Opinion: A Plea For Canada’s Sandbelt Invitational

I am sitting here, typing this article up as flurries drift over Etobicoke, Ontario as I see Lukas Michel’s photos of Victoria Golf Club, Mike Clayton tweet about the Sandbelt Invitational, and various Instagram accounts I follow post about the sandbelt, and my mind drifts off as I watch the snow fly. Daydreaming about Melbourne and golf, and particularly intrigued by the Sandbelt Invitational as the second round is played.

For those who do not know, the Sandbelt Invitational is a mixed gender golf tournament of both professional and amateur golfers held in the famous sandbelt region southeast of Melbourne, Victoria. This year’s event is played on Kingston Heath, Royal Melbourne’s West course, Yarra Yarra, and the final day at Peninsula Kingswood’s North course.

Royal Melbourne’s West course (photo credit: Golfscapes)

It is one of the many examples of Australia having numerous things to teach the rest of the world. The event—hosted by Geoff Ogilvy’s foundation—is a great example of opening up some of the more notable and prestigious golf courses for a good cause, with a great field and a cool format. In short, Australia’s notable clubs walk the walk; they are willing to work to provide an exceptional tournament experience for professionals and amateurs alike to propel careers, and celebrate those who have already done it.

As the snow bookends a great 2022, the Twitter and Instagram coverage of the Sandbelt Invitational has me begging for a Canadian equivalent. As it stands, golf in Canada has never been stronger. The PGA TOUR has the most Canadians on tour in… well, ever. Brooke Henderson leads the way on the LPGA front, with others, like Alena Sharp, also showcasing their skills. On the amateur side, Golf Canada has done an exceptional job of building a program to get players to the highest level. Golf is in a good spot.

[The Sandbelt invitational] is one of the many examples of Australia having numerous things to teach the rest of the world.

St. George’s Golf & Country Club

From a golf course standpoint, we need to do better in comparison to other golf nations like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and specifically, private golf courses and their willingness to host events. In my eye, hosting events should not only be a privilege of being a premiere club in the country, but an obligation that comes with the territory.

Kudos to those that do, which I think we might overlook. Capilano, for example, will host the 2023 Pacific Coast Amateur. St. George’s hosted the RBC Canadian Open in 2022, Hamilton in 2024, Banff Springs hosts a Maple Leaf Junior Tour (MJT) event yearly, and so forth. Those are four of Canada’s Top 10; we should appreciate their willingness to host.

With the Canadian version of the Sandbelt Invitational, I imagine it as a great event to showcase not only Canada’s golf courses, but also showcase the exciting time in Canadian golf. Imagine seeing a field of the professional and amateurs in Canada playing over four great golf courses in Vancouver, Calgary, or Toronto! Yes, Australia has the benefit of hosting it in December when the PGA TOUR is quite, but in one of the infinite worlds of the multiverse, there is a reality where this could work.

Corey Conner (photo credit: Sam Greenwood)

Like Australia’s playing, I think a charitable foundation from a noteworthy tour player would help. Geoff Ogilvy won on tour, so we will set that precedent as well. That leaves us with a notable tour player who won on tour, whether that be the LPGA or PGA.

What about Corey Conners? He is arguably Canada’s most popular male golfer, and I could see him being a worthy host for a good cause. Listowel, Ontario is not exactly a region akin to Melbourne’s sandbelt, but perhaps given his low-Canadian honour at St. George’s 2022 RBC Canadian Open, he would keep it in the west end. Given Kingston Heath and Royal Melbourne’s West course—the top 2 golf courses in Australia, or top 2 of 3 depending on who ranks Cape Wickham higher—both host the Sandbelt Invitational, is it an impossible task to think about Toronto Golf Club co-hosting with St. George’s? A man can dream. After that, take your pick of golf courses in Canada’s best area for golf, but Weston and Lambton make the most sense, in my opinion.

Point Grey Golf & Country Club (photo credit: Golf Canada)

Even with Corey’s increased success in 2022, Brooke Henderson still reigns supreme with golf in Canada, and there is a strong argument she is the most successful Canadian golfer ever. She holds membership at Ottawa Hunt, host of the 2022 CP Women’s Open, so that seems like an obvious choice. You would hope Royal Ottawa hops in to host, a historic club joining in to further progress golf in Canada like the members of the past did at the club (Royal Ottawa is where the PGA of Canada was founded, and many other notable advances in golf in this country). After that, you can take your pick between Jeff Mingay’s recently revamped Rivermead, Rideau View, Camelot, or The Marshes, but for the vision I have, Rivermead and Rideau View make the most sense.

