The Okanagan solidified itself as a golf mecca with the addition last year of the inaugural GolfBC Championship tournament at the Gallagher’s Canyon course in southeast Kelowna.
Despite one bad weather day, the tournament proved to be a success, attracting a field of more than 150 golfers, creating an estimated $2 million in economic impact and raising $150,000 for the tournament charity benefactor the BC Cancer Foundation.
Hugh Vassos, president and CEO of VMC Sports & Entertainment Corp., the organizing entity behind the tournament, said this year marks the second of a four-year initial commitment by GolfBC to host the event.
While the weather remains behind anyone’s control, Vassor hopes to see attendance climb from 5,000 last year to 10,000 if the rain experienced last year doesn’t return.
“Outdoor events of any kind are always subject to rain and other things, but we know if we get four days of sunshine we can draw from 10,000 to 15,000 people,” Vassos said.
While it’s a pro sports event, Vassan said the Mackenzie tour stop, June 12 to 18, brings people together to promote golf both as both a participation and tourism-draw activity.
“The pride of Kelowna as the host city is kind of on display here. But you have corporate sponsors bringing their clients, you have more than 300 volunteers who help stage the event and the golfers who participate all interacting with one another over the course of the week,” Vassos said.
As well, the Okanagan receives a half-hour of airtime in the television post-tournament coverage the week after on TSN and Global.
To promote the sport, he points to the inclusion of ladies and youth pro-ams on the 9-hole Pinnacle course, junior player instructional clinics, qualifying round for amateurs with the top 10 finishers added to the tournament field, and a long-drive contest featuring tour pros and National Hockey League players spending their off-season in the Okanagan as activities initiated from the tournament.
“These tournaments are very much a social activity that draws people here from across the region. I know I was surprised at how many volunteers I met last year who came from places like Penticton and Vernon just to be a part of it.
“For many of them, they looked upon it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to be around these young up and coming golfers who one day might be playing on the PGA tour. “
On the economic side, golf tournaments rely on local suppliers to fill their requirements while the 156-field of golfers come to town and stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants.
“The feedback from the players last year was they loved coming here. And the timing was ideal for them as they play consecutive tournaments in Victoria and Vancouver prior to coming here.”
Vassos said the tournament closely replicates the experience of a PGA event to help players acclimatize to playing at a high level.
“It’s often said that the only difference between a PGA and Mackenzie tour event is strictly mental. All these guys can drive a ball over 300 yards like PGA players, but it is just getting themselves in shape mentally.
“That is part of the training process playing on this tour, to be prepared to face adversity, overcoming bad shots, when you move up to the PGA level of pressure and competition.”
Vassos said golf has enjoyed a participation resurgence after reaching a stagnation point in recent years, which he credits to youngsters taking up the game and the influence created by the PGA tour success of Canadian golfers like Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin.
“If you look at the PGA tour, the average age of the players has come down. You are seeing many of the young guns in their 20s playing well and winning tournaments.
“And we are seeing more Canadians than ever before playing on the PGA tour, and they are playing well and winning as reflected by (Adam Hadwin) winning a tournament this spring which qualified him to play in the Masters.”
Vassos said the unique sports event experience of watching a golf tournament breaks down into two categories—those who park themselves in a chair at a particular hole and watch the players play through, and those who follow a particular group around the course.
“For me, it’s always a lot of fun to watch the last group approaching the 18th green on the final day and see the surge of fans following the players down the fairway and gathered around the green. That is really something special to watch.”
For more information about how to volunteer, check out the website golfbcchampionship.com.