By: Garry McKay
Hamilton ON - As the Great Lakes Tour enters its 20th season it continues to grow and evolve.
One thing that will never change, however, is the Tour’s fundamental philosophy, which is to help aspiring professionals and amateurs develop their game and to get ready for the next level. That’s the shared philosophy of co-owners Jim Kenesky and Colin Murray.
Current PGA Tour player Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ontario, turned pro while he was still a teenager and had played practically no high-level amateur golf.
He personifies what the Great Lakes Tour is all about.
“When I started out, there were a lot of great players on the Great Lakes Tour and playing against them and having some success really helped my confidence, especially when I started winning some events,” Gligic recalls.
“The Great Lakes Tour was a great stepping stone and a great confidence builder for me. And the money that I made really helped out when it came to paying for things like PGA Tour Q-school.”
And Gligic certainly isn’t alone in having fond memories of how the Great Lakes Tour helped in player development.
“There were a lot of really good players on that Tour,” says David Hearn, the Brantford, Ontario native a two-time winner on the Great Lakes Tour in 2004 who also went on to win on the Canadian Tour and the Nationwide Tour before graduating to the PGA Tour the same year.
“I was fortunate enough to get on a bit of a roll and win a couple of Great Lakes Tour events one summer and that gave me some confidence going forward. More than anything it helped me in developing the mindset of trying to win golf tournaments out there and that helped propel me to the next level.”
Murray says he and Kenesky have the same vision of what they want tournament golf on a developmental tour to look like.
“If you’ve never played in a big event before and you finally do and see the ropes and the flags at the entrance to the course you can get intimidated. Now, you’re uncomfortable and it’s tough to play when you’re uncomfortable,” said Murray, who besides being a co-owner, is also the tournament director and oversees all outdoor operations for each event.
“That’s why we bring all the bells and whistles out whether it’s a major championship or a single day event. We want to give our members a PGA TOUR type experience from the time they arrive to their signing of scorecards. We want our members to get maximum value out their entry fee regardless of their performance.”
The Great Lakes Tour was established in 2001 by Dennis Hendershott and Kara Kelly of Brantford ON when they felt there was no place for aspiring professionals to compete in Ontario. They operated the Tour until the end of 2012 before selling to John and David Brisson.
“It was a small struggle for them (Brissons) as new competition in the market was started and there were rumours floating around that the GLT might be on the way out,” said Kenesky. “I thought, we can’t let that happen, because the GLT had done so much for so many Canadian players.
“In 2015 Colin and I both put a little money in and since we were both golf professionals and had played on the GLT, they asked if we would give them some advice on conducting and organizing the events.”
Later that year the dynamic duo bought out the Brisson’s to become owner-operators.
“It was at that same time that Jean Trudeau had started his own tour in Quebec called the Circuit Canada Pro Tour,” said Kenesky. “He approached us at one of his events in Hawkesbury Ontario and asked if we wanted to create a strategic partnership with the two tours. We knew that this would be very important to our members because it gave them access to the events in Quebec for some very nice prize money which they might not have had otherwise.
“Our field sizes doubled and we even had MacKenzie Tour - PGA TOUR Canada players who wanted to be part of it.”
Also, during the winter of 2016, there was a chance meeting with Brent McLaughlin, who at the time was the tournament director for the RBC Canadian Open, Murray and Kenesky broached the idea of the GLT receiving an exemption into the RBC Canadian Open’s Monday qualifying.
“Two days later we had an exemption into the Canadian Open Monday qualifier,” said Kenesky. “That was another bonus for our players and created a marketing avenue for us. In 2018, Mitch Sutton qualified for the Canadian Open after receiving the exemption and showed us all how important it can be.”
This year the Great Lakes Tour has, as an organization, become members of Golf Canada which means all of the players both the pros and the amateurs who weren’t members at a course or who were unattached will now receive all the benefits of membership like being able to get travel discounts, insurance benefits and track statistics through the new app.
“I think this is one of the better things we’ve done,” said Kenesky. “And from the Tour’s perspective, some of the resources they’ve given us, like Covid regulations we wouldn’t have had direct access to as non-members. Supporting the many grass roots programs through Golf Canada is very important to us too.”
The Great Lakes Tour has also completely revamped its Tour Championship for this season.
It will be a two-day event at the spectacular Tom McBroom designed Wildfire Golf Club in Lakefield, Ontario, in the picturesque Kawartha region northeast of Peterborough.
The two-day event will feature 16 players in stroke play on Sept. 9, with the top four players advancing to two rounds of match play, the semi-finals and finals on Sept. 10. All 16 competitors will take home a piece of the minimum $20,000 purse.
“There are three primary developmental tours in Canada operating now, the Great Lakes Tour (ON), the Vancouver Golf Tour (BC) and the East Coast Pro Tour (QC),” says Kenesky. “We’re trying to fill the gap that still exists today in the long-term player development plan. Golf Canada has done a great job with the Young Pro Squad and the National Team but not every player is good enough or develops fast enough to take advantage of those programs.
“Moving forward I think there’s a bright future for all the tours as we strengthen our relationships and create something special in Canada.”
To date, the Great Lakes Tour has had 65 players over 20 years participate in at least one GLT event and one PGA TOUR event. Players that have held membership on the PGA TOUR or played in multiple PGA TOUR events include: