History in the making at Hamilton Golf and Country Club

History in the making at Hamilton Golf and Country Club

Hamilton Golf and Country Club, host to this June’s RBC Canadian Open, has a storied past, a bright future and a veteran superintendent leading the way. 

April 2019 | David McPherson 

Hamilton Golf and Country Club
Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ontario, should be at its greenest glory June 6-9 when it welcomes the RBC Canadian Open, previously contested in late July. Photos courtesy of Hamilton Golf and Country Club

“If you have the money to spend, there is no reason why you should not have one of the finest golf courses in America.”

— Harry Shapland Colt, in a letter to Hamilton Golf and Country Club prior to his visit in 1914

Famed British golf course architect Harry Colt, whose work includes such courses as Royal Portrush and Muirfield, predicted more than a century ago that Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ontario, would become a special place. One hundred and five years on, as some of the best golfers in the world will see come June when the facility hosts the RBC Canadian Open for the sixth time, that vision has become reality. Hamilton is not only one of the oldest clubs in the Americas, but it also perennially ranks as one of the top five courses in Canada.

Hamilton opened in 1894 and has since hosted the Canadian Open five times. The first, in 1919, featured two of the most legendary names in golf — Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet — but it was J. Douglas Edgar who made history at the event, winning by 16 strokes, a PGA Tour record that still stands as the largest margin of victory. The other players who have won the Canadian Open at Hamilton are Tommy Armour (1930), Bob Tway (2003), Jim Furyk (2006) and Scott Piercy (2012).

For the past three decades, Rhod Trainor, CGCS, has called Hamilton home. Trainor arrived at the club in 1990. This year will be his last. Is there a better way to wrap up a successful 30-year tenure than hosting his fourth PGA Tour event on the centennial of the year the club first hosted Canada’s national open?

Circle the date: RBC Canadian Open

Last July, when the PGA Tour announced a shift in Canadian Open scheduling — from late July to early June — a smile crept onto the faces of most Canadian golf fans, especially Laurence Applebaum, CEO of Golf Canada. Following the announcement, Applebaum said, “The new 2019 date change is a clear demonstration of our combined commitment to the game and Canada’s national championship. This exciting change will inject tremendous energy into the RBC Canadian Open and make Canadian golf better.”

1919 Canadian Open
The gallery walks from the No. 11 tee during the 1919 Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. J. Douglas Edgar won the event by 16 strokes, which remains a PGA Tour record for victory margin.

Scott Piercy Canadian Open
Eventual champion Scott Piercy heads toward the 18th green during the 2012 RBC Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.

The June date for the event — June 6-9, sandwiched between the Memorial and the U.S. Open — is better for attracting more top players and is ideal for achieving prime playing conditions. When the new date was announced, another person whose smile widened a bit was Trainor.

“I love the date,” the 37-year GCSAA member says. “Early June is when we have some of our best conditions. I remember reading an article years ago about why the U.S. Open is always held in the first two weeks of June, and it said because it was often hosted at the top private courses in the Northeast, and that is when their course conditions and weather are the best. Going forward, this is a much better date for the Canadian Open.”

While the date is great for the turf, from an execution standpoint, it will be a race against time and Mother Nature to get everything ready. “It will be a mad scramble for all the setup people,” Trainor says.

A head start on tournament prep

Early preparation for hosting Canada’s sole PGA Tour event started last fall. Trainor and his crew completed edging on all the course’s aging bunkers, a practice that’s normally done in spring.

“We did that to allow for a little grow-back along our bunker edges to put our best face on for the tournament,” Trainor says. “Edging was also a little more aggressive than normal, as we, in many cases, went beyond the designed edge to cut back to mature turf. This will allow the bunkers to have more visual appeal. Barring any major rainstorms, the bunkers should look and play great for the tournament.”

Hamilton Golf
The Hamilton crew aerated and sand-filled greens — including this one on No. 7 — last fall. The staff faces an abbreviated timeline to get the course ready for the Canadian Open in early June, which superintendent Rhod Trainor says “is usually when the course begins to wake up.”

Trainor admits nothing short of a complete renovation can remedy some of the long-term bunker issues he and his team face. And that might just be on the horizon: Trainor is hopeful the membership will approve moving forward with a master plan — or at least parts of it — prepared by Martin Ebert of Mackenzie and Ebert (see “Dreaming of a renovation at Hamilton Golf and Country Club,” below).

In spring, there won’t be much time to do many in-depth preparations other than the normal spring cleanup. “The first week of June is usually when the course begins to wake up, so there will be little time to recover from any extra activities or winter damage,” Trainor explains.

Preparing to put the course to bed last fall, knowing the reduced timeline to have the course ready for the Canadian Open, Trainor and his team also took extra precautions with expanded treatment on roughs for winter disease. “Normally we just treat greens, tees and fairways,” he says. “This winter, we also added to our greens cover inventory to ensure all sensitive turf on greens was covered.”

Wide-open spaces

Since the last time Hamilton hosted the Canadian Open in 2012, there have been few changes to the course aside from a massive tree removal program. That recommendation, which Trainor had been giving the club for 20 years, finally came to fruition in the spring of 2014 after a winter of discontent that saw the greens at many private courses near Hamilton die. The course removed nearly 1,000 mature trees, including silver maple, willow and ash.

