New Zealand Open - What lies ahead?
BY Bruce Young | Web.com Tour | 2010 New Zealand Open | Preview | 27 Jan 2010
The Michael Hill New Zealand Open begins tomorrow at the Hills Golf Club in Queenstown with the future of the event as a Nationwide Tour event and its future at this venue the subject of much discussion.
This will be the third year the tournament has been played at the Hills Golf Club, the first year as an event co-sanctioned between the European and Australasian Tours and last year when the Nationwide Tour expanded its reach in the region by adding a second Nationwide Tour event in Zealand to the New Zealand PGA Championship.
This year the New Zealand PGA Championship lost its status as a Nationwide Tour event when sponsor HSBC withdrew their involvement but this week’s tournament is the first of two such events in Australasia with the Moonah Classic to follow on the Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne.
The contract for both the hosting of the event and the Nationwide Tour’s involvement come to an end this week. There are a number of balls in the air therefore and announcements later in the week might go some way towards understanding just where the future of this event lies.
Despite the current uncertainty there has been little doubt of the success of the Hills Golf Club as a venue. If a decision is made for it to continue as the host course there will be very few disappointed.
All that is for the future however and the focus for the moment is on the 2010 version of the time honoured event.
The golf course has matured and developed over the last three years and in 2010 is presented in its best condition ever.
This year the tournament is being played a month earlier than was the case in 2009 and as such there is an expectation of greater crowds and consistently warmer temperatures than was the case last year. This weekend represents the last weekend of New Zealand’s school holidays and as a result more people are in this holiday region than was the case last year when the event was held in March.
The defending champion would have been Alex Prugh but as a result of his victory and several other good finishes on the Nationwide Tour in 2009 he made his way to the PGA Tour this year and last week finished a very meritorious 5th at the Bob Hope Classic.
The field is an interesting mix of the old and the new the experienced and inexperienced. Some of Australia’s greats in recent years, Peter Lonard, Craig Parry and Peter Senior are in the field, Senior only two weeks away from his Champions Tour debut in Florida.
Lonard is back after more than two months away from tournament golf with a hip injury. Lonard said today that the work he has done after visiting specialists in Australia before Xmas has eased the problem to some extent but he is an unknown quantity at this stage especially around a golf course that is a tough walk.
Parry has struggled himself over the past 12 months or so but he has played this golf course well including when 4th last year.
There are many in-form Australasians whose chances appear good this week including Kurt Barnes, Stephen Dartnall, Jason Norris, Andrew Buckle and Josh Geary. Geary finished 4th last year and finished 4th on the Australasian Tour Order of Merit, the highest placed player in this week’s field, Norris finished 10th last year and two weeks ago won the Victorian Open, Dartnall finished 4th in 2009 and has shown signs of his best form of late, Buckle narrowly missed his PGA Tour card on two occasions in 2009 and Barnes is a player good enough to win this event, especially with his recent success at the Japan Tour Qualifying School behind him.
Of the Americans in the field, Bubba Dickerson and Martin Piller both had good seasons in 2009 despite not gaining their playing rights for the PGA Tour. Piller finished runner-up in this event last year and had two other top tens in his rookie Nationwide Tour season, while 2001 US Amateur Champion Dickerson made the cut here last year without threatening.
A player of real interest is Jamie Lovemark, one of the game’s best amateurs before turning professional last June. Lovemark played several PGA Tour events on invite last year including when he finished runner up at the Frys.com event. As a result of that finish he earned enough money to be in a category that gains him a start this week. He will only arrive in Queenstown on Wednesday having been caught up in the delayed finish at last week’s Bob Hope Classic.
As has often been the case however events such as this throw up many fine young Americans. In order they have the right to play this event they have proven themselves to be players of considerable class. Alex Prugh and Ryan Palmer came to New Zealand as unknowns in this part of the world before winning and Palmer in particular who won the 2003 NZPGA has established himself on the PGA Tour with three wins at that level including the recent Hawaiian open
Whether this is the final event to be played at the Hills Golf club or the first of many more to come, all the ingredients appear in place for it to be the best ever.