The Hills and Millbrook Golf Resort are essentially across the road from each other and when a decision was made to revise the New Zealand Open to incorporate a version of the successful format adopted by the New Zealand PGA Championship over the past two years the marriage of the two fine layouts was obvious.
That format included professionals and amateurs playing together over the closing two rounds of the tournament but the tweaking for the New Zealand Open has the event played in a pro-am format over the opening two days at two different venues before the leading 35 pro-am teams graduate to Saturday and the leading ten to Sunday.
While all of this is going on, the significant title of the New Zealand Open is up for grabs with 132 professionals and four invited amateurs vying for a title that has existed since 1907.
The morning scores indicated that Millbrook was playing the easier of the two layouts which may have been predictable enough but the introduction of a new Greg Turner designed nine at Millbrook has strengthened that layout although nonetheless it is generally considered the easier of the two courses in use for the opening two days of this week's event.
When the morning field had completed their rounds Queenslander Andrew Dodt and Victorians Terry Pilkadaris and Jake Stirling had the lead at 6 under, all three playing Millbrook on day one.
Dodt, a late invite into the event despite the fact that he is a former runner-up and a European Tour event winner, took full advantage of the courtesy shown by organisers to share the lead through the morning.
Dodt, who has lost any status on the European Tour, has retained the right to play in Asia in 2014 and that is where he will focus his attention. He put together a very good final round at the Queensland PGA Championship two weeks ago and has carried over that improved form to this week. Improve putting seemed to make the difference for the man from Gatton west of Brisbane.
Pilkadaris is one of the great globetrotters in the game. It is almost a case of have golf clubs will travel for the West Australian born but now Victorian based golfer.
Stirling gained his card at the Australasian Tour School in December and today's round is an encouraging start to golf at this level.
Late in the day Scott Strange, who last year lost a playoff for the NZPGA Championship at The Hills, put together a bogey free round of 66 himself to move into a share of the lead himself.
That left four players tied at 6 under and one ahead of another large group at 5 under including Mark Brown and Andrew Martin who were both tied for runner-up at the New Zealand PGA at the Hills in 2012, in form
Victorian David Bransdon, Web.Com Tour player Ashley Hall and Chinese 18 year old Li Hao Tong, who interestingly finished 5th in this event last year.
Of the leading 16 scores only four came from rounds at the Hills.
The cut is expected to be around even par although the big variable may come in the form of a storm arriving in the Queenstown region overnight.
Pre tournament favourite Michael Hendry has made a slow start and is at even par so when he returns to The Hills tomorrow he will be looking for something special to get back into contention.
The talk of the pro am side of the event was the effort of former Australian cricket captain Rickie Ponting who reportedly produced eight birdies of his own in his round with 2012 PGA Champion Daniel Popovic.
Ponting, now a temporary member of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, plays off a plus 1 handicap.
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