Tournament raises $150,000 for B.C. Cancer Foundation

BY BRAD ZIEMER

KELOWNA — The weather wasn’t perfect, but the players will tell you that nearly everything else was.

The GolfBC Championship was a huge hit with the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada pros, who had nothing but good things to say about the inaugural event.

“It has been great,” said Ryan Williams, who finished second, seven shots behind winner Dan McCarthy of Syracuse, N.Y.. “It’s funny, being from Vancouver I had never been up to Gallagher’s Canyon until this week. It’s a great community and there are great people here. Everyone has been so friendly. I think they are excited to have the event. We are all excited to be here.

“And the golf course is great. The condition of the golf course has been fantastic, especially considering how much rain we have had. The greens are unbelievable. My general impression overall is that every player has really enjoyed their time here this week.”

The players got a full range of weather during their week in Kelowna. The temperature peaked at 37 degrees on Monday, when nearly 140 players teed it up in a qualifier at the Okanagan Golf Club’s Quail course to try and earn one of 10 spots into the GolfBC Championship field. It was almost that hot again on Tuesday, during the pro-am at Gallagher’s Canyon.

Things then cooled off considerably and the players faced unseasonably chilly  and wet conditions for a couple of their rounds before the sun returned on Sunday and brought out a large crowd.

“We have seen it all,” Toronto pro Sebastian Szirmak said with a smile. “Someone on the tee the other day said, ‘do they only have two seasons here, super hot and cold and rainy?’ But I have really enjoyed my time here.”

Gallagher’s Canyon course superintendent Frits Verkerk and his staff drew considerable praise from the players for having the course in terrific shape and dealing with all that weather during the week.

“I am sure the tournament committee would have liked it a little firmer and a little faster, but it’s out of their control,” said Langley’s Adam Cornelson, who won the Mackenzie Tour event in Victoria the previous week. “It’s taken the water great and the grounds staff deserve a lot of credit.”

Many of the players stayed at the tournament’s official hotel, the Ramada Kelowna Hotel and Conference Centre, where Kelowna councillor Maxine DeHart is sales manager. DeHart, a big booster of the event, had a chance to meet many of the players.

 “I have been so impressed with their attitude,” DeHart said. “I have also been really impressed with the politeness and manners of these young people. I think that is what golf does to you.”

Cornelson did not stay in a hotel this week. He was invited to stay at the Kelowna home of two-time PGA Tour winner Dick Zokol and his wife Joanie.

“Dick and Joanie have been fantastic,” said Cornelson. “I have been eating like a king there. Dick is always nice to talk to, he has such positive thoughts. And when we get into too much golf, Joanie makes sure she cuts that off.”

There often isn’t much time during tournament week to do any sight-seeing, but Oklahoma players Talor Gooch and Taylor Moore visited Quail’s Gate winery on Wednesday. Gooch, who actually took a wine-tasting course in college, must have felt right at home.

DeHart, who was among those in the Kelowna business community lobbying to bring a Mackenzie Tour event to her city, thinks the tournament is long overdue for Kelowna.

“This is very exciting,” she said. “Kelowna really deserves an event like this. We have the facilities,  we normally have the weather, we have the volunteers, we have an airport, we have everything it takes to put on a world-class event.”

Scott Pritchard, director of tournament business affairs for the Mackenzie Tour, said from the tour’s perspective the first year of the GolfBC Championship was a huge success.

“I think it has gone extremely well,” Pritchard said. “Right from when we announced it, we had 50-odd people at the press conference, so that was a good indicator of things to come. And when they announced registration for volunteers they got 200 volunteers in less than two weeks which is another good barometer. And now they have 400 volunteers and they are not all just from this community. They are from around the Okanagan.

“And the corporate community has really rallied behind it. A number of companies have said because the short lead time we can’t get in this year, but we’d love to get in next year. The support from the city has been tremendous. Having that support really means a lot for the tournament and it shows that we have a tournament here that for the  long term will be sustainable. That’s our goal from a tour perspective is long-term sustainable events that are having a great impact on the community.”

That impact on the community was driven home at Sunday’s closing ceremonies, when it was announced that the tournament had raised $150,000 for the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

“Charity is a big part of our company’s philosophy,” said Andy Hedley, GolfBC’s vice president of operations. “So to be able to provide help to such an important cause like the B.C. Cancer Foundation is important. We are incredibly happy to do that. Obviously, our goal will be to increase that amount in the coming years.” 

Hedley said despite the weather challenges, GolfBC is delighted with the way the first-year event has gone.

“It has gone incredibly well,”Hedley said. “The attitude of the people has been one of the biggest positives. When you see all the volunteers working in the rain and still with smiling faces that just tells you what is happening. And it shows you what will happen when we do get four days of sunshine here at Gallagher’s Canyon.”