THUNDER BAY – The first professional golf event in the city in 13 years is officially underway.
With the firing of a cannon, the Staal Foundation Open was officially kicked off on Monday at Whitewater Golf Course with a Fort William Historical Park themed opening ceremony.
Organizers say the tournament, which is the first pro event in the city since the Heritage Open on the then-Canadian Tour in 2001, is filling a void in the city’s robust golf community and say the event has energized sponsors and members of the community.
Tournament executive director Scott Smith is anticipating large crowds for the numerous events scheduled throughout the week.
“It should be no problem reaching at least 20,000,” Smith said at the introductory media conference.
Coun. Linda Rydholm appeared as acting mayor and said the tournament is expected to contribute $1.3 million to the local economy.
PGA Tour Canada commissioner Jeff Monday applauded the work done by the organizers in setting up for the inaugural edition of the event.
He said he anticipates the Thunder Bay tournament, which is the sixth of 12 stops on the tour this year, becoming a mainstay event schedule.
“The passion this community has exhibited from Day 1 in putting this tournament together has been really impressive,” Monday said.
“You want it to be a place where people want to be a part of because it has an exciting atmosphere.”
The week-long event kicked off in the afternoon with the Porter Airlines Celebrity Pro-am, pairing members of the public with a celebrity and member of the pro tour.
The competitive tournament will start with the opening round on Thursday, concluding with Sunday’s fourth round.
The field of 156 golfers include many up-and-comers who soon will be competing at the game’s biggest tournaments.
“The level of talent that is going to be out here this week is going to be very, very strong,” Monday said.
“You’re going to have the opportunity to see players who in a few short years are going to be winning PGA Tour events in Des Moines, Iowa, in Hartford, Conn., the Players’ Championship and all those other events.”
Organizers, tour personnel and staff at Whitewater have been working for the past year to prepare the course, which is a par-72 and measures at just more than 7,000 yards, for top level golfers.
Monday expects accuracy will be a determing factor in the tournament's outcome.
“There are some short holes and a lot of long holes. They’ll be hitting a lot of drivers, the greens are pretty tough and there’s a little bit of rough out there,” he said.
“There’s going to be a premium on hitting it in the fairway and that means the player who will be playing the best will be the one walking away (as the winner).”
Other events scheduled during the week include the Canop Official Pro-am on Tuesday as well as Fan-Con and concerts at Fort William Historical Park on the weekend.
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