No fans, no caddies? No problem for Evan Holmes. He led wire-to-wire over three rounds to win the Canada Life pro golf tournament Wednesday amid pandemic playing conditions on Bear Mountain.
The former UBC Thunderbirds player from Calgary began with a scorching opening-round 63 on Monday and closed it out from there to hold off former Washington State Cougars Pac-12 player Zach Anderson of Nanaimo.
Holmes finished at eight-under, two strokes clear of runner-up Anderson.
“The course got tougher over the last two rounds as the wind started to swirl,” said Holmes.
“But I was able to hold off Zach and bring it home.”
Holmes said everyone has adjusted to playing amid the COVID1-19 restrictions. “We’re all used to it by now and the new rules seem normal,” he said.
“The guidelines are here to stay for at least a little bit longer. And in the end, it’s still just golf.”
The Canada Life series is a consolation for those Canadian pro golfers who missed out on the 2020 Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour season after it was cancelled due to COVID-19. That included the DC Bank Victoria Open, which has been a Tour fixture since 1981, and has featured future PGA Tour players from Steve Stricker to Tony Finau
This week’s tournament on the mountain course was the first of two Canada Life Series 54-hole events at Bear Mountain. The second tournament is on the valley course next Monday through Wednesday. Both events feature purses of $50,000 and both filled up fast with lengthy waiting lists.
Holmes pocketed $9,000 for the win plus an additional $2,750 bonus for recording the low round. The latter bonus is paid for by current and past Canadian PGA Tour players to help the next generation.
“It feels good — it was a nice day — especially considering the [abbreviated season],” Holmes said.
The Canada Life Series concludes Sept. 2-4 and Sept. 9-11 at TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley. The series champion over the four tournaments will earn a berth into the 2021 RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s in Toronto, which is a nice perk.
“I would love to be in the Canadian Open, but I have to focus over the next three tournaments,” said Holmes.
The Canada Life Series is adhering to the safety guidelines being practised elsewhere in golf’s reopening. Spectators are not allowed for the two Bear Mountain tournaments. There are no caddies and only a bare number of volunteers allowed on the Bear.
The Canada Life tournaments have been put together by the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, which is the launching pad to the Korn Ferry Tour, which in turn is the entry portal to the PGA Tour. The Mackenzie Tour’s alumni includes 41 PGA Tour players and 232 Korn Ferry Tour players produced since 2013.
"It was disappointing when circumstances surrounding COVID-19 required us to cancel the 2020 Mackenzie Tour season,” said Tour executive director Scott Pritchard. “But we never lost sight of the purpose for this Tour, which is to give players opportunities.”
Island players in the first Bear Mountain tournament included Anderson from the Harbour City, Lawren Rowe, Cory Renfrew, Jim Rutledge, Peter Jenkins and Nate Ollis of Victoria, Andrew Funk of Sidney, Callum Davison of Duncan and Travis Busch of Qualicum Beach. A pleasant surprise was Jenkins of the host club moving up 15 spots in the second round Tuesday to make the cut to play in Wednesday’s final round. The 22-year-old was among two sponsor exemptions awarded Bear Mountain and Jenkins more than proved he belonged. Bear Mountain held a qualifying tournament for its members and staff to decide who would get its two exempt slots.
It was the first pro tournament on Bear Mountain since the mountain course hosted PGA Tour Champions’ events in 2016 and 2017. The $2.5-million Pacific Links tournaments featured former stars and current seniors such as Colin Montgomerie, John Daly, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, Scott McCarron, Jerry Kelly and Lee Janzen.
Next week’s second tournament switches from the mountain to the valley course and will offer the Canada Life Series golfers a vastly different challenge.
Rob Larocque, Bear Mountain director of golf, described the two courses as “quite diverse.”
“Jack and Steve [Nicklaus] designed them in such a way that we think the tournaments will certainly have different feels to them,” said Larocque.