“The tree removal has totally changed and improved our turf conditions,” Trainor says. “The views across the course are also different. You now see the true topography of the land the way Harry Colt saw it 100 years ago. Back in 1914 when Colt came here, he didn’t look for land that was forested. He looked for open land. He built this course on a big open area, and it has since changed. I love what David Oatis from the USGA, who consults for us, says about this: ‘We’ve taken an 18-hole landscape and made it 18 one-hole landscapes.’

“The pros and the fans will notice this,” Trainor adds. “The feedback every spring when members come back and see the course again with these extensive tree removals we’ve done has been more than positive. … It’s always, ‘Wow!’”

Hamilton Golf Country Club
A drone’s eye view of the 18th fairway at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.

When it comes to preparing for a professional event, Trainor is already well versed in what to do and what to expect, considering he has been at the helm for three previous Canadian Opens. Many of the contractors — from the security to the tent setup companies — are the same, so they all know their role and the timelines involved in staging such a large-scale event. The PGA Tour is also familiar with the course.

That said, Trainor and his team do not plan to rest on their laurels.

“Preparation all comes down to agronomics and timing,” Trainor says. “We added a little extra fertilizer last fall. We have beautiful growing conditions in the spring. Since the tournament arrives in the middle to end of our spring flush of growth, we should have some substantial rough.”

The key to Hamilton truly challenging the best players in the world is that it must be dry. If there is any significant rain leading up to the tournament, Trainor says the course will lose some of its edge and its key defenses, and the PGA Tour players will be firing at pins. “When our greens and fairways get wet,” he says, “they don’t dry out quickly.”

Come tournament time, Trainor will have a crew of about 25 full- and part-time staff. About 50 volunteers, mostly fellow greenkeepers from surrounding courses pitching in their time and expertise, will complement this core staff.

“Everything we do in the spring will be geared to that tournament and also managing the letdown once the tournament has left town,” he says. “I’ve already talked about that a bit with my staff. After the tournament, because we still have a long golf season ahead of us, I’ll need my team to get rallied up for that again, and that will be a challenge.”

Dreaming of a renovation at Hamilton Golf and Country Club

Rhod Trainor hopes that by the time his fellow industry colleagues are reading this story, Hamilton Golf and Country Club’s membership will have voted on and approved the comprehensive master plan prepared by Martin Ebert of Mackenzie and Ebert.

Beyond hosting the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open, the prospect of this renovation is what excites Trainor most. He says the plan will be presented to the membership in April or May, and if it gets approved, work could begin as early as September of this year.

“At this point, it boils down to two options: a complete course renovation, including a new irrigation system, new greens and renovated bunkers, or doing just the greens,” Trainor says. “The irrigation system is 30 years old, and the greens are just soil-based, so they have very little drainage.

“Our greens have always been the worst part of our course. They are too steep, and there is really nothing about them anymore that is ‘Harry Colt.’ If I only had one choice, I would do the greens.”

Rhod Trainor

Right: Rhod Trainor, CGCS, who has been the superintendent at Hamilton Golf and Country Club since 1990 and will host his fourth RBC Canadian Open at the club in June.

The severity of the slope on the greens makes it difficult to find suitable pin positions that are not overly penal, especially when the PGA Tour arrives and requires five possible pin locations per green. Because the greens are Poa annua, they are also more susceptible to disease, especially during the unpredictable southern Ontario winters. Trainor says the course spends between $20,000 and $25,000 annually in greens cover management as a preventive maintenance strategy. With brand-new bentgrass greens, covers would not be necessary.

“It will be interesting to see what the membership does,” Trainor says. “All the old crowd, (they) don’t want to do anything. … They want to just take the golf course as it is to the grave with them, whereas the young guys want new greens now.”

Ebert has prepared a hole-by-hole master plan that includes the history of everything that has been done at the club over the past 100 years. “He has given us a complete storyboard of where we are currently and a compelling argument to redo the greens,” Trainor says. The fact that the club is set to host the RBC Canadian Open again in 2023 is a definite selling point for the membership to approve Ebert’s master plan.

While Trainor will say goodbye to his home away from home for the past three decades at the end of the 2019 season, he plans to stay active in the turf and golf course maintenance industry. And he hopes, if the Hamilton renovation gets approved, that he can offer his services to the club in some capacity. “I’m not retiring from the business,” the 64-year-old says. “I’m just retiring from the club. I just won’t grow grass here anymore.”





I’ll Carry for You: Artist Pens Tribute to Henderson Sisters

There’s nothing so beautiful as sisterly love.

In less than two weeks, Canadian siblings Brooke and Brittany Henderson are set to team up, on the fairways of Rio, as golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. The Henderson’s hope their passion for the sport — and their love for each other — gives them an edge as they go for gold in Brazil.

When he’s not on tour or crafting another chart-topping song, one of Chip Taylor’s favourite things to do is watch golf. “I especially love the women’s tour and rooting for the Henderson sisters,” says the recent Songwriter’s Hall of Fame inductee.

