of Ontario golf courses, Fairways Magazine has judged the all-male private club in Woodbridge as the best in the province.

It edged Hamilton in Ancaster and St. George’s in Toronto. Westmount in Kitchener and Devil’s Paintbrush in Caledon rounded out the top five.

The magazine’s panel of 70 experts considered 750 courses across Ontario for the ranking. The top 100 list was released in digital form this week and will be available in print next week.

It’s perhaps no surprise the National topped the list. The George and Tom Fazio design also led ScoreGolf magazine’s 2012 ranking of courses Canada-wide and consistently rates at the top of any best-of discussions.

The top eight courses are private, making No. 9 Muskoka Bay in Gravenhurst the best of the public bunch.


FULL DISCLOSURE: I was among the 70 panelists. In its ranking issue, Fairways listed the top five favourite Ontario courses for each panel member to help make the process transparent. Here are mine, in order: Devil's Paintbrush in Caledon, Hamilton in Ancaster, Redtail in Port Stanley, the National and Beacon Hall in Aurora.

My Globe and Mail colleague Lorne Rubenstein chose these five as his faves, again in order: Devil's Paintbrush, the National, Goodwood in Goodwood, Redtail in Port Stanley and Toronto in Toronto.

Guess you know where you'll find us when we're having a "staff meeting:" at the 'Brush.


HOMETOWN HAPPENINGS: BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is taking a greater role this year in the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ont.

The Waterloo-based tech company, a secondary sponsor last year during the LPGA Tour event’s inaugural edition, will stage a community program tied to the tournament. Activities are to include a clinic for juniors featuring defending champion Brittany Lang, a pep rally-like party at Waterloo Town Square and a family zone at tournament venue Grey Silo.

The Classic begins July 11.


SHARP AGAIN: Alena Sharp hasn't fared well on the LPGA Tour this season, missing the cut in all four of her starts, but she's showing no signs of struggling on the second-tier Symetra Tour.

She shot three-under-par 69 on Thursday in the opening round of the Symetra Classic in Charlotte and was tied for fifth place. Isabelle Boineau of France led after a 67.

This is Sharp's second Symetra start of the year. She was the runner-up at the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic in February and is still within the top 10 of the tour's money winners this season.

It's also the first of five consecutive weeks on the road for Sharp.

Isabelle Beisiegel of St. Hilaire, Que., was the next lowest Canadian in Charlotte, a shot behind Sharp in a tied for 10th.


GO BIG: The Vancouver Golf Tour’s marquee event is moving into June and increasing its purse to attract a deeper field.

The Saputo Vancouver Open, which last year was played in late August and early September, is scheduled to begin June 13.

It is to be played again on the Vancouver Park Board’s three championship courses: McCleery, Langara and Fraserview.

The event will fall between the PGA Tour Canada’s season opener in Victoria and its second event in Calgary.

The timing makes it an attractive option for PGA Tour Canada players who are passing through Vancouver between the two events.

The purse of $125,000, by far the largest on the Vancouver-based mini-tour, is close to what the PGA Tour Canada offers at each of its eight events: $150,000.

“Positioning our event the week of June 11-15 will guarantee we get the best professional field in the seven-year history of our event,” VGT commissioner Fraser Mulholland said.

B.C. pros expected to play include defending champion Eugene Wong, Nick Taylor, Cory Renfrew, Bryn Parry, Ryan Williams and James Allenby. Organizers are also trying to lock in such international players such as Chileans Hugo Leon, Horacio Leon and Martin Ureta.


CANADIAN OPEN CARROT: Players on the PGA Tour Canada will have more than just trophies and prize money to compete for in the first half of the season.

The top three players on the development circuit, as of July 21, will earn berths in the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open.

The Canadian circuit begins its season in June in Victoria. The top three money winners after its fifth event, the Players Cup in Winnipeg, will advance to the Canadian Open, to be held at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., at the end of July.


YOUTH OPPORTUNITIES: The PGA Tour Canada also said Tuesday that is opening two spots in the fields of its first seven events to current and former members of Canada’s national amateur program.

“The exemptions into PGA Tour Canada events represent a tremendous opportunity for young players to play at a higher level and compete against quality players,” tour president Jeff Monday said. “These players will receive a first-hand experience of what a professional tournament looks and feels like.”

Golf Canada’s high-performance program will determine which two players get the call at each event.


SHERLOCK IN: Stephanie Sherlock of Barrie, Ont., says she has qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open.

