By Martin Cleary
Life was good for Russell Budd in the early days of 2020. After a six-year PGA career focused on the LatinoAmerica Tour, he was hired by the PGA as a tournament and rules official. Then COVID-19 struck.
The pandemic tossed a monkey wrench into the mechanics and everything came to a crashing halt. The Toronto native found himself bored and “my wife was going to kill me, if I stayed home,” he recounted. It’s good to report golf saved his life.
Budd called a few of his friends and they headed to a nearby golf course. The outing was good for Budd. Despite the incoming COVID-19 restrictions, he realized that golf professionals needed something – a players’ tour.
A business graduate from DePaul University and a pro with some South American PGA success, Budd created the 21-stop Toronto Players’ Tour for the inaugural, but awkward, COVID-19 restriction-driven season in 2020.
This mini-tour was unique. It was open to professionals, amateurs, men and women. In its first season, the average field size was 42 golfers and 87% of the fields were pros, including Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour and LPGA players.
For its second season, the 13-stop Toronto Players’ Tour is heading to Eastern Ontario in 2021. The Ottawa Open is scheduled to be played July 28-29 at eQuinelle Golf Club and the 1,000 Islands Championship is slated for Smugglers Glen on Aug. 9-10.
“(The tour) has changed its identity,” Budd said in an interview. “I want to give different courses a chance to play host to a mini-tour event and move all over Ontario.” In 2020, the tour was centred around the GTA.
Budd was a one-man show on last summer’s tour. But he has hired a McGill University student this year to share the duties. When he looked East, he thought of Scott MacLeod, Flagstick magazine‘s associate publisher/editorial director.
“I don’t know the area, but he told me eQuinelle was fantastic,” Budd continued, adding he was aware of the Flagstick Amateur Open tournament at the same course. “He said the guys will have an awesome experience.”
The numbers haven’t been finalized, but the tournament entry registration fee will be between $450 and $500. The top 25% of the field will share the total purse with the winner earning about $5,000.
“The only way to get better is to get reps,” Budd said about his developmental tour. “Our season is too short for a shorter tour. Guys want to play a lot.” More tournaments are expected to be added later this year.
“My goal is to make the players feel comfortable and welcome,” he added. “I played across South America the last six years. I know what the players want. The guys don’t have money. It’s like (class) A, AA baseball. I’m looking out for the players.”
Budd said his no-frills tour won’t pour money into signage, tents or extras, but will focus on providing good courses, transparency and paying the players immediately. He will soon start looking for local sponsors for the Ottawa Open.
“I want every event to be different. No cookie-cutters. I want to have a homey type of feeling; what I experienced in Bogota and Argentina. So many different parts of the province are different,” noted Budd, who finished second in the Argentina Open and qualified for the Canadian Open in 2018.
As Budd prepares for his first 2021 stop, the Niagara Championship in Niagara Falls on May 4-5, his main worry is what COVID-19 will look like in four months. The 2020 tour had no caddies, one cart per golfer, flagsticks in the hole, etc.
“A lot has to do with the regulations with COVID,” signalled Budd. “I have no idea what this summer will be like.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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