Gordon on Golf

Hunter Harrison: Golf conductor

Hunter Harrison

While I remain confused and dismayed that the LPGA has not re-designated the CP Women’s Open as a major, I do agree with LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan’s assessment of this week’s tournament at Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club near Calgary, Alta.

“Someone asked me in Rio, “How do you go from the Olympics to a regular Tour event?,” Whan said earlier this week.  His response: “We’re going to have 30 countries in the field at the CP Open … so we’re going to put on another version of the Olympics this week.”

Unlike him, I might have taken umbrage at his questioner’s offhand reference to “a regular Tour event,” because the CP Women’s Open is anything but. A major from 1979 to 2000, the championship now has a reputation that—not just in my mind but those of other observers and participants—rivals or exceeds the majors.

Aside from the impressive international component, consider that its US$2.25-million purse is the highest of any non-major on the LPGA Tour and that 95 of the top 100 golfers in the world committed to the event. It routinely features one of the best, if not the best, field of any LPGA event, including the majors. Ponder the enthusiastic comments of the players, the caddies and the spectators about the amenities, the organizational and logistic excellence, the quality of the courses, and the hospitality.

Much of that can attributed to the vision of one man, Hunter Harrison. As CEO of Canadian National Railway in 2006, he partnered his company with Golf Canada to sponsor the championship after BMO ended its support. In 2013, Harrison had moved to head up Canadian Pacific and, in turn, when CN ended its title sponsorship, Harrison persuaded CP to step in.

(Having said that, CN has continued its generous support of an entire suite of national junior and related development programs including CN Future Links, CN Future Links Championships, CN Future Links Junior Skills Challenge and more.)

“Hunter has always emphasized that every touch point has to be perfect,” says Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons. “His attitude is that this is the most important women’s golf event in the world and he expects everyone involved to buy into that philosophy. Obviously, it’s worked.”

Another “major” aspect of the CP Women’s Open is the commitment to charity.

This year, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation is the official charity beneficiary and all funds raised through the tournament will support pediatric cardiac care and research at the hospital. The goal is to raise at least $1.2 million, which seems reachable based on the fact that $2.3 million was raised in total in 2014 and 2015.

In total over the past 10 years of CN and CP sponsorship, more than $15 million has been donated to health-related charities across Canada through our women’s Open.

Although Harrison has announced his retirement, to be succeeded next year by COO Keith Creel, CP’s sponsorship is in place through 2018. Next year’s tournament will take place at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club and it is widely speculated that Regina’s Wascana Country Club will play host in 2018.