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The Party Planner

Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Brent McLaughlin never imagined he’d be the maestro behind Canada’s national championships. “It still doesn’t really compute in my brain that I’m doing it,” he admits. That’s because 20 years ago he walked onto the grounds of Glen Abbey and begged anybody he could find for a job. Ascending up through the maintenance staff, into the pro shop, and then the Golf Canada (nee RCGA) offices after a brief stop at the Golf Association of Ontario, the tournament director for the men’s and women’s national opens has made the most of his opportunity.

Golf Canada Magazine: What is the daily routine of a tournament director?

Brent McLaughlin: It’s so many things and yet, I don’t really do anything. All I do is answer questions. The real doers are the sales and marketing folks in our office and our operations team. I kind of sit there and I steer the ship. I try to make sure the people that are really doing the work have strong direction, can share ideas and feel supported when they make decisions. It is just such a great job because on top of it all, when you’re planning for a great party, I still get to have the conversations with player agents and players to entice them and their families. What do these players need when they get here? What type of car do they need? Are they bringing their family with them? What do their kids want to do? It’s just such a wide variety. To say there’s one thing I focus on each day is crazy and that’s what makes this job so great. There’s so many things every day that come up.

How does that change during tournament week?

Tournament week is actually the best week because hopefully you’ve planned everything correctly — if you screwed something up, it’s too late to fix it. So our stressful time, believe it or not, is the three months leading up to July. Once we’re into July we’re hopefully in a state where you’re just wishing for good weather and a great finish. Tournament week we’re there at 4:30 in the morning. We don’t usually leave the property until 11 o’clock at night. And our 1,500 volunteers, they’re doing the same hours and it’s amazing. You go into the volunteer centre at 5:30 in the morning and it’s jam-packed.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Space. To find space, not only on-site but off-site, to run these events is a huge challenge. When I look at parking, for example, how do we park so many cars? For the men, we have to park 10,000 vehicles in a town (Oakville, Ont., where Glen Abbey is located) that’s continually growing. I think on-site, golf continues to grow. It’s such a huge sport and our TV compound has changed drastically over the last couple years. The square-footage for our TV compound has basically quadrupled in size. Fitting all those little jigsaw pieces into the property at Glen Abbey or any golf course is a huge challenge. On top of that, what everybody talks about: the date. Especially this year, you’re sandwiched between the British Open and the PGA Championship so two majors. That’s a huge challenge, the field. But I always keep saying whenever I talk to the media or anybody, this event can’t be solely about the field and it can’t be about the date. This is a party. It was a party last year. I go to the Players Championship every year, as a rules official for 10 years and now as a tournament director to talk to players. I go to 16-17-18 and their hospitality areas. Rest assured, nobody is watching golf. It’s just like the Waste Management (Open in Phoenix) — no one is watching golf. They’re there because it’s the place to be. It’s a party, they’re socializing, they’re networking, they’re doing a million different things but they don’t know who’s on the tee necessarily or who’s hitting shots. That’s my vision for our Open.

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Is there anything you really want to do but haven’t figured out how to pull off?

I would love to take the 14th hole down in the valley and on the far left side, where there’s a gravel access road, I’d love to pump in a bunch of sand and make that a beach. Have people go down and change into their bathing suits, grab a beach towel and lie in the sun. You’ve got your feet in the water, catching some rays watching the golfers play through. I’m also trying to get a five-kilometre race off the ground. The golf course is closed the week before. I’d love to do a road race through the golf course, a 5k where you come in and get a ticket to the Open the following week but now you get to run the golf course. There are so many runners in the community — in Oakville and across the Halton region — you call it the Par 5k and away you go. For a lot of people that may not be golfers and may not have seen what goes on in there, now you run the course and you’re connected to it and you realize this is a big thing, there is a lot of infrastructure.

What’s been your biggest surprise since taking on the job?

The spring of last year I visited four or five different events and started talking to players (about why they did or didn’t play the RBC Canadian Open) and the one thing that was the common theme I heard from every player was that when you come to Canada you never know you’re in Canada. They said it looks like every other PGA Tour event. When I came back I said we’re going to bring the Canadiana back to the Canadian Open. So when you stood on No. 18 tee and looked down, the only thing you could see was the Canadian flag. I think we need more than that.

How about the craziest problem you’ve had to navigate?

