A Decade in the Sun – Switch of Tours

Alex Prugh
Alex Prugh with the trophy on the final day of the Michael Hill New Zealand Golf Open in 2009, at The Hills, Arrowtown, Central Otago. Photo: www.photosport.nz

This March, the New Zealand Open will celebrate the 10th event being staged at The Hills near Arrowtown.

The Hills is closing in on the record as the course to host the New Zealand the most times – that currently sits with Paraparaumu Beach which has famously held the event 12 times from 1959 – 2002.

To mark the milestone of a decade in the sun, we look back on some of the memorable moments from the NZ Open in Queenstown in the second part of the series.

2009 – Switch of tours

For the opening championship, the New Zealand Open continued its allegiance with the European Tour after previous events at Gulf Harbour Country Club north of Auckland (2006 and 2007) brought the best players from Europe to New Zealand. After a year off, that all changed in 2009 when the New Zealand Open aligned with the Nationwide Tour, the feeder tour for the US PGA Tour for the first time.

The change brought some of the best young players in the USA to our shores. American Alex Prugh secured his first professional win when he defeated compatriot Martin Piller by three strokes in 2009.

The following year Bobby Gates won in his debut event on the Nationwide Tour by one shot from Australian Andrew Dodt. Both were presented with a Maori cloak following their win. This tradition was not continued until it was brought back for the 100th NZ Open in 2019.

NZ open 2009
Spectators watch the action during the Michael Hill New Zealand Golf Open, in 2010. Photo: www.photosport.co.nz

2013 – Open the Gates

In 2013 – in between the New Zealand Open being held in Christchurch and returning to Queenstown – the National Open underwent one of the most significant changes in its 106-year history.

The tournament organisers revised the format for the 2014 event to include a Pro-am format for the four days of the championship, the same way the NZ PGA Championship had been successfully staged in the past few years. It was unheard of for a National Open.

Amateurs from all over New Zealand had the unthinkable chance of playing on the same course as the best players in the country as they battled for the coveted NZ Open trophy.

It was a controversial move with many including Sir Bob Charles questioning the decision – but ultimately it saw the New Zealand Open become financially sustainable in its new home.

Brendon McCallum
Brendon McCullum tees off on a practice round before the 2017 ISPS Handa New Zealand Open. Photo by Michael Thomas/www.photosport.nz

The change also saw a host of big-name celebrities – the likes of American actor Don Cheadle, former Black Caps captains Brendon McCullum and Stephen Fleming, former Australian legends Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne, and former Prime Minister John Key – as regulars in the field.

While also making the tournament a Pro-am, the organisers also formed a partnership with the Japan Golf Tour. The NZ Open had changed.

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