Hills aims for a par 2011

BY SHANE COWLISHAW AT THE HILLS
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2010
Robert Gates
BARRY HARCOURT
WINNER: American Robert Gates gets a kiss from his partner Lauren Johnson after winning the New Zealand Open at The Hills.

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This years' New Zealand Golf Open may be the last at The Hills in Arrowtown, but the prime minister is not ruling out a cash injection to keep the tournament at the course.

New Zealand Golf and promoters Tuohy Associates announced on Saturday the venue for next year's Open would be confirmed "in the next few months".

This year is the final in a three-year contract between jewellery entrepreneur Michael Hill, owner of the course, and New Zealand Golf.

The tournament attracted 24,246 spectators, about 400 more than last year and more than 9000 turned up yesterday for the final day of play.

Tuohy Associates spokesman Bob Tuohy said there would be a debrief after the Open to assess the budget and status of the future tournament.

Hawke's Bay golf course Cape Kidnappers had registered its interest in hosting next year's event, as had The Hills and another unnamed course, he said.

Negotiations were under way but it would be great to keep it in the South Island, Mr Tuohy said.

"I just love it. I think it would be magic if it could stay."

The level of money needed to take the Open to the next level and attract bigger players was not available from the commercial sector, he said.

Extra funding from the Government would allow the Open to build on its success and would benefit tourism exponentially, Mr Tuohy said.

"It would be magnificent if the tourism minister would look favourably on adding some funding to move to the next level," he said.

Last month Mr Hill said he could not continue to foot the bill for the Open himself and called on the Government to underwrite the event.

Prime Minister John Key, who visited the Open yesterday and was taken around the course by Mr Hill, said the decision of where next year's Open would be played was up to New Zealand Golf. However, he said he "wouldn't be unhappy" if it stayed at The Hills.

If the course made an application, providing extra money from the economic development fund would be considered and was a "definite possibility", he said.

Destination Queenstown marketing general manager Graham Budd said hosting the tournament in the Wakatipu had been terrific.

It got better and better each year and was well established, so it would be a huge blow to see it go, he said.

"I think it's great here. It's a place people tend to come not just for the golf but for the scenery," he said.

Destination Queenstown would do everything it could to encourage New Zealand Golf to keep the Open here but there were factors outside of its control, Mr Budd said.

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Michael Hill was unavailable for comment yesterday.

PM lands in the rough

Former New Zealand professional golfer Greg Turner won't be getting a knighthood.

He failed to hit a hole in one for John Key.

In town to open the new Coronet Nine golf course at Millbrook Resort, the Prime Minister and Tourism Minister showed some promising flourishes as he took in four holes before heading to the New Zealand Golf Open just down the road.

Key was joined by Millbrook owner Eichii Ishii and former New Zealand professional golfer Greg Turner as they teed off from hole four, while legendary golfers Sir Bob Charles and five-times British Open champion Peter Thomson looked on.

The prime minister's first shot landed in the rough, but he was soon impressing the invited guests with some powerful drives, although he admitted his short game needed work.

At one point Mr Key offered up some advice to Turner, almost offering a knighthood if he could hit a hole in one. "I'm tempted to say if you get it in you're getting a knighthood," he said.

Turner quickly quipped back that it was probably the only way he would ever get one.

- The Southland Times

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