By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – “He shoots, he scores,” took on a whole new meaning at the Canadian Open this week as the PGA Tour event embraced its inner-Canuck and the country’s all consuming love of ice hockey to market the tournament.
Many events and teams in Canada, from the Toronto Film Festival to the Toronto Raptors, have traded on the Canadian identity, tugging on the heritage heartstrings to draw in fans and sponsors, but few have done it better, or more directly, than the Canadian Open being staged this week at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
From ‘Red and White Day’ to hundreds of fluttering Maple Leaf flags, organisers have tried to turn an afternoon at the Canadian Open into a typical summer’s day by providing all the things Canadians love when the weather turns hot — patios, Muskoka chairs and beer.
But nothing says “Canada Eh” more than ‘The Rink’, which this year is the 218-yard par three 13th hole that has been made into a hockey shrine and fan fun zone.
The iconic phrase “He shoots, he scores” was coined by the great broadcaster Foster Hewitt and is part of Canada’s hockey vocabulary but it fits in perfectly with events at the 13th.
The Rink, whether the Canadian Open is at Glen Abbey or Hamilton Golf and Country Club, has become the tournament’s signature hole.
Lined with hockey boards, which fans pound on as they cheer golfers appearing on the tee, the hole uses goalie masks as tee markers and officials wear black and white striped referee jerseys.
During practice rounds. players don hockey jerseys to wild applause before teeing off.
“The rink is back and part of the event, the boards, the goalie mask for the tee markers, the referee jerseys on the marshals, the Zambonis (ice resurfacers) and hockey jerseys,” Canadian Open tournament director Bryan Crawford told Reuters before the start of the event.
“When Golf Canada set out to tackle that idea there was an initial sense of trepidation for sure.
“To play off that some people might have thought the idea was campy (over the top) but it has just been absolutely embraced by the fans and spectators.
“It has absolutely become a fan favourite and we will continue to make it a focal event as we move along.”
Rory McIlroy, making his first appearance at the Canadian Open, does not find the idea at all corny, saying Golf Canada had struck the right mix of fan engagement and respect.
The idea is to make ‘The Rink’ one of golf’s most identifiable marquee holes much like ‘The Island’ hole at the Players Championship and the raucous 16th at the Phoenix Open.
“That 13th hole there (The Rink) is pretty cool,” McIlroy said on Saturday. “I think what they’ve been able to do here is right on the limit of fun, but still in keeping with the traditions of the game, so I think it’s been awesome.
“I’ve had a wonderful reception from everyone and am just excited to get to play in front of them again tomorrow.”
With the shuffling of the PGA Tour calendar this year, the Canadian Open moved from a September date to June which brought many advantages, attracting a strong field as the lead-in event to next week’s U.S. Open.
It also plunked it right in the middle of what might go down as one of the busiest weeks in Canadian sport, with the Raptors taking on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and the best drivers in the world in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.
But hockey, golf and a summer’s day with homegrown hopes still in contention going into the final round is tough to top.
“There are few things Canadians gravitate towards and things we identify with as being symbolic of what it means to be Canadian,” said Crawford.
“People really identify with hockey and it being part of the fabric of our culture and so to bring that on course in what is an ode to what is Canadian is something people are able to embrace and wrap their arms around.”
(Editing by Ken Ferris)