PGA Tour to take control of Canadian Tour

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem

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Expanding its brand reach and aiding its neighbor to the north, the PGA Tour announced Oct. 18 that it is taking full control of the Canadian Tour.

The conversion process begins Nov. 1, and the new division, dubbed PGA Tour Canada, debuts next year.

The merger hardly comes as a surprise, considering the PGA Tour had lent financial and strategic support to the shrinking Canadian Tour for the past year – a development that Golfweek first reported in late 2011.

“This is the logical next step for the Canadian Tour’s sustainability and growth,” said its board chairman, Pierre Blouin. He added the PGA Tour, through its evaluation of the circuit and an avid fan base in Canada, “saw strong potential.”

The PGA Tour’s action is an investment not only to generate revenues from its expanded domain, but to strengthen its core product – by developing talent globally, and ultimately, funneling the best players to its primary stage.

Mirroring its recent decision to create another developmental tour, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, the PGA Tour will use its Canadian division as a “feeder” into the Web.com Tour. Beginning in 2013, the Web.com Tour will be the only avenue to gain status on the PGA Tour.

Such “qualification tie-ins,” according to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, will lead to an “upsurge in the quality and the number of players” participating in Canadian Tour events and improve tournament marketability. That should help attract sponsors, which the PGA Tour will court by “leveraging its other properties and digital assets” – resources that the struggling Canadian Tour lacked.

“Sometimes, given the success of the PGA Tour, it may seem easy to operate tournaments,” Finchem said. “But if you look around the world, it can be a struggle. (The PGA Tour) can create a lot more value… that’s the leading thing we can do financially.”

If successful, the PGA Tour stands to tap a vibrant golf market. Citing an economic-impact study, the PGA Tour reported that nearly 6 million Canadians play golf, representing 21.5 percent of the population – a participation rate that’s more than double U.S. involvement in the game. Canada also consistently ranks second only to the U.S. in traffic to PGATour.com.

“We view this as a win-win proposition that strengthens an established tour in a country that absolutely loves golf,” Finchem said. “As for the PGA Tour, this expands our brand in Canada and gives us geographic integration throughout the Americas in concert with PGA Tour Latinoamerica.”

The PGA Tour’s collaboration with the Tour de Las Americas resulted in PGA Tour Lationamerica, which kicked off this fall with 11 tournaments in seven countries. The circuit’s top five money earners receive Web.com Tour playing status in 2013. PGA Tour Canada will operate in similar fashion: Officials expect it to debut next year with a minimum of eight tournaments, with the goal of gradually growing the schedule to 12 or 13 events. The top five finishers on the Order of Merit will earn playing privileges on the Web.com Tour; the next five players will be exempt into the finals of the Web.com Tour qualifying school.

PGA Tour Canada tournaments initially will offer a minimum purse of $150,000, which is comparable with PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

Because PGA Tour Latinoamerica will operate on a “split spring-fall schedule” and PGA Tour Canada will stage its events during the summer, players who qualify for both tours could play a year-long schedule.

Finchem said the PGA Tour has no immediate plans to acquire or partner with additional tours. But he remained open to such possibilities as the sport grows internationally and marketplace borders disappear.

“The game of golf is a global game,” Finchem said. “Where (the development of players leads) I don’t know, but there are all kinds of permutations.”

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