One of the pivotal players in the reinvigorated New Zealand Open reckons the time is ripe for the tournament to soar.
Michael Hendry yesterday said the momentum and backers of the Arrowtown tournament, which tees off late next month, had reached a level where it was well on track to becoming an internationally renowned boutique golf tournament.
"There's a lot of factors that go into making a great tournament, but one of the key signs is what the players are talking about at other events around the world, and there's a lot of great players wanting to be here to compete," said.
Key to creating that buzz among top pros was the drawcard of Queenstown and the great reputation of Sir Michael Hill's The Hills golf course, home of the tournament, as well as Millbrook, which serves as tournament satellite course.
However, player buzz was not enough to compete with the huge money and prestige tournaments being played around the world at about the same time, Hendry, who is New Zealand's top-ranked professional, said.
"So many of the top-tier players are wanting to fight it out for PGA titles up for grabs around the world during this time of the year, which means the New Zealand Open has to work on a different level.
"I think in terms of uniqueness and that boutique quality, the [NZ] Open is really getting up there and has got so many years to further develop what it already has."
Getting more top Japanese pros into the tournament was a sure sign that the all-round quality of the event was becoming an international drawcard, Hendry said.
"Last year Toshi Muto played and has been saying great things about the tournament, and I know he can't wait to get back. The really interesting thing about that is that Japanese players don't go out of their way to travel to international tournaments, because they've got such a great tour at home."
This year 10 Japanese pros from the lucrative Japan Golf Tour will join Muto, who returns after taking part in last year's NZPGA Championship - a previous incarnation of the Arrowtown tournament which has upped the ante this year.
Putting itself in the same general time bracket as the Australian Open, while not trying to compete with it, gave the tournament boutique status, which its points of difference highlighted, Hendry said.
"Getting the celebs here is a big thing, and really opens up this golf tournament to non-golfing spectators. The sculpture installations around the course, the music and entertainment and food and wine really mean that it's an event, and it's important for golf to step out of its usual bounds sometimes."
This year's celebrity players include a trio of Australian and New Zealand former cricket captains, former National Rugby League star Wendell Sailor, The Amazing Race presenter Phil Keoghan, and celebrity chef Josh Emett. A host of former All Blacks will also join well-known American dancer, choreographer and model Cris Judd in the Pro-Am section of the Open.
- © Fairfax NZ News