Local motel owner drawn to play in NZ Open

Queenstown motel owner Sam Lee was drawn to take part in the Pro-Am field of the NZ Open at...
Queenstown motel owner Sam Lee was drawn to take part in the Pro-Am field of the NZ Open at Millbrook. Photo: Supplied
In a stroke of good fortune, seasoned amateur golfer Sam Lee, known for his steady game and local charm as a motel owner and operator, finds himself entering the world of professional golf.

Selected through a draw organised by Golf New Zealand and Hyundai New Zealand, Lee’s name emerged from the hat among 40,000 golfers from here and abroad vying for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Lee’s prize? A coveted spot in the Pro-Am event at the 103rd New Zealand Open, set amidst the stunning backdrop of Millbrook Resort from February 29 to March 3. The package includes return airfares, accommodation, entertainment, and a practice round, rounding up an experience that many amateur Kiwi golfers can only dream of.

Originally from Korea, Lee has been in New Zealand for 35 years and in that time he and his wife have established themselves as valuable members of the Otago community.

Hyundai are arguably as fortunate as Lee - saving a significant cost of flights in the prize as the very course where Lee will now compete is none other than his home turf – the Millbrook Resort Golf Club, where he has been a member since 2004.

"I’ve never had much luck with these sorts of things," the 58-year-old told the New Zealand Herald, "then three weeks ago Hyundai called me and said ‘You are the winner, we pulled your card out of 40,000 entries’".

Lee is hoping that luck will continue at the Open, he says he’s looking forward to learning from the professionals and that his local knowledge is likely to give him and his partner a decent edge over the rest of the field.

"I think myself actually, I’ll learn a lot. I have more local knowledge than the professionals, I think."

He sees this as an opportunity to enjoy himself and isn’t feeling any pressure ahead of teeing it up with some world class golfers, saying his partner will have more to worry about than him.

"As an amateur if I can struggle, I can pick up. Whereas a professional can’t pick up so they will have to push us."

Playing Millbrook three times a week during summer, Lee will be at home at the Open as he has spent seven years volunteering as a caddy for professional Korean golfers and so can add tournament experience to that local knowledge.

With friends now offering to carry his bag, Lee, with his impressive 1.6 handicap, steps on to the fairways alongside professional and amateur golfing elites, something he says will be the biggest moment for his golfing career. His local knowledge of the Millbrook layout, honed over years of regular play, promises him to be one to watch in the Pro-Am field.

"I’m just trying to enjoy it, it’s an awesome experience for me."