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Moonah Classic attracts good field

(Photo: Anthony Powter)
From the rapidly developing golfing destination that is Queenstown, New Zealand, the Australasian and Nationwide Tours have crossed the Tasman Sea to an established golfing destination, the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne.

While many of Australia's most famous courses are in the famed sandbelt of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula has undergone a relative explosion in golf course development over the past twelve years and this week it will play host to the Moonah Classic.

The Moonah Classic is being played at the Open Course at Moonah Links, a Thomson (Peter) Perrett designed layout, already used for two Australian Open Championships (2003 and 2005) and two Moonah Classics.

Situated nearly 90 minutes from Melbourne's CBD, the venue has struggled to attract large crowds when events have been held there in the past but like last week's Hills Golf Club in New Zealand the venue is an outstanding viewing course for those who do make the effort to travel south.

There are many issues facing the future of this event, including whether it will remain as part of the Nationwide Tour and, if not, under what arrangement it will be played in the years ahead. Much needs to be decided if the nine year arrangement between the Australasian and Nationwide Tours is to be continued as both the New Zealand Open and this event need each other or at least another supporting event if the Americans can justify the long trip to Australasia.

The field this week is virtually a replica of that which played in Queenstown and where Robert Gates produced an amazing Nationwide Tour debut to win the New Zealand Open and set himself up for the possibility of PGA Tour status in 2011. Gates is looking to back up with another win and given the class and composure he showed in the heat of the battle last week then he should do well again.

Previous winners of this event Ewan Porter and Alistair Presnell are in the field, neither able to capitalise on their great starts to their respective seasons and secure their cards on the PGA Tour.

Also in the field is one of the two winners of the Australian Open played at this venue, Peter Lonard, who missed the cut last week in New Zealand but was happy enough with his return after three months off as he recovered from hip injury.

The last time Mark Hensby played this golf course was at the 2005 Australian Open at the end of his most successful year in golf. He caused a major furore then by suggesting that Greg Norman, who was in the region at the time, could have been doing more for Australian golf by playing the event instead of visiting golf course design related projects in the region.

Hensby received a perhaps unfair pounding from the press for daring to question Norman's commitment to golf and two months later was injured in a car accident and his career has been on a slide since. He showed last week however, with a very good tournament in Queenstown just how good he is, and the former Presidents Cup player is clearly determined to get back to the PGA Tour where he has won previously. It would no surprise if he did.

Peter O'Malley finished runner-up to the winner Alistair Presnell last year and last week in Queenstown he gave an indication that he was not far from his best. He struggled on the final day but his form earlier in the week was very good.

Martin Piller and Daniel Summerhays were Americans to have played well in this event last year and both showed sufficient glimpses of form in last week's New Zealand Open to suggest they might be a factor this week. Summerhays missed the cut but opened with a round of 67 and Piller was in the mix for much of the event before finishing 7th.

Casey Wittenberg finished runner up to Nick Flanagan at the 2003 US Amateur and interestingly both are in the field. Wittenberg finished last week's tournament strongly with the equal best round of the day to eventually finish 6th and made the cut in his only previous start in this event.

New Zealanders David Smail and Phil Tataurangi did well enough in New Zealand to suggest they might improve on their top tens in this tournament last year.

The tournament's future is unknown but it will matter little this week as what is a high class field battles for a step on the ladder to the PGA Tour.

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