Home course to aid Otago cause

Otago believes home advantage will be a key but the field looks wide open at the men's interprovincial championship, which starts today at the Otago Golf Club.

Southland won the tournament for the first time last year and will again be in contention, while heavyweights Auckland, Wellington and Bay of Plenty will be there or thereabouts.

But this is amateur golf, where personnel change quickly and form slides in and out.

Southland should go into the tournament with some degree of confidence, although it does not look as quite as strong as last year.

Its No 1, and the leading amateur player in the country, Vaughan McCall, has accepted an invitation to play in the Australian Open in Sydney this week and will be absent.

A key man from last year, Cody Harper, will also not be playing, having turned professional, but is still involved as the team coach-manager.

Harper said yesterday the players still had plenty of belief, despite losing two key men from last year.

"You could look at it as a big loss but it just motivates those guys who are left and the guys coming in to try a little bit harder," Harper said.

"These guys have each played this course hundreds of times so know all the ins and outs about it.

"I think the weather is going to have a big say with the wind, and ball control is going to be important."

Southland has placed Tyler McLean at No 1 and will look to Liam Balneaves (No 3) and Matt Tautari (No 5) to rack up wins.

McCall was named in a New Zealand amateur team yesterday to play in Australia next year.

The team included Tyler Hodge (Manawatu-Wanganui), who is also playing at the Australian Open.

The team is completed by Blair Riordan (Tasman) and Josh Munn (Manawatu-Wanganui), both of whom are playing in Dunedin.

Teams spent yesterday playing the course at Balmacewen and were impressed with what they saw.

Most indicated plenty of thought will be needed around the course, which rewards risk but penalises slight inaccuracies.

Another side with a chance is Bay of Plenty, which has won the title six times in the past 10 years. It lost to Southland in the final last year in Gisborne.

The Bay of Plenty side is much the same as last year although it has brought in new boy Peter Lee in the No 2 position.

Coach Jay Carter said the team was well-prepared and he was hopeful its course management would be an advantage.

"But it is wide open, really. Otago has the home advantage and will be pretty hard to beat.

"They have plenty of experienced players. Auckland has a young team and look strong on paper," Carter said Auckland is relying on youth.

Its oldest player is just 21.

Captain Nick Voke, who plays at No 2, said the Auckland side had to replace the likes of Ryan Fox from last year, but there was plenty of depth in the sport in the region.

After losing to Southland in the semifinals last year, Voke, who has just finished his education at Manuwera High School, said the side was out for revenge.

As for Otago, home advantage is a big feather in its cap.

It needs to start strongly and will face Poverty Bay this morning before taking on North Harbour this afternoon.

Brent McEwan, at the top of the order, and Michael Smith, at No 2, are key men, while the experience of Tony Giles, at No 5, will help the side. Otago finished 12th last year so the only way is up.

The last time Otago won the title was 30 years ago - also at Balmacewen.

The team that year (Kim McDonald, Ronnie Johnston, Michael Atkinson, Alan Rose and Steve Morishuis) did enough to secure Otago the title, just the third time it had been won by the province.

There are 15 teams in the event, split into two divisions, with five players in each team.

Matchplay golf is played throughout the week. The top two teams in each division go through to the semifinals on Saturday morning, with the final that afternoon.

Entry is free



First day draw

Morning: Aorangi v Taranaki, Northland v North Harbour, Manawatu-Wanganui v Wellington, Hawkes Bay v Waikato, Otago v Poverty Bay, Canterbury v Tasman.

Auckland v Hawkes Bay, North Harbour v Otago, Taranaki v Waikato, Aorangi v Southland, Poverty Bay v Bay of Plenty, Tasman v Northland.



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