OPINION: As New Zealanders, we've grown up playing backyard sport. The "world champions" in cricket, rugby or football, even the odd game of bullrush or tag, have all been decided around a washing line in suburban New Zealand.
But the best game of backyard sport surely belongs to Sir Michael Hill. You'd have to go some distance to find someone else with a championship-quality golf course in their backyard, particularly one that is so beautifully designed not just for golfers but also thousands of spectators.
We've waxed lyrically about his achievements with the course and his lofty goals. We were disappointed when the New Zealand Open moved further north, but he's proved the knockers wrong again by creating the NZPGA Pro-Am Championship. After a slow start last year, we believe there's even more potential with the event's format to create something special at The Hills.
That's why Prime Minster John Key's announcement on Thursday that $650,000 will be invested in the tournament is excellent news, not only for Sir Michael and the golf world, but the wider Queenstown economy. The financial pressure on New Zealand's most famous jeweller lifts slightly, and shows a high level of commitment for what should eventually become a premier event in the golf world.
You may not like golf and you may consider $650,000 spent on men using sticks to hit a little white ball a waste of money, but it's important to look at the wider picture.
Golf is not a cheap sport and is often - but not always - played by upper socio-economic groups. They tend to have money, are willing to travel and happy to pay for higher-end products - of which, let's be honest, Queenstown has a few on offer. In fact, the town relies on these people to come to spend their money.
So if you have a world-class event, attracting quality competition, in a stunning location, at the right time of the year, the table is set for a veritable feast for business operators in the area.
Last year, actor Don Cheadle came to play in the competition. He hit a hole-in-one, which was reported widely, including by the ESPN sports channel. He tweeted extensively while here. You can't buy that sort of publicity.
This year, cricket great Ian Botham will be taking part. All the event needs is to keep attracting celebrities like him and Cheadle - perhaps golf lovers Bill Murray or Mark Wahlberg, both members of Hollywood royalty - and that investment by the Government becomes money well spent. Fourteen international journalists, including some from Forbes magazine and influential travel writers from Asia, attended and provided significant media coverage.
Mr Key is aware of the need to spend money in areas that are going to return more of it and this event has the potential to do this well.
Queenstown has five quality golf courses within a short drive, surrounded by stunning scenery. Promoting the town as a golf destination and attracting players with a hefty wallet will bring considerable economic benefits. We can only see positives.
Sir Michael has great ambitions for the tournament with the aim to rival the likes of the Masters in Augusta or the Dunhill Classic. He believes it could be worth billions to the country - and once word spreads of this great event among some of the best scenery in New Zealand, he could well be right.
If you've spent a day in the sun in his backyard watching some quality golfers hit a little white ball with a stick, you'll have a greater appreciation of how this could happen.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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