New Zealand PGA title boosts Clearwater event

BY Bruce Young | Tour | 2004 New Zealand PGA Championship | Preview | 25 Feb 2004
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The New Zealand PGA Championship returns to New Zealand tournament golf for the first time in seventeen years when the event is staged at the Clearwater Resort in Christchurch this week.

The tournament, which now becomes co-sanctioned between both the Australasian PGA and Nationwide Tours, takes over from the event previously known as the Holden Clearwater Classic, then the Clearwater Classic over the past two years. By introducing the prestigious and time honoured title, it opens the door for longevity of the event in Australasian golf.

The New Zealand PGA Championship was for years played in the Bay Of Plenty province of New Zealand alternating between the Mt Maunganui and Tauranga Golf Clubs during much of that time. It had been a match play event for some 45 years until the mid 1960’s but in 1965 became a 72 hole stroke play event. Winners over the years have included major winners such as Peter Thomson, Kel Nagle, Tony Jacklin and Bob Charles along with many other of the leading names in Australasian golf such as John Lister, Simon Owen, Frank Nobilo, Greg Turner and Graham Marsh. In 1972 the Japanese star Ozaki would win this event only two years after turning professional. He has not won again outside of Japan, despite claiming more than 115 titles in his homeland.

The Clearwater Resort’s course is a design collaboration between local developer and planning architect, John Darby and New Zealand’s favourite golfing son, Sir Bob Charles. It is situated on the outskirts of the gateway to the South Island of New Zealand, Christchurch, all but adjacent to that city’s airport. The course was constructed in rural, mainly horticulture surroundings and is built very much on the river bed land from which it gets its name. Lakes run through the course from adjacent springs, those lakes now filled with trout.

The course first staged this event just a few months after opening but now in its third year, it has matured into a fine golfing facility. It offers a stark contrast to the Kooyonga Golf Club’s course used for last week’s Jacob’s Creek Open and as such the Americans will an opportunity to feel a little more at home on a golf course that is perhaps more in keeping with the courses they are used to in their homeland.

The winners of the two previous events staged here, also co-sanctioned between the Australasian and Nationwide Tours, have been Peter O’Malley, who had a convincing five shot win in 2002 and Ryan Palmer, who was playing just his second event of his rookie Nationwide Tour year, when he won last year. Palmer will not of course be defending this year as he took full advantage of the springboard the win had given him by going on to gain one of the twenty PGA Tour positions from last year’s Nationwide Tour. Perhaps surprisingly neither is Peter O’Malley.

The course measures some 7137 yards and is rated as New Zealand’s toughest test from its back tees.

This year’s field will see once again an even split between the Nationwide and Australasian Tour with 73 from each tour teeing it up. Ten invites will also be included in the field.

Leading contenders will be Nick O’Hern who has played well of late but struggles to get across the line, last week’s Jacob’s Creek Open runners up Brendan Jones and Wayne Grady, Scott Gardiner, the Jacobs Creek Open winner Euan Walters, Peter Senior, Bradley Hughes, Paul Gow and Chris Downes.

Local hopes will likely rest on Gareth Paddison and Michael Long with the American contingent full of potential winners including the very much in form Jimmy Walker, Scott Gutschewski, Jason Caron and recent PGA Tour player Mike Sposa.

The event sees the finish of three consecutive events for the Nationwide Tour outside of the USA. They played the Bell South Panama Championship three weeks ago and last week the Jacob’s Creek Open. Following this week the tour will head back to the US for the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in the third week of March.

On the other hand this event brings to an end the first half of the Australasian PGA Tour for 2004, although a Von Nida Tour event, the Dunedin Classic, is to be played next week in Dunedin.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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