After a 13-year absence, the PGA Tour Canada is bringing professional golf back to the city.
Tour officials on Tuesday announced a three-year commitment to the Thunder Bay Golf Classic, which will take place July 14-20 at Whitewater Golf Course.
Tour director Jeff Monday said Thunder Bay is the ideal market they’re looking to expand the growing circuit, which they took over this past season.
“This tour can really thrive when it’s sort of the big fish in a medium-size pond,” Monday said at a news conference announcing the event.
“We have the opportunity to showcase what the event is all about and provide a great experience to the community. What really was instrumental in was the leadership of (local organizer) Scott Smith … on reaching out in the community and finding that sponsorship support and knowing that not only would the tournament be able to provide the necessary funding for the event, but raise money for charity and have some positive impact from the event that will last throughout the season.”
The PGA Tour Canada is a feeder circuit and training ground for aspiring golfers. The top five finishers on the annual money earn playing privileges on the Web.com Tour, where the top 50 golfers each year earn the right to play on the main PGA Tour.
Alumni of the tour include 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, Steve Stricker and South African Tim Clark, who won the 2010 Players Championship.
The city last hosted a PGA Tour Canada event – then known as the Canadian Tour – in 2001, when the Heritage Open made a stop at Fort William Country Club.
Whitewater director of golf Matt Simmons said he’s excited, even though he’ll likely live at the golf course for the week of the tournament.
“I have good, good friends down in southern Ontario who have hosted these events in the past and they’ve said it’s the week that you’ll remember forever,” Simmons said.
“You’ll gain friendships and so much comes into the community. And there’s real ties to the community that develop from the players and the like.”
One player who hopes he’s nowhere near Whitewater next July is Riley Wheeldon, the No. 2 finisher on the PGA Tour Canada order of merit.
Wheeldon earned his Web.com card for next season, but said seeing new tournaments on his current tour is great.
“I think new events are great for the tour. It’s great for every community we come into. Every town we come into on PGA Tour Canada seems to embrace the guys, the event. I think it can only be a positive sign to have more events on Tour. It’s another good thing. It allows the players more chances to prove themselves, to get to the next level,” Wheeldon said.
Simmons said it’s a great opportunity to see some of golf’s future stars in action.
“Some of our members would just like to see how the PGA Tour players will play our course,” he said.
“I believe this event will do a lot in promoting golf in our community and growing the game in Thunder Bay. It’s terribly important.
Local golfers will also have a chance to tee it up – if they make the grade.
“There will be local qualifying for 10 players so they can tee it up,” Monday said.
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