The Canadian Tour again has touched down in Modesto this week, and we pause to honor all wonderful things from the Great White North.
Avril Lavigne. Jim Carrey. Neil Young. Pamela Anderson. Tommy Chong. Donovan Bailey. Shania Twain. Celine Dion. Howie Mandel.
We're not sure if Canada still claims Tommy Chong but, regardless, we'll welcome back our neighbor's first-class satellite golf tour that makes its second local appearance in the last three years.
Such was Del Rio Country Club's affection for the CanTour stop in 2005, it again opens its gate Thursday for the Spring International, the first of the circuit's 16-tournament schedule in 2008.
Why is it worthy of our interest, you ask? Here are 13 reasons, one for each of Canada's 13 provinces and territories:
1 CHAMPS -- Watching young pros learning their trade doesn't seem inspiring at first glance, until you remember who they eventually become: 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, 2005 U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton, along with Steve Stricker, Stuart Anderson, Chris DiMarco, Nick Watney, Arron Oberholser and more than 50 graduates who've won on the PGA Tour.
2 LOCALS -- Six players with local ties spice the field: Matt Bettencourt, while the Nationwide Tour takes a week off; Marc Peterson and Ryan Thornberry, who both plan a full Canadian Tour schedule; former Cal State Stanislaus star Marc Lawless; and Del Rio qualifiers Patrick Burda (beat his father, Jeff, for the club's match-play title) and Jeff Mullen (73 last weekend and defeated Gil Wymond in a playoff).
3 OUTREACH -- Because they haven't yet climbed into Tiger Woods' tax bracket, Thornberry and Peterson needed some help with expenses this year. The result: The "PeterBerry Open," a fund-raiser that drew 124 friends last month at Del Rio. "Our goal was 100," Peterson said. "The way the economy is right now, we couldn't have asked for more. We had a lot of volunteers and everything was donated. The community really stepped up."
4 SPONSORS AND MORE OUTREACH -- Half of every admission ticket purchase goes to the United Way of Stanislaus County, which probably will do better than the $10,000 check given to The First Tee of Modesto after the 2005 tournament. Foster Farms, the title sponsor in '05, again jumped aboard to join The United Way.
5 QUALIFIERS -- Four players took the scenic route into the 159-man field via a wind-blasted 55-man qualifying free-for-all Monday. The survivors were West Virginia resident David Bradshaw (70), Josh Williams of San Ramon (70), Patrick Kucich of Stockton (71) and Nick Obie of Bermuda Dunes (72, topped two others in a playoff).
6 BYRON SMITH -- The tour's 2007 leader on the Order of Merit doesn't belong next to El Tigre on the marquee, but Golf World magazine said Smith -- during one three-week blitz last year -- was "probably the best player on the planet." Smith, from Rancho Mirage, ended the year's final three events with Sunday scores of 63, 63 and 62, yet won only one of the trio.
7 SPENCER LEVIN -- The intense warrior from Elk Grove is best known for his tie for 13th at the 2004 U.S. Open followed later that summer by his State Amateur title. Last year, he placed second behind Smith on the Canadian Tour money list. This week, he leads a group entry from the Nationwide.
8 STRETCHED OUT -- Del Rio finally bowed to golf's technology boom by lengthening the Oak and Bluff nines from 6,837 to 6,919 yards. New teeing areas were built at the third, seventh and 16th tees, and No. 3 -- already the club's strongest par-4 -- has grown into a 488-yard into-the-wind beast. Nevertheless, the younger generation still likes Del Rio's old-school charm. "What's not to like about Del Rio?" Tour Commissioner Richard Janes said. "It's a classic."
9 GRASS -- The dormant Bermuda fairways, an ongoing project after the club switched from ryegrass in 2006, remain brown and scratchy. They're contrasted, however, by nearly perfect greens. Warmer temperatures are expected for the weekend, which should speed up the entire track. "You'll almost hear the Bermuda grow," tour rules official Randy Korn said.
10 RETURN TRIP -- Edmonton's Stuart Anderson, who won at Del Rio in 2005 at 17-under-par 271, will come back as the unofficial "defending champion." The official defender is Australia's Adam Bland, who won last year at Boulder Ridge in San Jose. Lee Williamson of Indiana captured the 2006 title at Diablo Grande. While the tournament boomerangs back to Del Rio, its companion event -- next week's Stockton Sports Commission Classic at Brookside CC -- has found a steady home.
11 MANITOBA DAN -- Dan Halldorson, the tour's deputy commissioner, earned his bona fides via a stellar international career featuring PGA Tour victories in 1980 and '86. "I don't know if they had videotape back then," he joked. "The Nationwide has more depth than we do. I do think our top third is probably as good as theirs. Today there are just more good players who've been coached since they were 8 or 9. Most guys in my age group just went out and played."
12 EXPANSION -- Since Janes and Halldorson took over in 2005, the Canadian Tour has jumped from 11 tournaments to 16. The California presence has proven attractive, but the circuit still relies on its core of competitions north of the border. "We'd like to start a Fall Series to cover the four-week gap between our last tournament and the PGA Tour School," James said. "We're also looking at a possible event next year in San Diego."
13 TV -- Sorry, coach potatoes, no live coverage from Del Rio. Instead, the tournament will be featured in a one-hour Canadian Tour magazine show to begin airing on The Golf Channel on May 12. The show will be accented by Modesto scenes from the McHenry Museum, the McHenry Mansion, the Arch, the Flower Clock, the State Theater, the Gallo Center for the Arts and, of course, classic cars at the A&W Drive-In.
Let Celine Dion top that.
HOLES-IN-ONE -- Marc Peterson, Modesto, 235-yard eighth at Del Rio CC (Bluff), hybrid. ... Sal Rodriguez Sr., Riverbank, 159-yard 15th at Creekside, 5-wood. ... Lindsey Lasiter, Modesto, 103-yard seventh at River Oaks, Ceres, 8-iron. ... Carlos Herrera, Manteca, 111-yard ninth at River Oaks, pitching wedge. ... Sam Camarillo, Modesto, 136-yard fourth at River Oaks, driver. ... Dennis Culbertson, 125-yard second at Del Rio CC (Bluff), 7-iron. ... Tina Phillips, Modesto, 131-yard eighth at Del Rio CC (Bluff), 7-wood. ... Brian Benedictson, Comox, British Columbia., 185-yard eighth at Del Rio CC (Oak), 7-iron.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.