Ko opts for Arrowtown tournament

TEENAGE PRODIGY: Lydia Ko became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour in 2012.
TEENAGE PRODIGY: Lydia Ko became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour in 2012.

New Zealand golf superstar Lydia Ko will be playing in the NZPGA golf tournament in February, tournament chairman and ex-All Blacks coach John Hart has confirmed.

Ko was a huge fan of the tournament after playing in March and had turned down an offer to play in a major Singaporean tournament in favour of committing to the Arrowtown event, he said.

A teenage golf prodigy, Ko is the world No 1 woman's amateur and youngest winner of a professional tour event.

Four of the top seven players in the Australian Open look to be starters for the tournament, as well as rising Japanese golf star Koumei Oda, although this was not confirmed by Hart.

Speaking to the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Hart said bigger crowds were needed at the Arrowtown tournament for it to be the raging success it could be.

He was blunt in his apologies for not getting the Queenstown, Wanaka and wider Otago and Southland regions more involved in the inaugural tournament, held in March this year.

"We failed in one major area, but the tournament was only announced in December 2011," he said.

"We were total novices, and failed miserably in not engaging with Queenstown, Otago and the Southland regions - and didn't get the crowds as a result."

With more general awareness of the 2013 tournament, and by shifting the event forward by a month and dovetailing it with an England v New Zealand cricket match to be played in Queenstown, organisers were hoping to drastically bolster crowd numbers.

To help with getting people to and from the tournament, $5 buses would be running to The Hills course from downtown Queenstown for the duration of the tournament.

Shifting the tournament forward to start in late February also meant there were longer daylight hours, which was important for players, as was increasing the prize pool from $500,000 to $600,000, meaning all-important world ranking points would be earned by top-placing tournament players.

Although amateur signings were still under intense negotiation, Prime Minister John Key had committed to join cricket's most well-known face, ex-England superstar all-rounder, captain and lovable rogue Sir Ian Botham.

"Exciting" announcements were imminent on the celebrity player front though.

To help boost the invariable relationship between elite golfing and top international businessmen, a two-day sideline golf tournament, to be held at Jacks Point and Millbrook had been added to the schedule.

"So far we've had great interest from Japan, and have 12 very, very senior businessmen participating in the sideline event," Hart said.

The Southland Times