12 Jan 2012 - Source: www.scene.co.nz - Philip Chandler
Queenstown has a former All Blacks coach to thank for scoring one of its biggest sports events.
Aucklander John Hart – who coached the All Blacks in the late 1990s – conceived the NZ PGA Pro-Am golf tournament, which launches at The Hills, near Arrowtown, on March 29.
The tournament is a five-year partnership between the NZ Professional Golf Association and mega-jeweller Sir Michael Hill, owner of The Hills course. The Hills also has a five-year right of renewal.
“The NZPGA were looking for ways to promote their brand, and their tournament had waned a little in recent years,” Hart, an NZPGA director, says.
Hart says after playing in a pro-am event in Scotland he decided the NZPGA should add a pro-am element to its event here.
“If you were going to do it in NZ, the tourism thing was an important attraction. To me, Queenstown is just a brilliant region – I probably think it’s still an untold story,” Hart says.
“It’s just a super place with super golf courses. The Hills obviously is a magnificent golf course, so I really didn’t have thoughts about anywhere else.”
Hart reveals he’d lobbied NZ Golf to retain the NZ Open at The Hills.
When that failed, he got in touch with Hill, and the pro-am was born.
Hart, chairman of the organising committee, says the NZPGA has been “very lucky” to raise $1.5 million from sponsors in only three months.
That includes $500,000 from the Government’s Major Events fund.
Hart is in no doubt the venue was fundamental to that contribution “because Government’s drive is to promote Queenstown, promote tourism and particularly with a focus into Asia”.
The funding’s only for one year but Hart believes the Government will commit to between three and five years.
The pro-am is unique in that the amateurs – including eight to 10 celebrities, still to be confirmed – play the last two rounds, after the cut.
The pros will play for a $450,000 purse while there’ll be a $50,000 prize pool for the pro-amateur teams.
Hart adds Prime Minister John Key, who launched the pro-am in Auckland, is keen to play on the pre-day Friday at Jack’s Point, a seeding round for the amateurs.