Golf: Revamp signals 'a new dawn'

(L to R) Sir Michael Hill, John Hart and Prime Minisher John Key at the NZPGA Pro Am Championship 2013 Announcement, Westpac Building, Auckland. Photo by William Booth/photosport.co.nz
(L to R) Sir Michael Hill, John Hart and Prime Minisher John Key at the NZPGA Pro Am Championship 2013 Announcement, Westpac Building, Auckland. Photo by William Booth/photosport.co.nz

The combining of the New Zealand Open and Queenstown's pro-am tournament is being called a ''new dawn'' for the sport.

The 106-year-old championship returns to the Wakatipu in February 2014 and, in a world first for an open, will include the pro-am, and will be played at two courses, jeweller Sir Michael Hill's private course The Hills, near Arrowtown, and neighbouring Millbrook.

The NZ Open, held in Christchurch the past two years, will run simultaneously with Queenstown's established pro-am tournament which has previously attracted sports stars such as Sir Ian Botham and business heavyweights.

The pro-am's previous partner event, the NZ PGA Championship, will no longer be in Queenstown and a new date and venue is still to be decided.

The new arrangement comes after agreement between NZ Golf, NZ PGA and Michael Hill Tournaments Ltd (MHTL) to pool resources to create one super tournament.

Under the agreement, NZ Golf has licenced MHTL to organise and take full responsibility for funding, presenting and underwriting it for three years.

Minister of Sport Murray McCully yesterday announced a $900,000 injection from the Government's Major Events Development Fund for 2014. It has also attracted a major new sponsor, BMW, and the prize-money pool has increased from $500,000 for last year's NZ Open to a minimum of $850,000.

Chief executive Dean Murphy said NZ Golf had been very conscious of retaining the traditional elements of the historic NZ Open.

''There will be traditionalists who'll think [the combination of open and pro-am] is less than ideal but ... we'd encourage people to think positively about this and think about how we can be unique and how we can take the game forward in New Zealand.

''It's exciting, it's something new and fresh and this is a growth strategy ... it's about taking the game forward and it's a new dawn.''

MHLT organising committee member and Queenstown-based ex-golf pro Greg Turner said NZ Golf and the NZ PGA should be thanked for a courageous decision.

''Those a bit nervous about this departure from the tradition of the NZ Open, I'd encourage you to be enthusiastic.''

Turner said there used to be a time when NZ could attract the world's best golfers on the promise of $50,000 prizemoney and a fishing trip ''but times have changed''.

''We need to have an internationally significant event - this provides our best opportunity,'' Turner said.

It was also announced yesterday the 2014 NZ Open will have an association with the lucrative Japan Golf Tour, the third-richest in the world.

The tie-up will see 15 Japan Tour pros entered in the NZ Open and the NZ Open winner or highest-performing player not already on the Japan Tour will get entry to three of its events.

Auckland businessman John Hart, MHTL's organising committee chairman, said the Japan Tour deal was a landmark agreement and a ''step forward in the internationalisation'' of the NZ event.

''One of the key elements in attracting their interest was the pro-am format - it's different to any other event they have in their tour.''

Hart also said it was great to have the NZ Open back in Queenstown: ''It brings together the icon tournament in the icon tourist destination.''

The Hills club boss Emma Hill, the deputy chairman of Michael Hill Jeweller, said marrying the NZ Open - the country's premier tournament - with the pro-am was very significant.

''It's huge because it's going to ensure the longevity of the tournament due to the funding structure, and in turn be of great benefit to NZ through the business connections.''

Overall the NZ Open will have a minimum field of 132 professionals playing alongside 132 amateurs, almost double from last year's pro-am.

Hart said the 64 amateur spots reserved for those willing to pay $10,000 to take part had already been filled.

- Ryan Keen