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CFL was great training ground for Canadian Open tournament director Bryan Crawford

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The RBC Canadian Open is in the midst of a series of years of unparalleled and growing success.

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Record-breaking attendance numbers in each of the last three years it has been held — 2019, 2022 and now this year have made this tournament the place the kick off summer. From the concerts that are now a scheduled part of the weekend — Black Eyed Peas and Alanis Morisette this year — to the always popular rink hole (it’s No. 14 at Oakdale this year) and the ever-expanding food options patrons will find on the Fairway, the tournament has taken off.

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At least partly responsible for that success — though he pushes credit away from him every time you try to give him some — is tournament director Bryan Crawford.

His arrival in the job following the 2018 Open has coincided with the rising popularity of the tournament.

What makes this development all the more interesting is that for the first seven years of his adult life, Crawford earned his paycheque as a backup running back and integral member of the Toronto Argos special teams’ units.

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Affectionately dubbed Crawdaddy by perhaps the best known Argo of all time in Mike Pinball Clemons, Crawford earned special teams co-captain status in his second year and remained in that role until his retirement six years later.

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For the uninitiated, special teams are units on a football team responsible for punt and kickoff and punt and kickoff cover teams. Unless you’re making the return, like Clemons used to do, your chances of getting any credit outside your own locker room are nil and next to nil.

Crawford shone in that environment. Not just willing but eager to get right down in the muck. He made his name opening holes and keeping lanes open for the likes of Clemons and other returners. It’s a job that demands a lot of detail and precision and, while he had no idea at the time, it was the perfect training ground for his current role.

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“Certainly, it wasn’t a pathway that I necessarily saw a few years back before getting the opportunity to come to Golf Canada but it has certainly been a wonderful experience and one I enjoyed.”

Crawford’s path to overseer of Canada’s national Open actually began while he was still in pads. Living in Hamilton at the time he was just steps from the main offices of Ontario University Athletics and actually worked with them for five years while he was playing for the Argos.

Upon his retirement from the CFL he immediately took over as Executive Director of the OUA.

Crawford says he was merely following the sage advice from the man they still call Pinball.

“He once told me to figure out what you love to do and make it a career and that was it — working in sports administration and being in the business of sport,” Crawford recalls.

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From the OUA, he was recruited to join Canada Basketball where he again expanded his experience base working both nationally with the basketball federation as well as internationally with FIBA.

It was at this point that Crawford’s efforts caught the attention of Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum who entrusted him with the role of tournament director of Canada’s only stop on the PGA tour.

As has been the case throughout his career, timing was on Crawford’s side in this move as well. He came aboard the year the tournament switched dates from the week leading into the British Open to the early June date it now enjoys.

“The date change was ground breaking for the event,” Crawford said. “It has made so much of a difference getting out of the shadow of the (British) Open Championship. Being in early June we created this campaign we call Summer’s Open and it’s kind of how we look at it. We are launching summer in Canada with this Open at the beginning of June.”

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The bulk of the work for 2023 from Crawford’s standpoint is mostly done. Sure, he’ll have to adapt on the fly when issues arise but he and his team are already well on their way to laying out what the tournament will look like a year from now when it returns to Hamilton following a wildly successful 2019 Open at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club.

mganter@postmedia.com

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