When the New Zealand Open returns to Queenstown in early 2014, the year-round South Island resort will play host to the biggest golfing event hosted in New Zealand for many years.
The tournament, a tier one event on the PGA Tour of Australasia, will be held from 27 February to 2 March at Queenstown’s The Hills Golf Course and Millbrook Resort. It will include a unique pro-am format played concurrently with the professional tournament following the principles established for the 2013 NZPGA Championship.
The purse for the event will be a minimum of NZD$850,000 (this figure will be finalised once current stakeholder negotiations have been concluded).
The Southern Lakes region will provide the perfect backdrop for this high profile event, offering visitors world-class facilities, multi award-winning courses, spectacular lake and alpine scenery, and a diverse range of golfing and non-golfing activity options.
Iconic golf tournament
A return to Queenstown is the result of New Zealand Golf (NZ Golf) the PGA of New Zealand (NZPGA) and Michael Hill Tournaments Limited (MHTL) coming to an agreement on the future structure of major men’s golf tournaments in New Zealand.
The parties have agreed to pool resources with the aim of creating one truly iconic golf tournament.
Under the agreement, NZ Golf has licenced MHTL to organise and take full responsibility for the New Zealand Open for an initial period of three years.
In addition, the parties have agreed to continue to stage an annual NZPGA Championship, initially on a smaller scale.
Paul Fyfe, New Zealand Golf chairman, says this is an important moment for New Zealand’s premier golf tournament.
“The New Zealand Open has a rich and diverse 106-year legacy and we are excited by the potential for the event to flourish in Queenstown,” said Fyfe. “We believe that this will be a world first for a National Open Championship to incorporate a pro-am format and it will be an exciting new era for the New Zealand Open.”
While the new format means moving the event from Clearwater Golf Resort, Christchurch, which has been home to the past two New Zealand Opens, Fyfe noted that “Christchurch remains a wonderful place to host golf events and we look forward to working alongside the city to deliver the New Zealand Women’s Open and other events in Christchurch for years to come.”
John Hart, the Tournament Chairman on behalf of MHTL, said this was a landmark agreement by all parties involved.
“We are thrilled that New Zealand Golf and the NZPGA have taken a ‘whole of golf’ approach and have recognised that New Zealanders will be well served by having one premier golf tournament that can compete on an international scale,” said Hart.
“Specifically, we acknowledge the NZPGA for their foresight in supporting the development of this Pro-Am event over the past two years, and for accepting that this transfer to the New Zealand Open is for the betterment of the game and the provision of pathways for elite players in New Zealand.”
Tournament Host Sir Michael Hill - owner of The Hills Golf Club which held the NZ Open in 2007, 2008 and 2010 - says Queenstown has “the ingredients to develop a legendary tournament”.
Joining The Hills as a co-host for the 2014 New Zealand Open is the Millbrook Resort. Millbrook owner Mr Ishii said: “We are very proud to co-host the New Zealand Open and look forward to welcoming visitors from across New Zealand and overseas to watch some great golfers play at Millbrook.”
The new tournament format will be played across two courses with a minimum field of 132 professional golfers playing alongside 132 amateur golfers.
Concurrent to the New Zealand Open Championship, a 72-hole strokeplay event, each professional will be paired with an amateur playing two rounds, one at each course, in a best ball format.
Following the second round, a professional and pro-am cut will see the final two rounds played at The Hills.
The success of the tournament structure at The Hills over the past two years has led to the signing of a milestone partnership agreement between MHTL and the Japanese Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO).
“The partnership agreement with the JGTO signed following a visit to Japan was a major step forward in the internationalisation of the event and towards our vision to create the pre-eminent tournament experience in the Asia Pacific region,” John Hart said.
“The Japan Tour is one of the most lucrative and respected professional tours in the world and we look forward to welcoming 15 leading JGTO players to play in the 2014 NZ Open. We are delighted that the New Zealand Open will become only the third international tournament outside of Japan to have an association with the JGTO.”
The Japanese golfers will join leading professional golfers from New Zealand, Australia and Asia in Queenstown.
New Zealand’s premier world ranked player Michael Hendry, who is a two-time NZPGA Champion at The Hills, is excited about the prospect of contending the NZ Open at The Hills and Millbrook.
“Queenstown is a great venue for professional golf and the players love coming here,” said the 33-year-old from North Harbour, Auckland.
Financially the tournament continues to grow with New Zealand’s Major Events Development Fund indicating they will increase their commitment to NZD$900,000 for the 2014 event.
The existing family of major sponsors for the NZPGA Championship have been retained, and include the Hilton Hotel Queenstown, Michael Hill, Milford Track’s Guided Walks, Rebel Sport, Sky City and Westpac.
They are now joined by new sponsor and long-time supporter of golf in New Zealand, BMW, which has been the naming rights sponsor for the previous two New Zealand Opens at the Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch.
Hart said that the ongoing support of the Major Events Development Fund, Government and the family of sponsors was crucial to the sustainability of this event.
Festival of golf
With a number of public initiatives planned on and off the golf course the event is set to bring a festival of golf to Queenstown.
“This is tremendous news both for our local community and also for golfers and visitors who will have the opportunity to watch and play first class golf in one of the most stunning landscapes in the world,” said Queenstown Mayor Vanessa Van Uden.
“I have no doubt that the communities of the Queenstown Lakes District will join with me in celebrating the return of the New Zealand Open to Queenstown’s event calendar.”
Tournament organisers are approaching professional and celebrity players to participate in the New Zealand Open with further announcements to be made closer to the event.
For past events celebrities playing at The Hills have included Sir Ian Botham, Hollywood actor Don Cheadle, World No.1 Lydia Ko and a number of sporting icons from Australia, New Zealand and England.
The scheduling change to February 2014 means that no New Zealand Open will be held in the 2013 calendar year. There have been three occasions of this in the history of the NZ Open (1990, 1999 and 2008) and all were due to the rescheduling of the tournament dates.
Plans are underway for the NZPGA Championship in 2014 and there will be a further announcement regarding the dates and the venue of that event in the coming months.