Canada Life Series: Four tournaments, four champions, for charity
September 14, 2020
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- September 14, 2020
- The Canada Life Series played two 54-hole events at Bear Mountain Golf & Tennis Resort Community in Langford on Vancouver Island and two more at TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley.
TORONTO—In late-May, right as the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada should have been beginning its eighth season, the Tour reluctantly but wisely canceled the 2020 season. There was still so much unknown about COVID-19 and its effect, Tour officials having little choice like so many other professional sports organizations but to put the season on hold.
Unfortunately for Mackenzie Tour Executive Director Scott Pritchard, he didn’t have the luxury of waiting things out and seeing what would happen with the pandemic. Because the Mackenzie Tour has always held a traditionally short season, tournaments packed into a 16- or 17-week period during Canada’s warmer months, time was not on his side. Cancellation—instead of postponement—of the season was his only option.
Despite that negative, Pritchard began to huddle with other PGA TOUR officials. Before long there was a could-we-do-this? idea that began gaining momentum.
What if the Tour held a set of tournaments for players already in Canada—either Canadian or otherwise? Since crossing the border into Canada was problematic, along with mandatory government quarantines once inside the country, could the Tour cobble something together for those players?
All the principals went to work around a plan that included a small number of tournaments played at two golf courses. Canada Life embraced the proposal, and after hours of phone calls, a lot of discussion, buy-ins from Bear Mountain Golf and Tennis Resort and TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley and plenty of interest from players itching to play competitive golf, the four-tournament Canada Life Series became a reality.
Jump ahead almost three months and the Mackenzie Tour staff was at TPC Toronto’s Heathlands Course, site of the final two tournaments. A day before the start of the final event, the Canada Life Championship at TPC Toronto, the Series was holding a pro-am. Several executives from Canada Life were playing, and the weather wasn’t exactly balmy. During the course of the day, Pritchard spoke to a Canada Life regional vice president. The two stood in the drizzling rain.
“It was a terrible day for golf, rainy and cold, but he was so happy, just so pumped about the event and the Series,” Pritchard said of his conversation. “I look back on that moment and realize how important this was to our sport in Canada, how engaged Canada Life was and what a difference the Canada Life Series made.”
“It’s been a pleasure to support aspiring golfers and charitable organizations during the Canada Life Series,” said Jeff Macoun, President and Chief Operating Officer, Canada, for Canada Life. “At Canada Life, we believe in helping Canadians reach their full potential, and this Series was one way we could do that. Seeing so many talented athletes pursue their goals has been very inspiring.”
Canada Life was also in the middle of a significant charitable contribution to Canucks Autism Network and Start2Finish through its Birdies for Kids initiative. For every birdie during the four tournaments, Canada Life donated $5. For every eagle, $20 went into the pot. The total donation from the 3,327 birdies and 117 eagles players made—plus a bonus payout—equaled in excess of $39,000.
“You can imagine what that money means to these two organizations,” Pritchard noted.
Likely about as much as what the Canada Life Series represented to the players. Each week, Canada Life officials received the same feedback that the Mackenzie Tour team heard. The players were thrilled to be playing.
“It wouldn’t be right to single out one player because they all basically said the same thing. They thanked the Mackenzie Tour and Canada Life for making these tournaments a reality. It was gratifying to hear the players’ sentiments because so many from so many different facets of the various operations deserve credit for the Canada Life Series,” Pritchard explained. “I think that anecdotally, from the players and the feedback they gave all of us, they were just grateful they had this opportunity to play in a season that at one point looked lost.”Yi Cao wins Canada Life Series Points List and get conditional status on the 2021 Mackenzie Tour and an invitation to the 2021 RBC Canadian Open.
Yi Cao is a prime example. The native of China who has lived in British Columbia for almost half of his life had bounced between PGA TOUR Series-China and the Mackenzie Tour, looking to keep his professional golf dream alive. In May, Cao assumed 2020 was a tournament-golf no-go, with COVID-19 issues and the Mackenzie Tour on hiatus. He then learned about the Canada Life Series. He was immediately all in. Not only would he have four tournaments in which to play, the carrot at the end of the stick to the overall points champion was conditional status on the 2021 Mackenzie Tour and an invitation to the 2021 RBC Canadian Open.
“I was hoping there would be Mackenzie Tour Q-School this year because I lost my status last year. Once the season was canceled, I was really lost,” Cao admitted. “To be honest, I was looking for tournaments to play in China this year. Having the Canada Life Series really changed a lot for me and gave me a purpose.”
All Cao did with the opportunity was post three consecutive top-three finishes—including a win—to start the Series, then he secured top-player status with a tie for eighth at the closing tournament. He can begin building a schedule around the six Mackenzie Tour starts he’s guaranteed as a conditional member. Oh, and he also gets to play on the PGA TOUR in the RBC Canadian Open, an invitation courtesy of Golf Canada.
Cao also picked up a little extra cash courtesy of a few players he knows and some complete strangers. Prior to the start of the Canada Life Series, former PGA TOUR player Ian Leggatt hatched an idea with a handful of current and former TOUR players. The plan: The players would all donate money and create a bursary that would reward the player with the low 18-hole score at each tournament. Before long, Leggatt had the support of Stephen Ames, Corey Conners, Graham DeLaet, Michael Gligic, Adam Hadwin, David Hearn, Mackenzie Hughes, Roger Sloan, Nick Taylor and Mike Weir, who all basically said, “Where do we send our money?” Canada Life Series players ended up competing for $2,750 each week, thanks to the bursary, and Cao earned the cash at the first event at TPC Toronto, when he opened with a 7-under 64.
“It means a lot because they’re kind of watching out for us and they know the struggles we’re going through on PGA TOUR Canada and all the feeder and mini tours,” said Evan Holmes, winner at the season-opening tournament at Bear Mountain on the strength of his first-round 63 that earned him the $2,750 bonus. “It’s nice for them to recognize us and pay it forward.”
“Those players past and present who stepped up just for Canadian golf was one of the highlights for me when we were putting this together,” Pritchard added. “It just gave me chills that they would be willing to support their brethren in their endeavor to make it to the PGA TOUR. I’m hopeful that this is just the beginning of something bigger moving forward with respect to our alums.”
With the final tournament in the books, the Mackenzie Tour team began taking down the last vestiges of the Canada Life Series: sponsor signage, COVID protocol areas and everything else that went into the presentation of the four tournaments. The staffers did allow themselves a moment to ponder on everything they experienced over the previous three months of planning and execution and the four weeks’ worth of play. Pritchard was positive about what had taken place.
“I think it’s shown a light on Canadian golf, and I think that the future of golf in Canada in terms of prospects and up-and-comers is bright,” Pritchard said.Yi Cao, Albert Pistorius, Evan Holmes, Laurent Desmarchais and Callum Davison earned Mackenzie Tour - PGA TOUR Canada status for next year.
Amateur Laurent Desmarchais, the winner of the Series’ final tournament, is on his way to the University of Tennessee, where he will play collegiately—the teenager’s future looking incredibly bright. Cao, Holmes and Albert Pistorius, the other tournament winners, are already thinking about next season and the various playing opportunities suddenly open to them, while Pritchard and his team can look back fondly on what transpired.
One thing is certain, though. They won’t dwell on things for too long. It’s time to get ready for the 2021 Mackenzie Tour.