New Zealand Open adopts new look in 2014

BY Bruce Young | 24 Feb 2014

A new look New Zealand Open Championship will be played over two courses near Arrowtown in the Central Otago region of the South Island when the reformatted event begins this week.

The Hills and Millbrook Resort, will be used in rotation over the opening two days of the event before returning to the Hills for the final 36 holes.

Taking advantage of the base established by the successful New Zealand PGA Championship in 2012 and 2013, the New Zealand Open will be an event along the lines of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am Championship and the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links on the European Tour.

132 amateurs will team with professional partners over the opening 36 holes with the leading 35 teams advancing to the third round with the leading ten then making it to the final round.

While there is an increased emphasis on the involvement of amateurs and celebrities in the pro am side of the event, the time honoured title of New Zealand Open Champion is still the key aim for the professional and elite amateur field playing for the $NZ900,000 prizemoney on offer.

The Tier One event on the PGA Tour of Australasia dates back to 1907 and holds a unique place in the history of world golf with Peter Thomson winning the title on nine occasions making him the only player to have won an event of his nature of nine occasions.

Tiger Woods, Karrie Webb and Sam Snead have won respective events on eight occasions but Thomson dominated the New Zealand Open between his first win in 1950 and his final win in 1971.

The New Zealand Open has been played as a PGA Tour of Australasia event for much of its modern day history but in 2005, 2006 and 2007 it joined forces with the European Tour when Niclas Fasth, Nathan Green and Richard Finch were successful and in 2009 and 2010 it was jointly sanctioned with the then Nationwide Tour with Alex Prugh and Bobby Gates the champions.

The last two occasions the NZ Open has seen a struggle for the event to maintain its position as a Tier One event on the Australasian schedule with prize-money and field quality dropping so the adoption of this new format is expected to breath fresh life into a title that has seen such notaries as Thomson, Kel Nagle, Sir Bob Charles, Bruce Devlin, Billy Dunk, Bob Shearer, Corey Pavin, Frank Nobilo and Craig Parry amongst others as its former champions.

This year’s field includes 51 year old American Rocco Mediate who last year was voted Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour after winning two titles in his rookie season. Mediate is most known for his spirited bid to stop Tiger Woods winning his last major championship to date when it took Woods 91 holes to eventually extinguish what had been a bold bid by Mediate at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.

Mediate’s colourful personality is expected to provide a tremendous attraction for the galleries but is also expected to blend well with the new format.

Australian Scott Hend who had his best year in professional golf in 2013 when runner-up on the Asian Tour Order of Merit is in the field. The long hitting Queenslander won three titles in Asia last year and will start the week as the leading world ranked player in the field.

Defending champion Jake Higginbottom is back fifteen months after securing the victory that encouraged him to turn professional at the age of 19 when successful in Christchurch. Higginbottom only just retained his status in Asia this year but at his best is a player capable of winning again.

New Zealander Michael Hendry, who has won the New Zealand PGA Championship in each of the last two years the event has been played at the Hills, is back attempting to win his National Open. Hendry completed his rookie season in Japan last year only just retaining his playing rights but the current leading world ranked New Zealander expected to be a regular contender there in 2014.

Other leading contenders are expected to be Scott Strange and Mark Brown who have been runner-up in each of the last two years at the New Zealand PGA Championship along with Nick Cullen who has also played well over the Hills.

Matthew Griffin has developed into a consistent performer on the Australasian and OneAsia Tours and could do well, his victory in last week’s Victorian Open adding ammunition to that theory.

Gareth Paddison had the lead at the NZ PGA Championship with six holes to play last year but eventually finished 3rd and his recent Victorian PGA Championship victory suggests he could again contend.

Victorian Jack Wilson, who has taken the PGA Tour of Australasia by storm in recent months, winning the West Australian PGA Championship and finishing 3rd after challenging Adam Scott in the final round of the Australian PGA Championship, is one of many emerging players who could find themselves contending for their first significant title.

They include Brody Ninyette who finished 3rd at the Perth International and Dimitrio Papadatos who was named the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Rookie of the Year in 2013.

There are many other names who as was the case 15 months ago can provide a major boost for a young player looking to kick start his career and if it was to be any of those such as Nathan Holman, Brett Drewitt, Mathew Stieger and the like then nobody need be surprised.

Amongst the celebrities playing the event are former Australian captains Ricky Ponting and Allan Border, former New Zealand cricket captain Stephen Fleming and All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson along with several entertainment celebrities.

There appears great anticipation in Queenstown to have New Zealand golf’s flagship event back in town but also to build on the significant success the format attained while under the banner of the New Zealand PGA Championship and establish a long term and secure base for a championship that deserves such.

In a new innovation for golf in this part of the world, three holes, the 15th, 17th and 18th will be streamed live over the NZ Open and PGA Tour of Australasia’s websites.

There will also be a one hour highlights show produced for the event.

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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.

    Read all of Bruce's articles ยป

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