The LPGA Tour player competed in a sectional qualifier in Baltimore on Tuesday and said via Twitter that she advanced to the U.S. national championship, which will be played at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., in late June. It is to be her first appearance.

The Baltimore qualifier was the first of 20 being staged across the United States this month. The top finishers at each move on to Sebonack.

Sherlock is the only Canadian guaranteed to be in the field at this point. Fifty others entered the 20 qualifiers.


ANOTHER WIN: Victor Ciesielski has won another Ontario mini-tour event – this one on the fledgling Mandarin Tour.

The 27-year-old from Cambridge, Ont., shot five-under-par 66 at Devil’s Pulpit Golf Club in Caledon, Ont., to edge Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., by a shot.

The one-day tournament was the first regular event on the Mandarin Tour, which began this year and has about a dozen stops on its 2013 schedule across Southwestern Ontario.

The tour, sponsored by the Mandarin restaurant chain, is a rival to the established Great Lakes Tour, a mini-tour on which Ciesielski has also won this year.

He and Gligic, who played on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa this past winter, stand to be the class of both mini-tours this year.


FRITZ ON MOVE: Player agent Danny Fritz, who represented such Canadian players as Mike Weir, Matt Hill and Eugene Wong, has left International Management Group’s Canadian operations after more than six years.

As first reported by canadiangolfer.com, Fritz plans to launch his own management agency.

The 36-year-old said he had reached a ceiling within IMG and wanted to strike out on his own. “When you look at my role at the company in Canada, I’m not sure there was a lot more for me to do,” he told Robert Thompson of canadiangolfer.com “I’m very entrepreneurial and want to challenge myself and grow. I think the timing is right.”

Fritz ran the Canadian Junior Golf Association before moving to IMG in 2006. In addition to handling the business affairs of Weir and new pros Hill and Wong, he worked with figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and helped orchestrate the World MasterCard Fashion Week, an IMG property in Toronto.

He was also a key player in the Canadian version of the Skins Game, which IMG owns and operates. This year’s edition was cancelled after title sponsor Telus pulled out.

He didn’t have many details on his venture but suggested it would include golf.


CABOT CHANGES: Cabot Links in Inverness, N.S., has built a couple of new holes: the 12th and the 19th.

A new 12th was created after the club acquired a small parcel of land along the ocean. The Rod Whitman-designed links, deemed Canada’s best new course in 2012 by ScoreGolf magazine, now has six holes than run along the beach.

The Cape Breton course has also opened the Cabot Public House, a renovated former pub that sits about 100 metres from the main clubhouse. Its Cabot Bar has also been renovated.

Cabot Links launched its second full season Monday.


REMEMBERING WILLIE PARK: The least heralded of the World Golf Hall of Fame’s new inductees Monday night was Willie Park Jr. The Briton was a late 19th-century golfer who won the Open Championship twice. He was also a writer and a noted architect who designed courses around the world.

Canadians might be interested to know that Park was quite prolific on this side of the pond.

Weston in Toronto, Ottawa Hunt, Calgary Golf and Le Club Laval-sur-le-Lac in Laval, Que., are among his Canadian creations.

Weston and Ottawa Hunt have both staged national championships. Arnold Palmer won the 1955 Canadian Open at Weston (it was his first victory as a pro) and the LPGA Tour stopped at Ottawa Hunt in 2008.


SNOWBIRDIES: The fifth annual Anne Murray Charity Golf Classic has been set for June 25 at Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont. The tournament raises money for colon cancer research. Among the celebrity guests expected to join the Snowbird singer, an accomplished player, are broadcaster Brian Williams, astronaut Roberta Bondar and musician Tom Cochrane.


OVER SAUCED: Golf's governing bodies continue to ruminate on such weighty matters as whether a putter can be anchored to the body, but it appears they've made a quick judgment on James Lepp's saucer pass.

The Abbotsford, B.C., pro uses a nifty little green-side shot that resembles a hockey wrist shot. With a wide grip, he drags the club on the ground behind the ball. When the club makes impact, the ball pops up and rolls.

Lepp, a former PGA Tour Canada player who put aside his playing career to launch a shoe company, Kikkor, but plans to make a comeback this year, has used the saucer pass for years as an antidote to his occasional chipping yips. The technique gained wider exposure when he was a contestant on the Big Break Greenbrier reality show, in which he finished as the runner-up.

But as foolproof as it is, it's apparently not within the rules. The Vancouver Sun reports that Dale Jackson,  chairman Golf Canada’s rules committee, said the shot was ruled to be non-conforming at a recent meeting of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the United States Golf Association and Golf Canada.

