Best of the rest: First NZ Open at The Hills (2007)

The news was as unexpected as it was exciting. The country's biggest golf tournament, the New Zealand Open, was coming to Otago, to a course few had even seen, let alone realised was good enough to host such a marquee event.

Michael Hill, jeweller, was also Michael Hill, serious golf fan, and he had developed a very special course called The Hills on a former deer farm.

With its jaw-dropping views, spectator-friendly terrain, plush facilities and unique sculptures, The Hills was (is) unlike anything else in the country.

A three-year deal was signed to host the Open, first as a co-sanctioned event between the Australasian and European tours, and then as part of the Nationwide Tour, with Australian promoter Bob Tuohy in charge.

The New Zealand Open had been on death row, with the national organisation having lost millions of dollars running the event since 2002.

Tuohy and Hill stepped in, and what followed were three memorable, successful and profitable tournaments that revived the Open.

In 2007 (November 29 to December 2), Sir Bob Charles made the cut, aged 71, and Englishman Richard Finch won by three strokes.

In 2009 (March 12 to 15), Danny Lee was the big story, but both he and Charles missed the cut. The young Americans invaded and Alex Prugh - now playing well on the PGA Tour - won by three strokes.

Last year (January 28 to 31), everyone was charmed by a tall, laconic kid called Bobby Gates, who led the whole way and won by a shot.

Across the three tournaments, about 80,000 golf fans popped into The Hills for a look.


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