On Sunday last year, when David Hearn’s group came out of the valley off 15, I remember getting a call from Barry Hughes, who’s a sergeant with Halton Police and oversees our policing. He called me and said, ‘We got a lot of people coming up from the valley. There’s nowhere for them to go.’ There had to be nearly 5,000 people who couldn’t go down 16, they couldn’t go down 17, they couldn’t go down 18. So we brought everybody around the back of 17 and 18 tee and allowed them to walk the driving range for the first time ever just to get the flow going. So we had to re-rope basically the entire three holes on the fly. As everybody was watching play, we’re freaking out about re-roping people to get them out and back to the spectator village. So that was chaotic and quite a scene.

Biggest difference setting up the Men’s Open vs. Women’s Open?

There’s a few more moving parts on the Men’s Open. One notable difference is from a courtesy-car standpoint. Traditionally on the LPGA Tour we’ll dole out about 20 courtesy cars to the top players but for the RBC Canadian Open, through our relationship with BMW, every player gets a car. So that’s 156 moving parts right there off the top. From an infrastructure standpoint, the Men’s Open is just a bigger animal. It has more spectators on site, more corporate hospitality options so the footprint on site is larger, as far as your build goes. With the CP Women’s Open, we’re building around 16, 17 and 18 for our hospitality.

Fact or fiction: The LPGA Tour players are easier to deal with than the PGA Tour players.

That’s probably 90 per cent fact. The women are very engaging, they understand it’s a big deal. They all have their moments as professional athletes so I wouldn’t say easier but maybe a little more available.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received from a player regarding the CP Women’s Open?

I think every player that I’ve spoken to on the women’s side believes it’s a major. They treat it like a major even though it’s not a major in name. It’s the largest purse they play for outside of the majors so I think that has a lot to do with it. Last year, including the majors, we were the strongest event on tour. We had 96 of the top 100 players. We’re the event after the Olympics this year and every single person I talked to said, ‘We will not miss the Women’s Open. We don’t care when the Olympics is.’ So that’s a telling statement that they’ll turn out in Calgary and how important the event is.

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What are your thoughts on the possible development of Glen Abbey?

From a personal standpoint, it’s a huge part of my life. I would be devastated. Devastated not to have that as a golf course and not to have it as a place to drive into every day. It’s much deeper than just the Open. It goes back to my days in the golf shop and riding the shuttle and picking the range. It’s also our office plus the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame & Museum. There’s a lot of things that go on outside of the RBC Canadian Open but from a purely personal standpoint, I want it to stay a golf course.

Some personal stuff: What inspired you to buy your ice fishing trailer?

I love my outdoors. I love my alone time. I love hunting. Fishing is one of my huge hobbies too but I hate being cold. So I started thinking what I could do to make this a more comfortable experience. I went on Kijiji and looked for a camper. I found an old, beat up 15-foot Prowler camper. I tore it apart inside, put a wood stove in it and it’s got room for five or six people pretty comfortably. It’s got three fishing holes and once you get the wood stove going, it is incredible how hot it is. You can fish in your underwear if you want.

What’s the biggest fish you’ve caught?

Biggest fish I’ve caught would be a halibut in B.C. It was a small halibut for its size but big for me, about 80 pounds. But the most prized fish I’ve caught is one just outside Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) in Echo Bay. I caught an 11-pound walleye and as I reeled it in, I said to myself this is going to cost me money now. It goes from being a prized fish to being an expensive fish real quick. To get the taxidermy and put it on the wall was something else but it was a beautiful fish.

You drove your motorcycle cross-country last summer. What kind of bike is it and does it have a name?

(Laughs) It does not have a name although after we bonded coming back from Seattle after the CP Women’s Open at The Vancouver Golf Club it should have a name. I was telling my wife that I wanted to upgrade the bike and then I drove it back from out west and as soon as I got home I said I’ll never get rid of that bike. It’s a 2004 Dyna Low Rider. The bike’s originally from Texas and it’s in miles, which screws me up all the time.

How much golf do you play?

Last year I had the good fortune of playing in the RBC Heritage pro-am with Ian Poulter. That was my last round of golf. Never touched a club after April. Now, 80 per cent of that is my own fault because I have other interests outside of the game. But I need to get back in that mindset of playing more.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in golf?

Growing up I always wanted to be a fireman. I went to school at Seneca College for Fire Science and I think if I wasn’t a fireman, I really see myself in some other sport. Hockey’s my passion, I’m a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan. My bar downstairs is painted orange and black. It’s got all kinds of Flyers memorabilia. My dog’s named Philly. The dog before that was named Tocchet, after my favourite player Rick Tocchet. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m obsessed so it’d definitely be something in hockey.


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The Party Planner

This article was originally published in the April 2016 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.

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