NZ Open in March likely to be all-Kiwi event

The tournament will be played at Millbrook from March 31 to April 3. Photo: ODT files
The tournament will be played at Millbrook from March 31 to April 3. Photo: ODT files
The New Zealand Open is almost certain to have a homegrown champion next year.

Organisers yesterday confirmed the strong likelihood the tournament would be an all-Kiwi event at Millbrook from March 31 to April 3.

The committee met after last week’s announcement by the Government that a staggered border opening would not be complete in time for the Open to attract international golfers, unless they were willing to self-isolate for seven days.

In a statement yesterday, the committee said it was "fully committed to holding the New Zealand Open in 2022 and are determined to do everything possible to stage the tournament and provide a much-needed boost to Queenstown and the greater Otago region, given the severe economic impacts of the pandemic".

The good news is the Open, being played for the 102nd time, has been placed on the Government-approved events list, meaning it is possible for some international players to attend.

The bad news is there is no way around the self-isolation rules, which effectively preclude the possibility of overseas players coming to New Zealand just for the tournament.

"We believe that it will be very difficult to convince foreign national professionals to take an extra week out of their playing schedule, particularly at a time when other tournaments around the world are getting back to a more normal situation," Open chairman John Hart said.

"In all probability, our only option will be to run a tournament that mainly features Kiwis."

While that would mean the overall quality of the field would dip, there would still be plenty of reasons for New Zealand golf fans to head to Arrowtown.

New Zealand No 1 Ryan Fox and the popular Josh Geary had indicated their support for the event, regardless of the format.

Michael Hendry, who became the first Kiwi to win the Open in 14 years when he sailed to victory in 2017, had also put his hand up.

“Our process will now be to consult with our tour partners, international players, amateurs, sponsors and other key funding agencies to ascertain what might be possible, and indeed, if we are able to run a financially viable and high-quality event,” Hart said.

In Queenstown yesterday, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said, at this point, the Government was not looking at providing exemptions for potential Open golfers.

While the Government has signalled it will welcome visitors from any country by April 30, no date has been provided as yet and they would all have to self-isolate for seven days.

"I don’t think we’re going to exempt golfers from that," Nash said.

"I actually hear the [organisers] on the wireless this morning talking about that they are planning for a domestic-only event, because they think it’s going to be almost impossible to get people from the Asian Tour across here, and even Australians, they think it’s going to be difficult.

"All power to them, but it may be just open to domestic players."

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said, from the district’s point of view, it was a "very important event" and there was work to be done to ensure the Open had the "surety it needs to carry on".

"We need to keep this on the calendar."

A further announcement on the future of the New Zealand Open and its playing format will be made within the next few weeks.

- additional reporting by Tracey Roxburgh 

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