Jackson told golf writer Brad Ziemer that clubs can't be pushed, spooned or scraped. The saucer pass violates the scraping prohibition (Rule 14-1), he said.

After Lepp appeared on the Big Break, the USGA got calls about and, in a meeting with other rules bodies, decided it was non-conforming, Jackson said.

Contacted by The Vancouver Sun, Lepp said he wouldn't comment until he had received official word and an explanation of the ruling. He has said previously he thinks the saucer pass is legal.


SKINNED: The Canadian version of the Skins Game has been cancelled this year after its long-time sponsor cut its ties, The Vancouver Sun reports.

The made-for-TV exhibition brought together some of golf’s biggest stars in its 20-year history (including Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples and home favourite Mike Weir) for a high-stakes game of Skins.

Courses across the country had played host. But sponsor Telus has opted out of its 12-year-old partnership with IMG, the global sports management giant that owns the Skins franchise.

Telus spokesman Chris Gerritsen told Ziemer that “it was time for a change.”

Dave Haggith, IMG Golf’s vice-president of communications and public relations, said the exhibition could make a comeback in 2014. “We are optimistic the event will return,” he told Ziemer. “That will be a priority of ours.”

The event began in 1993 at the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Club near Toronto with four competitors, but expanded in recent years to five players and a “world” theme.


GAO HEAD TO RETIRE: The 2103 season will be the last one for Dave Mills as executive director of the Golf Association of Ontario.

Mills, the father of touring pro Jon Mills and club pro Jeff Mills, plans to retire at the end of January of 2014 after 27 years of involvement in the provincial organization.

He started in 1986 as the representative for the Bay of Quinte Golf and Country Club in Belleville, Ont., and moved into the executive director’s role in 1997. The biggest development he oversaw was the amalgamation of the old Ontario Golf Association with the Ontario Ladies Golf Association in 2001.


HEADED TO HALL: The Golf Association of Ontario is set to induct the newest four members into its Golf Hall of Fame.

Champions Tour player Rod Spittle of St. Catharines, Ont., and former PGA Tour player Ian Leggatt of Cambridge, Ont., are among the foursome to be enshrined on Wednesday.

A ceremony is scheduled for Wooden Sticks Golf Club in Uxbridge, Ont.

Long-time superintendent Gord Witteveen and Alexa Stirling Fraser, an Atlanta-born pioneer of the women’s game who knew Bobby Jones before moving north to settle in Ottawa, will be admitted posthumously. Also posthumously, Jack Marks will receive the GAO’s Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, which honours members of the media that have made significant contributions to golf in Ontario.


BUMPER CROP: Fifty-one Canadians will try to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. That’s the biggest contingent from any country in the world other than the United States.

Entries for the qualification tournaments closed last Wednesday. The United States Golf Association, which conducts the national championship, said players from 45 countries submitted a record total of 1,420 entries.

South Korea will have 38 hopefuls, Japan 18, Mexico 17 and China 16.

“The diverse group of Women’s Open entrants is a testament to the growing international footprint of the game of golf,” Dot Paluck, chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee, said in a news release.

Eighty-four players, including 10 past champions, have already qualified for the major, which begins June 27 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.

None is Canadian. But the country will have 51 chances at the one-day, 36-hole qualifiers, which will be held this month at 20 sites across the United States beginning Tuesday. A handful of the top finishers at each site will advance to Sebonack.

The USGA didn’t provide a list of the 1,420 entrants late last week but the Canadians heading to the qualifiers include the country’s LPGA Tour regulars, such as Alena Sharp, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Stephanie Sherlock and veteran Lorie Kane.

Other avenues to join the Women’s Open field include winning an LPGA Tour event between now and June 23, capturing the Ladies’ British Open Amateur title, or entering the top 25 of the world ranking as of June 24.


MAJOR WIN: Ryan Williams has won the VGT Sandpiper Open, the first major tournament of the year on the Vancouver Golf Tour.

The Vancouver resident edged fellow British Columbians Nick Taylor and Darren Wallace in a playoff last Thursday after the trio finished the 36-hole event at nine-under-par 135.

Williams, who led the mini-tour’s money list last year and has won five times already this calendar year, made birdies on two of the final three holes to get into the playoff.

The event at Sandpiper Golf Course in Harrison Mills, B.C., is the first of the mini-tour’s six majors played in May and June.


RELATED LINK: More blogs by Jeff Brooke

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