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Inaugural Shaw Charity Classic exceeds expectations in attendance, charitable support

Rocco Mediate tees off on the 16th hole at the inaugural Shaw Charity Classic. Mediate would eventually win the tournament by seven strokes. Robert Thompson/Global News

Though the air was cool enough at Canyon Meadows Golf and Country Club that you could see your breath on a crisp Sunday morning, Kyle Schwartz didn’t seem to notice.

The 11-year-old Calgarian was coming to the Shaw Charity Classic for his first taste of professional golf, with his father, Paul, a corrections officer, tagging along close behind.

“I just love sports,” said Schwartz, who, like many others, said he was planning on following Fred Couples and the eventual winner Rocco Mediate. “I’m going to be here all day.”

Schwartz and his father were two of around 40,000 people who came to the inaugural Shaw Charity Classic, a Champions Tour golf tournament played by the game’s over-50 legends. They came in flip flops, or wearing golf shirts and shorts as brilliant sunshine reminded the crowd that summer is still here, at least for a little bit longer.

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Fred Couples, perhaps the biggest star in the field before Rocco Mediate wowed the crowds with a seven-shot victory, was impressed by Calgary’s first foray into the Champions Tour.

“From a player’s standpoint if you can get the course in better shape that would be shocking,” Couples said. “If you can get the weather better, that would be shocking. The food is pretty good. If you could just tone down Rocco, you would have a hell of a tournament out there.”

Couples’ jokes aside, the tournament appears to have delivered on all levels, from the crowds to the corporate and charitable support. Calgary oil billionaire Clay Riddell, who initially backed the tournament with his son Jim, businessmen Guy Turcotte, Allan Markin and golfer Stephen Ames, said he expected the tournament would raise up to $1.5-million for six Calgary-area children’s charities.

“It has absolutely exceeded our expectation,” Riddell said. “We don’t know what the numbers will be, but obviously they’re still paying $40 to come through the front gates.”

Shaw Communications chief marketing officer Jim Little said the company, which took on the title sponsorship earlier this year, was exceptionally pleased by how the tournament was received in Calgary.

“Everything you’d have worried about five months ago when we decided to do this turned out not to be a worry,” Little said. “We knew we had a great field, and the scores would be great and the fans would have a great time. From the community outreach and charitable side of things, as well as from a business and brand perspective, we’re thrilled about what went on this week.”

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Everyone raved about the event, from the spectators to Mike Stevens, president of the Champions Tour. Stevens, who was involved in a Web.com Tour event in Calgary several years ago, had long considered the city perfect for a Champions Tour event. Stevens called the tournament an unqualified success.

“The crowds are exceptional – absolutely exceptional,” he said. “The players will tell you that in a second. They’re extremely happy to be here.”

That was certainly the case with Tom Lehman, the former Ryder Cup captain, who put the event on his schedule as soon as it was announced. Though Lehman had to make a quick trip back to his Phoenix home to watch his son play high school football, he said he was thrilled to have taken part.

Lehman said he expected strong word of mouth about the tournament would lead more players to put it on their schedule next year. He did have a couple of suggestions though, slight tweaks to a course most uniformly praised.

“I’d prune some of the trees so you can play under some of them,” Lehman said, adding that he felt changing the 15th hole from a par five to a par four would also help strengthen the course.

“But it has been great out here,” Lehman said.

That sentiment was echoed by many who walked the lush fairways on Sunday, accompanied by the legends of the game.

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