Golf pro escapes Chinese winter

When professional golf coach Bryce Mawhinney steps out to coach and play alongside his ultra-wealthy Chinese students, he has a mammoth 279 holes to choose from.

That is 15 18-hole courses in one of the world's grandest golf complexes, in Shandong province 2 hours drive from Shanghai.

"It is where they play the OneAsia Tour event and it is the base for the New Zealand-China Golf Academy," Mawhinney said. "There is no expense spared."

But during winter, the cold drives the former Manawatu Golf Club big hitter to New Zealand with his students, where they are based at the Manukau Golf Club in Manurewa.

And January-February is his free time so he decided to play the LawnMaster Classic, as well as the surrounding pro-ams.

Now 48, he said he still gets the ball out a fair distance and easily made the cut yesterday after rounds of 74 and 73 to be 3 over par.

He was a mighty blaster when he played for Manawatu-Wanganui in the national interprovincials of 1986-87.

Now he is a father of four and says he is "happily separated".

Mawhinney turned pro 20 years ago and has been almost everywhere since. He did his apprenticeship under Mal Tongue "in the heyday of New Zealand golf" at Manor Park. Then he worked in Tahiti, Australia, was six years at the Garden City driving in Christchurch, had fours years at Huapai in Auckland, two years at Cambridge then went to Royal Canberra where it was minus 6 degrees Celsius in the mornings when he put the golf carts out.

He can't wait to qualify for the Japan seniors tour, but he never chased the touring life: "It's too tough and there's not enough money."

"It is nice to come back and lovely to see the course the way it is, and to see old friends.

"The course is the best I've seen it since 1982 when they had the New Zealand amateur."

He played in the still morning air yesterday as did the joint leader at 8 under, Harry Bateman, the amateur from Masterton who won the LawnMaster 72-hole strokeplay last year.

He won with 7 under par last year but speculated the winning score this time could be 15 to 20 under.

"I have been saving myself with my short game and making putts," Bateman said. "The greens are pretty fast and playing in the morning they are really true because they've been rolled."

Bateman was heading for 10 under but went out of bounds with his second shot on the short par-5 15th.

In two months he plans to go to England and play a qualifying school there.

Everyone expected the first-round leaders to cash in yesterday afternoon but the breeze got up and again the morning group prevailed while David Klein went from second to ninth with his 74. Overnight leader, rookie Ashburton pro Daniel Pearce, could only go 1 under to be tied with Bateman.

In joint third were Hastings pro Leighton James, Waikato amateur Steven Kuggeleijn and Tauranga man Josh Geary. He found the course tight off the tee, but five birdies offset his two bogeys and he remained a threat at the weekend as he seeks to add to his two Carrus Open wins in 2006 and 2008.

The experienced Taranaki pro Grant Moorhead looked menacing at 6 under. Scott Hill, an Auckland pro, had the day's low round of 66.

Manawatu Standard