Taylor, best known for the hits “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning,” has had his compositions covered by the likes of Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Frank Sinatra; he gets chills whenever he pens a song with staying power. The story of the Henderson sisters recently inspired the songwriter’s muse. About three years ago, he started to watch YouTube videos of the Canadian golfers. “I thought they were terrific together,” he recalls. “Brooke had this amazing powerful swing. I was rooting for her to make it. I’ve followed her career since and then I started to write some songs about them.”

Chip’s EP I’ll Carry for You released just two weeks ago on Train Wreck Records features a batch of songs that give him the chills. Brooke and Brittany’s deep-rooted love for one another inspired the title cut. In this song, Taylor sings:

“Sisters of the same blood/Same moon up above/Same air that I breathe/Same dreams that you see/Sisters hurt when they fall/ All you’ve got to do is call me/And I’ll carry for you/ I’ll carry for you.”

Born James Wesley Voight in Yonkers, New York, the songwriter says Brooke and Brittany’s journey to the LPGA captivated him from the start. “The story is just so amazing,” he says. “How kind they are together … you can just see their love for each other when they are going around the golf course.”

The 76-year-old songwriter feels a similar bond with his two siblings; his brothers are Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight and Barry — one of the foremost geologists in the world in the area of interpreting volcanic activity. While his brother Jon did not caddy for him, he always walked with him when Chip competed in junior tournaments and offered moral support and encouragement.

Taylor’s love for golf came naturally. Taylor’s dad was a golf professional. Chip played in many amateur tournaments during his formative years and he turned pro a while before he found success in the music business. His adopted name originated because he was so good around the greens.

“My dream was music, but I loved golf,” he concludes. “These days, whether I’m on the road, or making a new album, I’m always trying to catch up on golf … that is my relaxation.”

Meeting of the Minds

Jeff Mingay recalls a recent trip to Mountain Ridge Country Club – a historic Donald Ross design in New Jersey, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. What struck him most was how the superintendent and his crew maintain some creative and unique design features such as twelve-inch collars that surround the small, push-up greens that are extended to the edge where Ross’s trademark false fronts and greenside bunkers are located.

“It’s so cool how far they have taken the contours of the putting surfaces out to the edges of the fill paths,” explains the Toronto-based architect. “You can get pins really close to the outside edges of the greens. It just looks really distinctive and unique.”

This feature would not be possible if the course superintendent didn’t challenge his agronomic norms and think outside the box on how he and his team could keep and maintain these historic design features. That’s where the artistry to a greenkeepers’ role comes into play; it’s also just one aspect of the crucial role that is needed when it comes to the unique relationship between architects and superintendents.

“When guys appreciate that aesthetic and they are interested in creating something that is unique, rather than just status quo, that’s when the true magic happens,” says Mingay. “Of the half dozen projects I’ve got going on right now in various stages, the ones that are the most fun – and then as a result the most successful – are the ones where not only do you have a good relationship with the superintendent, but the superintendent is actually interested in the architecture.

“That’s the difference I find between superintendents,” the architect continues. “Certain ones are not that interested in the architecture. When you’ve got someone that knows how to maintain a golf course and grow turf, but they are also interested in, and knows architecture, and is willing to maintain things that are maybe a bit more unconventional or a bit more of a challenge, that’s when the golf course goes to the next level. I can have all the ideas that I want to turn the course into something special, but if the guy who is left to take care of it doesn’t want to push the greens as far out as I want, or doesn’t want to take that tree down, or doesn’t want that many bunkers … that’s when the architecture suffers. That’s not to say that I don’t take into consideration things like maintenance costs and limitations with certain budgets.”

Mingay admits he’s currently working on a few projects where the superintendent has pushed back on his design ideas and asked questions such as: ‘How am I going to turn my mower around?’ and the conversation closes. Not an ideal relationship or situation when you want to create the best possible golfing experience for your members and public players alike. When Mingay asked the superintendent at Mountain Ridge CC how he accomplished this, he simply said, ‘there is always a way.’

“I appreciated that. You could tell he wanted his golf course to be distinctive and he appreciated the architecture. You just have to figure out how to do it and do it differently. It’s really cool to see guys trying to create something unique, working hard, and being innovative.”

Innovation has always been a key ingredient to Tom McBroom’s designs. Known for such award-winning golf course properties from coast to coast such as Tobiano, Bell Bay, and Rocky Crest, the architect also appreciates the importance of the relationship between himself and the course superintendent of whatever property he’s working at — whether it’s a grow-in, renovation, or restoration.


The Links at Brunello, which just opened to rave reviews outside Halifax this past June, is a recent example; McBroom worked closely with the course superintendent: Chris Wallace, whom he says is doing a wonderful job.

“It’s important the two get along,” says the acclaimed architect. “Each has a big responsibility. The architect in getting the design implemented and the superintendent in growing in the course and making sure the course is properly constructed. It’s a pivotal relationship. If the two are butting heads or disagreeing it’s not going to be a very pleasant or fruitful relationship.”

So, how do you make sure there is a meeting of the minds and not a sparring match or word of words? First, you might not be working together if there wasn’t a match of personality. “Usually both get to first base because there is a mutual respect,” McBroom adds. “Then, the relationship grows from there.”

As for Wallace, McBroom has nothing but compliments for the monumental task he has handled of growing in a new course. “He blew everyone away with his skillset, his enthusiasm, and his ability to manage a complicated grow-in,” he comments.

