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In the swing

Hosting the Nova Scotia Open, the province welcomes top up-and-coming golfers for its biggest sports event of the year

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Halifax sports fans are about to get a peek at the next class of top professional golfers. From June 29 to July 6, the New Ashburn Golf Course hosts Golfest Nova Scotia, a weeklong celebration of the sport that includes the four-day, Nova Scotia Open. It’s one of 25 events on the Web.com Tour, featuring 156 professionals competing for 50 spots on the PGA Tour.

Golfest includes the Junior Canada Cup, the Canada Cup and the Open, all played at the 7,014-yard, Geoffrey Cornish-designed New Ashburn course in Fall River. The Junior Canada Cup features six-player teams from Eastern Canada taking on players from Western Canada in a day of singles matches June 29.

The inaugural Canada Cup, on June 30, features three of Canada’s top PGA golfers (2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, Graham DeLaet and David Hearn, along with an as-yet-unnamed top Canadian from the Web.com Tour), going head-to-head against three international PGA Tour players, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland both of the U.S. and 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman from South Africa, along with a top international player from the Web.com Tour. The Canada Cup also includes a nine-hole pro-am event prior to the 18-hole competition.

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The showcase tournament, the Nova Scotia Open, will have players competing for $650,000 in prize money. In the U.S., the Golf Channel, which is available in 81 million households, will show all four rounds of stroke play, starting July 3. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed for viewing in 192 countries and territories including much of Asia, Latin America and Europe. The players will have a practice round July 1 followed by a pro-am event on July 2.

This will be the first time the Web.com Tour has been to Nova Scotia. Tour organizers have signed a two-year agreement to hold the event in the province, with an option for a third year. Destination Halifax is forecasting $3.5 million in economic spinoffs for the province. “The obvious [benefit] is the revenue that is generated by such an undertaking for the purchase of supplies and services, accommodation, food and beverage, transportation and retail,” says Destination Halifax president and CEO Patricia Lyall.

But the exposure on The Golf Channel may be the biggest boon. “Golf enthusiasts watch for the sport but know that only the finest of facilities and places are chosen as the stage on which these events take place and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada is one of them,” Lyall says. “We know how to work with major events and contribute to their success and we have two years to establish that winning relationship with this event so there is opportunity to influence a longer term arrangement.”

That’s why the province is keen on the event too. “Events like this one attract many, first-time visitors to Nova Scotia,” says Patrick Sullivan, CEO of the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. “And, once here, those visitors travel more throughout the province. Sport tourism is Canada’s fastest growing tourism sector, bringing $3.6 billion to our national economy.”

The provincial government is spending $300,000 for the right to host the event. “The province will receive marketing benefits including four days of live international television coverage on The Golf Channel, television advertising space to air during the broadcast, joint partnership marketing with players and officials, on course branding and signage, digital marketing and hosting opportunities,” Sullivan says. “This week-long event creates the best opportunity for Nova Scotia to attract new visitors, new business and promote the province to an international audience.”

Golf Nova Scotia spokesman and long-time professional Terry Burns believes the event offers local fans a rare treat. “[It] will give golf fans in Atlantic Canada an opportunity to see some of the best golfers in the world,” he says. “The Web.com Tour is the next step to the PGA Tour that we see every week on TV. The Canada Cup will also be a great event for spectators.”

Ready for the big leagues

The New Ashburn course prepares to challenge golf’s rising talents

Pin placements and large, firm greens may decide on who wins the inaugural Nova Scotia Open when the Web.com Tour, owned and operated by the PGA Tour, comes to the New Ashburn Golf Course in Fall River (July 3 to 6).

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The Open will feature 156 touring professionals, many of whom have PGA experience. Gordie Smith, Ashburn’s general manager and a former touring professional, is hoping for a warm stretch of dry weather around tournament time. “I think the PGA Tour would like to see the golf course playing firm and fast, which will make the course tougher,” he says.

Smith, who finished seventh at the Canadian Open back in 1988, believes the finishing holes on both the front and back nines at Ashburn will challenge the pros. “When you are looking at the front, No. 7 is a fairly strong Par 4 and what will make it tough will be the green and the pin placements,” he says. “No. 8 is the toughest Par 3 on the course and I’m sure they will place the tee on the back so the hole will range from 215 to 230 yards with a challenging green.”

As anyone who has played the course knows, No. 9 is another challenge, ranging over 551 yards. And the back nine offers no respite. “The 15th is a long Par 4 [433 yards], 16 is another strong Par 3 [205 yards], 17 is a strong Par 5 [582 yards] and 18 is 470 yards and a little uphill,” Smith says. “The 18th hole, with the tee back, is probably the most difficult on whole course. So those four holes into the wind and a couple of tough greens thrown in there, will be a test,” he says.

At just over 7,000 yards, the New Ashburn, which plays to a Par 72, is not long by today’s professional standards but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy course. In Ashburn’s case, it comes down to the greens. “I don’t think they will have trouble hitting fairways,” Smith says, adding that where tour officials decide to put the pins could make the real difference.

Smith expects the winner to need to finish 12 to 15 strokes under par. “These are some of the best players,” he says. “A third of the field at least would have played the PGA Tour at one time or another and some have won on the PGA. Most people don’t realize how competitive this tour is, especially with 50 [PGA] cards up for grabs. Anyone who wants to be on the PGA Tour is there.”

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