Crowds up despite inclemency

GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2014

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Late-summer weather that occasionally felt like mid-winter didn't dampen the shine of Arrowtown's New Zealand Open golf tournament, with up to 20,000 attending.

In a final-day wrap of the four-day event, tournament director Michael Glading yesterday said numbers were up on the 15,000 who attended last year's NZPGA Pro-Am Championship.

"We had really good crowds on Thursday, but numbers were really affected by the weather on Friday," he said.

"As unofficial count we've got around 18,000, but that may be as high as 20,000. There's no question those numbers were affected by the weather, but it's good growth on the 15,000 last year."

Freezing sleet hit the course and snow fell nearby early on Friday afternoon. Pulling play for the day was considered, but according to golf rules play can only be halted by wind affecting ball-flight. Although the wind did get up, players battled on.

Keeping the pro-am format alive within a national open format proved to be a winner. Seventy amateur players paying $10,000 each to be partnered with professionals provided a $700,000 nest egg for the tournament's coffers.

A group consisting of Prime Minister John Key, Sir Bob Charles and American professional Rocco Mediate, who played a non-competition round, was followed by about 500 spectators around the course at The Hills.

The New Zealand Open is unique in the world in keeping a pro-am format.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said a decision on the level of government support the tournament could receive next year was weeks away.

"There are a number of commitments the tournament organisers have made around increased impact and profile for the 2014 tournament," he said.

"The success of those initiatives will be assessed when the Major Events Panel evaluates further support. The tournament and its unique format attracts a number of both senior business people and general visitors from across Asia to New Zealand, lifting our profile in some of our key markets."

This year the Government's Major Events Fund invested $900,000 in the tournament. The Queenstown Lakes District Council also invests in it.

Mr Joyce said it was "encouraging to see local communities supporting events that they benefit from".

grant.bryant@stl.co.nz

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