New Zealand PGA - building on success

The New Zealand PGA Championship is to be played from February 28th to March 3rd at the Hills Golf Club near Queenstown in New Zealand's magnificent Central Otago, the second occasion the event has been played at this venue and under the revised format introduced in 2012.

2013 is the cenetenary year of the NZPGA and the staging of the event carries even greater significance as a result.

After the tournament went unplayed in 2011, the New Zealand PGA re-introduced the event to the PGA Tour of Australasia's schedule under a format which had the paying amateurs and invited celebrities playing with the professionals over the final two rounds of the 72 hole event rather than early in the week.

Such a success did the concept prove that amateurs quickly took up the spots available for 2013 and along with invited celebrities they will play a key role in the event this year.

The success of the inaugural staging of the event in 2012 assisted in gaining further funding by the New Zealand Government which saw the benefit in an event that would showcase the tourism playground of New Zealand (Queenstown) to the world. As a result the prize-money has been lifted to the point where the event now enjoys Tier 1 status on the PGA Tour of Australasia.

It has always been the intention of the organisers to build the event from a solid base into a tournament to stand alongside some of the great pro-am events of the world such as the Alfred Dunhill Links and the AT&T National Pebble Beach tournaments. While yet some way off the foundation has been formed and with this year's event bigger than 2012 then significant progress is being made.

Certainly Queenstown and the Hills Golf Club along with other high class golf courses in the region provide the perfect venue for such a dream to be realised.

This year celebrities will include the All Blacks, Wallabies, New Zealand cricketers, English cricketing great Sir Ian Botham, politicians, entertainment figures and New Zealand's golfing darling Lydia Ko who will play the pro-am. Given Ko's exploits over the past twelve months she is sure to attract many to the tournament just to see her play even if it is for fun.

Last year when playing with Jin Jeong as her professional partner, Ko produced seven birdies in her first round allowing her and Jeong to take the early lead in the pro-am. Irrespective of whether it was for fun or a more serious involvement Ko showed she was there to play well.

The New Zealand PGA Championship has a proud history in New Zealand golf dating back to 1920 when Joe Kirkwood won in a year where he also won the Australian and New Zealand Opens. Four years later Kirkwood would go on to become the first Australian to win on what would later become the USPGA Tour.

Since Kirkwood's victory some of Australasia's greatest players have won the NZ PGA Championship including Peter Thomson, Bruce Crampton, Kel Nagle, Bob Charles, Graham Marsh and Frank Nobilo and well credentialed internationals such as Tony Jacklin and Jumbo Ozaki, the latter of who won his only ever event outside of Japan when he won in 1972.

This year's defending champion is Mike Hendry whose victory at the Hills in 2012 set up a season where he would finish runner-up to Peter Senior on the Australasian Tour's Order of Merit.

Hendry will start as one of the favourites if not the favourite to successfully defend, especially given some good recent form including a runner-up finish at the Queensland PGA Championship.

As was the case in 2012 tournament organisers have been keen to get a recognisable international name to play the event and despite him being a Champions Tour player, David Frost added significantly to the tournament in its inaugural staging under the new format last year.

This year it is three time US Open Champion Hale Irwin who will provide the event with a lot of early coverage, Irwin's exploits in the game almost legendary.

Irwin won his first US Open in 1974 at Winged Foot and won the last of three in 1990. He won 45 times on the Champions Tour including three majors, played on five US Ryder Cup winning teams, a winning Presidents Cup team and despite being 67 years of age he is still playing well enough to have finished 3rd at the Senior PGA Championship in 2012.

It might be that Irwin will struggle to contend in Queenstown but his presence alone will play a key role in the build up to and success of the 2013 Championship.

The field will also include Australian PGA Champion Daniel Popovic, New Zealand Open Champion Jake Higginbottom, the highest ranked player in the field Brendan Jones, former PGA Tour winner in Las Vegas, Andre Stolz, former Wales and China Open winner, Scott Strange, former New Zealand Open, PGA and Amateur winner, Peter O'Malley and former New Zealand and Australian Open winner Craig Parry to name but a few.

Brendan Jones was one of the first to recommit to the tournament suggesting the experience he had last year was the best time he had had at any event he has played. Jones enjoyed it so much he has brought his family with him this year. Such is the attraction of the Queenstown region.

Another player of interest who is entered is West Australian Michael Sim whose brilliant career has been curtailed by injury. The former New Zealand Strokeplay Champion (he won by 11 shots in 2005) led the money list on the Nationwide Tour in 2009 setting a record when he did so. He was also inside the top 50 in the world that year earning himself a start at the 2010 Masters but due to his back injuries he was unable to take his place in the field.

At his best Sim is generally considered one of the great talents of Australian golf and it is hoped that now he is injury free he can work his way back to the level that saw him as such an achiever earlier in his career.

The tournament begins on Thursday for the professionals while for the amateurs they play a seeding event at nearby Millbrook on the Friday to determine just which professional they will get to play with over the final 36 holes.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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