Every year Golf Canada and the PGA Tour—the U.S.-based pro-golf circuit—put on the RBC Canadian Open. The tournament, first contested in 1904, draws many of the world’s top-ranked players, with past champions including such household names as Tiger Woods.
The event’s a big attraction for golf lovers with VIPs to entertain. This past July, it was held at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont. The Abbey plays host again in 2016.
The pro-am, a feature of virtually all PGA Tour stops, groups three amateurs with one professional for 18 holes on the Wednesday of tournament week (the tournament runs Thursday through Sunday). Amateur spots in each grouping are purchased as a package. Dave Kay, Golf Canada’s director of business development, says the cost for the Canadian Open pro-am is $20,000 (plus HST) per group.
Gavin Roth, chief commercial officer at Golf Canada, notes the pro-am formally begins on Tuesday evening with the Draw Party. That’s when each amateur grouping finds out, through a random draw, which professional they’ll be playing with the following day.
“Some players are at the Draw Party. It’s very much a mix and mingle type of affair,” says Roth. So, if you’re a fan of Jason Day or Canada’s own long-ball bomber Graham DeLaet, don’t be shy about striking up a conversation if you see them at the reception.
Kelly Roberts, a portfolio manager at Roberts Nash Advisory Group, National Bank Financial in London, Ont., is a former touring pro who’s played in the Canadian Open. So, he knows what the players want you to ask. Topping the list: What was the greatest shot you ever hit? “They all have stories they like to tell. It’s like an owner of a business who likes to talk about how he built his business.”
During the round, you’ll be eager to ask your group’s pro for swing or short-game tips, and you shouldn’t refrain from doing so, says Brent McLaughlin, RBC Canadian Open tournament director. “As a pro-am guest, you’ve paid to be part of this group and the players are very accommodating—they do this week in and week out.”
Roberts offers guidance on how to ask: “After playing four or five holes and he’s watched you hit a few shots, you can say, ‘What one thing could I do to improve my golf game?’ ”
It’s important not to overdo it, as the pro-am isn’t intended as a four-hour golf lesson. So, if you have slow-motion video of your swing on your iPhone, don’t ask the pro for a frame-by-frame analysis. You could create an awkward dynamic between you and the player for the rest of the round.
Watching the golf
Pro golf is unlike any other spectator sport, notes Roth. “It gives you choices you don’t have with hockey or football, where you’re stuck in a specific seat.”
If you’re eager to watch a specific player, you can follow his group the entire round. But you’ll need to move briskly to get a good view shot after shot, notes Roberts, especially if a large crowd’s following the group. “It’s not like playing golf—you don’t have the direct route from tee to green the players have. And you’re going to have to walk six or seven miles.”
Another option is to take a spot behind a specific tee or green. This allows you to see more players and is far less physically taxing. How easy or difficult it’ll be to see the action largely depends on which course the tournament’s contested at. Viewing’s especially easy at Glen Abbey, notes McLaughlin, because golf great Jack Nicklaus designed the course with spectators in mind. Areas around most tees and greens slope upwards, allowing fans to sit on the grass and take in the action unobstructed.
Roth suggests a mix of these options. “Pick a good vantage point, maybe at a signature hole, and park there for a bit. Then, when your favourite group comes through, leave that hole and follow that group for a few holes.”
All of this is possible with tickets anyone can purchase online for just over $75 (gate prices are a few dollars more; early bird tickets about $15 less). If you want to splurge, you can purchase a corporate box. Depending on how much you spend, you’ll have seats for three to 70 clients (see “Big ticket hospitality”).
Roberts has been a guest at the Canadian Open and a host at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, a yearly stop on the LPGA Tour. “I really like the atmosphere. You can sit and watch golf as well as meet with people.”
Roberts, who says he primarily takes clients, not prospects, to such events, limits business-related conversations to broad economic topics. “If something [investment]-specific does come up, I’ll say I’ll get back to them. Business isn’t the focus; it’s a great chance to find out more about [clients].”
Big ticket hospitality
Among the Canadian Open’s VIP options:
- $4,000 for four seats overlooking the 18th green
- $20,000 for a table for 10 in box seating, 50 yards short-right of the 18th green. Includes food and beverages, five parking passes and other amenities.
- $35,000 for a suite seating 70 by the 10th green. Food and beverages are extra; 35 parking passes included.
- $40,000 for 20 seats in the 17th green Skybox. Includes food and beverages, 10 parking passes and other amenities.
- $45,000 for 20 seats (or $65,000 for 30 seats) in the Skybox beside the 18th green. Food and beverages, up to 15 parking passes and other amenities included.
Source: RBC Canadian Open (All prices quoted are for 2015)
Dean DiSpalatro is a Toronto-based financial writer.