Golf: Open shift the 'right decision'

Mahal Pearce
Mahal Pearce
Former champion Mahal Pearce hopes the New Zealand Open will regain its lustre when it returns to The Hills next year.

Pearce is pleased the Open looks set for a bright future as it gets a beefed-up purse, an ideal late-summer window, a co-hosting arrangement with Millbrook, a link with the Japan Tour and an accompanying pro-am tournament.

''It's nice to go back to The Hills,'' the 2003 Open champion from Dunedin said yesterday.

''It's on our back door, obviously. And that's where the money will be coming from. Having Millbrook as well breaks it up nicely.

''The Open has gone through some ups and downs. I think the powers-that-be have got together and come up with the right decision.

''New Zealand Golf has lost a lot of money on the Open. I hope this will free them up to take care of the amateur and grassroots side of the game over the next few years.''

The first three Opens at The Hills (2007, 2009 and 2010) won rave reviews, but the tournament slipped back when it was shifted to Clearwater, on the outskirts of Christchurch.

Pearce (35) is optimistic a purse which could nudge $1 million, as well as the stunning scenery, will attract a classy field.

''You will get a tier of really good players lining up. World-class guys like Michael Hendry will definitely want to play it.

''It's a good time of year, as well. It should attract some very good golfers, especially Asian tour guys who might be able to fit it in.''

Fifteen leading Japan Tour players will enter the Open, and the tournament winner will get entry into three of Japan's most lucrative events.

That was a chance to tap into a ''massive'' market, Pearce said, but he was pleased the Open would not have a full co-sanctioning agreement with Japan.

''I still think the Open is a New Zealand event and you want as many New Zealanders playing in it as possible.''

Embracing a pro-am format as part of the tournament made sense, he said. It was an obvious method to inject some more cash into the event, and had worked well with the New Zealand PGA at The Hills.

Pearce finds it hard to believe 10 years have passed since his stunning breakthrough win in the New Zealand Open at Middlemore.

He has played little golf recently because he has been recovering from a broken foot sustained in a festival football game. He will play in the Queensland Open and the $200,000 Jeep pro-am on the Gold Coast next month, then rejoin the Australian Tour in October.