Constant Communication

When it comes to the success of the superintendent architect relationship, clear, constant and open communication is essential. For the Brunello project, McBroom chalked up many frequent flyer miles to Halifax to be on site. “It was a pet project of mine,” he says. “I was probably in Halifax 40 times in the last two years … it’s got my fingertips on it that’s for sure!” The same goes for Mingay. Last year when he was working on the renovation of The Derrick Club in Edmonton, he moved there for a few months. “I was on site shaping and Darryl was the construction manager so he and I were basically on site almost every single day of the project,” Mingay says. “Not only was I talking to him about stuff I was building, but he was seeing what was going on day to day, would approach me with concerns he had and vice versa. I believe being there on site and creating in collaboration is critical. When you have a superintendent who is not involved or interested in the construction and an architect that is more of a paper guy mailing stuff in, you don’t get that synergy.”

In big projects you are talking every day, e-mailing, talking on the phone, on you are on site. There also needs to be a mutual respect for the others job and expertise.

“It’s not just you accepting what the superintendent says or does and vice versa,” says McBroom. “It’s a sharing of ideas and getting each other to stretch their perspective and think of better and sometimes alternative ways of doing things for the betterment of the project. In a good relationship you pull the best of your skill sets out of each other.”

Mingay also learns a lot from superintendents and speaks to the reciprocal nature of this relationship. “I’ve made some stupid mistakes with construction years ago when I did not consider the maintenance,” the architect admits. “It’s very helpful to have a superintendent around and have an open, friendly relationship. If you are building something, he can say ‘Whoa, there’s a logical reason why that will not work.’ That is essential to learning golf course architecture.”

CGSA President Christian Pilon, Master Superintendent at Mount Bruno Country Club in St. Bruno, Quebec, has worked frequently with McBroom over the years and he’s learned a lot from the golf course architect. McBroom has been involved at the prestigious private club since the 1990s. He put together a master plan, analyzed the course and as Pilon says, sketched out, “how we can get the course to step into the 21st century.” This is an example of a relationship where there is mutual respect. “He’s a very articulate guy,” says McBroom. “He’s really into the details and the artistry of the project.”

Pilon stresses that you can’t forget, as a superintendent, that neither you, nor the architect are doing renovations for your own accolades. “It’s not our course, not our baby, and we are not creating something for our legacy. We are trying to change, improve, manage, safeguard a property for the enjoyment and that will enhance the experience for our members.”

McBroom has been working with Mount Bruno’s membership for nearly two decades. The most recent work with Pilon is to rebuild, restore and reshape all of their bunkers in preparation for their 2018 centennial. It’s a huge project with nine holes scheduled to be completed this year and nine next. That’s another element about the superintendent/architect relationship shows is that if it’s a good match and the result of the product is good, it tends to be a long-term engagement.

Jason Winter, Superintendent at DeerRidge in Kitchener, Ont. has also had the pleasure to work with McBroom on some green recontour work recently. “He’s a great guy to work with, easy to get along with, and he has a great eye for design,” says Winter. “He plays the game, so he also understands everything that an architect needs to understand – not just how a course looks, but how it plays.”

At the end of the day, the key to the superintendent/architect relationship, just like any other successful partnership, is going all in.

“Rhod Whitman said to me years ago, ‘the guys with dirt under their fingernails are going to have a better chance to be the best.’” Mingay concludes. “I think that’s applicable to both architects and superintendents. If you are out there on the course jointly participating you are going to end up with the best results.”

Chambers Bay: Bucket List Worthy

In my golf-writing career, I’ve been fortunate to tee it up at some nice courses, near and far. I played TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Verda, Florida (home of The Players Championship on the PGA TOUR) by my lonesome one dewy January morning a few years back. I was the guest of the superintendent. My score did not matter. On the front nine, I saw an otter swim in the water hazard. I took more shots with my camera than with my clubs. And, when I stepped up to test myself at the famed island 17th green, par 3, I had a gaggle of birds as my gallery. I made par, even though the blue and white herons were my only witnesses.

I’ve walked the fairways of Augusta National as a patron on a Wednesday in April, eating a pimento cheese sandwich at Amen Corner. I’ve played in coffee country in Colombia with a caddy guiding me and providing camaraderie during my round. I’ve played TPC Old White, home of The Greenbrier, on the PGA TOUR. I’ve played historic Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York, host most recently of the 2013 PGA Championship won by Jason Dufner.

Besides these memorable experiences, I’ve met many unforgettable people through my years writing about golf. As a junior, I watched Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Moe Norman bounce balls off of his putter in the pro shop of my childhood course, Westmount Golf & Country Club in Kitchener, Ont. Another time, for a feature for this magazine, I golfed a few holes with Jaime Farr (Klinger on M*A*S*H). From early morning rounds alone with my thoughts (golf is better than any therapist), to days spent with my dad – and with new and old friends – the sport, to me, is much more than a good walk. I feel spoiled I get to experience all of these opportunities.

Last summer, yet another Bucket List golf invite came my way: the chance to play Chambers Bay – host of the 2015 U.S. Open. Saying no was not an option. I boarded a plane at YYZ in the early morning bound for Seattle. On the descent, I glimpsed stunning views of Washington States’ highest peak – the glacier-capped Mount Rainer.