Brooke Henderson (Photo credit: LPGA Tour)
Royal Ottawa Golf Club

Even while putting pen to paper, I am fully aware of the numerous hurdles required to host. For one, you have to have members agree to give up their golf course for a day or two, and then have four clubs come together and fit it into their schedule. The most likely time is in the fall following the FedEx Cup Playoffs (really, it is the only time), and if you wait until October, weather becomes dicey.

Adam Hadwin (photo credit: Golf Monthly)
Adam Svennson (photo credit: Peace Arch News)
Nick Taylor (photo credit: Jamie Squire)

Nonetheless, heading out west is a good idea regardless of the situation, but even more to play golf, where Vancouver and Vancouver Island enjoys the longest golf season in the country. Adam Hadwin, Adam Svennson, or Nick Taylor could all be viable hosts, but the Fraser Valley is not quite the golf destination Vancouver is (not yet, anyway). Capilano has shown it enjoys hosting select events that interest them, such as the Pacific Coast Amateur, and the next option is obviously Shaughnessy, which will host the 2023 CP Women’s open for the LPGA’s season. Point Grey is another great option, a progressive club doing excellent work, and Seymour, Point Grey’s co-host for the 2022 Canadian Men’s Amateur, would round out the four.

Would this event work? Canada’s outlook on golf is much different than Australia, and I think it would be difficult to pull off. While the fall would work better for the pro circuits, high-level amateurs go back to school in September, and if they don’t, they’re refereeing NHL games. This poses an issue for Mike Weir, Canada’s most notable male golfer, Masters winner, and upcoming President’s Cup host in 2024 at Royal Montreal. Weir’s hometown of Sarnia does not have the facilities to host bigger events, so perhaps he goes to nearby Windsor with Essex, Roseland, Beach Grove, and Ambassador.

Mike Weir (photo credit: PGA TOUR)

What I think is a better idea, however, is Montreal, the place where Mike Weir beat Tiger Woods in Sunday Singles in the 2007 President’s Cup, and where he will captain the international team in 2024. Add Royal Montreal’s Blue course, the should-be RBC Canadian Open Host at Laval’s Blue course, Mount Bruno, and the revamped Beaconsfield from Jeff Mingay and Christine Fraser.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to ask for a Pinehurst No. 2 situation where the Canadian Opens are played on the same golf course on back-to-back weeks, but having an event like this, to bring in high-level amateurs, PGA TOUR, Mackenzie Tour, Korne Ferry, LPGA, Symetra pros, and more to compete against each other is an option too good to pass up.

Stephen Ames (photo credit: PGA TOUR)
Glencoe’s Forest course

Part of the fun of a smaller-field event, and less infrastructure than a PGA TOUR or LPGA Tour event is more flexibility with venues. Also, given the nature of the event, finding a golf course north of 7,000+ is not a requirement, though every suggestion thus far has included at least one. Sponsorship and corporate dollars is also less of a consideration, which works in favour of Stephen Ames adopted home of Calgary, which will struggle to get a Canadian Open in the future even if it should. Give me the big ballpark at Mickelson National and Glencoe’s Forest course, add in Priddis Greens Hawk course—host of the LPGA Tour on occasion—and add in Willie Park Jr.’s Calgary Golf & Country Club, which held its own with the 2021 Alberta Men’s Amateur event at just 6,500 yards.

Truthfully, this is a post to celebrate golf in Australia, and Yarra Yarra, Kingston Heath, Royal Melbourne, and Peninsula Kingswood’s memberships, leadership, and staff for their willingness to be included in the event. For them to host shows a lot of commitment to the future of golf in their country, and an open mind to the future.

Perhaps Mackenzie Hughes, who won the 2016 RSM Classic and 2022 Sanderson Farms Championship could usher in a similar concept near Hamilton, Ontario, where he grew up. Harry Colt’s Ancaster is an obvious choice, which will host the 2024 RBC Canadian Open over Mackenzie & Ebert’s extensive renovation. Whitman, Axland, Cutten’s revamped Brantford could be an excellent co-host and showcase some architecture not seen in Ontario, while Westmount, even if it is further than Brantford, would make excellent use of showcasing Stanley Thompson’s beautiful style for the event. Perhaps the pending renovations at Mont-Hill could act as a fourth venue, or Burlington Golf & Country Club could also step in.

Seymour Golf & Country Club (photo credit: courtesy)
Yarra Yarra Golf Club (photo credit: City of Melbourne)

Either way, the prospect of a similar style competition, where men, women, amateurs and all compete against each other, is one where golf in Canada should take notes from Australia and look to the future. Perhaps it is unrealistic to ask for a Pinehurst No. 2 situation where the Canadian Opens are played on the same golf course on back-to-back weeks, but having an event like this, to bring in high-level amateurs, PGA TOUR, Mackenzie Tour, Korne Ferry, LPGA, Symetra pros, and more to compete against each other is an option too good to pass up.

Author

  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

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