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Director High On New Canada LPGA Stop, Issues Linger

Richard Kuypers is convinced the inaugural Manulife Financial LPGA Classic will be a success. And he’s confident despite a series of hurdles the new tournament has to overcome.
Kuypers, the tournament director for the Waterloo, Ont., event that kicks off June 21, is bullish that it will succeed both on and off the course. But even he admits there have been questions raised about the first-year event. Some of those questions center on the scramble to get the event together, which was first announced less than a year ago.
“The response has been really good,” says Kuypers, who came to the tournament from Golf Canada, where he was manager of professional championships. “Sure, there are some wondering about a first-year event, but there are going to be questions about any new tournament.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the event is the golf course. The tournament will be played on Grey Silo, a well regarded, if slightly odd, municipal golf course controlled by Golf North, the company owned by former Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie. Grey Silo was developed by the city of Waterloo on a contentious environmental area and significant concessions were made to the design in order to allow the project to move forward.
The biggest issues for the new LPGA event are the limited scope of the practice facilities (where players hit into a hill) and the routing of the golf course. Those in the know say the practice facilities issue (the range is small, and short) may not prove to be that big a hurdle, but the golf course is another problem altogether.
The course starts and ends with holes that run parallel, but are significantly detached from the rest of the property. The clubhouse is even further removed from the opening holes. That makes the start and end of the course slightly disjointed. You’re not going to see any great concluding shots on television of the 18th green with the clubhouse in the background – because it is located a couple hundred yards away.
In order to deal with the problem, a decision has been made to play the 18th hole as the start, and complete rounds on the 17th hole. However, with spectators entering the property from the north-east, and the clubhouse being located at the opposite end of the property, it could make for some odd television (Golf Channel is telecasting the event), especially if there are very few spectators on the opening holes. Needless to say, the site is less than ideal for hosting a golf tournament.
Despite that, Kuypers says tournament organizers are expecting upwards of 50,000 spectators for the week, and 1,200 volunteers agreed to work for the event. With upwards of 8,000 fans a day on site, the course will look busy, organizers say.
The event is the brainchild of Hugh Morrow, chief executive of Canadian sports marketing firm Sports Properties International. The company is relatively untested when it comes to holding large events, and had been seeking an LPGA tournament for some time. There are potential issues about corporate support for the event, says Kuypers.
“We could always use more,” he says. “But I think it’ll be a lot easier once they’ve seen the product.”
Sponsors like Molson, and Research In Motion are involved in the tournament, Kuypers says, but Manulife has been quiet as far as promoting its involvement with the tournament.
Regardless, the event has some things going in its favor. Traditionally, smaller Canadian markets, like the region of Waterloo, which has a population of just over 500,000, have been big supporters of LPGA events in Canada. When the 2006 CN Canadian Women’s Open was held in London, Ont., about an hour from Waterloo, it drew record crowds. Kuypers is counting on being the big event in a small market, and dominating local media. If the event were in Toronto, it could easily be lost among other sporting and entertainment outings.
“I think there’s a pretty big buzz in the region,” Kuypers says. “Now it is a question of extending that out to areas like London and Mississauga.”
Kuypers is confident the players will show up for the tournament to draw the fans. Though he hasn’t nailed down a commitment from Yani Tseng, who has three wins on the LPGA this year, the tournament apparently expects at least 28 out of the top 30 LPGA players to be in the field. The event recently announced Natalie Gulbis, one of the tour’s most recognizable faces, will be in Waterloo, alongside Stacy Lewis and Morgan Pressel.
“(LPGA commissioner) Mike Whan has made it clear that (the LPGA) wants players there each week,” says Kuypers, who says he is still negotiating to get Tseng into the field. “He doesn’t want it to be like the PGA Tour.”
There are always questions about any new tournament. Kuypers is counting on the players to put on a good show, the spectators to come to the course despite some of the challenges, and to build the event over the next few years.
“I think of it as an evolution,” he says. “That’s the way we’re going to build this thing.”


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