26 Feb 2012 - Source: SIMON PLUMB - Fairfax News
Trump Tower, Chicago, 2008. Sir Michael Hill switches on the TV in his hotel bedroom to see Carterton's Sir Bob Charles, just four state lines away in Florida, being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"The sport channel came straight on and there was Bob. It was an unbelievable coincidence, crazy, I remember it very clearly," Hill told the Sunday Star-Times.
"I've gotten to know him since, and really, he's the reason The Hills is what it is today."
In the wake of losing the messy New Zealand Open hosting saga, the national title Hill sacrificed millions to salvage, his exclusive Arrowtown golf course is moving on.
Thirty-two days from the inaugural NZ PGA Pro-Am, Hill is not only attempting to host a new golf tournament, he's attempting to move the goalposts of New Zealand sport.
Hill's opening gambit of a one-hour meeting in an Auckland hotel is the epitome of entrepreneurial philosophy, and, the mantra of an aggressive 10-year manifesto to make his new project the biggest annual sporting event in New Zealand.
Make no mistake, this is no flight of fancy. Hill means business.
"I'm a great believer that we're only held back by the limit of imagination. We all can very easily just follow the pack, but I don't like to follow that arrangement," he said.
"In 10 years I hope we'll be offering a significant prize purse and attracting some of the world's great players. And, they'll want to come.
"The only problem is it takes about $3 million to bring Tiger Woods to this part of the world. But, if we had a Phil Mickelson or a couple of players of that calibre, it would raise the profile of the tournament significantly.
"And that's what I intend to do.
"Discounting the Rugby World Cup, and that was a one-off, I want this to be the biggest sporting event New Zealand has ever seen.
"I want it to be as nationally iconic as the Australian Open tennis is for Melbourne and Australia.
"Because we're an economically small nation, we're guilty of tempering expectation. We set goals and put blinkers on them.
"If you can't even imagine something you might as well forget succeeding, because it becomes a matter of settling instead.
"It's important people push outside their comfort zone, look at themselves, look at what they're doing and what can really be achieved."
It's a brave plan. But, with the financial clout and business record of Hill, you'd be braver to bet against him. Even the government expects success, kicking in $500,000 for year one and Prime Minister John Key clearly indicating more taxpayer cash is to follow.
But it's Hill's weighty address book which could swing success – none more so than patronage from the southern hemisphere's only Augusta National Golf Club member, and chairman of the Masters media committee, Craig Heatley.
It's the golfing equivalent of a direct line to Mecca, to a club so exclusive there's no application process. You can only be invited.
"I was very privileged to be invited to Augusta and the Masters last year by Sir Bob and had the most amazing time. It was an unbelievable experience and also got to meet Craig Heatley," Hill said.
"Craig is a guy who is very shy and probably won't want to be mentioned too much. He, very kindly, invited to me to play the course just after the Masters had finished.
"It was freaky, just surreal, to not only be there, but play the course. I had four rounds there would you believe, and was staying upstairs in the house off the left of the 10th fairway, the one Rory McIlroy almost hit during the final round.
"The standard of everything at Augusta is incredibly high, but also incredibly simple, not overdone.
"We want that as the model for our course and our tournament. There will always be limited membership and we want to give the very best service, an experience which is quite unique.
"You very rarely need a tee time at The Hills because you'll probably have the place to yourself."
Hill also reserves mention for his most immediate officers steering the tournament, who, like Heatley, bring proven credentials.
Astute former All Blacks coach and New Zealand Warriors executive John Hart has been recruited to chair the organising committee, while former New Zealand Football chief Michael Glading is the tournament director.
Golf is also in Glading's blood – the son of iconic New Zealand golfer Bob Glading and a former European Tour and Ryder Cup caddy.
To begin with, Hill admits this year's inaugural tournament will be a relatively modest affair before he can build the annual spectacular he's targeting by 2022.
But one thing is clear, Hill has few regrets over the New Zealand Open and the political wrangle which took the event away from him – rejecting speculation he and Australian promoter Bob Tuohy were at loggerheads.
"When things are easy you don't learn anything," he said.
"We lost the Open and people gave all sorts of reasons, including issues between myself and Bob Tuohy. That's not true at all.
"The real reason was simple, the wisdom of the committee decided the Open should move around, it shouldn't be at one course.
"We just wanted a tournament that wouldn't be taken away. And that's exactly what we have now."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Warwick BringansSaturday, 3rd March, 2012
When Michael Hill decided to support the NZ Open, my family and I booked a house in Arrowtown for the week of the first tournament. We returned for each of the following tournaments to support the fantastic effort made by Michael Hill to reignite NZ golf. Although saddend by the loss of the NZ Open away from the Hills, we are excited by the new venture in conjunction with the PGA of NZ. My family and I have again booked an Arrowtown house for a week to support this wonderful event and to again enjoy the unique experience that is golf at Michael Hill's home of golf. Thank you Michael Hill!