Upon landing, I met the rest of my party and we drove south for an hour, through Tacoma, to reach Pierce County and Chambers Bay — the links-like course designed by Robert Trent Jones II, sculpted on the site of a former sand and gravel mine. Water abounds everywhere the eye can see, but your ball won’t get wet on the course that is all grass, dunes, and bunkers that are deep and plentiful.

During the U.S. Open in June 2015 (won by Jordan Spieth), the major championship came to the Pacific Northwest for the first time. In its 114-year history prior to the 2015 event, the U.S. Open Championship — an event held in New York State and Pennsylvania 18 times each — never made it to Washington State. It was worth the wait for the PGA TOUR pros and it was definitely worth the cross-country trip for me to reach this special piece of property marked by a lone pine tree on the property, phenomenal water views and fescue grass.

Pre or post-round, start your golf experience at the Chambers Bay Grill. Sit on the patio and soak in the panoramic views of Puget Sound and the natural beauty of this Pacific Northwest locale while enjoying a cup of clam chowder, a cheeseburger and a micro brew. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a pod of whales dancing in the tranquil blue waters below.

Chambers Bay is a walking-only course; a caddy is recommended. Cost is $50, plus gratuity. I chose to carry my bag, but our group had a pair of caddies, each carrying two bags. Who says golf is not exercise? An 18-hole round here is a 10-mile walk with so many elevation changes of the dunes that you climb up — and walk down — more than 600 feet. This walk is not for the faint of heart, but it’s all part of what makes this golf experience so unforgettable.

While waiting to hit your tee shot on several holes, pause to watch as a Southern Pacific train roars down the tracks that border the golf holes. Ancient “ruins”—from the site’s mining era—are also visible from a number of holes. Like true links golf, Chambers Bay’s rollicking fairways allow you to get creative. Have some fun. One of my most memorable shots was putting the ball 50 yards out from the green!

The extraordinary views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains provide a backdrop that is visual stunning, all complemented by world-class golf. Add Chambers Bay to your golf bucket list today. It’s worth the flight to Seattle. Just make sure your glutes are in shape for all the climbs.

Ames enjoying having son on the bag

OAKVILLE, Ontario — The job market for teens these days is tough, but Ryan Ames has a leg up on the competition. He gets to caddie for dad Stephen at the RBC Canadian Open this week.

Most weeks, Ames gets more enjoyment from his family than from his golf game. While the 49-year-old is confident he can still compete on the PGA TOUR, his on-course play this year has been lackluster. Ames, who was tied for low Canadian the last time the event was held at Glen Abbey – and is also the last of his countrymen to win on the TOUR – has missed making the cut the past three tournaments.

This week he hopes having his son looping will change that trend.

“That’s my enjoyment right now, and it’s a thrill,” said Ames in a media news conference on Tuesday. “He knows a lot about the game and sees a lot in my swing, which is nice.”

Catching up with the affable Ames on the back nine Thursday afternoon offered a glimpse to the camaraderie between father and son. The pair shared many laughs, despite making only one birdie and carding an opening round 74 (+2).

On the 13th hole, the teenage caddie did an admirable job raking the fairway bunker, getting kudos from both father and fans. Ames – always prone to a healthy dose of sarcasm – turned to a Canadian media member standing outside the ropes and deadpanned: “See how you do it!”

During a long wait on the next tee Ryan craved an ice cream. While his dad went to hit his tee shot, he satisfied this wish, buying a frozen treat from the ice-cream cart. A fan asked for his signature and whether if he liked caddying. Ryan replied, “Oh yeah!”

Ames’ wife Jodi, who was standing nearby, laughed at her son’s purchase. “What other caddie do you see eating a popsicle?”
Popsicles, good pay, and spending time with dad as a summer job is tough to beat.

PGA TOUR Canada players feeling pressure

“Pressure pushing down on me …”

This opening line from “Under Pressure,” the 1981 collaboration between David Bowie and Queen, sums up what the 132 golfers teeing it up this week at the TOUR Championship of Canada presented by Freedom 55 Financial are surely feeling.

After eight events in PGA TOUR Canada’s inaugural year, it all comes down to this. The squeeze is on. The butterflies in the player’s stomachs are beating their wings a wee bit faster. On the line: Web.com TOUR cards for 2014 for the top five on the Order of Merit, exemptions to the final stage of Q-school for Nos. 6-10 and a bye to the second stage of q-school stage for Nos. 11-20.

With less than $300 separating third through fifth on the Order of Merit — and $7,000 separating fifth from 10th — anything can happen this week at Sunningdale Golf & Country Club in London, Ontario.

Graham DeLaet, who currently ranks fifth in the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup, played both PGA TOUR Canada and Web.com Tour. He knows the added incentive this week will be a huge motivator.

“When we were out there, it’s not that we didn’t want to play well because we did, and we wanted to make as much money as we could, but there was nothing to really play for other than the week-to-week cheques,” says DeLaet.

DeLaet’s good friend Joe Panzeri agrees. The 27-year-old from Idaho, who won the ATB Financial Classic in Calgary, Alberta earlier this summer, heads into the TOUR Championship of Canada holding the fifth spot on the Order of Merit with $39,312.73, just over $3,000 ahead of his next competitor.

