7 Dec 2011 - www.odt.co.nz - Otago Daily Times - Olivia Caldwell
The Hills golf course near Arrowtown will host New Zealand's inaugural Pro-Am Championship early next year and organisers say it has the potential to be bigger than the New Zealand Open.
In Auckland yesterday, Prime Minister John Key launched the four-day tournament, which will be played from March 29 to April 1 as a professional, amateur and celebrity championship.
Former New Zealand professional Greg Turner said the announcement was one of the biggest for New Zealand golf and he predicted it would generate immediate international interest.
"I think the fact the Prime Minister and the Minister of Sport, Murray McCully, are here is a pretty good indication they are taking the event seriously."
Mr Turner said because of the tournament's unique celebrity format, overseas celebrities would be attracted to Queenstown.
"It's a little unusual, but it adds another layer and once you get some steam up you get your John Travoltas and Michael Douglases here.""It has the potential to turn into something quite special."
An agreement between partners the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) of New Zealand and The Hills meant the tournament would have a minimum five-year term at the course and would initially be part of the Australasian PGA Tour.
Under the format, professionals will play for the $500,000 NZ PGA Championship purse and title over four rounds.
Over the final two rounds they would be paired with 64 invited amateurs and celebrities competing as a team for the NZ PGA Pro-Am Championship.
The amateur players would be decided in a seeding tournament played at Jack's Point on March 30.
The tournament's communications manager, Paul Gunn, said the eventual aim of the tournament was to expand on to the region's other world-class courses, Millbrook and Jack's Point.
"We are hoping to get more revenue from this than the New Zealand Open."
Turner said the difference between the New Zealand Open and the Pro-Am championship was the amount of media attention that it would attract outside New Zealand.
"New Zealand has only scratched the surface of golf's potential to deliver and attract that international audience.
"We haven't had the product and now we do."
He said owner of The Hills, Sir Michael Hill, was the right man to head such a tournament.
"It is baby steps first up. It's not going to be the massive event in its first year, but it has the potential to be bigger than the NZ Open."
"It's an event that will show New Zealand off."
In October, the course hosted the Four Nations tournament, the first professional tournament to be played at The Hills since it lost the New Zealand Open early last year.