Open's drive for success

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The New Zealand Golf Open has been and gone for another year but its impact and importance to the southern region cannot be overlooked.

This year's Open, played at the Millbrook and The Hills courses in Arrowtown, was one to remember and again showcased all that is good about this region.

Sport, like life, is about balance. And the organisers appear to have found the right mix at the New Zealand Open.

In this day and age when top players play for millions of dollars in the United States every week, the Open appears to have found a niche which is proving popular with players, spectators and sponsors.

Realistically the event cannot hope to attract top players such as Adam Scott or Jordan Spieth to the event. Getting such a big name costs money - a lot of money - and the organisers have quite rightly ruled out spending a truckload of cash to get a name player to the Open.

That has to be applauded. A big name may put a few more though the gate but the return from bringing out a top player is just too small to justify the investment.

Fingers are still burning after the cost of getting Tiger Woods to the New Zealand Open in Paraparaumu 15 years ago.

The best thing about last weekend's Open was the finale developed into real sporting theatre.

With the lead tight going into the last few holes, any one of five players could have won the event. It did not need a big name to add to the drama.

Any player in the final three groups had a chance to win in the last nine holes and that made it a fascinating watch. In the end that is what golf, in fact all sports fans want, a real competition.

Then to complete the success of the weekend there was a long overdue New Zealand winner, the first since 2003. Aucklander Michael Hendry won the event after hitting safely on the first playoff hole, while his opponents, fellow New Zealander Ben Campbell and Australian Brad Kennedy, found the water. Sport can be cruel at times. After 72 holes and more than 250 shots, it came down to one shot.

But Hendry was a worthy winner. He has been close before and is one of the country's best golfers, who overcame a sore back and a runny tummy to come away with the win. He was a popular winner and completed what was a top week in Arrowtown.

Undoubtedly the spectacular landscape of The Hills and Millbrook courses helps the event. With clear blue skies for most of the days, the stunning vistas and the set-up of the courses, there could have been few better places to be. The area is a picture postcard on many days and the Open certainly included many of them.

The Queenstown Lakes region is undergoing rapid transformation and the Open is just another attraction in what is becoming a very full box for Queenstown.

The Government obviously sees the value of the event and has pumped in nearly $3 million to the tournament for the next three years, securing its future in the Queenstown area for the foreseeable future. With the golf tourism market worth more than $300 million annually in New Zealand, the investment may, in the end, be money well spent.

Sure there are minor quibbles of the event - the Pro-Am can drag on, and the tournament being played on two courses can make it hard to follow. But it would not survive financially without a Pro-Am format and the two courses are spectacular, so why not show off both of them?

Certainly Millbrook appears to be more suited to hosting the final day with more amenities and the 18th par three hole was a great place to finish the event.

Tournament chairman John Hart quipped the Open is secure in the region for the next 100 years.

Judging on what we experienced over the past week, he is not far off the mark.


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