For the first time in the 101 years of the New Zealand Open, New Zealand Golf introduced an All Abilities Open with the help of funding from Sport New Zealand and the Halberg Foundation.
Golf helps Harrison’s recovery
As Guy Harrison lines up a left-to-right, downhill putt early in his round at Jack’s Point Golf Club, he pauses for a moment to soak it all in.
With the breath-taking view of The Remarkables as his backdrop, he is on the second green of the Queenstown course, as he competes in the inaugural New Zealand All Abilities Open.
The 18-year-old from Hawke’s Bay has overcome much more significant challenges in his life than this testing downhill putt for par.
“I have a disorder called Cerebral Palsy which affects my whole body,” explained Harrison.
“It affects my legs mainly, but I also have problems with talking and fine motor skills in my hands as well. It is a challenge.”
The New Zealand Open has been around since 1907, but in 2020, for the first time, golfers of all abilities were included by New Zealand Golf with the help of Sport New Zealand and the Halberg Foundation.
Like all 40 players in the field, Harrison would love to win the tournament, but when he reflects on his journey, he knows he is just lucky to be here.
When he was three years old, Harrison suffered a seizure and briefly died before being resuscitated.
“My Cerebral Palsy is a result of a seizure and being dead for 12 minutes and caused me to have the problems I have today.”
For months after the seizure, Harrison couldn’t walk or talk and so began his long road to recovery.
When he was five years old, his physiotherapist told him that he needed to keep active to get some of his mobility back.
His Dad, Keith Harrison, thought golf was the perfect fit as it’s a non-contact sport with a lot of walking. Keith signed him up to be a junior member at the Maraenui Golf when he was five years old where he played for seven years. He now plays at the Napier Golf Club on an 8.1 handicap.
“Golf has helped me keep mobile and fit and played a huge role in my recovery. The sport has been the key for where I am today,” said Harrison.
Few people know what Guy has been through better than his Dad, who was also his caddy throughout the tournament.
“It was a really proud moment for Mum and Dad,” said Keith. “Guy has had a lot of barriers to overcome in his life, but he just loves competing. It is great to see him playing a sport he really loves, mixing and competing with the best.”
Guy said playing in a New Zealand Open was an experience he would never forget.
“For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of playing in the New Zealand Open. It will be an amazing experience to play alongside and compete with some of the best golfers in New Zealand. Being here is a dream come true.”
Aluesi overcomes adversity
Harrison is not alone. Parker Aluesi said playing in the New Zealand All Abilities Open was a lifelong ambition.
“This is a really big thing for me,” said Aluesi. “This is my first ever big international tournament. I am so excited to be here; it means the world to me.”
The 17-year-old from Dunedin has also overcome his fair share of adversity.
“I had an accident when I was six years old which resulted in me losing my left eye,” said Aluesi, before the opening round in Queenstown.
He was at a birthday party when there was a treasure hunt and he fell over onto a metal pole that was sticking out of the ground. He lost his sight in that eye – but he isn’t one for excuses.
“Having no left eye has made it hard for me in golf as I play right-handed and am not able to see where I am hitting most the time. But I’ve been able to overcome this and adapt to only having one eye.”
The Year 13 student at Otago Boys’ High School is a member at the St Clair Golf Club. He started playing golf at the age of seven and in the past 10 years has got down to a scratch handicap.
“I have always dreamed of playing in this tournament. I had caddied in it the last couple of years but to play in it myself is something else.”
Eade lives life to the full
Jason Eade has lived a life of sporting highlights, but it did not make playing in the New Zealand All Abilities Open any less special.
The 51-year-old from Wellington, who is a former four-time New Zealand Boxing Champion, said it was great to see the opportunity for golfers of all abilities and backgrounds.
Eade lost his leg above the knee in a motorcycle accident in 1991 and began playing golf in 2017. He is now on a 9.9 handicap.
“I never played golf prior to losing my leg, so I can’t really compare. It is a very demanding game and requires good balance and concentration. That’s not always easy an easy task, but we all try,” he said with a laugh.
Eade, who has worked as a concierge at a Wellington hotel for 20 years this October, has experienced incredible highs on the world stage.
He carried the Olympic Torch in Preston, England in 2012. He competed in the World Disabled Golf Championships in South Africa 2014, and in 2018 he played in the US Open Amputee/Disabled Golf Open and the Canadian Amputee and Disabled Golf Open.
But playing in the first New Zealand All Abilities is something he will never forget.
“I found out this tournament was happening around three months ago, and I put my hand up straight away to be part of it. I wanted to be here and take this opportunity.
“I’ve been an amputee for 30 years now. I lost my left leg below the knee when I was 22. We hit some sunstrike coming around the corner and had an accident. But I am proud that I have lived life to the fullest since that time.”
Eade loves everything about the game of golf.
“This is such a rewarding game with people you meet and is considered a game for life.”
Funders make the tournament possible
The New Zealand Golf All Abilities Open was possible thanks to funding from Sport New Zealand and the Halberg Foundation. Sport New Zealand is the largest recipient of Lotto NZ funding.
“The help from Lotto NZ, Sport New Zealand and the Halberg Trust to support this event and make it possible for an All Abilities Open is just fantastic. I hope that continues and this is the first of many events like this to come,” said Eade.
The three-round event was played at Jacks Point, The Hills, and Millbrook Resort. The leading six golfers made the cut for Sunday at Millbrook, where they led the field off the field of professionals for the final day at the 101st New Zealand Open.
Thiem Nguyen, New Zealand Golf Participation Manager, said the governing body were proud to be the first country in the world to use this format for their National Open.
“The New Zealand Open is 101 years old and we really wanted to celebrate diversity and inclusion in our sport,” said Nguyen. “This tournament is made up of players with a range of physical and mental impairments and we think it is a great way to grow the profile of our sport. These golfers are showing that people of any body, any age, any ethnicity can play golf no matter what their disability.
“All of the golfers competing here have personal and inspiring stories to share and it is great to give them this opportunity.”
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