Change is hard. Sometimes, however, it's for the best. That was the case the The Players Cup on Mackenzie Tour - PGA Tour Canada.
This year marked the first time in 16 editions that the event was not played at the Donald Ross-designed Pine Ridge Golf Club. Pine Ridge is located approximately 30 minutes from downtown Winnipeg in the best traffic conditions, and rush hour makes the trip even longer. That's why there was desire to move the tournament into the city.
After consulting several Winnipeg area courses and taking direct input from the Mackenzie Tour - PGA Tour Canada, the decision was made to move the event into the city on a semi-annual basis to the historic Niakwa Country Club, a mere 7-minute drive from the downtown business sector.
“When we first entertained the potential of moving the event into the city, knowledge transfer and parking were likely the two things we discussed most,” said Ryan Hart, executive director of The Players Cup.
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“Two of the many benefits that we had being at Pine Ridge for so long was arguably unlimited parking, as well as the ability to draw on their experience having hosted the event for twenty plus years.”
Having a dedicated, and well trained, set of volunteers is crucial to every event and the longer a tournament is at a particular site the better the volunteer base will be. In choosing to move venues, Hart risked uprooting that strong volunteer foundation. However, the move made sense as the course had ample space in its clubhouse for the tour players, VIPs, tournament staff and volunteers.
Besides training new a new volunteer team, the main issue that had to be dealt with was parking.
At Pine Ridge, several adjacent fields provided all the necessary space needed to park the vehicles. This was no longer the case. In the end, it was decided to use highway buses to move the spectators from a parking lot at a nearby shopping center to the course. While this option was well used, many chose to get to the course via the city's public transportation system.
The Players Cup had arranged 100 bicycle parking spots, all of which were used on the first day of tournament week. The majority of the bikes were from adult riders, but a good number of them had children's bikes attached to the lock as well. The tournament move was not only bringing more families to the event, it was also changing the way they arrived there.
The goal of the tournament leadership was to create an atmosphere in which people could come to the tournament after work, watch some golf and then relax with a drink.
Organizers set up a stage for a band to play music after the round on Friday and arranged for a cluster of food trucks centrally located on the golf course. The food trucks were parked in such a way that fans could watch golf on several holes while chowing down.
The fears of coming to a new venue proved unnecessary. Niakwa has hosted big events before, notably the Canadian Open in 1961 and most recently the Canadian Amateur in 2011. However, this was a new challenge. For Niakwa, the concerns of their membership and staff were assuaged by the tour's professional, somewhat turnkey approach to managing a tournament.
“I think the one thing with the Mackenzie PGA Tour Canada being involved in the infrastructure and the organizational tools that they bring, they take that huge task that you have in front of you and they help you break it down and set up your chairs and your committees so that you're able to put it into a task list and move forward and put on an event,” said Niakwa Country Club's general manager Wade Nybakken.
Judging by the number of spectators in business attire on Thursday and Friday, it is safe to say that the changes were for the better and the new venue was a hit.
In fact, this model might become a template for other events looking to broaden their appeal and attract a new demographic of fans. Mackenzie Tour officials were pleased to see the results of the transition and are undoubtedly monitoring the consequential effects it will have next year as the tournament returns to Pine Ridge. If the uptick in support carries over from the metro venue to the more traditional one, it could signal that The Players Cup has found a way to get more fans interested in a new golf tournament experience.