Nothing attracts a PGA Tour player to a tournament more than the venue itself. Resort golf courses like those played in events like the Bob Hope Classic simply make players yawn while courses like St. George’s G&CC, the host club for this week’s RBC Canadian Open really get their attention.
Although one of the best fields in some time is here in the heart of Toronto this week, there is no mistaking that the golf course is the star. Perennially rated as one of the best two courses in a nation ripe with quality layouts the Stanley Thompson design is a gem that is the subject of a lot of chatter.
The tumbling layout that is a refuge in a burgeoning metropolitan area last hosted the Canadian Open in 1968 and as Greg Holden, President of the Canadian Golf Superintendent Association stated this morning, “It’s especially an honor to be here now.”
Most notable on the 7079, par 70 layout (which will show brilliantly on television given its elevation changes and flashed up bunkers) will be the green and the rough.
“It’s got a few greens that are a little severe but they all have to play them,” Michael Connell’s caddy mentioned to me as they completed their initial loop around the course.
Just minutes later I got a good feel for the rough at the course as Connell played his approach from the gnarly stuff from down the left side of the closer. A full swing from about 170 yards resulted in a shot that advanced about…..8 feet.
Canadian Matt Hill, the 2009 NCAA Champion now taking on life as a touring professional, addressed the rough almost immediately in his remarks about the course Tuesday. “Today is my second time playing it, and I feel like the rough’s pretty tough this week, so you definitely gotta hit fairways.”
Being a national championship the PGA Tour has allowed it to be generously more than the tour standard 4 inches this week and it shows. In watching 2010 Sony Open winner Ryan Palmer attempt to extract himself from a patch of healthy growth on the back left of the par 3, 16th green it took every bit of skill he had to stop a ball close to a pin placement at the front of the putting surface.
Due to the slopes of the greens (most notable on holes like #3 and #18, the surfaces will roll out about 11 on the Stimpmeter this week to avoid any crazy incidents. An expected but of rain later in the week should help keep them under control.
This is setting up to be a shotmakers’ course. Shaft guru Kim Braly of KBS, who has been witness to many PGA Tour events during his career, called it a U.S. Open-like layout with more reasonable greens and many agree. Fairways are narrows, greens are small, and players will need to plod their way around the course in order to succeed.
With that being the case the talent pool that have a possibility of winning gets pared down greatly when you assess both their skills and the current state of their game. 2001 Canadian Open Champion, who took down his title at Royal Montreal, could just be the veteran type player who can excel here. His lack of length may hurt him and require some longer approaches into these small and tilted greens but his patience and putting could keep him in play.
You can also look to Verplank’s Thursday/Friday pairing for some other possible winners. Hunter Mahan and Tim Clark join him for the initial forays at St. George’s and their group might one to bet on if you are looking for a contender. Mahan seems to be gauging his yardages well with his approach shots for the times I observed him during Tuesday’s practice round and that could add up to a National Championship for him here in Toronto.