For a brief moment in time Hugh Morrow considered retirement. That was four years ago, and might of have been the easy route for the long-time high-tech Canadian business executive. Now he’s trying to catch his breath, or at least find some rhythm to it, as he works and lives through the final few months leading to the inaugural Manulife Classic – an LPGA Tour event to be held in Waterloo at Grey Silo GC the week of June 18 to 24.
“I like to compare it to having a baby,” says Morrow, a father of two grown children and soon-to-be grandfather. “You conceive this thing, a golf tournament that will engage an entire community. You carefully watch it growing from crawling and baby steps as the ideas are set in action and finally in June we’ll let it fly when the girls come to town to tee it up.”
Morrow received his introduction to tour events when an American developer asked him to consider partnering in a resort development in Port St. Lucie, Florida that needed to raise its profile and sell homes. Florida had just lost it’s one and only LPGA event – the Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open near Orlando and Morrow saw an opportunity. He approached LPGA Tour officials as well as respected Canadian golfer Gail Graham, who was a member of the LPGA’s Player Advisory Committee, and over a period of months a unique concept for a new tour event evolved.
“We were going to host a two-week event starting at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie and then taking all the players on a cruise ship to Grand Bahamas Island for a second event, but the developer ran out of money and the idea died on the table late in 2009.”
At that moment Morrow considered calling it quits but he still had a vision and a dream that was unfulfilled. “As a Canadian I could only see professional golf in Toronto every three or four years, and I thought there were other markets in Ontario that could support a tournament so I started to put two and two together.” He quietly started having conversations with movers and shakers in the Canadian golf industry about launching a new event in Ontario. Despite considerable negative feedback, Morrow decided he was up for the challenge.
In March 2010 Morrow selected the host community that he wanted for the event. Waterloo Region, which includes Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, has a great history for hosting successful national and international events from the Memorial Cup and World Junior Hockey Championships to the World Figure Skating Championships. He had his first meeting with Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran later that year and the wheels were set in motion as Waterloo-based Manulife Financial came to the table in January 2011.
Morrow considered several area golf courses including Rebel Creek, Westmount and Whistler Bear, but ultimately went with Grey Silo in Waterloo. It is owned by the City of Waterloo and operated by GolfNorth Properties, a company owned by RIM founder Jim Balsillie, a Waterloo resident and avid golf enthusiast. “We really wanted a course that the community could support and that the average golfer would be able to play just like the LPGA Tour stars will for at least the next three years.” says Morrow.
Turns out that Roy Firth, Executive Vice President, Individual Wealth Management, Canadian Division and Chairman of Manulife Securities, happens to be a member at Scarboro Golf and Country Club, where Morrow is also a member. That connection may have helped seal the deal as it was Firth who took Morrow’s proposal to Paul Rooney, President and Chief Executive Officer of Manulife Financial's Canadian Division and other senior managers. Manulife signed a three-year deal with Morrow’s company, Sports Properties International, and holds options for 2015 and 2016 as well. It’s expected to cost about $4 million to operate the tournament this year but they expect to generate about $20 million in additional business for the region.
Last June, Morrow and company hosted a media conference at the Waterloo Inn to officially launch Canada’s second LPGA Tour event – the Manulife Classic and its $1.3 million purse.
“The goal over the next three years is to develop the Manulife Classic into a world-class event that is celebrated throughout the region and not just another professional golf event,” Morrow says.
Before thee first tee shot has even been hit, Morrow is already thinking about creating another LPGA Tour event. It’s a tantalizing idea but he’s just not quite sure that’s he’s ready for twins!
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