Top gun Japanese, Hiroshi Iwata, leads other stars out in Arrowtown for the New Zealand Open this week.
It could perhaps be better described as slow and steady progression, but when you crunch the numbers, host Sir Michael Hill, chairman John Hart and tournament director Michael Glading are doing what they said they would.
When the tournament was last hosted in Christchurch, at the Clearwater club in 2012, the purse was half what it is today and the highest ranked players were New Zealand’s Michael Hendry (350 in the world), Australian Nick Cullen (383) and Kiwi Mark Brown (444).
There was no tournament in 2013 then Hill and co took the reins last year. They turned it into a pro-am event (a world-first for a national open) hosted by two world class courses in The Hills and Millbrook Resort, boasting a purse of $950,000, an alignment with the Japan Tour, and a field that was led by Australian Scott Hend at No 125 in the world and boasted a further eight players all ranked higher than Hendry was in 2012.
The PGA Tour of Australasia-sanctioned tournament has made another upwards step this year. The purse has edged up to $1 million, they have secured live television coverage for all four days, which will be beamed throughout New Zealand and Japan, and the field is much stronger in depth than it was 12 months ago.
Leading the pack is world No 78 Hiroshi Iwata, who finished 2014 close to the world’s top 50 courtesy of his third-placed finish to two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China last year.
Other top-200 players include well-performed Aussie Marcus Fraser and up-and-comer Cameron Smith, New Zealand’s new No 1 Ryan Fox, 2011 champion Brad Kennedy and fellow Aussie Nick Cullen, winner of the Australian Masters last year.