“I feel like I’m in a good spot,” Panzeri says. “If someone told me at the beginning of the year that I would be where I am, I would have been happy to hear that. At the same time, this event is big. You could miss the top five by a couple hundred bucks, so each shot is a big deal.”

Whether Panzeri lives up to this added pressure this week and gets his Web.com Tour card or not, he’s happy with the progress he’s made on PGA TOUR Canada this season.

“I just told myself to work hard all year and not have any regrets at the end of the season,” he says. “I can’t control what anybody else does; I can just control what I do. My goal is to get back in the mix and try to get another win.”

Lucky for Mackenzie Hughes, the pressure is off. The 22-year-old from Dundas, Ont., who began the year with no PGA TOUR Canada status, locked up his Web.com Tour card with a victory last week at the Cape Breton Celtic Classic.

“To win on PGA TOUR Canada means so much,” said Hughes, a two-time Canadian Amateur champion. “It’s been a crazy year. If you told me at the start of the year after I missed those first few cuts that I’d be No. 1 on the Order of Merit heading to the TOUR Championship, I’d say ‘stop messing with me.’”

For others, there is no more time to mess around. Riley Wheeldon, who Hughes knocked out of first place, currently sits in second on the Order of Merit with $43,987.50. While he missed a few cuts late in the season, the 22-year-old from British Columbia started the year strong with a third-place finish in Victoria and later won his first PGA TOUR Canada event at The Syncrude Boreal Open.

The added pressure this season is something he’s definitely felt.

“It’s a pretty deep Tour now and anybody can win,” Wheeldon says. “With the added incentive of the Web.com Tour card, the Tour has definitely gotten stronger.

“Everyone has been playing with extra motivation since there is a lot more on the line. Obviously, coming down the stretch, there is more pressure on us than there was last season and pretty much any season I’ve played before. I’m just trying to get used to it and go out there and play the way I can … hopefully the results will take care of the Web.com card.”

Just outside the top five sits Nick Taylor. Like Wheeldon, he hails from British Columbia. While a victory has eluded the 25-year-old, he’s been the most consistent player this season on PGA TOUR Canada with five top-10s in eight events and only one missed cut. The increased competition, he says, has helped him take his game to another level.

“Look at the scores each week, there are some crazy low scores,” said Taylor, who sits seventh on the Order of Merit. “If you are not making birdies in any of the rounds you are getting lapped.”

Taylor hopes he’s the one who sets the pace for the field this week, not one the players that gets lapped.

“It will be really exciting,” he said. “Going into this tournament, a win could jump someone like me into the top five. That adds a lot of excitement. It will be fun to be a part of this.”

Snedeker pulls away for big victory at RBC Canadian Open

Sipping a bottle of Molson Canadian beer during the media press conference, Snedeker was all smiles. He talked about how much it meant for him — and his caddie — to win Canada’s National Open.

“I’m just ecstatic,” Snedeker said, reflecting on his sixth PGA TOUR victory. “This is a tournament I said early on in my career I wanted to win just because my caddie is from Canada and it’s his national open. It meant a lot to him and it meant a lot to me. It’s the third oldest tournament on TOUR and it’s got some great history to it, and now to put my name on that trophy it means a lot.”

After an eventful Saturday that featured a weather delay, the overnight leader Hunter Mahan withdrawing, and loads of low scores, normalcy returned to Glen Abbey on Sunday. Gusty winds — especially in the Abbey’s valley — made birdies elusive. Not that it mattered to Snedeker. He made four birdies to go along with two bogeys for a 2-under 70. That was good enough to notch his second victory of the season and sixth of his career.

“I hung in there really well and made the key putts I needed to and I was able to survive,” said Snedeker, the reigning FedExCup champion who, with the win, moves up one spot to No. 3 in the 2013 FedExCup standings. “That’s what today was all about.”

Snedeker is in great position to become the first FedExCup champion to qualify for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola to defend his title. The previous five FedExCup winners all fell short of a return trop to East Lake.

Thanks to a flawless 63 Saturday, Snedeker started the final round with the lead. And, he kept it. When questioned after the third round about the importance of this position, he said that was crucial.

“My last two wins on TOUR have been from in front, so I know how to handle it, know what to expect tomorrow,” he said Saturday. “Especially on a golf course like this, the lead doesn’t really mean a whole lot. It can change in a hole.”

Dustin Johnson found that out the hard way on Sunday. With one swing of his driver everything changed and Johnson’s chances to win his second tournament of the year were squashed. Even having his celebrity girlfriend Paulina Gretzky being police-escorted alongside him Sunday afternoon couldn’t alter fate.

After an eagle putt on 16 that narrowly missed, Johnson tapped in for birdie to temporarily tie Snedeker — who was playing two holes back. Then, the unthinkable happened. The 29-year-old stepped to the tee on the 436-yard par-4 17th and opted to use driver instead of a fairway wood. The result: Johnson sailed his tee shot out-of-bounds right — his first wayward drive of the day. His second swing wasn’t a whole lot better. His ball landed in the bunker on the left side of the fairway.

