The New Zealand Open organisers begin to plot the start of the second century for the country’s premier professional golf tournament with new-found confidence and enthusiasm.
The 101st New Zealand Open, co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour and in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour, takes place at Millbrook Resort and The Hills near Queenstown on 27 February to 1 March.
It is already buoyed with the announcement of SKY Sport becoming the Presenting Sponsor of the event for the foreseeable future, as well as continuing as the broadcast partner.
“It’s pleasing to have such an iconic New Zealand company providing support for our tournament,” said New Zealand Open Tournament Chairman, John Hart.
“Sky have been there from the start of our involvement with the event, and to now see them grow their part in the tournament is both reassuring and gratifying.
“This commitment from Sky allows us to continue planning for a positive long-term future for the tournament, as we strive to become one of the world’s pre-eminent Pro-Am events.”
The Pro-Am format has developed with real success over the last eight years to the stage where it has a significant waiting list of amateurs and with approximately 85 per cent of tournament revenue coming from overseas.
It is a format used in successful events on the PGA Tour at the AT&T National and the European Tour at the Dunhill Links. While the usual one-day Pro-Ams in typical 72-hole professional tournaments draw a sigh from many, this unique business-meets-golf concept enjoys a thumbs-up from both amateur participants and professionals.
The amateurs pay to play alongside professionals in the field for the first two days of competition, with the top 20 teams progressing on to play the final two rounds, while the remainder of the amateur field competes in a one-day event at the superb Jack’s Point course.
Here’s the thing – both the amateurs and the professionals love it.
“I’ve actually had my best successes at this format at the AT&T,” said US-based Kiwi professional Tim Wilkinson, who is venturing to play in Queenstown for the first time.
“You understand it will take a little longer, so you just relax more, enjoy the company and get to know people you would normally not get the chance to meet.”
Aucklander Gary Sales has played in the last four New Zealand Opens as an amateur and is won over. The 10 handicapper from Pakuranga club says the unique nature of this event has made the difference.
“The usual pro-ams with an afternoon ambrose is okay but often the pro would rather not be there and you get very little access during the round,” Sales said.
“Sure the cost for this event is not inconsiderable. But the pro is very accessible. In fact, it is as if you are a pro for the day yourself. You are part of the group and you are treated like a professional. You can watch the professional up close and see how they play, and you get to listen in to the communication between the caddy and player. And the pro will give you so many tips – it is just fantastic. It is an opportunity to be inside the ropes with the pros and be part of things.”
And in the case for Sales it has gone even further.
“I have played with Australian Ashley Hall for the last four years. We have become good friends. I’ve met the family, been to his place, I’ve hosted him in Auckland and we talk quite often.
“He knows it is a two-way street and the professionals love this style of a pro-am and this tournament. It is one of the first they all sign up for and as long as I can, I will be investing every year to play in it.”
The other aspect that Sales enjoys is the activities during the week.
“We are treated so well not just on the golf course but off it as well. There are top class functions every night and from start to finish the treatment is superb.”
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