Facing a steep lip, Johnson took two swings to get onto the green, followed by two putts to make a triple bogey. He bounced back with a birdie on 18 to finish in a four-way tie for second.

“I was playing really well,” Johnson said when asked about his choice to pull out the big stick on 17. “I was really confident and swinging the driver really good … it’s a driver hole for me, but I just blocked it a little bit and made a poor swing.”

Snedeker said he never knew of Johnson’s troubles.

“I had no clue,” he said. “I don’t look at leaderboards because you can’t control anything anybody else is doing. My whole goal today was to go out there and shoot as low as I possibly could … and that’s what I did.”

By the time he strolled down the 18th fairway, Snedeker felt like the tension was out of the air. “I felt like I had a chance and a pretty cushioned lead to get it done.”

A Priceless Pilgrimmage: Masters Memories

One pimento cheese sandwich: $1.50. A no-name domestic draft in a plastic Masters cup: $3. A pair of kids’ T-shirts from the souvenir shop: $48. One patron pass to stroll the rolling fairways of Augusta National Golf Club the day before the first round of the 2013 Masters: priceless.

On Wednesday, April 10, I visited the hallowed Georgia golf grounds for the first time. It was a pinch-me moment from the time my pass arrived in the mail until I boarded my return flight from Charlotte, North Carolina back to Toronto.

Many Canadians make this same pilgrimage each April. Some drive; some fly. Some come with buddies; others with wives. Some rent a house in the Augusta area. Others stay 60 miles away across the state line. No matter where they rest their heads, or from where they come, all make the journey for the same reason: to experience what makes the home that Bobby Jones built so special.

The 2013 Masters was extra special for Canuck golf fans as it marked a major milestone. Flash back 10 years: Mike Weir – the loveable lefty from Bright’s Grove, Ont. – became the first Canadian to win the green jacket in a moment the nation will never forget.

Weir played the back nine alone on Wednesday afternoon, trying to work out the kinks with his caddie. After searching for him all day, I met a group of Canadians near the 17th tee who had been following his practice round. Like me, the four friends from our nation’s capital were making their inaugural trip to Augusta. Tax season was not going to stop these accountants from creating their own Masters memories. Two are retired while the others still practice with the Carleton Place accounting firm of Nephin Winter and Bingley.

How did they get tickets? “It’s a long Story,” laughed Bob Winter. The short version: his wife’s dentist won four day passes in the Masters lottery last year. Somehow, after asking around, Winter and his three number-crunching colleagues were the lucky recipients of the tickets.

From meetings like these to watching the par-3 contest, my Masters experience was magical. There are too many memories to cite them all, but here are a few more highlights of this whirlwind trip.

On Tuesday evening I attended Canada Night at the house Golf Canada rents near Augusta National each year. Grilled steaks and casual conversation were the order of the evening. I met many golf industry executives and fellow members of the media Lorne Rubenstein and Bob Weeks. Rube, a mentor of mine and friend, kindly introduced me to newly-inducted Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member Jim Nelford and others in attendance such as USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation.

By 8 a.m. Wednesday morning I was seated aboard a media shuttle inside Augusta National’s gates being whisked to the press building. While waiting for the Golf Writers Association of America’s AGM, I perused a golf magazine in the green arm chairs. Gerry Dee – the star and producer of the award-winning CBC TV show Mr. D – walked by. We shared a few words. The Canadian comedian is also a part-time sports journalist for The Score.

Flash ahead to 3 p.m. that afternoon. As my dream day at Augusta came to a close, I spotted Weir under the big old oak tree – the famed spot where media gather to catch players for impromptu interviews. In the shade of this mighty oak I chatted with Kevin and Mary Bennett of Seaforth, Ont., who drove 15 straight hours to attend their fifth Masters. Kevin’s brother Steve is a longtime friend of Weir’s.

All these Canadians came to Georgia in April for the chance to be a patron for a day. To see the tree on No. 10 where 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson hit his miraculous snap-hook in last year’s playoff. To see the magnolias, azaleas and dogwoods in full bloom. To see how green and pristine Augusta National really is. To sit awhile at Amen Corner and eat a pimento sandwich. Like me, they came to witness, up close, what makes this golf tournament a “tradition unlike any other.” Let me tell you, the experience is priceless.

Sixteen Canadians Take Their Shot at Joining Pat Fletcher

In most sports, home-court or home-field advantage — with fans cheering your every move — is the deciding factor that makes an athlete, or team, rise to victory. We’ve certainly seen that the past two weeks with Canada’s record performance at the Pan Am Games.

So, why is this not usually the case in golf? Sure rowdy crowds during team events such as the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup, often help, but what about all those decked out in red and white at the RBC Canadian Open, which returns to Glen Abbey this week?

The pressure is more than most Canadian pro golfers can handle. It’s now been 61 years since Pat Fletcher won our national Open. Imagine the euphoria and swelling of national pride if one of our own won this week.

With 16 Canadians teeing it up at Glen Abbey – which will host the tournament for the 27th time – there’s a good chance this drought could finally be snapped. And the tournament organizers, as Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reported this week, are doing what they can to give the “hometown” contingent an advantage over their international competitors.

First-year tournament director Brent McLaughlin heard from players that there’s not enough “Canadiana” at the RBC Canadian Open. They’ll get their wish on the course this week with the addition of many Canadian flags, including a 30-by-15-feet one behind the 18th green.

It’s all an effort to make the Canadian Open more Canadian.

“I think we’ve struck a balance of the Canadiana,” McLaughlin said in a phone interview last week. “We’ve lost touch with kind of the stuff that makes us uniquely Canadian: the Mounties and kind of those stereotypes that you always hear.

“I know we don’t like it when it’s talked about about us, but it’s nice when we can sort of say, ‘Yeah, you’re in Canada. It’s a little bit different here.'”

Graham DeLaet – a little jet-lagged after a Monday finish at the Open Championship – comes to the Abbey at No. 84 in the world golf rankings. DeLaet and David Hearn both arrive in Oakville, Ont., in fine form. DeLaet finished fourth at the Travelers Championship a few weeks back and Hearn had his best finish of the season with a runner-up at The Greenbrier Classic a fortnight ago.

Other Canadians to watch this week include PGA Tour rookies Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor, and Roger Sloan. Hadwin is no stranger to the Open, but this is his first time playing as a full-time Tour member.

“Normally this event is a bit of a one-off for me,” Hadwin told reporters Tuesday. “To come in having played a full season on the PGA Tour thus far and having come in as a full member, it’s a little bit different, but at the same time, it’s sort of the same. I’m going through the same procedures to prepare for the event, and I’m looking forward to a great week here at Glen Abbey.”

Some of the young guns in the 156-player field are: long-hitting Taylor Pendrith, Adam Svensson, Garrett Rank, Corey Conners and amateur Austin Connelly (who finished fifth in the Pan Am Games last week).

A notable Canadian missing is fan favourite Mike Weir. The Canadian Golf Hall of Famer announced last week he would not be at Glen Abbey this week (which would have been his 25th Canadian Open appearance) due to personal reasons. He’s taking an extended leave from the game.

While there is no Weir, all of the red and white flags and homer crowd in attendance at the Abbey is sure to give the rest of the Canadians a boost, and just maybe that’s the extra edge to snap that 61-year drought.

“When you have so many people pulling for you, behind you, wanting you to do well, if you’re a little bit down and you hit a good shot and they go crazy, it’s certainly helpful to pick you back up,” Hadwin said. “When you’re playing well, you sort of ride the momentum of the fans and the crowd. You see it all the time in other sports where one team is down, their home crowd gets excited, they get cheered and you can kind of ride that momentum.

“I think you can do that here. Especially if you got into contention on the back nine on Sunday, I think it will be a huge help and huge bonus to have that many people behind you and want to see you win.”

A close shave for Graham DeLaet to grab an Open Championship spot

From Fear the Beard to Shear the Beard. Sometimes, as the saying goes, a change will do you good. Graham DeLaet can attest to this adage. His decision to shave off his facial hair certainly played a mental role in the Canadian’s play this past weekend at The Travelers Championship.

“I was playing some bad golf this year, so I kind of just needed a change,” DeLaet told the Hartford Courant last weekend about this new look.

That change — and more importantly his improved on-course play — contributed to DeLaet’s best finish of the season: fourth place at The Travelers at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. It was his first top-10 finish since February. While that first PGA Tour win continues to elude the Canadian, he can take a lot of positives from this performance.

Despite getting off to a sluggish start with a double-bogey at the opening hole and finishing his round with a bogey Sunday, DeLaet produced four birdies in between to finish with a one-under-par 69. Watch his beautiful approach on the 71st hole.

With the top five finish, the Weyburn, Sask. native vaulted 20 spots in the FedEx Cup race — from 103 to 83 — and he’s also closing in on $1 million in earnings for the season ($942,167). Most important, he punched his ticket for The Open next month at the home of golf – St Andrews.

DeLaet entered the Travelers Championship ranked No. 92 in the world rankings. Since only the top 50 as of mid-May get an automatic entry into the British Open, he had to play his way into (the four highest finishes by golfers not otherwise qualified at the Travelers received exemptions) the major. The 33-year-old was the highest finisher without a spot already locked up, so that’s not a bad consolation prize. The Canadian makes his third consecutive appearance at The Open.

Here’s what he told The Open.com after getting the invite:

“I was standing on the 18th tee knowing that I had the third spot in The Open. When I hit my tee shot in the bunker all I could think was, ‘I really hope this doesn’t cost me my spot’. But it ended up being just enough. It’s an awesome Championship and it’s at the home of golf so I can still leave here with a smile on my face.”

Oh Canada, we stand on the tee for thee

Looking beyond DeLaet, the top Canadians in the FedEx Cup race are: Nick Taylor (85) and David Hearn (88). Besides this trio, more homegrown players than ever are teeing it up most weeks on the PGA TOUR including: Mike Weir, Adam Hadwin, Brad Fritsch, and Roger Sloan, but the top-10 results are not there.

It’s just the nature of golf. The difference between the top 50 and top 150 is a couple more bogeys on the card, a few wayward drives, and some missed putts. Those tend to be the result of mental mistakes. Several of the Candadians are closing in on $1 million in earnings or have already surpassed that figure (Taylor thanks to his win last fall at the Sanderson Farms). Many a 9 to 5er would be happy with that kind of money for eight months’ work.